Notable Kings of Western Zhou Dynasty

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 quite a perfect monarch like his ancestors and dramatically declined the 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, spring and ponds.

In ancient Chinese culture, those were believed as signs of Ji Xia being an incapable monarch or big 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 to disrespect the king, and kept expanding to places with rich natural resources.  

Hence, King Zhao of Zhou led his army and defeated eastern states, and achieved big military success in the south twice.

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 had conquered many places in the beginning; 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 carried 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The reason why so many brave and experienced soldiers and king drown together was not noted on historical documents.

With that many military achievements of King Zhao of Zhou and his powerful army, they wouldn’t be beaten such quickly and utterly. 

Some people said that 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 big 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 driving by a brave coachman.

Horse Shaped Ritual Bronze Vessel Zun of the Zhou Dynasty — National Museum of China

After he became the king, he firstly 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 this time, he took his best army with him.

Based on the big territory that his father left for him, Ji Man further extended his kingdom.

He defeated eastern rebellion vassal states, consolidated southerners that his father conquered, vanquished northern nomadic regimes, and implemented very coercive policies to 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 that was in charge there, the Xi Wangmu showed up and stopped the king.

She invited him into her fancy palace and provided him some magical fruits and syrups that helped him live more than 100 years.

When he left, the deity gave him 4 pure white deers and wolves each and blessed him and his kingdom. The King also offered Xi Wangmu with valuable jade wares and hold a grand banquet to celebrate.

In some other records, people believed that it's possible that Xi Wangmu was a lord of tribes in the 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 territory, he summoned all the lords of his vassal states and held a grand alliance meeting.

This was a declaration of his remarkably big realm and absolute dominance to this big 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 huge kingdom, but with relatively less money on 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 was used up by his father.  

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 make sure more people could get involved 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

Within this new system, even nobles needed to have their land registered and pay for taxes. Consequently, the income of the exchequer increased thanks to the efficient new management system of national land.

Moreover, as long as there was conflicting in borders, the king always tried to solve it by negotiating and avoid clashes of arms.


But when his kingdom was attacked by a rebellion nomadic regime, 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. 

One day when the king was touring one of his vassal states named Mi, three beautiful women walked by.

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 meet those three beauties, however, he couldn’t resist their extremely good 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 with the lord.

So he led his army 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, as well as developing agriculture and economy.

However, his deducting of large numbers of soldiers gave his weak son with a less strong army, which led to a situation that a young and feeble new king with a small scale army, and was surrounded by long-suppressed nomadic regimes.

In the next few decades, consequently, Zhou’s capital had been 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)

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