Zhou dynasty

In this article we are going to delve into the topic of Zhou dynasty and all the implications that it entails. Zhou dynasty is a topic of great relevance today and has generated a great debate in different areas. Throughout this article we will explore different perspectives and opinions of experts on the subject, as well as concrete examples that will help us better understand the importance of Zhou dynasty in today's society. We will also look at the impact Zhou dynasty has had throughout history and how it has evolved over time. By the end of this article, we hope that readers will have a broader and more complete view about Zhou dynasty and its relevance in today's world.


c. 1046 BC – 256 BC
Population concentration and boundaries of the Western Zhou dynasty (1050–771 BC) in China
Population concentration and boundaries of the Western Zhou dynasty (1050–771 BC) in China
Common languagesOld Chinese
Chinese folk religion, Ancestor worship, Heaven worship
• c. 1046–1043 BC
King Wu
• 781–771 BC
King You
• 770–720 BC
King Ping
• 314–256 BC
King Nan
c. 1046 BC 
841–828 BC
• Relocation to Wangcheng
771 BC
• Deposition of King Nan by Qin
 256 BC
• Fall of the last Zhou holdouts
249 BC
• 273 BC
• 230 BC
CurrencyMostly spade coins and knife coins
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Shang dynasty
Predynastic Zhou
State of Qin
Today part ofChina
"Zhou" in ancient bronze script (top), seal script (middle), and regular script (bottom) Chinese characters
Hanyu PinyinZhōu

The Zhou dynasty (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zhōu ; Old Chinese (B&S): *tiw) was a royal dynasty of China (1046 BC – 256 BC) that followed the Shang dynasty. Having lasted 789 years, the Zhou dynasty was the longest dynastic regime in Chinese history. The military control of ancient China by the royal house, surnamed Ji, lasted from 1046 until 771 BC for a period known as the Western Zhou, and the political sphere of influence it created continued well into the Eastern Zhou period for another 500 years. The establishment date of 1046 BC is supported by the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project and David Pankenier, but David Nivison and Edward L. Shaughnessy date the establishment to 1045 BC.

During the Zhou dynasty, centralized power decreased throughout the Spring and Autumn period until the Warring States period in the last two centuries of the dynasty. In the latter period, the Zhou court had little control over its constituent states that were at war with each other until the Qin state consolidated power and formed the Qin dynasty in 221 BC. The Zhou dynasty had formally collapsed only 35 years earlier, although the dynasty had only nominal power at that point.

This period of Chinese history produced what many consider the zenith of Chinese bronzeware making. The latter period of the Zhou dynasty is also famous for the beginnings of three major Chinese philosophies: Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism. The Zhou dynasty also spans the period in which the written script evolved from the oracle script and bronze script into the seal script, and then finally into an almost-modern form with the use of an archaic clerical script that emerged during the late Warring States period.



Traditional myth

According to Chinese mythology, the Zhou lineage began when Jiang Yuan, a consort of the legendary Emperor Ku, miraculously conceived a child, Qi "the Abandoned One", after stepping into the divine footprint of Shangdi. Qi was a culture hero credited with surviving three abandonments by his mother and with greatly improving agriculture, to the point where he was granted lordship over Tai, the surname Ji, and the title Houji "Lord of Millet", by the Emperor Shun. He even received sacrifice as a harvest god. The term Hòujì was probably a hereditary title attached to a lineage.

Qi's son, or rather that of the Hòujì, Buzhu is said to have abandoned his position as Agrarian Master (Chinese: 農師; pinyin: Nóngshī) in old age and either he or his son Ju abandoned their tradition, living in the manner of the Xirong and Rongdi (see Hua–Yi distinction). Ju's son Liu, however, led his people to prosperity by restoring agriculture and settling them at a place called Bin, which his descendants ruled for generations. Tai later led the clan from Bin to Zhou, an area in the Wei River valley of modern-day Qishan County.

The duke passed over his two elder sons Taibo and Zhongyong to favor the younger Jili, a warrior in his own right. As a vassal of the Shang kings Wu Yi and Wen Ding, Jili went to conquer several Xirong tribes before being treacherously killed by Shang forces. Taibo and Zhongyong had supposedly already fled to the Yangtze delta, where they established the state of Wu among the tribes there. Jili's son Wen bribed his way out of imprisonment and moved the Zhou capital to Feng (within present-day Xi'an). Around 1046 BC, Wen's son Wu and his ally Jiang Ziya led an army of 45,000 men and 300 chariots across the Yellow River and defeated King Zhou of Shang at the Battle of Muye, marking the beginning of the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou enfeoffed a member of the defeated Shang royal family as the Duke of Song, which was held by descendants of the Shang royal family until its end. This practice was referred to as Two Kings, Three Reverences.


