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King Wu Ding — Terminator of Noble Privilege

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


Most of the unearthed Oracle Bone Scripts originated from his reign.


During over half a century of his governance, he flourished his empire and vastly expanded his kingdom.


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


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

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

A Humble Prince Growing Up Among Civilians 


When Wu Ding was young, his father sent him to labor with civilians, which gave him an excellent 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 finding 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 three years while he spent those times observing and learning about the real political situation and his kingdom from a bystander’s perspective.

Unearthed Dragon Shaped Turquoise Artifact of the Shang Dynasty

Dragon Shaped Turquoise Artifact of Shang Dynasty — Harvard Art Museums (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Encounter with A Mysterious and Capable Minister

One night, King Wu Ding dreamt about a saint named Yue telling him, "If you ever have a chance to find me, you will know what I am capable of."

After Wu Ding woke up, he drew a picture of Yue and sent many people to try to find this saint.


Soon, a slave working as a construction worker looked precisely like the saint in the king's dream and was summoned immediately.

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


Then Wu Ding named this slave worker Yue and nominated him as his empire's most powerful prime minister.


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 backgrounds, and gradually terminating the political privileges of noble members. 


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

Besides, Wu and Yue steadily extended the territory.

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

Next, after succeeding 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 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

Legacy of King Wu Ding


King Wu Ding had three sons documented officially.


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

Wu Ding 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 Ding’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. 

Ceremonial Bronze Cooking Utensils (Ding) of the Shang Dynasty Decorated with Mythical Animals' Patterns

Ceremonial Bronze Cooking Utensils (Ding) of Shang Decorated with Mythical Animals' Patterns — Jiangxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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