Zhou dynasty

Last updated

c.1046 BC–256 BC
Zhou dynasty 1000 BC.png
Population concentration and boundaries of the Western Zhou dynasty (1050–771 BC) in China
Common languages Old Chinese
Chinese folk religion, Ancestor worship, Heaven worship [2]
Government Monarchy
 c. 1046–1043 BC
King Wu
 781–771 BC
King You
 770–720 BC
King Ping
 314–256 BC
King Nan
c.1046 BC
841–828 BC
 Relocation to Wangcheng
771 BC
 Deposition of King Nan by Qin
256 BC
 Fall of the last Zhou holdouts [3]
249 BC
 273 BC
 230 BC
CurrencyMostly spade coins and knife coins
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Shang dynasty
Blank.png Predynastic Zhou
Qin dynasty Blank.png
Today part of China
Zhou dynasty (Chinese characters).svg
"Zhou" in ancient bronze script (top), seal script (middle), and regular (bottom) Chinese characters
Hanyu Pinyin Zhōu
History of China.png
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou c. 1046 – 256 BC
  Western Zhou
  Eastern Zhou
    Spring and Autumn
    Warring States
Qin 221–207 BC
Han 202 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei , Shu and Wu
Jin 266–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui 581–618
Tang 618–907
  (Wu Zhou 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao 916–1125
Song 960–1279
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan 1271–1368
Ming 1368–1644
Qing 1636–1912
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic of China 1949–present

The Zhou dynasty (Chinese : ; pinyin :Zhōu [ʈʂóu] ) was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang dynasty and preceded the Qin dynasty. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history (790 years). The military control of China by the royal house, surnamed Ji, lasted initially from 1046 until 771 BC for a period known as the Western Zhou and the political sphere of influence it created continued well into Eastern Zhou for another 500 years.

Traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters

Traditional Chinese characters are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han dynasty and have been more or less stable since the 5th century.

Pinyin Chinese romanization scheme for Mandarin

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Dynasties in Chinese history One method of organizing Chinese history

Prior to the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor on 12 February 1912 in the wake of the Xinhai Revolution, China was ruled by a series of successive dynasties. Dividing the history of China into periods ruled by dynasties is a common method of periodization utilized by scholars. The following is a non-comprehensive list of the dynasties in Chinese history.


During the Zhou dynasty, centralized power decreased throughout the Spring and Autumn period until the Warring States period in the last two centuries of the dynasty. In this period, the Zhou court had little control over its constituent states that were at war with each other until the Qin state consolidated power and formed the Qin dynasty in 221 BC. The Zhou dynasty had formally collapsed only 35 years earlier, although the dynasty had only nominal power at that point.

Spring and Autumn period period of ancient Chinese history

The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history from approximately 771 to 476 BC which corresponds roughly to the first half of the Eastern Zhou period. The period's name derives from the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of Lu between 722 and 479 BC, which tradition associates with Confucius.

Warring States period Era in ancient Chinese history

The Warring States period was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest that saw the annexation of all other contender states, which ultimately led to the Qin state's victory in 221 BC as the first unified Chinese empire, known as the Qin dynasty.

Qin (state) Chinese feudal state

Qin was an ancient Chinese state during the Zhou dynasty. Traditionally dated to 897 B.C., it took its origin in a reconquest of western lands previously lost to the Rong; its position at the western edge of Chinese civilization permitted expansion and development that was unavailable to its rivals in the North China Plain. Following extensive "Legalist" reform in the 3rd century BC, Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States and unified China in 221 BC under Qin Shi Huang. The empire it established was short-lived but greatly influential on later Chinese history.

This period of Chinese history produced what many consider the zenith of Chinese bronze-ware making. [4] The Zhou dynasty also spans the period in which the written script evolved into its almost-modern form with the use of an archaic clerical script that emerged during the late Warring States period.

Bronze metal alloy

Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of other metals and sometimes non-metals or metalloids such as arsenic, phosphorus or silicon. These additions produce a range of alloys that may be harder than copper alone, or have other useful properties, such as stiffness, ductility, or machinability.

Clerical script archaic style of Chinese calligraphy; evolved in the Warring States period to the Qin dynasty, was dominant in the Han dynasty, and remained in use through the Wei–Jin periods

The clerical script, also formerly chancery script, is an archaic style of Chinese calligraphy which evolved from the Warring States period to the Qin dynasty, was dominant in the Han dynasty, and remained in use through the Wei-Jin periods. Due to its high legibility to modern readers, it is still used for artistic flavor in a variety of functional applications such as headlines, signboards, and advertisements. This legibility stems from the highly rectilinear structure, a feature shared with modern regular script (kaishu). In structure and rectilinearity, it is generally similar to the modern script; however, in contrast with the tall to square modern script, it tends to be square to wide, and often has a pronounced, wavelike flaring of isolated major strokes, especially a dominant rightward or downward diagonal stroke. Some structures are also archaic.



