Notable Kings of the Western Zhou Dynasty
Ji Xia, the King Zhao of Zhou — A Turning Point King Mysteriously Perished in River
Ji Man, the King Mu of Zhou — Legendary and Ambitious King with Mythical Experiences
Ji Yihu, the King Gong of Zhou — Legalization of Land Privatization and War Initiator Because of Women
Unearthed Bronze Ritual Water Container (Qiang Pan) with 284 Characters Carved Inside, Recorded History of First Seven Kings of the Zhou Dynasty — Baoji Museum
Ji Xia the King Zhao of Zhou — A Turning Point King Mysteriously Perished in River
King Zhao of Zhou (? — 977 BC), named Ji Xia, was the fourth monarch of the Zhou Dynasty, who took over a prosperous kingdom from his father.
Mysterious Natural Phenomena
However, he wasn’t a perfect monarch like his ancestors and dramatically declined national power.
Around a decade after he ascended to the throne, some abnormal natural phenomena appeared in Zhou’s capital city, which included an earthquake, colorful light at night, overflew water from the river, well, springs, and ponds.
In ancient Chinese culture, those were believed to be signs of Ji Xia being an incapable monarch or significant changes in the empire.
Portrait of Ji Man the King Zhao of Zhou, by Artist of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)
Expanding and Military Success of King Zhao of Zhou
Soon, an illegal coup and murder happened in one of his vassal states, but King Zhao of Zhou didn’t do or say anything. Since then, injustice behaviors gradually became common within the kingdom.
One thing led to another; some clans in the east and south started disrespecting the king and expanding to places with rich natural resources.
Hence, King Zhao of Zhou led his army, defeated eastern states, and achieved military success twice in the south.
Ritual Bronze Vessel Gui Produced During Ji Man's Reign, Inscriptions Inside Recorded the Lord of Guo (Guobo) Assisted the King Zhao of Zhou in the South Expedition — Lvshun Museum
Third South Expedition War and Controversial Ending
Sometime later, King Zhao of Zhou initiated the third war against the regime in the south, leading his best armies.
They went very well and conquered many places initially, but later, the king and many of his soldiers suddenly perished in a river.
The Zhou Empire lost its king, as well as the main force.
A brave general risked his life to take the king's body out of the river and carry it back to the capital; he was given a noble title by the new king later.
Unearthed Set of Weapons of the Zhou Dynasty — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
The reason why so many brave and experienced soldiers and the king drowned together was not noted in historical documents.
With the many military achievements of King Zhao of Zhou and his powerful army, they wouldn't have been beaten such quickly and utterly.
Some people said they all died because the bridge broke down, some believed that those boats they used were of bad quality, while others thought they came into a big earthquake or large groups of crocodiles.
Another version was that they piled too many bronze spoils after significant victories, which were too heavy for boats.
After this tragedy, the king's crown prince, his first son Ji Man ascended the throne.
Ji Man the King Mu of Zhou — Legendary and Ambitious King with Mythical Experiences
King Mu of Zhou (? — about 922 BC), named Ji Man, inherited the throne after his father, the King Zhao of Zhou, sacrificed in war.
King Mu of Zhou and His Expeditions
When Ji Man was the crown prince, he spent lots of time traveling around many places in China and meeting intelligent people, sitting in his eight-horse-lead cart driven by a brave coachman.
Horse Shaped Ritual Bronze Vessel Zun of the Zhou Dynasty — National Museum of China
After becoming king, he solved problems within the ruling class and administrative system. Soon, the empire was well organized, and civilians regained stable lives as they had in the previous flourishing age.
Then Ji Man started his journey again, but he took his best army with him this time.
Based on the extensive territory that his father left for him, Ji Man further extended his kingdom.
He defeated eastern rebellion vassal states, consolidated the southerners his father conquered, vanquished northern nomadic regimes, and implemented coercive policies for those failed northerners.
Legendary Encounter with the Deity Xi Wangmu
When King Mu of Zhou and his army were marching westward to the most mysterious and magical place, Mount Kunlun, the deity in charge there, the Xi Wangmu, stopped the king.
