King You of Zhou — Controversial Kingdom Terminator and His Beautiful Icy Queen

Ji Gongsheng (795 BC — 771 BC), respected as King You of Zhou or Zhou You Wang, was the 12th king of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC) in the history of China. 

The Zhou Dynasty was made of two periods: Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 771 BC) when kings reigned feudal vassal states, and Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771 BC — 256 BC) when the kings of Zhou lost control over other lords and states. 

And this important turning point happened during the King You of Zhou’s reign.

Bronze Ritual Water Basin (Qiang Pan) with 284 Characters Carved Inside, Recorded History of First Seven Kings of the Western Zhou Dynasty — Baoji Museum

King You of Zhou and his beloved son were assassinated after they failed in a war, and his kingdom ended afterward. 

Reasons for this war and perishing of his kingdom, however, have been controversial. 

He might be an absurd monarch that lost his kingdom for his extremely beautiful icy queen Bao Si, or an ambitious monarch that fought bravely to recover prosperity of his kingdom but failed epically.

Human and Phoenix Shaped Jade Decoration (Yu Zhang) of Western Zhou Dynasty — Henan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Enthronement of King You of Zhou and Crisis of His Reign

King Li of Zhou (904 BC — 828 BC), grandfather of Ji Gongsheng, got banished after a riot by his people.

King Xuan of Zhou (? — 783 BC), father of Ji Gongsheng, recovered Zhou Empire’s prosperity for a while, but later failed in a series of wars and caused huge loss to the kingdom. Besides, he passed away controversially, quite possible to be an assassination, during a hunting trip.  

Hence, when the 13-year-old Ji Gongsheng ascended to the throne, many feudal lords were becoming stronger. 

Besides, the next year after Ji Gongsheng's enthronement, many natural disasters happened around his capital city, including earthquakes, dried up rivers, landslide, and famine.

In ancient Chinese culture, those were signs of bad reign and a huge decline of the royal family. 

These natural disasters made more people believe that he won’t be a good monarch, and more feudal lords didn’t respect and tribute to the king as they used to be.

Unearthed Bronze Watering Utensils (Yi) of the Western Zhou Dynasty — Baoji Bronzeware Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Encountering with His Beloved Woman

His queen named Shen was the daughter of a powerful lord, and their son Ji Yijiu (? — 720 BC) was nominated as crown prince.

No one knew if he loved the woman from this political alliance, but he disliked her after encountering another woman named Bao Si. 

Bao Si was extremely beautiful and mysterious. Some said she was a princess of Bao State and married the king in a political alliance; others said she was an abandoned child and was trained and sent to the king after her state lost in a war against Zhou.

No matter if Bao Si was noble or humble, King You of Zhou fell in love with her at first sight; soon, she gave birth to a baby boy named Ji Bofu (779 BC — 771 BC).

Maybe the King You of Zhou didn't like the political alliance with his queen Shen and her powerful father, a feudal lord that should respect the king but barely did.   

Maybe the King You of Zhou loved Bao Si too much. 

Anyway, he abolished Queen Shen and Crown Prince Ji Yijiu and made Bao Si his new queen and Ji Bofu as the new heir. 

The Controversial War Signal Drama

In some historic documentations and novels, the War Signal Drama ended the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Bao Si, the stunningly gorgeous woman, in some documents, was an icy beauty. 

No matter how many precious clothes and jewelry the king gave her, or how many fancy palaces were built for her, or how many hilarious people were hired to make her laugh, she just never smiled.

Even after the king gave her the queen’s crown, Bao Si still was a Lady of Ice with a poker face. 

Later, a person suggested King You of Zhou send war signals to other lords and commanded them to come, then see how Bao Si would react. 

So, they light fires on the beacon tower or hit war drums to summon armies.

Unearthed Bronze Bell with Inscriptions Carved on of the Western Zhou Dynasty — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

When large numbers of lords and soldiers from other places hurried there and saw nothing happened, Bao Si found the looks on their faces were hilarious and finally smiled.

The King You of Zhou was quite happy and then did this several times until no one would show up to amuse this couple again.

Soon, the state of the banished queen Shen allied with a nomadic regime named Quan Rong invaded the capital city.

When the actual threaten came and the King You of Zhou kept sending war signals to summon armies, no one ever showed up to protect him.

Though soldiers in his imperial army were brave and loyal, they couldn’t win over such outnumbered invasive alliances.

In the end, the king and the new crown prince got caught and assassinated, and his queen Bao Si was captured by the nomadic army. 

Unearthed Set of Weapons of the Western Zhou Dynasty — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Rebel and Conspiracy Version Against King You of Zhou

The War Signal Drama, however, is not mentioned in other historic documents. 

In some other bamboo strips from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, they recorded otherwise. 

After Bao Si was rewarded as the new queen, the king’s former queen Shen and former crown prince Ji Yijiu escaped back to State Shen. In some sayings, Lord Shen even supported Ji Yijiu as the king and established a new empire also named Zhou.

The King You of Zhou then led his royal army and enclosed State Shen, commanding them to hand over Ji Yijiu and former queen Shen.

Lord Shen allied nomadic Quan Rong and another lord, defeated the king's army, then, assassinated King You of Zhou, Queen Bao Si, and their son Ji Bofu. 

Maybe Zhou's other loyal lords didn’t have time to react, or they didn’t want to save the king, because of their interests.  

The real truth and reasons are still arguing, however, the result was quite clear.  

King You of Zhou and his crown prince died, their empire was burnt down and ended, and no feudal lords showed up to fight for them in their final war. 

Bamboo Strips Written in Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Recording the History of King You of Zhou Differently, Now Preserved in Tsinghua University.

Rebuilt and Division of Zhou Empire 

Nomadic Quan Rong’s army robbed and burnt down Zhou’s prosperous capital, and escaped after other lords led their armies and arrived.  

Ji Yijiu was supported to ascend to the throne as King Ping of Zhou, by his grandfather Lord Shen.  

However, other lords believed that Ji Yijiu was a traitor, since he and his grandfather allied other forces, perished their kingdom, destroyed the capital city, and murdered his father and brother.  

Hence, Ji Yuchen (about 790 BC — 750 BC), the younger brother of King You of Zhou, was then supported by these lords, as the King Xie of Zhou.

Afterward, these two kings co-existed for quite a long time, until the King Xie of Zhou was ambushed and assassinated.

Unearthed Tiger Shaped Jade Decoration (Yu Yuan) of Eastern Zhou Dynasty — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Rise of the Powerful States and Opening Up of New Eras

Then Ji Yijiu, the King Ping of Zhou, migrated (in other sayings was forced to) his capital city to another place, representing the beginning of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

Afterward, other feudal lords kept expanding their territories and competing over hegemony, through countless merger wars, when the kings of Zhou kept losing authority and territory.

Hence, Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771 BC — 256 BC) was also named as Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC) and Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC).

Bronze Weapon Ge of Spring and Autumn Period with Inlaying Gold Patterns and Inscriptions (Wang Zi Yu Ge) — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

During King Ping of Zhou’s large-scale moving, a vassal state named Qin successfully protected the new king from nomadic regimes. 

Hence, the lord of Qin got the king’s permission to occupy as many lands as possible from nearby nomadic regimes, as long as they could win.

Since then, the state of Qin kept expanding and became stronger. In 256 BC, a king of Qin perished Zhou and killed Zhou’s last king; later, Qin Shi Huang defeated other kingdoms and established the unified Qin Dynasty in the year 221 BC.

Colorful Lacquerware (Qi Dou) of Warring States Period that Used to Place Food — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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