Traditional myth

According to Chinese mythology, the Zhou lineage began when Jiang Yuan, a consort of the legendary Emperor Ku, miraculously conceived a child, Qi "the Abandoned One", after stepping into the divine footprint of Shangdi. [5] [6] Qi was a culture hero credited with surviving three abandonments by his mother and with greatly improving Xia agriculture, [5] to the point where he was granted lordship over Tai and the surname Ji by his own Xia king and a later posthumous name, Houji "Lord of Millet", by the Tang of Shang. He even received sacrifice as a harvest god. The term Hòujì was probably a hereditary title attached to a lineage.

Jiang Yuan is an important figure in Chinese mythology and history. She is recorded as having lived during the ancient times of Chinese culture and history. Jiang Yuan was the mother of Houji, who is a culture hero and revered as the God of Millet.

Emperor Ku

, usually referred to as Dì Kù, also known as Gaoxin or Gāoxīn Shì, was a descendant of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. he went by the name Gaoxin until receiving imperial authority, when he took the name Ku and the title Di, thus being known as Di Ku. He is considered the ancestor of the ruling families of certain subsequent dynasties. Some sources treat Ku as a semi-historical figure, while others make fantastic mythological or religious claims about him. Besides varying in their degree of historicizing Ku, the various sources also differ in what specific stories about him they focus on, so that putting together the various elements of what is known regarding Ku results in a multifaceted story. Di Ku was one of the Five Emperors of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors of Chinese mythology. Ku, or Gaoxin, is also known as the "White Emperor".

Miraculous births miracle

Stories of miraculous births often include conceptions by miraculous circumstances and features such as intervention by a deity, supernatural elements, astronomical signs, hardship or, in the case of some mythologies, complex plots related to creation.

Qi's son, or rather that of the Hòujì, Buzhu is said to have abandoned his position as Agrarian Master (Chinese :農師; pinyin :Nóngshī) in old age and either he or his son Ju abandoned agriculture entirely, living a nomadic life in the manner of the Xirong and Rongdi (see Hua–Yi distinction). [7] Ju's son Liu, [8] however, led his people to prosperity by restoring agriculture and settling them at a place called Bin, [lower-alpha 3] which his descendants ruled for generations. Tai later led the clan from Bin to Zhou, an area in the Wei River valley of modern-day Qishan County.

Buzhu or Buku was a legendary noble during the Xia dynasty in China. He was the son of the Xia minister of agriculture, Houji, and inherited his father's position under the Xia king Kong Jia. Feeling the Xia court to be corrupt, he removed his clan from the capital to Tai. Either he or his son Ji Ju abandoned agriculture completely, enjoying the nomadic lifestyle of his Rong and Di neighbors instead.

Ju (Chinese: 鞠) was a noble of the Xia.

Xirong Ancient grouping of people or peoples in China

Xirong or Rong were various people who lived primarily in and around the extremities of ancient China known as early as the Shang dynasty. They were typically to the west of the later Zhou state from the Zhou Dynasty onwards. They were mentioned in some ancient Chinese texts as perhaps related to the people of the Chinese civilization.

The duke passed over his two elder sons Taibo and Zhongyong to favor the younger Jili, a warrior in his own right and who conquered several Xirong tribes as a vassal of the Shang kings Wu Yi and Wen Ding before being treacherously killed. Taibo and Zhongyong had supposedly already fled to the Yangtze delta, where they established the state of Wu among the tribes there. Jili's son Wen bribed his way out of imprisonment and moved the Zhou capital to Feng (within present-day Xi'an). Around 1046 BC, Wen's son Wu and his ally Jiang Ziya led an army of 45,000 men and 300 chariots across the Yellow River and defeated King Zhou of Shang at the Battle of Muye, marking the beginning of the Zhou dynasty. [lower-alpha 4] The Zhou enfeoffed a member of the defeated Shang royal family as the Duke of Song, which was held by descendants of the Shang royal family until its end. This practice was referred to as Two Kings, Three Reverences.

Zhongyong was the second ruler of the ancient Chinese State of Wu according to traditional Chinese history.

Jili was a leader of the Predynastic Zhou during the Shang dynasty of ancient China. His son King Wen and grandson King Wu would defeat the Shang to establish the Zhou dynasty. He was posthumously granted the title of King, and often referred to as King Ji of Zhou.

Wu Yi was king of the Shang dynasty of ancient China from 1147 to 1112 BC. His given name was Qu (瞿). According to the Bamboo Annals, his capital was at Yin. He was a son of his predecessor Geng Ding and father of King Wen Ding.