According to Nicholas Bodman, the Zhou appear to have spoken a language not basically different in vocabulary and syntax from that of the Shang; a recent study by David McCraw, using lexical statistics, reached the same conclusion. The Zhou emulated extensively Shang cultural practices, perhaps to legitimize their own rule, and became the successors to Shang culture. At the same time, the Zhou may also have been connected to the Xirong, a broadly defined cultural group to the west of the Shang, which the Shang regarded as tributaries. For example, Chinese philosopher Mencius (372–289 BCE) acknowledged that King Wen of Zhou had ancestry from among the Xirong, as King Wen's descendants, the Zhou kings, claimed ancestry from the legendary cultural hero Hou Ji, who might be related to the Xirong through his mother Jiang Yuan; additionally, the historical narrative and commentary work Zuo Tradition (late 4th-century BCE) mentioned that the baron of Li Rong (Chinese: 驪戎男) (in today western China), after being defeated by Jin, married off his daughter Li Ji (Chinese: 驪姬; lit. 'The Woman of the Ji clan from Li') to Duke Xian of Jin. According to the historian Li Feng, the term "Rong" during the Western Zhou period was likely used to designate political and military adversaries rather than cultural and ethnic "others". Cultural artifacts of the Western Rong coexisted with Western Zhou bronzes, indicating close bonds between the Rong and the Western Zhou.

Western Zhou

States of the Western Zhou dynasty

During the Western Zhou (1045–771 BC), King Wu maintained the old capital for ceremonial purposes but constructed a new one for his palace and administration nearby at Hao. Although Wu's early death left a young and inexperienced heir, the Duke of Zhou assisted his nephew King Cheng in consolidating royal power. Wary of the Duke of Zhou's increasing power, the "Three Guards", Zhou princes stationed on the eastern plain, rose in rebellion against his regency. Even though they garnered the support of independent-minded nobles, Shang partisans, and several Dongyi tribes, the Duke of Zhou quelled the rebellion, and further expanded the Zhou Kingdom into the east. To maintain Zhou authority over its greatly expanded territory and prevent other revolts, he set up the fengjian system. Furthermore, he countered Zhou's crisis of legitimacy by expounding the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven while accommodating important Shang rituals at Wangcheng and Chengzhou.

Over time, this decentralized system became strained as the familial relationships between the Zhou kings and the regional dynasties thinned over the generations. Peripheral territories developed local power and prestige on par with that of the Zhou.

The conflicts with nomadic tribes from the north and the northwest, variously known as the Xianyun, Guifang, or various "Rong" tribes, such as the Xirong, Shanrong or Quanrong, intensified towards the end of the Western Zhou period. These tribes are recorded as harassing Zhou territory, but at the time the Zhou were expanding northwards, encroaching on their traditional lands, especially into the Wei River valley. Archaeologically, the Zhou expanded to the north and the northwest at the expense of the Siwa culture.

When King You demoted and exiled his Jiang queen in favor of the commoner Bao Si, the disgraced queen's father the Marquis of Shen joined with Zeng and the Quanrong barbarians. The Quanrong put an end to the Western Zhou in 771 BC, sacking the Zhou capital of Haojing and killing the last Western Zhou king You. With King You dead, a conclave of nobles met at Shen and declared the Marquis's grandson King Ping. The capital was moved eastward to Wangcheng, marking the end of the "Western Zhou" (西周, p Xī Zhōu) and the beginning of the "Eastern Zhou" dynasty (东周, p Dōng Zhōu).

Eastern Zhou

Map showing major states of Eastern Zhou

The Eastern Zhou (771–256 BC) was characterized by an accelerating collapse of royal authority, although the king's ritual importance enabled more than five additional centuries of rule. The Confucian chronicle of the early years of this process led to its title of the "Spring and Autumn" period. The partition of Jin in the mid-5th century BC initiated a second phase, the "Warring States". In 403 BC, the Zhou court recognized Han, Zhao, and Wei as fully independent states. Duke Hui of Wei, in 344 BC, was the first to claim the royal title of king (Chinese: 王) for himself. Others followed, marking a turning point, as rulers did not even entertain the pretence of being vassals of the Zhou court, instead proclaiming themselves fully independent kingdoms. A series of states rose to prominence before each falling in turn, and Zhou was a minor player in most of these conflicts.

The last Zhou king is traditionally taken to be Nan, who was killed when Qin captured the capital Wangcheng in 256 BC. A "King Hui" was declared, but his splinter state was fully removed by 249 BC. Qin's unification of China concluded in 221 BC with Qin Shihuang's annexation of Qi.

The Eastern Zhou, however, is also remembered as the golden age of Chinese philosophy: the Hundred Schools of Thought which flourished as rival lords patronized itinerant shi scholars is led by the example of Qi's Jixia Academy. The Nine Schools of Thought which came to dominate the others were Confucianism (as interpreted by Mencius and others), Legalism, Taoism, Mohism, the utopian communalist Agriculturalism, two strains of Diplomatists, the sophistic Logicians, Sun-tzu's Militarists, and the Naturalists. Although only the first three of these went on to receive imperial patronage in later dynasties, doctrines from each influenced the others and Chinese society in sometimes unusual ways. The Mohists, for instance, found little interest in their praise of meritocracy but much acceptance for their mastery of defensive siege warfare; much later, however, their arguments against nepotism were used in favor of establishing the imperial examination system.

Culture and society

The Zhou heartland was the Wei River valley; this remained their primary base of power after conquering the Shang.

