Jiang Ziya — Mysterious Founder of Ancient Chinese Military Strategy
Jiang Ziya (? — about 1015 BC), also named Lv Shang, Jiang Taigong, or Jiang Shang, was an important figure in Chinese history and mythology.
Zhou was the longest dynasty in Chinese history, which set the Feudalism and the Rites that Confucianism highly appreciated, and was the period when most ancient Chinese Philosophical Schools were well developed.
As an important founder, Jiang Ziya then was granted the Principality named Qi in the east of China.
Bronze Ceremonial Tripod (Zuo Bao Ding) of the Zhou Dynasty, Unearthed from Places around the Principality Qi — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Because of the importance of the Zhou Dynasty in Chinese culture, and his great contributions to cultivating and developing the Principality Qi, he was gradually apotheosized as a mysterious, powerful immortal.
Centuries later, in a famous novel that was finished around 1567 to 1620, The Investiture of the Gods (Chinese name as Feng Shen Yan Yi), Jiang Ziya was a mysterious Taoist from Mount Kunlun, who then canonized 365 deities in heaven.
This exceptional novel was quite popular since it was firstly published, and has been made into TV shows, video games, movies, and cartoons several times in recent decades.
His extraordinary contribution to the Zhou Dynasty in history, and the popularity of the novel "Investiture of the Gods", together made him one of the most powerful, mysterious figures in Chinese culture.
Jiang Ziya's Image in the Chinese Animated 3D Fantasy Adventure Film "Legend of Deification", Part of the Fengshen Cinematic Universe with Ne Zha.
Mysterious Origin and Early Life
When Jiang Ziya met with the Lord Ji Chang of Zhou, he was already 72 years old. His life before that, however, remained unknown.
Historical records said that he was a descendant of a noble lord that had assisted Yu the Great to defeat the huge flood before. But when Jiang Ziya was born, his family was very poor, so he used to work as a butcher, a dealer, or a junior officer for a living.
Others, including in the novel "Investiture of the Gods", believed that he had studied Taoism and magical art on Mount Kunlun, the most mysterious mountain in Chinese culture and mythology.
He came to the secular world to bring peace under command of his deity masters or was banished to the mortal because of some mystical reasons.
Anyway, he stayed a nobody until he was 72.
Encountering Lord Ji Chang of Zhou
Ji Chang (1152 BC — 1056 BC) was the Lord of Zhou, a vassal state of the Shang Dynasty. He was an excellent, reputable monarch, who further expanded his clan and brought people better lives.
One day, he saw an old man using a straight fishhook fishing near a river, so he started talking with him.
This old man was Jiang Ziya, whose wisdom and insights highly impressed Lord Ji Chang. After this meeting, Jiang was invited to the lord's palace and, ultimately, respected as the most important minister of Zhou.
Later, when Lord Ji Chang was imprisoned by King Zhou of Shang, Jiang contributed a lot in helping save him.
Exceptional Contribution of Jiang Ziya
After Lord Ji Chang was set free and came back, they started to plan revenge and overthrew the reign of the King Zhou of Shang. They further expanded and developed Zhou, as well as attracted more talented people to join their army.
A few years later, Lord Ji Chang departed, and his son Ji Fa ascended to the throne and kept respecting Jiang as his teacher and prime minister.
They kept training their army and developing economy and agriculture, while achieving more support and respect from lords of other vassal states.
In the year 1046 BC, when the main force of the Shang Empire was fighting in the east far away, Lord Ji Fa and Jiang took advantage of this opportunity and attacked the capital city of Shang.
The warriors of Shang fought bravely but still failed. The King Zhou of Shang burnt himself in his fancy palace, after which the Shang Dynasty officially ended.
This was the famous Battle of Muye, which overthrew Shang and established the Zhou Dynasty.
Unearthed Ritual Bronze Vessel (Li Gui) with Inscriptions Carved inside Recorded the Battle of Muye — National Museum of China
Establishment of the Principality Qi
Soon, Jiang was enthroned as the lord of a big principality in the east of China named Qi, which was a recently conquered realm filled with rebels and hostile civilians.
In the next few years, he implemented a series of good policies that promoted agriculture, business, and trade.
Soon, the Principality Qi developed dramatically, from a poor, remote state to a wealthy, flourishing empire.
Therefore, the people of Qi respected Jiang as their honorable monarch, and sincerely pledged their loyalty to the Zhou Empire. Gradually, they integrated into Zhou’s culture.
In the meanwhile, many advanced technologies and administration systems that Jiang applied here made sure the Qi kept expanding and became one of the most powerful states in the Spring and Autumn (770 BC — 403 BC) and the Warring States Periods (403 BC — 221 BC).
After everything was settled in the Principality Qi, he spent lots of time assisting the king of Zhou in governing the central empire and defeating rebellions and invasion wars.
Unearthed Set of Weapons of the Western Zhou Dynasty — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Masterpieces of Jiang in Chinese Military History
Besides establishing the Zhou Dynasty and State Qi, Jiang also wrote the first influential military classic, the Six Secret Strategic Teachings (Chinese name as Liu Tao).
It has six chapters that were written in the form of conversations among Jiang and Lord Ji Chang and Ji Fa, presenting theories regarding governance, warfare, weapon, arrangement & training of troops, military strategy, tactics, organization, etc.
No one knows where Jiang’s knowledge came from, as such an outstanding politician, the great teacher of kings of Zhou, an exceptional commander, a remarkable scientist, and the founder of Chinese Military Strategy.
Six Secret Strategic Teachings Written on Bamboo Slips, Unearthed from Yinqueshan Han Tomb (around 140 BC — 118 BC) — Shandong Museum
Status of Jiang in Chinese Mythology and Culture
In the novel "Investiture of the Gods” which was finished in the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), Jiang Ziya was a talented person who spent decades practicing Taoism in the magical Mount Kunlun.
His great master then passed him some magical weapons to help Lord Ji Chang and Ji Fa to overthrow the King Zhou of Shang, and to establish a brand new empire.
After Jiang led Zhou’s army and perished Shang Empire, he chose and canonized 365 influential people into heavenly realms, who then became deities in Chinese Mythology.
He didn’t get any positions in heaven for himself, however, some believed that he was able to manage or punish deities who behaved wrongly.
In other legends, Jiang Ziya had incarnated into some famous prime ministers that had assisted some emperors in ending many chaotic wars and building new dynasties throughout Chinese history.
Outside of the mythology area, he was worshiped by many Chinese emperors of the successive dynasties, when Jiang was worshiped as the saint of the military, while Confucius was the saint of the literature.
Since the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), many memorial temples were built to worship Jiang, who has been respected as the Saint of War and King Wucheng.
Memorial Temple of Jiang Ziya (Jiang Taigong Ci) in Linzi, Shandong Province
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