According to Nicholas Bodman, the Zhou appear to have spoken a language not basically different in vocabulary and syntax from that of the Shang. [lower-alpha 5] A recent study by David McCraw, using lexical statistics, reached the same conclusion. [11] The Zhou emulated extensively Shang cultural practices, perhaps to legitimize their own rule, [12] and became the successors to Shang culture. [13] At the same time, the Zhou may also have been connected to the Xirong, a broadly defined cultural group to the west of the Shang, which the Shang regarded as tributaries. [14] According to the historian Li Feng, the term "Rong" during the Western Zhou period was likely used to designate political and military adversaries rather than cultural and ethnic 'others.' [13]

Western Zhou

States of the Western Zhou dynasty EN-WesternZhouStates.jpg
States of the Western Zhou dynasty

King Wu maintained the old capital for ceremonial purposes but constructed a new one for his palace and administration nearby at Hao. Although Wu's early death left a young and inexperienced heir, the Duke of Zhou assisted his nephew King Cheng in consolidating royal power. Wary of the Duke of Zhou's increasing power, the "Three Guards", Zhou princes stationed on the eastern plain, rose in rebellion against his regency. Even though they garnered the support of independent-minded nobles, Shang partisans and several Dongyi tribes, the Duke of Zhou quelled the rebellion, and further expanded the Zhou Kingdom into the east. [15] [16] [17] To maintain Zhou authority over its greatly expanded territory and prevent other revolts, he set up the fengjian system. [16] Furthermore, he countered Zhou's crisis of legitimacy by expounding the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven while accommodating important Shang rituals at Wangcheng and Chengzhou. [18]

Over time, this decentralized system became strained as the familial relationships between the Zhou kings and the regional dynasties thinned over the generations. Peripheral territories developed local power and prestige on par with that of the Zhou. [19] When King You demoted and exiled his Jiang queen in favor of the beautiful commoner Bao Si, the disgraced queen's father the Marquis of Shen joined with Zeng and the Quanrong barbarians to sack Hao in 771 BC. Some modern scholars have surmised that the sack of Haojing might have been connected to a Scythian raid from the Altai before their westward expansion. [20] With King You dead, a conclave of nobles met at Shen and declared the Marquis's grandson King Ping. The capital was moved eastward to Wangcheng, [1] marking the end of the "Western Zhou" (西周, p Xī Zhōu) and the beginning of the "Eastern Zhou" dynasty (东周, p Dōng Zhōu).

Eastern Zhou

Map showing major states of Eastern Zhou States of Zhou Dynasty.png
Map showing major states of Eastern Zhou

The Eastern Zhou was characterized by an accelerating collapse of royal authority, although the king's ritual importance allowed over five more centuries of rule. The Confucian chronicle of the early years of this process led to its title of the "Spring and Autumn" period. The partition of Jin in the mid-5th century BC initiated a second phase, the "Warring States". [19] In 403 BC, the Zhou court recognized Han, Zhao, and Wei as fully independent states. Duke Hui of Wei, in 344 BC, was the first to claim the royal title of king (Chinese: 王) for himself. Others followed, marking a turning point, as rulers did not even entertain the pretence of being vassals of the Zhou court, instead proclaiming themselves fully independent kingdoms. A series of states rose to prominence before each falling in turn, and Zhou was a minor player in most of these conflicts.

The last Zhou king is traditionally taken to be Nan, who was killed when Qin captured the capital Wangcheng [1] in 256 BC. A "King Hui" was declared, but his splinter state was fully removed by 249 BC. Qin's unification of China concluded in 221 BC with Qin Shihuang's annexation of Qi.

The Eastern Zhou, however, is also remembered as the golden age of Chinese philosophy: the Hundred Schools of Thought which flourished as rival lords patronized itinerant shi scholars is led by the example of Qi's Jixia Academy. The Nine Schools of Thought which came to dominate the others were Confucianism (as interpreted by Mencius and others), Legalism, Taoism, Mohism, the utopian communalist Agriculturalism, two strains of Diplomatists, the sophistic Logicians, Sun-tzu's Militarists, and the Naturalists. [21] Although only the first three of these went on to receive imperial patronage in later dynasties, doctrines from each influenced the others and Chinese society in sometimes unusual ways. The Mohists, for instance, found little interest in their praise of meritocracy but much acceptance for their mastery of defensive siege warfare; much later, however, their arguments against nepotism were used in favor of establishing the imperial examination system.

Culture and society

Silk painting depicting a man riding a dragon, painting on silk, dated to 5th-3rd century BC, from Zidanku Tomb no. 1 in Changsha, Hunan Province Changshadragon.jpg
Silk painting depicting a man riding a dragon , painting on silk, dated to 5th-3rd century BC, from Zidanku Tomb no. 1 in Changsha, Hunan Province
A lacquerware painting from the Jingmen Tomb (Chinese: Jing Men Chu Mu ; Pinyin: Jingmen chu mu) of the State of Chu (704-223 BC), depicting men wearing precursors to Hanfu (i.e. traditional silk dress) and riding in a two-horsed chariot Lacquer painting from Ch'u State.jpg
A lacquerware painting from the Jingmen Tomb (Chinese: 荊門楚墓; Pinyin: Jīngmén chǔ mù) of the State of Chu (704–223 BC), depicting men wearing precursors to Hanfu (i.e. traditional silk dress) and riding in a two-horsed chariot

Mandate of Heaven and the Justification of Power

A Western Zhou bronze gui vessel, c. 1000 BC Western Zhou Gui Vessel.jpg
A Western Zhou bronze gui vessel, c.1000 BC

