ZHOU DYNASTY 1131 - 221 BC

Zhou Wen Wang 1131- 1115 BC


Some sources date the accession of the Zhou Dynasty's founder as 1134 BC. His name is given also as Zhou Wu Wang.


The people of Zhou Dynasty lived in an area that was considered to be the dwelling place of the Xirong & Rongdi, somewhere in western Shaanxi Prov, near Gansu border.

In another sense, the original Chinese 3000 years ago could not be much different from the Xirong & Rongdi at all. While ancient Chinese were considered sedentary with fixing places like cities and castles, the Xirong & Rongdi barbarians remained nomadic, constantly on the move. In both Shenxi (Shaanxi) and Shanxi Province, records had shown that the Xirong & Rongdi barbarians and the ancient Chinese co-habitated in an interspersing way.

Charles Hucker, in "China's Imperial Past", made a speculation about the distinction between the sedentary and nomadic ways of life in China's northern areas, around the Yellow River line, at the time of early history: That is, the two ways of life had existed among both the Xia-ren or Chinese and the nomadic peoples; both groups of peoples had partial agriculture and partial husbandry in the area; it was due to the Xia Chinese building up walled states that led to the polarization of the two ways of life.


The Zhou people, counted as a vassal of the Shang Chinese, were living among the barbaric west. According to Shi Ji, Zhou'a ancestor could be traced to Houji, the Chinese god or father of agriculture. Houji, like Shang ancestor Xie, was the son of ancient overlord Diku. Houji's mother was named Jiang Yuan, a You-tai-shi (Fufeng and Wugong, Shenxi Prov) woman, carrying Fiery Lord tribal name. (Later statelets of Qi, Shen, Xu and Lü all belonged to the Jiang family. Zhou people, said to be descendants of Xia people, had intermarriage with Jiang-surname Qiangic Fiery Lord tribe, which would be a prevalent way of Ji-Jiang marriage among early Chinese.) Legend said that Houji was born after his mother stepped onto the footprints of a giant and that Houji, being deserted to the moutains and lakes by his mother, was taken care of by beasts and birds.

Both Lord Yao and Lord Shun used Houji as the master of agriculture. Lord Yao conferred Houji the last name of 'Ji', meaning origin. Confucius had commented on the story of You-ji-shi clan. After Xia King Taikang lost his throne, Houji's son (Buzhu) left for Rong & Di land with the abandonment of the agriculture post by Xia Dynasty . Another two generations will be Gongliu who renewed agriculture in Rong & Di land. This renewal would be a basis for a claim that Zhou people had consecutively changed their mode of life. Gongliu's son (Qingjie) set up a statelet in a place called 'Bin', in today's western Shenxi Province, a place belonging to Xirong. ('Bin' was disputed by some scholars to be still in Shanxi Prov rather than Shenxi Prov.)

Another eight generations or three hundred years would be Zhou's founder, Gugong (aka Tanfu). Gugong, being attacked by Rong & Di and Xunyu barbarians, would relocate to Qishan. The people of 'Bin' followed him to Qishan. Gugong abolished Rong & Di customs, built city in a plain called Zhou-yuan under the foot of Qishan, and devised five posts of si tu, si ma, si kong, si shi, & si kou per Shang Dynasty system. (Some scholars disputed the five posts since bronze inscriptions did not add up to the five counts.) Gugong declared their statelet 'Zhou'. Gugong is also known as 'Zhou King Taiwang' (grand king) posthumously. Gugong's elder son, 'Tai Bo', went to Zhejiang's Yantze Delta (Meili Village, Wuxi County, Changzhou, Jiangsu) for sake of launching own statelet. (Xu Zhuoyun speculated that Tai Bo was deliberately dispatched to the Yangtze Delta as a tactics to circumvent and attack the Shang Dynasty from both directions.)

Tai Bo wanted to yield the succession to his brother because the ancient mandate said that the son of Tai Bo's brother (Ji Li) would be the future lord of Zhou people. Ji Li's mother was called Tai-jiang, a Jiang surname woman of You-tai-shi clan. (Xu Zhuoyun cited scholar Liu Qiyi's research of 'jin wen' or bronze inscriptions in stating that 12 kings of Western Zhou Dynasty had inter-married with Jiang-surname women consecutively.) Ji Li's son, born by Zhi-ren-shi or Zhi-zhong-shi woman, would be Ji Chang, i.e., Zhou King Wenwang or Count Xibo, who was said to have possessed four nipples, and Zhou King Wenwang was recorded to be bird-nosed, tiger-shouldered, and dragon-faced.
A mediocre sinologist error would be to claim that Zhou people originated from the west or the Central Asia. The 'west' story could have derived from two inputs: Zhou people's locality to the west of Xia and Shang people, and Zhou King Wuwang's claim as people from the west. As we detailed below, when Zhou Lord Wuwang campaigned against last Shang King Zhouwang, he eulogized his alliance's bravery by calling his armies the "people from the west". (Zhou King Wuwang's alliance also pointed to the fact that Zhou people, by the timeframe of 1122 BC?, had basically surrounded the Shang people from north, west and south.) Scholar Liu Qiyu, in anthology Hua Xia Civilization, tackled the issue of 'xi' or west. His validations pointed to the land of 'he qu' (i.e., the inflexion point of the Yellow River Bends) as the 'land of the west', i.e, later land between Qin and Jinn principalities.