Mandate of Heaven and the justification of power

Bronze pot, 3rd Year of King Yì (896 BCE), Western Zhou Dynasty. Fufeng County, Shaanxi Province. Baoji Zhouyuan Museum

Zhou rulers introduced what was to prove one of East Asia's most enduring political doctrines: the concept of the "Mandate of Heaven". They did this by asserting that their moral superiority justified taking over Shang wealth and territories, and that heaven had imposed a moral mandate on them to replace the Shang and return good governance to the people.

The Mandate of Heaven was presented as a religious compact between the Zhou people and their supreme god in heaven. The Zhou agreed that since worldly affairs were supposed to align with those of the heavens, the heavens conferred legitimate power on only one person, the Zhou ruler. In return, the ruler was duty-bound to uphold heaven's principles of harmony and honor. Any ruler who failed in this duty, who let instability creep into earthly affairs, or who let his people suffer, would lose the mandate. Under this system, it was the prerogative of spiritual authority to withdraw support from any wayward ruler and to find another, more worthy one. In this way, the Zhou sky god legitimized regime change.

In using this creed, the Zhou rulers had to acknowledge that any group of rulers, even they themselves, could be ousted if they lost the mandate of heaven because of improper practices. The book of odes written during the Zhou period clearly intoned this caution.

The Zhou kings contended that heaven favored their triumph because the last Shang kings had been evil men whose policies brought pain to the people through waste and corruption. After the Zhou came to power, the mandate became a political tool.

One of the duties and privileges of the king was to create a royal calendar. This official document defined times for undertaking agricultural activities and celebrating rituals. But unexpected events such as solar eclipses or natural calamities threw the ruling house's mandate into question. Since rulers claimed that their authority came from heaven, the Zhou made great efforts to gain accurate knowledge of the stars and to perfect the astronomical system on which they based their calendar.

Zhou legitimacy also arose indirectly from Shang material culture through the use of bronze ritual vessels, statues, ornaments, and weapons. As the Zhou emulated the Shang's large scale production of ceremonial bronzes, they developed an extensive system of bronze metalworking that required a large force of tribute labor. Many of its members were Shang, who were sometimes forcibly transported to new Zhou to produce the bronze ritual objects which were then sold and distributed across the lands, symbolizing Zhou legitimacy.


A Western Zhou ceremonial bronze of cooking-vessel form inscribed to record that the King of Zhou gave a fiefdom to Shi You, ordering that he inherit the title as well as the land and people living there

Western writers often describe the Zhou period as "feudal" because the Zhou's fēngjiàn (封建) system invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe.

Silk painting depicting a man riding a dragon, painting on silk, dated to 5th–3rd century BC, from Zidanku Tomb no. 1 in Changsha, Hunan Province
A c. 316 BC lacquerware painting from the Jingmen Tomb (Chinese: 荊門楚墓; Pinyin: Jīngmén chǔ mù) of the State of Chu (704–223 BC), depicting men wearing precursors to Hanfu (i.e. traditional silk dress) and riding in a two-horsed chariot

There were many similarities between the decentralized systems. When the dynasty was established, the conquered land was divided into hereditary fiefs (諸侯, zhūhóu) that eventually became powerful in their own right. In matters of inheritance, the Zhou dynasty recognized only patrilineal primogeniture as legal. According to Tao (1934: 17–31), "the Tsung-fa or descent line system has the following characteristics: patrilineal descent, patrilineal succession, patriarchate, sib-exogamy, and primogeniture"

The system, also called "extensive stratified patrilineage", was defined by the anthropologist Kwang-chih Chang as "characterized by the fact that the eldest son of each generation formed the main of line descent and political authority, whereas the younger brothers were moved out to establish new lineages of lesser authority. The farther removed, the lesser the political authority". Ebrey defines the descent-line system as follows: "A great line (ta-tsung) is the line of eldest sons continuing indefinitely from a founding ancestor. A lesser line is the line of younger sons going back no more than five generations. Great lines and lesser lines continually spin off new lesser lines, founded by younger sons".

K.E. Brashier writes in his book "Ancestral Memory in Early China" about the tsung-fa system of patrilineal primogeniture: "The greater lineage, if it has survived, is the direct succession from father to eldest son and is not defined via the collateral shifts of the lesser lineages. In discussions that demarcate between trunk and collateral lines, the former is called a zong and the latter a zu, whereas the whole lineage is dubbed the shi. On one hand, every son who is not the eldest and hence not heir to the lineage territory has the potential of becoming a progenitor and fostering a new trunk lineage (Ideally he would strike out to cultivate new lineage territory). According to the Zou commentary, the son of heaven divided land among his feudal lords, his feudal lords divided the land among their dependent families and so forth down the pecking order to the officers who had their dependent kin and the commoners who "each had his apportioned relations and all had their graded precedence""

This type of unilineal descent-group later became the model of the Korean family through the influence of Neo-Confucianism, as Zhu Xi and others advocated its re-establishment in China.

Fēngjiàn system and bureaucracy

There were five peerage ranks below the royal ranks, in descending order with common English translations: gōng 公 "duke", hóu 侯 "marquis", 伯 "count", 子 "viscount", and nán 男 "baron". At times, a vigorous duke would take power from his nobles and centralize the state. Centralization became more necessary as the states began to war among themselves and decentralization encouraged more war. If a duke took power from his nobles, the state would have to be administered bureaucratically by appointed officials.

