King Zhou of Shang Di Xin — Controversial Last King of Shang Dynasty
Di Xin (1105 BC — 1046 BC), the last king of the Shang Dynasty, had long been considered responsible for the perdition of his kingdom. Hence, he was given a derogatory posthumous title: the King Zhou of Shang, or Shang Zhou Wang.
As one of the most controversial kings in the history of China, the King Zhou of Shang was always described as aggressive, outrageous, and extravagant; together with his beloved evil queen Su Daji, they destroyed the kingdom.
However, many other historical events indicated that he might be quite an ambitious and exceptional king that had flourished the kingdom but failed because of conspiracy and betrayal.
Resentment Among Ancestors of Shang and Zhou
When Di Xin's grandfather was the king of Shang, he felt threatened by one of his vassal states, Zhou, which kept expanding through battles.
Though Zhou's lord had paid tribute constantly and never behaved irresponsibly, Di Xin's grandfather tricked and imprisoned Zhou's current lord, who then passed away during the captivity.
This incident made State Zhou consider the Empire Shang, their biggest enemy.
Then Di Xin's father, who believed what they did to Zhou was inappropriate, tried to unite Zhou by marriage soon after he ascended to the throne.
Zhou's new lord pretended to comply but still kept preparing for revenge.
Therefore, when Di Xin became the king, the Zhou regime had been preparing for their vengeance for a long time.
Unearthed Bronze Weapons (Yue) of the Shang Dynasty — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Inner Crisis and Conflicts of the Shang Empire
Di Xin was a powerful, courageous, aggressive, and confident prince of Shang.
After his father passed away, he got the throne because of his exceptional strength and talent, and his birth mother was the noble Queen.
However, many officials still supported his older brother, Weizi, who didn't get the throne, for his mother was an imperial concubine.
Consequently, at the beginning of Di Xin's reign, he spent lots of time suppressing and fighting against nobles and officials who opposed his throne's legality.
Bronze Softshell Turtle With Four Arrows on Back that Recorded King Di Xin's Archery Etiquette — National Museum of China
Inscriptions on it noted that King Di Xin shot four arrows on a large softshell turtle accurately, and rewarded it to a historiographer.
Di Xin nominated many civilian and slave-born people to be officials and generals of Shang. Under their assistance, he published some progressive policies to develop agriculture and the economy.
Many nobles of Shang, including his big brother Weizi, escaped and surrendered to State Zhou.
They were unsatisfied with Di Xin’s taking power away from them to those humble people.
Military Accomplishment of Di Xin the King Zhou of Shang
When he ascended to the throne, many nearby regimes had expanded to some degree and kept challenging Shang’s authority. Some of them also allied together to fight against the Shang.
As an exceptional militarist, King Di Xin led Shang’s army, defeated all those rebellions and enemies, and vastly expanded his territory.
Most coastal provinces of China, like Shandong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Fujian, were included in the reign of the Middle Kingdom for the first time in Chinese history.
Decades of wars provided the king with a vast territory, many slaves, and a gorgeous woman named Su Daji, the daughter of a lord whose state had been conquered by the king.
In some historical documents, the king fell in love with Su Daji at first sight; he took her back to his fancy palace, and they spent a luxurious life together.
Ritual Bronze Cooking Utensils (Yan) with Inscriptions Recording King Di Xin's Military Success of Conquering A Regime named Renfang — National Museum of China
The Battle of Muye and the King's Suicide
In 1046 BC, Zhou's Lord Ji Fa was informed that Shang's main force was fighting far away east of China, leaving Shang's capital city poorly defended.
Hence, Lord Ji Fa and his prime minister Jiang Ziya led Zhou's army, and together with some other rebellious lords, they decisively attacked Shang's capital city.
This was the Battle of Muye.
The reasons for Zhou's expedition included King Di Xin having been obsessed with alcohol and women, disrespecting other nobles, ignoring grand sacrificial ceremonies, and empowering humble people.
Unearthed Ritual Bronze Vessel (Li Gui) with Inscriptions Carved inside Recorded the Battle of Muye — National Museum of China
On the other side, Di Xin had to arm many slaves to fight back.
Zhou's soldiers were brave and well trained; however, the Shang's hastily organized slaves, most of whom were captives of wars and had never been treated well, had mutinied out of a sudden.
The king's royal soldiers and generals, most of whom sacrificed in the end, fought bravely but still failed.
Hearing Zhou's army succeeding and marching toward the royal palace, King Di Xin wore his most valuable outfit and fancy jade jewelry, came to the tallest building in his palace, and burnt himself down there.
Zhou's lord cut off the king's head and killed his beloved woman.
Ceremonial Bronze Cooking Utensils (Ding) of Shang Decorated with Mythical Animals' Patterns — Jiangxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Ending of the Shang Dynasty
After King Di Xin's death, the Shang Dynasty officially ended.
Lord Ji Fa, now the King Wu of Zhou, established the Zhou Dynasty, granted Shang's capital city to the late king's son, and allowed him to rule Shang's surrendered people there.
Di Xin's son Wu Geng rebelled a few years later but was conquered.
Other forces of Shang that refused to surrender to Zhou kept fighting but failed or moved up north far away.
Many former nobles of Shang surrendered and kept serving the Zhou Dynasty, including Weizi, the big brother of Di Xin.
Site of Xin Yu, the Last Capital City of the Shang Dynasty — Anyang City, Henan Province
Two of the king's favorite generals sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Muye.
But their descendants established the State Qin about 800 years later, which finally perished the Zhou Dynasty.
Di Xin's policies were quite advanced from a modern perspective: he promoted and accelerated cultural fusion by extending his territory, refused to hold fancy and tremendous worship ceremonies, promoted talented people from all class origins, and further restrained noble's power.
On the other hand, his over-drinking, tremendously luxurious, and cease of holding big sacrifice ceremonies were unusual for people of his time. Decades of expanding wars also wasted tremendous manpower and resources.
Dragon Shaped Turquoise Artifact of Shang Dynasty — Harvard Art Museums (Photo by Dongmaiying)
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