Liu Qiyu cited Guo Yu's statement in regards to You-yu-shi as proof that Yu clan had deep connection with Xia people. The statement from Guo Yu could be paraphrased like this: "In ancient times, Count Chong-bo Gun also reigned in the land of You-yu-shi clan." Count Chong-bo Gun was the father of Lord Yu and dwelled in southern or southwestern Shanxi Prov, i.e., the east bank of today's East Yellow River Bend. You-yu-shi clan's locality, considered the second 'Xia Ruins' in archaeology, would be in today's eastern Shenxi Prov, i.e., Hancheng (west bank of the today's East Yellow River Bend) and Pucheng (west bank of Luo-shui River).

This shows that Xia people had in fact dwelled on both banks of the Yellow River plus the inflexion point in northeastern Henan Prov. Today's East Yellow River Bend was known as 'Xi-he' or western river because the Yellow River did not flow horizontally into the sea via Shandong Prov but made a eastern bend northward for exit into the sea via Hebei Prov. Liu Qiyu researched into ancient classics Mu Shi (i.e., Oath of War at Muye) and concluded that Zhou King Wuwang's reference to 'xi tu' would be the land to the west of later Tongguan Pass of eastern Shenxi Prov.
Zhou People's Origin

Zhou ancestor Buzhu, i.e., Houji's son, left for Rong & Di land after Xia Dynasty abandoned agriculture post. Some confusion existed as to the place Buzhu had left for, either somewhere still in southwestern Shanxi Prov or somewhere across the Yellow River in Shenxi Prov. Xu Zhuoyun, in Xi Zhou Shi (i.e., History of Western Zhou Dynasty, 1973 edition, Lianjing Publishing House, Taipei, Taiwan), stated that Zhou ancestors, per scholar Qian Mu 1931 dissertation, migrated westward to Shenxi Prov from Shanxi Prov. Xu Zhuoyun cited Ban Gu's Hou Han Shu in stating that Fen-yin area of southern Shanxi Prov, possessing a temple in the name of Zhou ancestor Houji, should be Zhou people's original habitation area.

Xu Zhuoyun listed 16 sentences in Shang Dynasty's divination and oracle records to prove that Shang people, at the reign of Shang Dynasty King Aoding, had instructed subordinate tribes in campaiging against Zhou people and speculated that Zhou ancestors must have lived around southern Shanxi province, a place to the northeast of the inflexion point of the Yellow River. Liu Qiyu pointed out that after the demise of Xia, whoever stayed in Shanxi/Shenxi provinces continued to call themselves 'Xia' people. First Zhou King Wenwang eulogized the eastward flow of Feng-shui River to Lord Yu's accomplishment and numerous Zhou Dynasty records stated that they were descendants of Xia Dynasty founder Lord Yu.
Shang & Zhou Relations

Often neglected would be the oracle or divination inscriptions on bronze utensils left by Zhou people at Mt Qishan. During the earlier reign of Shang King Aoding, Zhou people were often campaigned against by Shang Dynasty. But later on, Zhou began to submit to Shang and assist Shang in numerous campaigns against barbarians in Shanxi Prov.

In Shang Dynasty's oracle bones, two vassals, i.e., Zhou statelet and Marquis Jiu-hou [Gui-hou of Gui-fang statelet] had taken charge of fighting the Qiangic barbarians on behalf of Shang, and furthermore surrendered Qiangic prisoners to Shang for live burial. Xu Zhuoyun cited Chen Mengjia's research in pointing out that Zhou Taiwang, during Shang King Wuyi's reign, relocated to Mt Qishan under the pressure of Doggy Rong; that Zhou Lord Ji Li [Ji-li or Jili], during the 34th year reign of Shang King Wuyi, paid pilgrimage to Shang court; that Jili defeated Xiluo-Gui-rong barbarians and captured 20 Di[2] kings the next year on behalf of Shang court but Shang King Wuyi was killed by a lightening around the Wei-shui River; that Jili campaigned against Yanjing-rong barbarians but got defeated during the 2nd year reign of Shang King Taiding; that Jili, two years thereafter, defeated Yuwu-rong barbarians and received conferral as 'mu shi' (shephard chancellor) from Shang King; that Jili first campaigned against Shihu-rong barbarians during the 7th year reign of Shang King Taiding and against Yitu-rong barbarians during the 11th year reign; that Jili was killed by Shang King Wending (Taiding) thereafter; and that Zhou people began to attack Shang Dynasty during the 2nd year reign of Shang King Di-yi (Yili).

