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 who 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 the 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, 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 threatened the King of Shang.
Hence, the king tricked and imprisoned his father, who died 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 general.
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 was soon 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 Confucianism and Taoism.
Later, Ji Chang's sons and Jiang Shang paid plenty of treasure and beautiful women to Di Xin to show their eternal loyalty to the king, who was satisfied and released Ji Chang soon.
Ritual Jade (Yu Zhang) of the Zhou Dynasty Carved with Human and Phoenix Patterns — Henan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
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 unsatisfied with the king's reign.
After he passed away, his son Ji Fa inherited the title and became the next lord of Zhou.
Ji Fa continued to respect Jiang Shang as the most important prime minister and got 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 marched 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 many slaves in the city, most of whom soon rebelled.
This is the final war between Shang and Zhou, the Battle of Muye.
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 Emperor Huang Di, King Yao, and Shun, were also given fiefs and titles.
He also established a more centralized political management system, which granted the king more powers and strengthened the consolidation of the whole kingdom.
Portrait of King Wu of Zhou, By Court Artist Ma Lin of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 — 1279).
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 led by King Di Xin's son and other Shang Dynasty nobles 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.
Ritual Bronze Pot (Ding) of the Zhou Dynasty with Animals Patterns — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
After the royals migrated to the newly built, grand capital city, the Duke of Zhou regulated and published the Rituals of Zhou. This system included administrative authorities, worship ceremonies, strict hierarchy, social estate, moral standards, tribute rites, etc.
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 few crimes.
Unearthed Bronze Ritual Water Container (Qiang Pan) with 284 Characters Carved Inside, Recorded History of First Seven Kings of Zhou — Baoji Museum
King Wen of Zhou, King Wu of Zhou, and Duke of Zhou had a big fan named Confucius, who thought highly of these benevolent monarchs and the kingdom they built.
The first flourishing age of Zhou was an ideal and perfect empire in many of Confucius' articles when the kings were benevolent and talented, lords were loyal and well-behaved, civilians were diligent and stable, and the whole society followed a strict hierarchy and proper ceremonies.
Unearthed Bronze Water Container of the Lord of Jin of the Zhou Dynasty — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Next Story: Mysterious, Remarkable Prime Minister — Jiang Ziya/Shang
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