Zhou rulers introduced what was to prove one of East Asia's most enduring political doctrines. The concept of the "Mandate of Heaven". They did this by asserting that their moral superiority justified taking over Shang wealth and territories, also that heaven had imposed a moral mandate on them to replace the Shang and return good governance to the people. [22]

The Mandate of Heaven was presented as a religious compact between the Zhou people and their supreme god in heaven (literally the 'sky god'). The Zhou agreed that since worldly affairs were supposed to align with those of the heavens, the heavens conferred legitimate power on only one person, the Zhou ruler. In return, the ruler was duty-bound to uphold heaven's principles of harmony and honor. Any ruler who failed in this duty, who let instability creep into earthly affairs, or who let his people suffer, would lose the mandate. Under this system, it was the prerogative of spiritual authority to withdraw support from any wayward ruler and to find another, more worthy one. [23] In this way, the Zhou sky god legitimated regime change.

In using this creed, the Zhou rulers had to acknowledge that any group of rulers, even they themselves, could be ousted if they lost the mandate of heaven because of improper practices. The book of odes written during the Zhou period clearly intoned this caution. [22]

The early Zhou kings contended that heaven favored their triumph because the last Shang kings had been evil men whose policies brought pain to the people through waste and corruption. After the Zhou came to power, the mandate became a political tool.

One of the duties and privileges of the king was to create a royal calendar. This official document defined times for undertaking agricultural activities and celebrating rituals. But unexpected events such as solar eclipses or natural calamities threw the ruling house's mandate into question. Since rulers claimed that their authority came from heaven, the Zhou made great efforts to gain accurate knowledge of the stars and to perfect the astronomical system on which they based their calendar. [23]

Zhou legitimacy also arose indirectly from Shang material culture through the use of bronze ritual vessels, statues, ornaments, and weapons. [23] As the Zhou emulated the Shang's large scale production of ceremonial bronzes, they developed an extensive system of bronze metal working that required a large force of tribute labor. Many of its members were Shang, who were sometimes forcibly transported to new Zhou to produce the bronze ritual objects which were then sold and distributed across the lands, symbolizing Zhou legitimacy. [22]


A Western Zhou ceremonial bronze of cooking-vessel form inscribed to record that the King of Zhou gave a fiefdom to Shi You, ordering that he inherit the title as well as the land and people living there CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - bronze gui.jpg
A Western Zhou ceremonial bronze of cooking-vessel form inscribed to record that the King of Zhou gave a fiefdom to Shi You, ordering that he inherit the title as well as the land and people living there

Western writers often describe the Zhou period as "feudal" because the Zhou's fēngjiàn (封建) system invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe.

There were many similarities between the decentralized systems. When the dynasty was established, the conquered land was divided into hereditary fiefs (諸侯, zhūhóu) that eventually became powerful in their own right. In matters of inheritance, the Zhou dynasty recognized only patrilineal primogeniture as legal. [24] [25] According to Tao (1934: 17–31), "the Tsung-fa or descent line system has the following characteristics: patrilineal descent, patrilineal succession, patriarchate, sib-exogamy, and primogeniture" [26]

The system, also called "extensive stratified patrilineage", was defined by the anthropologist Kwang-chih Chang as "characterized by the fact that the eldest son of each generation formed the main of line descent and political authority, whereas the younger brothers were moved out to establish new lineages of lesser authority. The farther removed, the lesser the political authority". Ebrey defines the descent-line system as follows: "A great line (ta-tsung) is the line of eldest sons continuing indefinitely from a founding ancestor. A lesser line is the line of younger sons going back no more than five generations. Great lines and lesser lines continually spin off new lesser lines, founded by younger sons".

K.E. Brashier writes in his book "Ancestral Memory in Early China" about the tsung-fa system of patrilineal primogeniture: "The greater lineage, if it has survived, is the direct succession from father to eldest son and is not defined via the collateral shifts of the lesser lineages. In discussions that demarcate between trunk and collateral lines, the former is called a zong and the latter a zu, whereas the whole lineage is dubbed the shi. [...] On one hand every son who is not the eldest and hence not heir to the lineage territory has the potential of becoming a progenitor and fostering a new trunk lineage (Ideally he would strike out to cultivate new lineage territory). [...] According to the Zou commentary, the son of heaven divided land among his feudal lords, his feudal lords divided land among their dependent families and so forth down the pecking order to the officers who had their dependent kin and the commoners who "each had his apportioned relations and all had their graded precedence"" [27]

This type of unilineal descent-group later became the model of the Korean family through the influence of Neo-Confucianism, as Zhu Xi and others advocated its re-establishment in China. [28]

Fēngjiàn system and bureaucracy

There were five peerage ranks below the royal ranks, in descending order with common English translations: gōng 公 "duke", hóu 侯 "marquis", 伯 "count", 子 "viscount", and nán 男 "baron". [29] At times, a vigorous duke would take power from his nobles and centralize the state. Centralization became more necessary as the states began to war among themselves and decentralization encouraged more war. If a duke took power from his nobles, the state would have to be administered bureaucratically by appointed officials.

