Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Jiang Ziya — Mysterious Founder of Ancient Chinese Military Strategy

Jiang Ziya (about 1156 BC — 1017 BC), also named as Lv Shang, Jiang Taigong or Jiang Shang, was an important figure in Chinese history and mythology.

 

He assisted Lords Ji Chang and Ji Fa defeated the King Zhou of Shang (about 1075 BC — 1046 BC), and established the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC). 

 

Zhou was the longest dynasty in Chinese history, which set the Feudalism, the Rites and Music Culture that Confucianism highly appreciated, and was the period when most ancient Chinese Philosophical Schools 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 Jiang Ziya’s great contributions in 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 the heaven. 

 

This exceptional novel was quite popular since it was firstly published, and has been made into TV shows, video games, movies and cartoons for several times in recent decades. 

 

Jiang Ziya’s extraordinary contribution to Zhou Dynasty in the 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 Upcoming Chinese 3D Fantasy Adventure Film "Legend of Deification"

Jiang Ziya’s Mysterious 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 descendent 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, include in the novel "Investiture of the Gods", believed that Jiang Ziya had studied Taoism and magical art on Mount Kunlun, the most mysterious mountain in Chinese culture and mythology.  

 

Anyway, he stayed as a nobody until he was 72.

 

Encountering of Jiang Ziya and 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 was 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 Ziya 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 Ziya contributed a lot in helping save him.

Painting "Weibin Chui Diao Tu" depicts Lord Ji Chang's Meeting with Jiang Ziya, By Artist Dai Jin (1388 — 1462) of the Ming Dynasty — Taipei Palace Museum 

Exceptional Contribution of Jiang Ziya 

 

After Lord Ji Chang was set free and came back, they started to plan to revenge and overthrown reign of the King Zhou of Shang. They further expanded and developed Zhou, as well as attracting 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 Ziya as his teacher and prime minister.

 

They kept training their army, 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 Ziya took advantage of this opportunity and attacked the capital city of Shang. 

 

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 overthrown Shang and established 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 Ziya was enthroned as the lord of a big principality in the east of China named Qi, which was a recently conquered realm filled with rebel and hostile civilians.

 

In the next few years, Jiang Ziya 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 Ziya 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 system that Jiang Ziya 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 Warring States Periods (403 BC — 221 BC).  

 

After everything was settled in the Principality Qi, he spent lots of time assisting 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 Ziya in Chinese Military History 

 

Besides establishing of the Zhou Dynasty and State Qi, Jiang Ziya 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 Ziya and Lord Ji Chang and Ji Fa, presents theories in regard to governance, warfare, weapon, arrangement & training of troops, military strategy, tactic, and organization, etc. 

 

No one knows where did Jiang’s knowledge come from, as such an outstanding politician, the great teacher of kings of Zhou, 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 Ziya in Chinese Mythology and Culture

In the novel "Investiture of the Gods” that 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 Ziya led Zhou’s army and perished the Shang Empire, he chose and canonized 365 influential people into the heaven, who then became deities in Chinese Mythology. 

 

Jiang Ziya himself didn’t get any positions in the heaven, 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 ended many chaotic wars and built different new dynasties throughout the Chinese history. 

 

Outside of the mythology area, he was worshiped by many Chinese emperors of the following dynasties, when Jiang Ziya was worshiped as the saint of the military, while Confucius as the saint of the literature. 

 

Since the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), many memorial temples were built to worship Jiang Ziya, who has been respected as Saint of War and King Wucheng. 

Memorial Temple of Jiang Ziya (Jiang Taigong Ci) in Linzi, Shandong Province