Despite these similarities, there are a number of important differences from medieval Europe. One obvious difference is that the Zhou ruled from walled cities rather than castles. Another was China's distinct class system, which lacked an organized clergy but saw Shang-descent yeomen become masters of ritual and ceremony, as well as astronomy, state affairs and ancient canons, known as ru (儒). When a dukedom was centralized, these people would find employment as government officials or officers. These hereditary classes were similar to Western knights in status and breeding, but unlike the European equivalent, they were expected to be something of a scholar instead of a warrior. Being appointed, they could move from one state to another. Some would travel from state to state peddling schemes of administrative or military reform. Those who could not find employment would often end up teaching young men who aspired to official status. The most famous of these was Confucius, who taught a system of mutual duty between superiors and inferiors. In contrast, the Legalists had no time for Confucian virtue and advocated a system of strict laws and harsh punishments. The wars of the Warring States were finally ended by the most legalist state of all, Qin. When the Qin dynasty fell and was replaced by the Han dynasty, many Chinese were relieved to return to the more humane virtues of Confucius.[citation needed]


The Shi Qiang pan, inscribed with the accomplishments of the earliest Zhou kings, c. 10th century BC

Agriculture in the Zhou dynasty was very intensive and, in many cases, directed by the government. All farming lands were owned by nobles, who then gave their land to their serfs, a situation similar to European feudalism. For example, a piece of land was divided into nine squares in the well-field system, with the grain from the middle square taken by the government and that of surrounding squares kept by individual farmers. This way, the government was able to store surplus food and distribute it in times of famine or bad harvest. Some important manufacturing sectors during this period included bronze smelting, which was integral to making weapons and farming tools. Again, these industries were dominated by the nobility who directed the production of such materials.

China's first projects of hydraulic engineering were initiated during the Zhou dynasty, ultimately as a means to aid agricultural irrigation. The chancellor of Wei, Sunshu Ao, who served King Zhuang of Chu, dammed a river to create an enormous irrigation reservoir in modern-day northern Anhui province. For this, Sunshu is credited as China's first hydraulic engineer. The later Wei statesman Ximen Bao, who served Marquis Wen of Wei (445–396 BC), was the first hydraulic engineer of China to have created a large irrigation canal system. As the main focus of his grandiose project, his canal work eventually diverted the waters of the entire Zhang River to a spot further up the Yellow River.[citation needed]


The Taerpo horserider, a Chinese Zhou period Warrior-State Qin terracotta figurine from a tomb in the Taerpo cemetery near Xianyang in Shaanxi Province, 4th-3rd century BCE. This is the earliest known representation of a cavalryman in China. The outfit is of Central Asian style, probably Scythian, and the rider with his high-pointed nose appears to be a foreigner. King Zheng of Qin (246–221 BCE) is known to have employed steppe cavalry men in his army, as seen in his terracotta army.

The early Western Zhou supported a strong army, split into two major units: "the Six Armies of the west" and "the Eight Armies of Chengzhou". The armies campaigned in the northern Loess Plateau, modern Ningxia and the Yellow River floodplain. The military prowess of Zhou peaked during the 19th year of King Zhao's reign, when the six armies were wiped out along with King Zhao on a campaign around the Han River. Early Zhou kings were true commanders-in-chief. They were in constant wars with barbarians on behalf of the fiefs called guo, which at that time meant "statelet" or "principality".

King Zhao was famous for repeated campaigns in the Yangtze areas and died in his last action. Later kings' campaigns were less effective. King Li led 14 armies against barbarians in the south, but failed to achieve any victory. King Xuan fought the Quanrong nomads in vain. King You was killed by the Quanrong when Haojing was sacked. Although chariots had been introduced to China during the Shang dynasty from Central Asia, the Zhou period saw the first major use of chariots in battle. Recent archaeological finds demonstrate similarities between horse burials of the Shang and Zhou dynasties with the steppe populations in the west, such as the Saka and Wusun. Other possible cultural influences resulting from contact with these Iranic people of Central Asia in this period may include fighting styles, head-and-hooves burials, art motifs and myths.

The Zhou army also included "barbarian" troops such as the Di people. King Hui of Zhou married a princess of the Red Di as a sign of appreciation for the importance of the Di troops. King Xiang of Zhou also married a Di princess after receiving Di military support.


Plaque in nomadic animal style, Later Zhou or Han dynasty, 4th-3rd century BC.
An embroidered silk gauze ritual garment from an Eastern-Zhou-era tomb at Mashan, Hubei province, China, 4th century BC
A drinking cup carved from crystal, unearthed at Banshan, Hangzhou, Warring States period, Hangzhou Museum.
The Bianzhong of Marquis Yi of Zeng, a set of bronze bianzhong percussion instruments from the tomb of the aforesaid marquis in Hubei province, China, dated 433 BC, Warring States period

During the Zhou dynasty, the origins of native Chinese philosophy developed, its initial stages of development beginning in the 6th century BC. The greatest Chinese philosophers, those who made the greatest impact on later generations of Chinese, were Confucius, founder of Confucianism, and Laozi, founder of Taoism. Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were Mozi, founder of Mohism; Mencius, a famous Confucian who expanded upon Confucius' legacy; Shang Yang and Han Fei, responsible for the development of ancient Chinese Legalism (the core philosophy of the Qin dynasty); and Xun Zi, who was arguably the center of ancient Chinese intellectual life during his time, even more so than iconic intellectual figures such as Mencius.