Despite these similarities, there are a number of important differences from medieval Europe. One obvious difference is that the Zhou ruled from walled cities rather than castles. Another was China's distinct class system, which lacked an organized clergy but saw the Shang Zi-clan yeomen become masters of ritual and ceremony known as Shi (士). When a dukedom was centralized, these people would find employment as government officials or officers. These hereditary classes were similar to Western knights in status and breeding, but like Western clergy were expected to be something of a scholar instead of a warrior. Being appointed, they could move from one state to another. Some would travel from state to state peddling schemes of administrative or military reform. Those who could not find employment would often end up teaching young men who aspired to official status. The most famous of these was Confucius, who taught a system of mutual duty between superiors and inferiors. In contrast, the Legalists had no time for Confucian virtue and advocated a system of strict laws and harsh punishments. The wars of the Warring States were finally ended by the most legalist state of all, Qin. When the Qin dynasty fell and was replaced by the Han dynasty, many Chinese were relieved to return to the more humane virtues of Confucius.[ citation needed ]


The Shi Qiang pan, inscribed with the accomplishments of the earliest Zhou kings, circa 10th century BC Shi Qiang pan.jpg
The Shi Qiang pan, inscribed with the accomplishments of the earliest Zhou kings, circa 10th century BC

Agriculture in the Zhou dynasty was very intensive and, in many cases, directed by the government. All farming lands were owned by nobles, who then gave their land to their serfs, a situation similar to European feudalism. For example, a piece of land was divided into nine squares in the well-field system, with the grain from the middle square taken by the government and that of surrounding squares kept by individual farmers. This way, the government was able to store surplus food and distribute it in times of famine or bad harvest. Some important manufacturing sectors during this period included bronze smelting, which was integral to making weapons and farming tools. Again, these industries were dominated by the nobility who directed the production of such materials.

China's first projects of hydraulic engineering were initiated during the Zhou dynasty, ultimately as a means to aid agricultural irrigation. The chancellor of Wei, Sunshu Ao, who served King Zhuang of Chu, dammed a river to create an enormous irrigation reservoir in modern-day northern Anhui province. For this, Sunshu is credited as China's first hydraulic engineer. The later Wei statesman Ximen Bao, who served Marquis Wen of Wei (445-396 BC), was the first hydraulic engineer of China to have created a large irrigation canal system. As the main focus of his grandiose project, his canal work eventually diverted the waters of the entire Zhang River to a spot further up the Yellow River.


The early Western Zhou supported a strong army, split into two major units: "the Six Armies of the west" and "the Eight Armies of Chengzhou". The armies campaigned in the northern Loess Plateau, modern Ningxia and the Yellow River floodplain. The military prowess of Zhou peaked during the 19th year of King Zhao's reign, when the six armies were wiped out along with King Zhao on a campaign around the Han River. Early Zhou kings were true commanders-in-chief. They were in constant wars with barbarians on behalf of the fiefs called guo, which at that time meant "statelet" or "principality".

A bronze figure of a charioteer from the Warring States era of the Zhou Dynasty, dated 4th to 3rd century BC Charioteer figure, bronze, Eastern Zhou Dynasty.JPG
A bronze figure of a charioteer from the Warring States era of the Zhou Dynasty, dated 4th to 3rd century BC
An embroidered silk gauze ritual garment from an Eastern-Zhou-era tomb at Mashan, Hubei province, China, 4th century BC Chinese silk, 4th Century BC.JPG
An embroidered silk gauze ritual garment from an Eastern-Zhou-era tomb at Mashan, Hubei province, China, 4th century BC
An Eastern-Zhou bronze sword excavated from Changsa, Hunan Province CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - bronze sword.jpg
An Eastern-Zhou bronze sword excavated from Changsa, Hunan Province
A drinking cup carved from crystal, unearthed at Banshan, Hangzhou, Warring States period, Hangzhou Museum. Crystal Cup(Warring States Period) in Hangzhou Museum.JPG
A drinking cup carved from crystal, unearthed at Banshan, Hangzhou, Warring States period, Hangzhou Museum.
The Bianzhong of Marquis Yi of Zeng, a set of bronze bianzhong percussion instruments from the tomb of the aforesaid marquis in Hubei province, China, dated 433 BC, Warring States period Bianzhong.jpg
The Bianzhong of Marquis Yi of Zeng, a set of bronze bianzhong percussion instruments from the tomb of the aforesaid marquis in Hubei province, China, dated 433 BC, Warring States period

King Zhao was famous for repeated campaigns in the Yangtze areas and died in his last action. Later kings' campaigns were less effective. King Li led 14 armies against barbarians in the south, but failed to achieve any victory. King Xuan fought the Quanrong nomads in vain. King You was killed by the Quanrong when Haojing was sacked. Although chariots had been introduced to China during the Shang dynasty from Central Asia, the Zhou period saw the first major use of chariots in battle. [30] [31] Recent archaeological finds demonstrate similarities between horse burials of the Shang and Zhou dynasties and Indo-European peoples in the west. [32] Other possible cultural influences resulting from Indo-European contact in this period may include fighting styles, head-and-hooves burials, art motifs and myths. [32]


