Western Zhou 西周


Chinese Name: 西周

English Name: Western Zhou

Duration: About 1046 BC – 771 BC

King: King Wu of Zhou 周武王; King Cheng of Zhou 周成王; King Kang of Zhou 周康王; King You of Zhou 周幽王;

Western Zhou 西周
Culture of the Western Zhou 西周文化

Brief Introduction

In about 1046 BC, King Wu joined forces with other tribes to attack the tyrant King Zhou of Shang商纣王. King Zhou of Shang was defeated, the Shang Dynasty 商朝 perished, the Zhou Dynasty was established, settled the capital in Haojing镐京 (now southwest of Xi’an, Shaanxi 陕西西安). The Zhou Dynasty is divided into the Western Zhou and the Eastern Zhou. From the destruction of Shang by King Wu of Zhou to the subjugation of King You 幽王, the Western Zhou was handed down to 12 kings and 11 generations.

Western Zhou 西周
Territory Map of Western Zhou 西周疆域图

The Western Zhou was the heyday of China’s slave society. The social productivity was higher than that of the Shang Dynasty, the agriculture was prosperous, and the culture was further developed. In the Western Zhou, the lineage system 宗法制 was the most basic sociopolitical system and the well-field system 井田制 was the basic economic system.

Major Historical Events

King Wu attacked Zhou 武王伐纣

Zhou tribe has a long history. It has been active in Shaanxi 陕西 and Gansu 甘肃 for a long time. Later, Zhouyuan 周原, south of Qishan 岐山, was the main base. By the beginning of the 11th century BC, the power of the Zhou tribe was becoming stronger and stronger. On the one hand, it conquered small tribes nearby to expand its strength; On the one hand, it moved its capital from Zhouyuan to Fengjing 丰京, now the west of Chang’an District 长安区. It continued to push eastward, which exacerbated the contradiction with the Shang Dynasty.

Western Zhou 西周
Ji Fa周武王姬发

King Wen of the Zhou 周文王 canonized Ji Fa 姬发 as the crown prince. King Wen believed that the conditions for crusading Shang Dynasty were ripe and asked Ji Fa to prepare for destroying the Shang Dynasty before his death. After King Wu of Zhou ascended the throne, taking advantage of the main force of the Shang Dynasty fighting abroad, King Wu of Zhou led his army to the East.

In the ninth year of King Wu, the princes met in Mengjin 盟津 (now Mengjin 孟津, an important ferry in ancient times). It is said that as many as 800 princes and tribal leaders came to the conference. At the meeting, King Wu of Zhou held an oath ceremony, which is known in history as the “oath of Mengjin 盟津之誓”.

Western Zhou 西周
Oath of Mengjin 盟津之誓

On February 5, King Wu’s allied forces set out a decisive battle with King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty in the Mu Ye 牧野 of Yin 殷. King Zhou 纣王 also gathered more than 100000 people to compete with King Wu. However, due to the tyranny of King Zhou of Shang, his army had no heart to fight but turned to help King Wu. Therefore, without much effort, King Wu attacked the capital of the Shang Dynasty. It is called“The Battle of Mu Ye牧野之战“.

Western Zhou 西周
The Battle of Mu Ye牧野之战

Seeing that his day has gone, King Zhou boarded the Lutai 露台 built for himself at a huge cost and burned himself to death. The Shang Dynasty was thus destroyed by the King of Zhou.

The Rule of Cheng and Kang 成康之治

The reign period of King Cheng and King Kang, who later ascended the throne, was called “The rule of Cheng and Kang” by later generations, which was the beginning of the era of stability in the Western Zhou Dynasty. Although the enfeoffment of princes by Zhou Dynasty began earlier than King Wu of Zhou, a large number of enfeoffments only appeared in the world of Chengand Kang.

Western Zhou 西周
 flourishing age 繁荣盛世

At this time, the king of Zhou implemented the policies of relieving the poor people, granting farmland to the people, and being virtuous and cautious in punishment.

As a result, agricultural production improved greatly, people’s lives improved relatively, foreigners from all over the world came to have an audience, the political situation was stable, and the people were harmonious.

Teasing the Dukes with Beacon 烽火戏诸侯

In 779 BC, a concubine named Bao Si 褒姒 entered the palace and came into the King You’s favour. Since then, King You favored her and indulged in a life of sensuality and luxury.

Western Zhou 西周
warning beacons 烽火台

Although Bao Si looks gorgeous, her character is as cold as ice. She has never laughed once since she entered the palace. The king will do everything he can to make Bao Si laugh happily, but Bao Si doesn’t laugh all day. Therefore, the king ordered that whoever could make Bao Si smile would be rewarded with a thousand of gold. At this time, a courtier named Guo Shifu 虢石父 came up with an idea . He proposed to use the warning beacons to make Bao Si smile.

Western Zhou 西周
Teasing the Dukes with Beacon 烽火戏诸侯

King You was so happy that he lit the beacon again and again. As a result, the vassals did not believe in beacon fire and gradually stopped coming. Later, a tribe in the west broke into Haojing 镐京 and killed King You of Zhou.

The Western Zhou perished. King Ping of Zhou, the son of King You, moved eastward and began the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

Important Influences

The System of Enfeoffment 分封制

Under the enfeoffment system of the Western Zhou Dynasty, the land and workers were nominally owned by the king of the Zhou Dynasty. The king distributed land to the children of the royal family, meritorious officials or descendants of ancient emperors. The land granted was called “vassal state”, and the monarch who ruled the land was called “vassal”.

Western Zhou 西周
The System of Enfeoffment 分封制

At the same time, in their own land, the vassal again enfeoffed the officials and distributed them level by level. The lower level must undertake the obligations of paying tribute, military service, military security and reporting to the higher level.

The Well-Field System 井田制

The well-field system is the economic basis of the enfeoffment system, which embodies the main part of the production relations in China’s feudal society. It was closely connected with the patriarchal system and further developed in the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Western Zhou 西周
The Well-Field System 井田制

The land belongs to the king of Zhou and is allocated to civilians. The Lord forced the civilians to cultivate collectively. There are private fields around and public fields in the middle. Its essence is a private land system.

The Establishment of The Ritual System 礼乐制度的建立

The establishment of the ritual system of the Western contributed greatly to the improvement of ancient Chinese civilization. Until now, people often say that China is a “state of etiquette”, and the ritual system of the Western Zhou undoubtedly played an important role in it.

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