The state theology of the Zhou dynasty used concepts from the Shang dynasty and mostly referred to the Shang god, Di, as Tian, a more distant and unknowable concept, yet one that anyone could utilize, the opposite view of the Shang's spirituality. The Zhou wanted to increase the number of enlightenment seekers, mystics, and those who would be interested in learning about such things as a way to further distance their people from the Shang-era paradigm and local traditions.


Established during the Western period, the Li (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: ) ritual system encoded an understanding of manners as an expression of the social hierarchy, ethics, and regulation concerning material life; the corresponding social practices became idealized within Confucian ideology.

The system was canonized in the Book of Rites, Zhouli, and Yili compendiums of the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), thus becoming the heart of the Chinese imperial ideology. While the system was initially a respected body of concrete regulations, the fragmentation of the Western Zhou period led the ritual to drift towards moralization and formalization in regard to:

  • The five orders of Chinese nobility.
  • Ancestral temples (size, legitimate number of pavilions)
  • Ceremonial regulations (number of ritual vessels, musical instruments, people in the dancing troupe)


The rulers of the Zhou dynasty were titled Wáng (), which is normally translated into English as "king" and was also the Shang term for their rulers. In addition to these rulers, King Wu's immediate ancestors – Danfu, Jili, and Wen – are also referred to as "Kings of Zhou", despite having been nominal vassals of the Shang kings.

NB: Dates in Chinese history before the first year of the Gonghe Regency in 841 BC are contentious and vary by source. Those below are those published by Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project and Edward L. Shaughnessy's The Absolute Chronology of the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Personal name Posthumous name Reign period
Fa 周武王 King Wu of Zhou 1046–1043 BC
1045–1043 BC
Song 周成王 King Cheng of Zhou 1042–1021 BC
1042/1035–1006 BC
Zhao 周康王 King Kang of Zhou 1020–996 BC
1005/1003–978 BC
Xia 周昭王 King Zhao of Zhou 995–977 BC
977/975–957 BC
滿 Man 周穆王 King Mu of Zhou 976–922 BC
956–918 BC
繄扈 Yihu 周共王/周龔王 King Gong of Zhou 922–900 BC
917/915–900 BC
Jian 周懿王 King Yi of Zhou 899–892 BC
899/897–873 BC
辟方 Pifang 周孝王 King Xiao of Zhou 891–886 BC
872?–866 BC
Xie 周夷王 King Yi of Zhou 885–878 BC
865–858 BC
Hu 周厲王/周剌王 King Li of Zhou 877–841 BC
857/853–842/828 BC
共和 Gonghe Regency 841–828 BC
Jing 周宣王 King Xuan of Zhou 827–782 BC
宮湦 Gongsheng 周幽王 King You of Zhou 781–771 BC
End of Western Zhou / Beginning of Eastern Zhou
宜臼 Yijiu 周平王 King Ping of Zhou 770–720 BC
Lin 周桓王 King Huan of Zhou 719–697 BC
Tuo 周莊王 King Zhuang of Zhou 696–682 BC
胡齊 Huqi 周僖王 King Xi of Zhou 681–677 BC
Lang 周惠王 King Hui of Zhou 676–652 BC
Zheng 周襄王 King Xiang of Zhou 651–619 BC
壬臣 Renchen 周頃王 King Qing of Zhou 618–613 BC
Ban 周匡王 King Kuang of Zhou 612–607 BC
Yu 周定王 King Ding of Zhou 606–586 BC
Yi 周簡王 King Jian of Zhou 585–572 BC
洩心 Xiexin 周靈王 King Ling of Zhou 571–545 BC
Gui 周景王 King Jing of Zhou 544–521 BC
Meng 周悼王 King Dao of Zhou 520 BC
Gai 周敬王 King Jing of Zhou 519–476 BC
Ren 周元王 King Yuan of Zhou 475–469 BC
Jie 周貞定王 King Zhending of Zhou 468–442 BC
去疾 Quji 周哀王 King Ai of Zhou 441 BC
Shu 周思王 King Si of Zhou 441 BC
Wei 周考王 King Kao of Zhou 440–426 BC
Wu 周威烈王 King Weilie of Zhou 425–402 BC
Jiao 周安王 King An of Zhou 401–376 BC
Xi 周烈王 King Lie of Zhou 375–369 BC
Bian 周顯王 King Xian of Zhou 368–321 BC
Ding 周慎靚王 King Shenjing of Zhou 320–315 BC
Yan 周赧王 King Nan of Zhou 314–256 BC

Nobles of the Ji family proclaimed Duke Hui of Eastern Zhou as King Nan's successor after their capital, Chengzhou, fell to Qin forces in 256 BC. Ji Zhao, a son of King Nan, led a resistance against Qin for five years. The dukedom fell in 249 BC. The remaining Ji family ruled Yan and Wei until 209 BC.

During Confucius's lifetime in the Spring and Autumn period, Zhou kings had little power, and much administrative responsibility and de-facto political strength was wielded by rulers of smaller domains and local community leaders.