She invited him into her fancy palace and provided him with magical fruits and syrups that helped him live more than 100 years.
When he left, the deity gave him four pure white deers and wolves each and blessed him and his kingdom.
The King also offered Xi Wangmu valuable jade wares and held a grand banquet to celebrate.
In other records, people believed Xi Wangmu might have been a lord of tribes west of the Zhou Empire, where the king obtained large numbers of war horses and jade.
After King Ji Man achieved those unexceptional successes and further expanded his territory, he summoned all the lords of his vassal states and held a grand alliance meeting.
This was the declaration of his vast realm and absolute dominance over this enormous empire.
After such a long and legendary life, he left the world and passed the throne to his first son Ji Yihu.
Jade Bi of the Zhou Dynasty — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Ji Yihu the King Gong of Zhou — Legalization of Land Privatization and War Initiator Because of Women
King Gong of Zhou (? — 900 BC), named Ji Yihu, was the 6th monarch of the Zhou Dynasty.
A King that Aimed At Making Money
He inherited a vast kingdom but with relatively less money from the national treasury since his father, Ji Man, the King Mu of Zhou, had spent a lot on his travels and expeditions.
Therefore, the first important mission of Ji Yihu, the King Gong of Zhou, was to earn more money to refill the empty exchequer that his father used.
As a monarch, he tried his best to encourage the development of the economy and to search for peace.
The king reduced the number of his soldiers to ensure more people could participate in agricultural production.
Most importantly, he legalized Land Privatization and established a relevant registration and tax system.
Bronze Alcohol Vessel (Fang Yi) of the Zhou Dynasty — National Museum of China
This new system required even nobles to register their land and pay taxes.
Consequently, the income of the exchequer increased thanks to the efficient new management system of national land.
Moreover, as long as there were conflicts on borders, the king always tried to solve them by negotiating and avoiding clashes of arms.
But when a rebellious nomadic regime attacked his kingdom, he led his army to defeat them decisively.
Unlike his father and grandfather, who were ambitious in expanding territory and conquering nearby regimes through wars, King Gong of Zhou paid more attention to economic development and peace within his country.
Unearthed Pottery and Eggs of the Zhou Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Perishing of State Because of Women
As a peace worshiper, however, the King Gong of Zhou did initiate a war and perished one of his vassal states because of women.
Three beautiful women walked by one day when the king was touring one of his vassal states named Mi.
He was impressed by their stunning beauty and asked the lord of Mi State about those women. The Lord of Mi confirmed that they were local girls and promised to send them to the king as soon as possible.
When the lord tracked down and met those three beauties, however, he couldn’t resist their stunning looks and took all of them as his concubines.
This lord’s mother strongly disagreed with this behavior and told him that he was not entitled to obtain such unusual treasures, but he didn’t listen.
One year later, King Gong of Zhou still didn’t see any of those beautiful women and soon found out the truth, which made him outrageous to the lord.
So he led his army and perished the State Mi and the Lord of Mi, under the name of having forcibly occupied civilians and being unfaithful to the king.
Unearthed Bronze Ding, the Representative of Paramount Power, of the Zhou Dynasty — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Legacy of the King Gong of Zhou
Decades later, he passed away peacefully in his palace after he gave the throne to his crown prince.
Ji Yihu, the King Gong of Zhou, was a good monarch in maintaining and protecting his kingdom and developing agriculture and the economy.
However, his deducting of large numbers of soldiers gave his weak son a less strong army, which led to a situation where long-suppressed nomadic regimes surrounded a young and feeble new king with a small-scale army.
In the next few decades, Zhou's capital was forced to move several times to avoid the invasions of those nomadic forces; more of the Zhou's royal lands were rewarded to contributive generals in those defensive wars.
Zhou's reign was declining.
Bronze Food Container (Gui) of the Zhou Dynasty — Shanxi Archeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Next Story: A Reformist King Who Starved to Death — Ji Hu
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