Ji Hu the King Li of Zhou — A Reformer with Tragic Ending

Ji Hu (? — 828 BC), respected as King Li of Zhou, was the tenth monarch of the Zhou Dynasty in the history of China.

He was regarded as a tyrant, but also a courageous reformer.

His reform achieved success and made his kingdom stronger in the beginning, but many of the controversial policies hurt both noble and civilians’ interest, who initiated a riot against the king.

Bronze Bell (Hu Zhong or Zong Zhou Zhong) Made By King Li of Zhou, With Inscriptions Memorizing the King's Military Achievements Defeating States in the South — Taipei Palace Museum

Enthronement and Predicament

When Ji Hu, now King Li of Zhou, ascended the throne, the Zhou Dynasty had experienced a huge decline already.

Outside of the empire, some nearby nomadic regimes kept harassing Zhou on the northern borders. 

Inside Zhou, many vassal states stopped paying tribute, nor pledging loyalty, some of them even rebelled against the king. 

Later, a lord in the south claimed himself the king as well. 

King Li of Zhou realized that he needs to make some big changes to strengthen his empire.

Bronze Tripod (Ding) Made by Yu, Inscriptions inside Recorded Him Assisted the King Li of Zhou Conquered A Rebel War Initiated by Some Feudal Lords — National Museum of China

King Li of Zhou's Controversial Reform 

Ji Hu the King Li of Zhou nominated some people he trusts, instead of honorable nobles of the royal clan, to be ministers of economy and military, which was against the rule and caused extensive disagreements.

Those ministers convinced the king to claim the ownership of all the mountains and lakes, most of which were occupied by the nobles and asked people to pay money if they wanted to approach and make profits from those places.

King Li of Zhou also monopolized all the profitable industries and implemented a series of policies to encourage agriculture.

Unearthed Pottery and Eggs of the Zhou Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

With those policies, the king collected large amounts of treasures into the exchequer and strengthened the empire.

A few years after the king's reform, Empire Zhou defeated all the invading armies and retrieved their lost lands; all the dissociated lords pledged their loyalty again and recovered the tribute system.

Even the king of that southern powerful vassal state abrogated his king's title and became a subdued lord again.

Bronze Tripod (Ding) Made by Duoyou, Inscriptions inside Recorded Him Assisted King Li of Zhou Won Intense Wars Against Nomad Invasions — Shaanxi History Museum

First Plain Clothes Spy Agency and Nobles' Riot 

These reform policies, though, enriched the country obviously, they strongly weakened nobles’ benefits, who lost important political positions, power, and a large amount of economic income. 

What's more, King Li of Zhou invented the first plain clothes spy agency when he heard that his reform policies were being widely complained and criticized.

Many people were sentenced to death or banished far away because of saying negative words about their king.

In the end, unsatisfied nobles initiated the Riot of People in the Capital City, trying to assassinate the king.

Exiled King Li of Zhou

King Li of Zhou escaped out of the capital city, with the protection of a few imperial guards, and fled to an isolated place far away.

When the riot happened, a royal minister hid king Ji Hu's first son in his house. When many angry people were surrounding outside and asking for the crown prince, the minister gave out his son, who later was sacrificed. 

When the king was in exile, this minister and another royal were in charge of the empire. 

After the King Li of Zhou passed away in the banished place 14 years later, they supported the hidden crown prince Ji Jing as the new monarch, the King Xuan of Zhou.

Ritual Gold Decoration Huang of the Zhou Dynasty — Shanxi Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

King Li of Zhou's achievements were noteworthy in the history of China, which made his empire powerful again, by defeating invading enemies and regaining tribute and respect from feudal lords.

However, he displeased nobles after having jeopardized their interests, also hurt the civilians by making people shut up.

Therefore, when the riot happened, he didn’t get support from aristocrats, nor civilians.

This ambitious, powerful, and aggressive reformer, unexpectedly and desperately, ended up in a wild mountain. 

Ritual Bronze Food Container "Hu Gui" Made by King Li of Zhou, Inscriptions inside Wrote About His Determination to Flourish the Empire and Wish for Ancestors' Blessings — Baoji Bronze Ware Museum

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