Fittings in the form of tigers, Baoji, Shaanxi province, Middle Western Zhou dynasty, c. 900 BC, bronze

In traditional Chinese astrology, Zhou is represented by two stars, Eta Capricorni (週一; Zhōu yī; 'the First Star of Zhou') and 21 Capricorni (週二; Zhōu èr; 'the Second Star of Zhou'), in "Twelve States" asterism. Zhou is also represented by the star Beta Serpentis in asterism "Right Wall", Heavenly Market enclosure (see Chinese constellations).

See also


  1. ^ Fenghao is the modern name for Artem the twin city formed by the Western Zhou capitals of Haojing and Fengjing.
  2. ^ The exact location of Wangcheng and its relation to Chengzhou is disputed. According to Xu Zhaofeng, "Chengzhou" and "Wangcheng" were originally synonymous and used to name the same capital city from 771 to 510 BC. "The creation of a distinction between Wangcheng and Chengzhou probably occurred during the reign of King Jing", under whom a new capital "Chengzhou" was built to the east of the old city "Wangcheng". Nevertheless, the new Chengzhou was still sometimes called Wangcheng and vice versa, adding to the confusion.
  3. ^ The exact location of Bin remains obscure, but it may have been close to Linfen on the Fen River in present-day Shanxi.
  4. ^ Sima Qian was only able to establish historical dates after the time of the Gonghe Regency. Earlier dates, like that of 1046 BC for the Battle of Muye, are given in this article according to the official PRC Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project, but they remain contentious. Various historians have offered dates for the battle ranging between 1122 and 1027 BC.
  5. ^ There was a fringe thesis, proposed by sociologist Wolfram Eberhard, that the Zhou were Proto-Turkic intruders. However, Eberhard's thesis has been demonstrated by Sinologist Edward L. Shaughnessy to be "without basis".
  6. ^ Eastern Wu scholar-official Wei Zhao stated the Xianyu's rulers among the Beidi were also surnamed Ji.