During the Zhou dynasty, the origins of native Chinese philosophy developed, its initial stages of development beginning in the 6th century BC. The greatest Chinese philosophers, those who made the greatest impact on later generations of Chinese, were Confucius, founder of Confucianism, and Laozi, founder of Taoism. Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were Mozi, founder of Mohism; Mencius, a famous Confucian who expanded upon Confucius' legacy; Shang Yang and Han Fei, responsible for the development of ancient Chinese Legalism (the core philosophy of the Qin dynasty); and Xun Zi, who was arguably the center of ancient Chinese intellectual life during his time, even more so than iconic intellectual figures such as Mencius. [33]


Established during the Western period, the Li (traditional Chinese : ; simplified Chinese : ; pinyin : ) ritual system encoded an understanding of manners as an expression of the social hierarchy, ethics, and regulation concerning material life; the corresponding social practices became idealized within Confucian ideology.

The system was canonized in the Book of Rites , Zhouli , and Yili compendiums of the Han dynasty (206 BC220 AD), thus becoming the heart of the Chinese imperial ideology. While the system was initially a respected body of concrete regulations, the fragmentation of the Western Zhou period led the ritual to drift towards moralization and formalization in regard to:

  • The five orders of Chinese nobility.
  • Ancestral temples (size, legitimate number of pavilions)
  • Ceremonial regulations (number of ritual vessels, musical instruments, people in the dancing troupe)


The rulers of the Zhou dynasty were titled Wáng ( ), which is normally translated into English as "king" and was also the Shang term for their rulers. [34] In addition to these rulers, King Wu's immediate ancestors Danfu, Jili, and Wen are also referred to as "Kings of Zhou", despite having been nominal vassals of the Shang kings.

NB: Dates in Chinese history before the first year of the Gonghe Regency in 841 BC are contentious and vary by source. Those below are those published by Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project and Edward L. Shaughnessy's The Absolute Chronology of the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Personal namePosthumous nameReign period
Fa周武王 King Wu of Zhou 1046–1043 BC
1045–1043 BC
Song周成王 King Cheng of Zhou 1042–1021 BC
1042/1035–1006 BC
Zhao周康王 King Kang of Zhou 1020–996 BC
1005/1003–978 BC
Xia周昭王 King Zhao of Zhou 995–977 BC
977/975–957 BC
滿Man周穆王 King Mu of Zhou 976–922 BC
956–918 BC
繄扈Yihu周共王/周龔王 King Gong of Zhou 922–900 BC
917/915–900 BC
Jian周懿王 King Yi of Zhou 899–892 BC
899/897–873 BC
辟方Pifang周孝王 King Xiao of Zhou 891–886 BC
872?–866 BC
Xie周夷王 King Yi of Zhou 885–878 BC
865–858 BC
Hu周厲王/周剌王 King Li of Zhou 877–841 BC
857/853–842/828 BC
共和 Gonghe Regency 841–828 BC
Jing周宣王 King Xuan of Zhou 827–782 BC
宮湦Gongsheng周幽王 King You of Zhou 781–771 BC
End of Western Zhou / Beginning of Eastern Zhou
宜臼Yijiu周平王 King Ping of Zhou 770–720 BC
Lin周桓王 King Huan of Zhou 719–697 BC
Tuo周莊王 King Zhuang of Zhou 696–682 BC
胡齊Huqi周僖王 King Xi of Zhou 681–677 BC
Lang周惠王 King Hui of Zhou 676–652 BC
Zheng周襄王 King Xiang of Zhou 651–619 BC
壬臣Renchen周頃王 King Qing of Zhou 618–613 BC
Ban周匡王 King Kuang of Zhou 612–607 BC
Yu周定王 King Ding of Zhou 606–586 BC
Yi周簡王 King Jian of Zhou 585–572 BC
洩心Xiexin周靈王 King Ling of Zhou 571–545 BC
Gui周景王 King Jing of Zhou 544–521 BC
Meng周悼王 King Dao of Zhou 520 BC
Gai周敬王 King Jing of Zhou 519–476 BC
Ren周元王 King Yuan of Zhou 475–469 BC
Jie周貞定王 King Zhending of Zhou 468–442 BC
去疾Quji周哀王 King Ai of Zhou 441 BC
Shu周思王 King Si of Zhou 441 BC
Wei周考王 King Kao of Zhou 440–426 BC
Wu周威烈王 King Weilie of Zhou 425–402 BC
Jiao周安王 King An of Zhou 401–376 BC
Xi周烈王 King Lie of Zhou 375–369 BC
Bian周顯王 King Xian of Zhou 368–321 BC
Ding周慎靚王 King Shenjing of Zhou 320–315 BC
Yan周赧王 King Nan of Zhou 314–256 BC

Nobles of the Ji family proclaimed Duke Hui of Eastern Zhou as King Nan's successor after their capital, Chengzhou, fell to Qin forces in 256 BC. Ji Zhao, a son of King Nan, led a resistance against Qin for five years. The dukedom fell in 249 BC. The remaining Ji family ruled Yan and Wei until 209 BC.


