King Wu Ding — Terminator of Noble’s Privilege

Wu Ding (? — 1192 BC) was the 23rd king, also one of the most exceptional monarchs, of the Shang Dynasty.


Most of the unearthed Inscriptions on Bones or Tortoise Shells started from his ruling period. During over half a century of his governance, he flourished his empire, and largely expanded his kingdom.


King Wu Ding had over 60 wives in his lifetime, three of whom were superior to others, and involved in politics actively. 


But his beloved Queen Fu Hao (or Fu Zi) was believed his favorite, who was also the first female marshal in Chinese history with extraordinary military achievements. 

King Wu Ding and Queen Fu Hao of Shang Dynasty in battlefiled

A Humble Prince Growing up Among Civilians 


When Wu Ding was young, his father sent him to do labor with civilians, which provided him a good opportunity to get close to and fully understand his people’s real lives and needs.

He became the next king after his father passed away.

However, as a monarch, he was unhappy after having found out that there were very few intelligent and qualified officials in his government, except for many powerful, incapable hereditary aristocracies.

So he let his most trusted ministers be in charge for 3 years, while he spent those times observing and learning about the real political situation and his kingdom, from a bystander’s perspective.

Inscriptions on Bones in regard to King Wu Ding’s Divination about his Empire

Unearthed Inscriptions on Bones in regard to King Wu Ding’s Divinations about his Empire — National Museum of China

Encounter with A Mysterious and Capable Minister

One night, King Wu Ding dreamt about a saint named Yue telling him that “if you ever have a chance to find me, you would know what I am capable of”.

After Wu Ding woke up, he drew a picture of Yue and sent lots of people to try and find this saint. Soon, a slave who was working as a construction worker looked exactly like the saint in Wu’s dream and was summoned immediately.

Undoubtedly, this person proved quite outstanding, insightful, and impressive.


Then Wu named this slave worker Yue and nominated him as the most powerful prime minister of his empire.


Unearthed Buffalo Shaped Bronze Wine Vessel During King Wu Ding’s Period — National Museum of China

Exceptional Achievements of King Wu Ding

Assisted by Yue, King Wu Ding strengthened centralized power by monopolizing the sacrificial ceremony, empowering more talented people from all types of backgrounds, and gradually terminating the political privileges of noble members. 


Consequently, the central government became quite efficient, which was filled with intelligent and qualified officials. 

Besides, Wu and Yue steadily extended the territory.

For outsider clans and regimes which were unwilling to submit, they usually defeated them through wars as the first step.

Next, after having succeeded on the battlefields, they would try to connect with those regimes through marriage, help them build city walls and houses, or directly divide and reward lands to other excellent generals.

By doing this, more places were merged, and more clans complied and were well integrated into the Shang Empire.

Unearthed Inscriptions on Bones notes King Wu Ding’s Agricultural Commands

Unearthed Inscriptions on Bones notes King Wu Ding’s Agricultural Commands — National Museum of China

King Wu Ding's Love Lives


King Wu Ding had around 60 wives in total. Lady Fu Hao (or Fu Zi) was his beloved queen, and also his best general. 


They were the two most important and exceptional generals at that time, in defeating enemies and expanding their territory. Together, they implemented and succeeded in the first Ambush War in history.


After his queen passed away young, Wu Ding buried her in his palace, and frequently divined to see if she was doing well in the other world. Every time before he set off to the battlefield, he would hold a big sacrifice ceremony to worship his queen, asking for her blessing.

He even held three other marriages for her and previous kings of the Shang Dynasty, trying to ask his ancestors to take care of her. 

Unearthed Jade Phenix from Wu Ding’s Queen Fu Hao's Tomb

Unearthed Jade Phenix from Wu Ding’s Queen Fu Hao's Tomb — National Museum of China

King Wu Ding had 3 sons documented officially.


The first son, a well-respected prince, was raised as the legal heir and sent to work as a civilian, just exactly like what Wu had experienced in his early years; unfortunately, this prince passed away young.

Wu then planned to give the throne to the third son, who was very intelligent and polite. But this prince refused and left the palace because he thought his second older brother should be the legal heir.

Therefore, after Wu Ding passed away, his second son became the next king and nominated his little brother, Wu’s third son, as the crown prince. 

King Wu Ding and his two sons’ ruling period was the last prosperous era of the Shang Dynasty in the history of China.