King Wen of Zhou, King Wu of Zhou, and Duke of Zhou — Founders of the Zhou Dynasty

King Wen of Zhou (1152 BC — 1056 BC), named Ji Chang, was an ambitious, capable lord that largely developed his state.  

His son King Wu of Zhou (? — 1043 BC), named Ji Fa, defeated Di Xin the King Zhou of Shang, overthrew the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC), and established the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC). 

His fourth son Ji Dan, respected as Duke of Zhou or Zhou Gong, further consolidated Zhou's reign, established Rituals of Zhou that were highly respected in Confucianism, and influenced Chinese culture for the next thousands of years.

Portrait of King Wen of Zhou

Portrait of King Wen of Zhou, by Artist of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1633)

Resentment between Zhou and Shang

Zhou, one of the vassal states of the Shang Dynasty, kept developing under the reign of Ji Chang's father. He defeated and annexed many nearby regimes, which made the King of Shang feel threatened. 

Hence, the king tricked and imprisoned his father, who passed away later during captivity. 

Afterward, Ji Chang inherited the title and became the next Lord of Shang, and started to prepare for vengeance. 

Ji Chang worked diligently to flourish the Zhou State, through good policies that encouraged agriculture and economy, military activities, and political alliances that extended the territory.

Besides, he met and obtained support from Jiang Shang, a brilliant strategist, politician, and great general. 

Six Secret Strategic Teachings Written on Bamboo Slips, Unearthed from Yinqueshan Han Tomb (around 140 BC — 118 BC)

Jiang Shang's Book the "Six Secret Strategic Teachings Written", Unearthed from Yinqueshan Han Tomb (around 140 BC — 118 BC) — Shandong Museum

King Wen of Zhou, and I Ching the Book of Changes

Years later, the current King of Shang, Di Xin noticed Ji Chang's achievements and summoned him to explain Zhou's military activities that annexed other regimes.  

Ji Chang had no choice but to come and soon was imprisoned by the king. 

During this captive period, Ji Chang wrote I Ching, or the Book of Changes, a masterpiece of divination and philosophy that contained the deduction of Eight Diagrams and some fundamental ideologies of both Confucianism and Taoism.

Later, Ji Chang’s sons and Jiang Shang paid plenty of treasures and beautiful women to Di Xin, to show their eternal loyalty to the king, who was satisfied and released Ji Chang soon.

Rise of King Wu of Zhou and the Battle of Muye

Ji Chang went home, kept working on developing the Zhou State, and allying with other lords that were unsatisfied with the king's reign.

After he passed away, his son Ji Fa inherited the title to be the next lord of Zhou. 

Ji Fa continued to respect Jiang Shang as the important minister and get ready to fight against the king.

Later, they found that King Di Xin sent his major army to fight in a place far away, so they decisively decided to march toward the capital city of Shang.

In January of 1046 BC, Ji Fa's army encountered the troop of Shang in a place named Muye. 

Shang's main force was still on the battlefield far away, so the king armed large numbers of slaves in the city, but most of whom soon rebelled.  

This is the decisive final war between Shang and Zhou, the Battle of Muye.

Unearthed Ritual Bronze Vessel (Li Gui) with Inscriptions Carved inside Recorded the Battle of Muye that Perished Shang Dynasty, and the Establishment of the Zhou Dynasty
Inscriptions about the Battle of Muye on the Unearthed Bronze Bowl (Li Gui) of the Zhou Dynasty

Unearthed Ritual Bronze Vessel (Li Gui), with Inscriptions Carved inside Records the Battle of Muye — National Museum of China

Establishment of the Zhou Dynasty

Seeing a huge loss after intense fights, King Zhou of Shang burnt down himself in his royal palace. 

Ji Fa, now King Wu of Zhou, established the Zhou Dynasty and respected his father Ji Chang as the King Wen of Zhou.

The King Wu of Zhou then subinfeuded lands to his brothers and relatives, and to the lords that had contributed significantly to Zhou's establishment. 


Former nobles, such as descendants of King Huang Di, King Yao, and Shun, were given fiefs and titles as well.

He also established a more centralized political management system, which granted the king more powers and strengthened the consolidation of the whole kingdom.

Ritual Jade (Yu Zhang) of the Zhou Dynasty Carved with Human and Phoenix Patterns

Ritual Jade (Yu Zhang) of the Zhou Dynasty Carved with Human and Phoenix Patterns — Henan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Duke of Zhou and Rituals of Zhou

A few years later, King Wu of Zhou passed the throne to his first son, King Cheng of Zhou (? — 1021 BC), and asked his younger brother to assist the new king.

His younger brother Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou, was an influential, accomplished regent.

He defeated rebel armies that were led by the son of King Di Xin and other nobles of the Shang Dynasty, and further consolidated Zhou's reign.

Then, he chose a new place as Zhou's new capital city and commanded the new city's design and construction. 

After the whole royals migrated to the newly built, grand capital city, the Duke of Zhou regulated and published the Rituals of Zhou, a whole system that included administrative authorities, worship ceremonies, strict hierarchy, social estate, moral standards, tribute rites, etc.

Bronze Pot (Ding) of the Zhou Dynasty with Animals Patterns

Ritual Bronze Pot (Ding) of the Zhou Dynasty with Animals Patterns — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

When the King Cheng of Zhou was grown up, the Duke of Zhou returned him with a flourishing, stable empire.

This was the first flourishing age of the Zhou Dynasty when people lived in peace and wealth and had fewer crimes.  

King Wen of Zhou, King Wu of Zhou, and Duke of Zhou had a huge fan named Confucius, who thought highly of these benevolent monarchs, and the kingdom that they built together.

The first flourishing age of Zhou was an ideal and perfect empire in many of Confucius' articles when the ruling class was benevolent and talented, lords were loyal and well-behaved, civilians were diligent and stable, and the whole society that has a strict hierarchy and proper ceremonies. 

Unearthed Bronze Water Container of the Lord of Jin of the Zhou Dynasty

Unearthed Bronze Water Container of the Lord of Jin of the Zhou Dynasty — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)