  1. ^ a b c d e "Considering Chengzhou ('Completion of Zhou') and Wangcheng ('City of the King')" (PDF). Xu Zhaofeng. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 22, 2015. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica: Tian". Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  3. ^ Schinz (1996), p. 80.
  4. ^ "Baxter-Sagart Old Chinese reconstruction, version 1.1 (20 September 2014)" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-10. p. 155
  5. ^ Pankenier, David W. (2015). "The cosmo-political mandate". Astrology and Cosmology in Early China: Conforming Earth to Heaven. Cambridge University Pressn. p. 197. ISBN 978-1107539013.
  6. ^ Shaughnessy, Edward L. (1992). "The Date of the Zhou Conquest of Shang". Sources of Western Zhou History: Inscribed Bronze Vessels. University of California Press. pp. 217–236. ISBN 978-0520070288.
  7. ^ Nivison, David S. (1983). "The Dates of Western Chou". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. Vol. 43. Harvard-Yenching Institute. pp. 481–580. doi:10.2307/2719108. JSTOR 2719108.
  8. ^ Von Glahn, Richard (2016). The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 11. ISBN 9781139343848. OCLC 944748318.
  9. ^ a b '"Major Hymns - Decade of the Birth of Our People - Birth of Our People"
  10. ^ "Hou Ji". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  11. ^ Shiji, "Annals of Zhou" quote: "帝舜曰:「棄,黎民始饑,爾后稷播時百穀。」封棄於邰,號曰后稷,別姓姬氏。translation: "Emperor Shun said, 'Qi, the black-haired people begin to be famished. Do you, Lord of Millet, sow in their seasons the various kinds of grain.' He enfeoffed Qi at Tai; title was Lord of Millet; and his distinctive surname was Ji."
  12. ^ Sima Qian. Records of the Grand Historian, Annals of Zhou, §3.
  13. ^ Wu (1982), p. 235.
  14. ^ Shaughnessy (1999), p. 303.
  15. ^ Wu (1982), p. 273.
  16. ^ Bodman (1980), p. 41: "Moreover, Shang dynasty Chinese at least in its syntax and lexicon seems not to differ basically from that of the Zhou dynasty whose language is amply attested in inscriptions on bronze vessels and which was transmitted in the early classical literature."
  17. ^ David McCraw (2010). "An ABC Exercise in Old Sinitic Lexical Statistics" (PDF). Sino-Platonic Papers (202). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-10.
  18. ^ Shaughnessy, E. L. (1999) "Western Zhou History" in Loewe, M. (ed.) The Cambridge History of Ancient China. From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC. note 29 on p. 303
  19. ^ Shaughnessy, E. L. "Historical Perspectives on the Introduction of the Chariot in China" in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jun., 1988), note 72 on p. 228 of pp. 189-237
  20. ^ Jessica Rawson, 'Western Zhou Archaeology,' in Michael Loewe, Edward L. Shaughnessy (eds.), The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C., Cambridge University Press 1999 pp.352-448 p.387.
  21. ^ a b Li, Feng (2006), Landscape And Power In Early China, Cambridge University Press, p. 286.
  22. ^ Chiang, Po-Yi (2008). Han Cultural and Political Influences in the Transformation of the Shizhaishan Cultural Complex (MPhil thesis). Australian National University. pp. 1–2. hdl:1885/150555.
  23. ^ Mencius, "Li lou II". text: "孟子曰:「舜生於諸馮,遷於負夏,卒於鳴條,東夷之人也。文王生於岐周,卒於畢郢,西夷之人也。" D.C.Lau (1970:128)'s translation: "Mencius said, 'Shun was an Eastern barbarian; he was born in Chu Feng, moved to Fu Hsia, and died in Ming T'iao. King Wen was a Western barbarian; he was born in Ch'i Chou and died in Pi Ying."
  24. ^ Classic of Poetry "Sheng Min"
  25. ^ Edwin G. Pulleyblank (1983). "Chapter 14 - The Chinese and Their Neighbors in Prehistoric and Early Historic Times". In David Keightley (ed.). The Origins of Chinese Civilization. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04229-8.
  26. ^ Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (2000). "Ji 姬 and Jiang 姜: The Role of Exogamic Clans in the Organization of the Zhou Polity", Early China. 25 p. 21-22
  27. ^ Zuozhuan, "Duke Zhuang - 28th year - zhuan" quote: "晉伐驪戎,驪戎男女以驪姬。"
  28. ^ Cook, Constance (2015). "Li Ji, Wife of Duke Xian of Jin". In Lee, Lily Xiao Hong; Stefanowska, A. D.; Wiles, Sue (eds.). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E. - 618 C.E. Routledge. pp. 41–42. ISBN 9781317475910.
  29. ^ Commentaries on Discourses of the States Commentaries on "Discourses of Zheng" quote: "狄,北狄也。鮮虞,姬姓在狄者也。"
  30. ^ Yang, Jianhua; Shao, Huiqiu; Pan, Ling (2020). The Metal Road of the Eastern Eurasian Steppe: The Formation of the Xiongnu Confederation and the Silk Road. Springer. p. 371. ISBN 9789813291553.
  31. ^ Shaughnessy (1999), p. 310, 311.
  32. ^ a b Chinn (2007), p. 43.
  33. ^ Hucker (1978), p. 32.
  34. ^ Hucker (1978), p. 33.
  35. ^ a b Hucker (1978), p. 37.
  36. ^ a b c Tse, Wicky W. K. (27 June 2018). The Collapse of China's Later Han Dynasty, 25-220 CE: The Northwest Borderlands and the Edge of Empire. Routledge. p. 45-46, 63 note 40. ISBN 978-1-315-53231-8.
  37. ^ .Carr, Brian & al. Companion Encyclopaedia of Asian Philosophy, p. 466. Taylor & Francis, 2012. ISBN 041503535X, 9780415035354.
  38. ^ Li Feng (2006). Landscape and Power in Early China: The Crisis and Fall of the Western Zhou 1045–771 BC. Cambridge University Press. p. 40. ISBN 1139456881.
  39. ^ a b c Tignor, Robert L. (24 October 2013). Worlds together, worlds apart. Adelman, Jeremy; Aron, Stephen; Brown, Peter; Elman, Benjamin A.; Liu, Xinru; Pittman, Holly (fourth (two volume) ed.). New York. ISBN 9780393922080. OCLC 870312289.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  40. ^ a b c Shaw, Robert Tignor, Jeremy Adelman, Peter Brown, Benjamin Elman, Xinru Liu, Holly Pittman, Brent (2014). Worlds together, worlds apart (Fourth ed.). W. W. Norton. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-393-92208-0.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  41. ^ Ivanhoe, Philip J.; Van Norden, Bryan W. (2005). Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. pp. XIV. ISBN 0-87220-781-1. OCLC 60826646.
  42. ^ Brashier, K. E. (2011-01-01). Ancestral Memory in Early China. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674056077.
  43. ^ Hwei, Li. "The ramage system in China and Polynesia" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-09-21. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
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  45. ^ Brashier, K. E. (2011). Ancestral Memory in Early China. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-05607-7.
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  47. ^ ChinaKnowledge.de encyclopedia, Alternatively, the sequence was translated as prince, lord, elder, master, chieftain: Brooks 1997:3 n.9.
