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following the Han dynasty and preceding the Jin dynasty.

The earlier, "unofficial" part of the period, from 184 to 220, was marked by chaotic infighting between warlords in various parts of China.The middle part of the period, from 220 and 263, was marked by a more militarily stable arrangement between three rival states of Wei, Shu, and Wu.The later part of the era was marked by the conquest of Shu by Wei (263), the overthrow of Wei by the Jin dynasty (265), and the conquest of Wu by the Jin (280).The Three Kingdoms period is one of the bloodiest in Chinese history, and considered the second deadliest period of warfare in history behind World War II.A nationwide census taken in AD 280, following the reunification of the Three Kingdoms under the Jin shows a total of 2,459,840 households and 16,163,863 individuals which was only a fraction of the 10,677,960 households, and 56,486,856 individuals reported during the Han era.

He invented a hydraulic-powered, mechanical puppet theatre designed for Emperor Ming of Wei, square-pallet chain pumps for irrigation of gardens in Luoyang, and the ingenious design of the south-pointing chariot, a non-magnetic directional compass operated by differential gears.

Although relatively short, this historical period has been greatly romanticized in the cultures of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

It has been celebrated and popularized in operas, folk stories, novels and in more recent times, films, television, and video games.

The best known of these is Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a Ming dynasty historical novel based on events in the Three Kingdoms period.

There is no set time period for the era, and many arbitrary definitions are given.

The strictest rule of dating would be to deem the era to be from the point where all three states coexisted as independent states (229, with the proclamation of the Eastern Wu ruler as emperor) up until the downfall of the Shu-Han states (at which point, only two states continued to exist rather than three).