Fittings in the form of tigers, Baoji, Shaanxi province, Middle Western Zhou dynasty, c. 900 BC, bronze Fittings in the form of tigers, Baoji, Shaanxi province, Middle Western Zhou dynasty, c. 900 BC, bronze - Freer Gallery of Art - DSC05756.JPG
Fittings in the form of tigers, Baoji, Shaanxi province, Middle Western Zhou dynasty, c. 900 BC, bronze

In traditional Chinese astrology, Zhou is represented by two stars, Eta Capricorni (週一Zhōu yī, "the First Star of Zhou") and 21 Capricorni (週二Zhōu èr, "the Second Star of Zhou"), in "Twelve States" asterism. [35] Zhou is also represented by the star Beta Serpentis in asterism "Right Wall", Heavenly Market enclosure (see Chinese constellation). [36]

See also


  1. Fenghao is the modern name for the twin city formed by the Western Zhou capitals of Haojing and Fengjing.
  2. The exact location of Wangcheng and its relation to Chengzhou is disputed. According to Xu Zhaofeng, "Chengzhou" and "Wangcheng" were originally synonymous and used to name the same capital city from 771 to 510 BC. "The creation of a distinction between Wangcheng and Chengzhou probably occurred during the reign of King Jing", under whom a new capital "Chengzhou" was built to the east of the old city "Wangcheng". Nevertheless, the new Chengzhou was still sometimes called Wangcheng and vice versa, adding to the confusion. [1]
  3. The exact location of Bin remains obscure, but it may have been close to Linfen on the Fen River in present-day Shanxi. [9] [10]
  4. Sima Qian was only able to establish historical dates after the time of the Gonghe Regency. Earlier dates, like that of 1046 BC for the Battle of Muye, are given in this article according to the official PRC Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project, but they remain contentious. Various historians have offered dates for the battle ranging between 1122 and 1027 BC.
  5. Bodman (1980), p. 41: "Moreover, Shang dynasty Chinese at least in its syntax and lexicon seems not to differ basically from that of the Zhou dynasty whose language is amply attested in inscriptions on bronze vessels and which was transmitted in the early classical literature."

Related Research Articles

Shang dynasty First directly-attested dynasty in Chinese history

The Shang dynasty, also historically known as the Yin dynasty, was a Chinese dynasty that ruled in the Lower Yellow River Valley in the second millennium BC, succeeding the semi-mythical Xia dynasty and followed by the Zhou dynasty. The classic account of the Shang comes from texts such as the Book of Documents, Bamboo Annals and Records of the Grand Historian. According to the traditional chronology based on calculations made approximately 2,000 years ago by Liu Xin, the Shang ruled from 1766 to 1122 BC, but according to the chronology based upon the "current text" of Bamboo Annals, they ruled from 1556 to 1046 BC. The state-sponsored Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project dated them from c. 1600 to 1046 BC based on the carbon 14 dates of the Erligang site.

Western Zhou Dynasty of ancient China

The Western Zhou was the first half of the Zhou dynasty of ancient China. It began when King Wu of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty at the Battle of Muye and ended when the Quanrong nomads sacked its capital Haojing and killed King You of Zhou in 771 BC.

King Nan of Zhou, born Ji Yan and less commonly known as King Yin of Zhou, was the 37th and last king of the Chinese Zhou dynasty, the son of King Shenjing of Zhou and grandson of King Xian of Zhou. He was king for fifty-nine years, the longest in the Zhou Dynasty and all of pre-imperial China. By the time of King Nan's reign, the kings of Zhou had lost almost all political and military power, as even their remaining crown land was split into two states or factions, led by rival feudal lords: West Zhou, where the capital Wangcheng was located, and East Zhou, centred at Chengzhou and Kung. Therefore, Nan lacked any personal territory and was effectively under the control of the local feudal lords, essentially relying on their charity.

Duke Wen of Eastern Zhou, personal name Jī Jié, reigned as King Hui of Zhou over the remaining rump state of the Zhou dynasty from 255 BC to 249 BC, when he was captured and executed by the army of Qin. Wen was the last member of the Zhou dynasty who claimed the throne of China, though he was never recognized as king outside his own small domain at Chengzhou. Forced to spend his entire reign fighting against the state of Qin, Wen's death meant the final end of the Zhou dynasty.

Chinese bronze inscriptions writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on Chinese ritual bronzes (e.g. zhōng bells, dǐng tripodal cauldrons) from the Shang dynasty to the Zhou dynasty and later

Chinese bronze inscriptions, also commonly referred to as bronze script or bronzeware script, are writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on ritual bronzes such as zhōng bells and dǐng tripodal cauldrons from the Shang dynasty to the Zhou dynasty and even later. Early bronze inscriptions were almost always cast, while later inscriptions were often engraved after the bronze was cast. The bronze inscriptions are one of the earliest scripts in the Chinese family of scripts, preceded by the oracle bone script.