  48. ^ Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee (2012). Confucianism and Women: A Philosophical Interpretation. SUNY Press. pp. 21–24. ISBN 978-0791481790.
  49. ^ a b Khayutina, Maria (Autumn 2013). "From wooden attendants to terracotta warriors" (PDF). Bernisches Historisches Museum the Newsletter. 65: 2, Fig.4. Other noteworthy terracotta figurines were found in 1995 in a 4th-3rd century BCE tomb in the Taerpo cemetery near Xianyang in Shaanxi Province, where the last Qin capital of the same name was located from 350 to 207 BCE. These are the earliest representations of cavalrymen in China discovered up to this day. One of this pair can now be seen at the exhibition in Bern (Fig. 4). A small, ca. 23 cm tall, figurine represents a man sitting on a settled horse. He stretches out his left hand, whereas his right hand points downwards. Holes pierced through both his fists suggest that he originally held the reins of his horse in one hand and a weapon in the other. The rider wears a short jacket, trousers and boots – elements of the typical outfit of the inhabitants of the Central Asian steppes. Trousers were first introduced in the early Chinese state of Zhao during the late 4th century BCE, as the Chinese started to learn horse riding from their nomadic neighbours. The state of Qin should have adopted the nomadic clothes about the same time. But the figurine from Taerpo also has some other features that may point to its foreign identity: a hood-like headgear with a flat wide crown framing his face and a high, pointed nose. Also in Khayutina, Maria (2013). Qin: the eternal emperor and his terracotta warriors (1. Aufl ed.). Zürich: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. p. cat. no. 314. ISBN 978-3-03823-838-6.
  50. ^ Qingbo, Duan (January 2023). "Sino-Western Cultural Exchange as Seen through the Archaeology of the First Emperor's Necropolis" (PDF). Journal of Chinese History. 7 (1): 26 Fig.1, 27. doi:10.1017/jch.2022.25. S2CID 251690411. In terms of formal characteristics and style of dress and adornment, the closest parallels to the Warring States-period Qin figurines are found in the Scythian culture. Wang Hui 王輝 has examined the exchanges between the cultures of the Yellow River valley and the Scythian culture of the steppe. During a 2007 exhibition on the Scythians in Berlin, there was a bronze hood on display labeled a "Kazakh military cap." This bronze hood and the clothing of the nomads in kneeling posture are very similar in form to those of the terracotta figurines from the late Warring States Qin-period tomb at the Taerpo site (see Figure 1). The style of the Scythian bronze horse figures and the saddle, bridle, and other accessories on their bodies are nearly identical to those seen on the Warring States-period Qin figurines and a similar type of artifact from the Ordos region, and they all date to the fifth to third centuries BCE.
  51. ^ Rawson, Jessica (April 2017). "China and the steppe: reception and resistance". Antiquity. 91 (356): 386. doi:10.15184/aqy.2016.276. S2CID 165092308. King Zheng of Qin (246–221 BC), who was to be the First Emperor (221–210 BC), took material from many regions. As he unified the territory, he employed steppe cavalry men in his army, as we now recognise from the terracotta warriors guarding his tomb (Khayutina 2013: cat. no. 314), whose dress resembles that of the steppe leaders known to the Achaemenids and Parthians (Curtis 2000: front cover), but he proclaimed his conquest in the language of the Central Plains: Chinese. The First Emperor must have had advisors who knew something of the seals, weights and measures of Central Asia and Iran (Khayutina 2013: cat. nos 115–17), and also retained craftsmen who had mastered Western technologies and cast bronze birds for his tomb in hitherto unknown life-like forms (Mei et al. 2014). He also exploited mounted horsemen and iron weaponry originally from the steppe, and agriculture and settlements of the Central Plains, turning to the extraordinary organisation of people and manufacturing from this area to create a unified state. This could only be achieved by moving towards the centre, as the Emperor indeed did.
  52. ^ Ebrey, Walthall & Palais (2006), p. 14.
  53. ^ Shaughnessy (1988).
  54. ^ a b Krech & Steinicke 2011, p. 100, In general, the similarities between the burial of a Shang or Zhou ruler and that of a Scythian, Wusun, or other steppe group leader are striking, especially with regard to the sacrifice of horses. Recent archeological research has demonstrated clearly the key role of the Iranian peoples (the leading pre-Turkic and pre-Mongolic denizens of the steppe) in the transmission of horse culture – including chariots, fighting styles, head-and-hoof rituals, art motifs, and myths – from west to east during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
  55. ^ Rawson, Jessica; Huan, Limin; Taylor, William Timothy Treal (1 December 2021). "Seeking Horses: Allies, Clients and Exchanges in the Zhou Period (1045–221 BC)". Journal of World Prehistory. 34 (4): 489–530. doi:10.1007/s10963-021-09161-9. ISSN 1573-7802. S2CID 245487356. Horses and chariots—and the associated technology and expertise—derived from the steppe contributed to the success of the Zhou conquest of the Shang in c. 1045 BC and remained important throughout Zhou rule in ancient China. On the basis of material cultural patterns, including the style and material used in bridle cheek-pieces found in tombs of the late second and early first millennium BC, this paper points to a northern origin for Zhou horses.
  56. ^ Mu-chou Poo (2012). Enemies of Civilization: Attitudes toward Foreigners in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. SUNY Press. pp. 87–88. ISBN 9780791483701.
  57. ^ Dingxin Zhao (2015). The Confucian-Legalist State: A New Theory of Chinese History: A New Theory of Chinese History. Oxford University Press. p. 86. ISBN 9780190463618.
  58. ^ "Metropolitan Museum of Art". www.metmuseum.org.
  59. ^ Schirokauer & Brown (2006), pp. 25–47.
  60. ^ Ivanhoe, Philip J.; Van Norden, Bryan W. (2005). Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. pp. XII–XIV. ISBN 0-87220-781-1. OCLC 60826646.
  61. ^ Thorp, Robert L. (2005). China in the Early Bronze Age. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-8122-3910-2.
  62. ^ Ivanhoe, Philip J.; Van Norden, Bryan W. (2005). Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. p. 2. ISBN 0-87220-781-1. OCLC 60826646.
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Works cited

Further reading

External links

  • Chinese Text Project, Rulers of the Zhou period – with links to their occurrences in pre-Qin and Han texts.
Preceded by Dynasties in Chinese history
1046–256 BC
Succeeded by