Xu Zhuoyun speculated that Shang King most likely died in the hands of Zhou people rather than a lightening in a similar coverup as later Zhou King Zhaowang's death on the Huai-shui River as a complication of conflict with southern barbarians. However, Shang-Zhou relationship had improved since Jili's successor, i.e., Zhou King Wenwang, had again married with Shang princess. Both the mother and the wife of Zhou King Wenwang, per scholar Fu Sinian, were princesses of Shang royal house. Zhou people were conferred the title of 'Xi Bo' (Count of the West) by Shang Dynasty King Zhouwang as a buffer state against the Western nomads.
Zhou's Feudal System
Charles Hucker had another point, namely, Zhou Dynasty's system is exactly the same feudal system as the Medieval Europe, except for one distinction: Zhou's feudal statelets shared a blood relationship with the Zhou king, either through hereditary rights or inter-marriages. This assertion has its historical merits because China's academics, under the influence of the so-called 'historical materialism', treats the first Chinese Empire of Qin as the start of the feudal society while anything preceding it as 'slave society'.

Zhou's feudal system, in fact, never fully died away, except for a short time period of the Qin Empire during which time the 'Jun-Xian System' (namely the Commandary-County System) was erected after Emperor Shihuangdi first united China under an autocratic centralized rule. The end of Qin marked a restoration of various Zhou statelets or dukedoms, and early Han Dynasty continued with the conferral of Kings and Dukes. Emperors of later dynasties frequently played with the game of upgrade and downgrade of the feudal titles between king and duke.
Zhou Kings As Moral, Political, Military & Familial Leaders:

Zhou King Wuwang's campaign against the Shang Dynasty in the 11th century BC had been glorified by later historians and rulers. Charles Hucker treated the success in capturing Chaoge (the Shang capital) as nothing other than a looting.

www.chinaknowledge.de also disputed Shang China's influence as extending nowhere beyong its capital which we called by the name of 'Shang Wastes' or 'Shang Ruins'. My opinion is that we should treat ancient Chinese overlords as moral, political, military and familial leaders; hence, both Shang and Zhou government had adopted a kind of 'laissez fair' attitude in governing the domain and vassals. Zhou King Wuwang, after his success in defeating Shang, went back to his home in western China.

Further, he allowed two of his brothers (Guan-shu and Cai-shu) to stay on in Shang capital together with the Shang prince (Lufu). After King Wuwang's death, his brother, Duke Zhou, would assume the post of a regent, and this led to the rebellion of Shang people (under Shang Prince Wugeng) and the two Zhou brothers. It would be Duke Zhou who would be responsible for quelling the rebellion, and further Duke Zhou took measures to exert Zhou influence throughout China proper, extending influences and rules via re-zoning of vassalage and conferring of duke and marquis titles. For the first time, Duke Zhou (Zhougong) laid out the blueprint of a relatively uniform society that will continue on for one millennium. Xun-zi commented that Zhougong had re-zoned the land into 71 vassals, with 53 carrying the Zhou surname of 'Ji(1)'.
Early Zhou kings are the true commander-in-chief. They were in constant wars with barbarians on behalf of the fiefs called 'guo', namely, statelet or principality. Charles Hucker noted that Zhou had 14 standing royal armies, with 6 stationed in Haojing, near today's Xi'an, and 8 armies stationed in the east.

Zhou King Zhaowang (r. 1052-1001 BC) was famous for repeated campaigns in the Yangtze areas and died in his last action. Zhou King Muwang (r. 1001-946 BC) was a legendary figure famous for fightings in the west and maybe today's Central Asia where he met and rondevous on Kunlun Mountain with so-called Xi Wang Mu, namely, Queen Mother of the West, rumored by the western historians, including Charles Hucker, to be Queen of Sheba. (The actual place for Kunlun Mountains would be somewhere close to today's Jiuquan County, Gansu Province. Mt Kunlun, extending for almost 2000 miles, from Kara-Kunlun bordering Tibet in the west to Qilian Mountain in the east, was a source of many Chinese myths and legends.)

Later kings' campaigns were less effective. King Liwang (r. 878 - 827 BC) led 14 armies against barbarians in the south but failed to achieve any victory. King Xuanwang (r 827-782 BC) fought the Jiangrong nomads in vain. King Youwang was killed by Quanrong, and capital Haojing was sacked.


The Great Wall was probably begun in the early Zhou period.