<i>Ding</i> (vessel) ancient Chinese cauldron, standing upon 3 or 4 legs with a lid and two facing handles

Ding (鼎) are prehistoric and ancient Chinese cauldrons, standing upon legs with a lid and two facing handles. They are one of the most important shapes used in Chinese ritual bronzes. They were made in two shapes: round vessels with three legs and rectangular ones with four, the latter often called fangding. They were used for cooking, storage, and ritual offerings to the gods or to ancestors. The earliest recovered examples are pre-Shang ceramic ding at the Erlitou site but they are better known from the Bronze Age, particularly after the Zhou deemphasized the ritual use of wine practiced by the Shang kings. Under the Zhou, the ding and the privilege to perform the associated rituals became symbols of authority. The number of permitted ding varied according to one's rank in the Chinese nobility: the Nine Ding of the Zhou kings were a symbol of their rule over all China but were lost by the first emperor, Shi Huangdi in the late 3rd century BCE. Subsequently, imperial authority was represented by the Heirloom Seal of the Realm, carved out of the sacred Heshibi; it was lost at some point during the Five Dynasties after the collapse of the Tang.

<i>Book of Documents</i> one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature

The Book of Documents or Classic of History, also known as the Shangshu, is one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature. It is a collection of rhetorical prose attributed to figures of ancient China, and served as the foundation of Chinese political philosophy for over 2,000 years.

Duke of Zhou Duke of Zhou

Dan, Duke Wen of Zhou, commonly known as the Duke of Zhou, was a member of the royal family of the Zhou dynasty who played a major role in consolidating the kingdom established by his elder brother King Wu. He was renowned for acting as a capable and loyal regent for his young nephew King Cheng, and for successfully suppressing the Rebellion of the Three Guards and establishing firm rule of the Zhou dynasty over eastern China. He is also a Chinese culture hero credited with writing the I Ching and the Book of Poetry, establishing the Rites of Zhou, and creating the yayue of Chinese classical music.

The Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project was a multi-disciplinary project commissioned by the People's Republic of China in 1996 to determine with accuracy the location and time frame of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Tsinghua University professor Li Xueqin was the director, and some 200 experts took part in the project, which correlated radiocarbon dating, archaeological dating methods, historical textual analysis, astronomy, and other methods to achieve greater temporal and geographic accuracy. Preliminary results of the project were released in November 2000. However, several of the project's methods and conclusions have been disputed by other scholars.

King Zhaoxiang of Qin, or King Zhao of Qin (秦昭王), born Ying Ji (Chinese: 嬴稷, was the king of Qin from 306 BC to 251 BC. He was the son of King Huiwen and younger brother of King Wu.

This is a family tree of Chinese kings before the establishment of the title emperor (皇帝) by Shi Huangdi.

Ancient Chinese encompasses the diverse set of cultural beliefs, social and economic structures, and technological capacities that historically influenced urban design in the early period of Chinese civilization. Factors that have shaped the development of Chinese urbanism include: fengshui geomancy and astronomy; the well-field system; the cosmological belief that Heaven is round and the Earth is square, the concept of qi; political power shared between a ruling house and educated advisers; the holy place bo; a three-tiered economic system under state control; early writing; and the walled capital city as a diagram of political power.

Xu (state) Ancient Chinese State

The State of Xu was an independent Huaiyi state of the Chinese Bronze Age that was ruled by the Ying family (嬴) and controlled much of the Huai River valley for at least two centuries. It was centered in northern Jiangsu and Anhui.

Ancient Chinese states historical state within China prior to Chinas unification in 221 BCE

Ancient Chinese States were typified by variously sized city states and territories that existed in China prior to its unification by Qin Shi Huang in 221 BCE. In many cases these were vassal states characterized by tribute paid to the ruling Zhou dynasty. Such states and fiefdoms would again emerge during later dynasties as a political expedient when required.

Rebellion of the Three Guards

The Rebellion of the Three Guards, or less commonly the Wu Geng Rebellion, was a civil war, instigated by an alliance of discontent Zhou princes, Shang loyalists, vassal states and non-Chinese peoples against the Zhou government under the Duke of Zhou's regency in the latter 11th century BC.

The Zhou–Chu War was a military conflict between the Zhou dynasty under King Zhao and the state of Chu from 961 to 957 BC. King Zhao personally led at least two major campaigns against Chu and other states and tribes of the middle Yangtze region, initially conquering the lands north of the Yangtze and the Han River valley. Eventually, however, the Zhou forces suffered a crushing defeat, with half of their armed forces as well as King Zhao killed, subsequently losing control of much conquered territory. The war ended the era of Western Zhou’s early expansion and forced it into the defense against foreign aggressors. On the other side, Chu consolidated its de facto independence and would continue to grow into one of the most powerful states of China.

Eastern Zhou geographic region

The Eastern Zhou was the second half of the Zhou dynasty of ancient China. It is divided into two periods: the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States.



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Works cited

Further reading

Preceded by
Shang dynasty
Dynasties in Chinese history
1046–256 BC
Succeeded by
Qin dynasty