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The Zhou Dynasty ( ; 1045 BCE to 256 BCE) followed the Shang Dynasty and was followed by the Qin Dynasty in Chinamarker. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinesemarker history—though the actual political and military control of China by the dynasty only lasted during the Western Zhou. During the Zhou, the use of iron was introduced to China, while this period of Chinese history produced what many consider the zenith of Chinese bronze-ware making. The dynasty also spans the period in which the written script evolved from the ancient stage as seen in early Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, to the beginnings of the modern stage, in the form of the archaic clerical script that emerged during the late Warring States period.

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

Mandate of Heaven

A Western Zhou bronze gui vessel, c.
1000 BC

In the Chinese historical tradition, the Zhou defeated the Shang and oriented the Shang system of ancestor worship toward a universalized worship away from the worship of Di and to that of Tian or "heaven". They legitimized their rule by invoking the Mandate of Heaven, the notion that the ruler (the "Son of Heaven") governed by divine right but that his dethronement would prove that he had lost the mandate. Such things that proved the ruling family had lost the Mandate were natural disasters and rebellions. The doctrine explained and justified the demise of the Xia and Shang Dynasties and at the same time supported the legitimacy of present and future rulers. Before conquering the Shang, Zhou was a state in Shaanximarker. Gernet describes the Zhou state as a "city" which was in contact with the barbarian peoples of the western regions and more warlike than the Shang. The Zhou dynasty was founded by the Ji family and operated from four capitals throughout its history. Sharing the language and culture of the Shang, the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, established a large imperial territory wherein states as far as Shandongmarker acknowledged Zhou rulership and took part in elite culture. The spread of Zhou bronzes, though, was concurrent with the continued use of Shang style pottery in the distant regions and these states were the last to recede during the late Western war. The mandate of heaven was based on rules. The emperor was granted the right to rule by heaven.

Zhou military

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 Plateaumarker, modern Ningxia and the Huanghemarker 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 Rivermarker. Early Zhou kings were true commanders-in-chief. They were in constant wars with barbarians on behalf of the fiefs called 'guo', namely, statelet or principality. Charles Hucker noted that Zhou had 14 standing royal armies, with 6 stationed in Haojing, near today's Xianmarker, and 8 armies stationed in the east along with others in the west. Zhou Zhaowang (r. 1052–1001 BC) was famous for repeated campaigns in the Yangtze areas and died in his last action. Zhou Muwang (r. 1001–946 BC) was a legendary figure famous for fighting in the west and maybe today's Central Asia where he met on Kunlun Mountain with so-called Xi Wang Mu, namely, Queen Mother of the West, rumored by some western historians, including Charles Hucker, to be Queen of Sheba. (The actual place for Kunlun Mountains would be somewhere close to today's Jiuquan County, Gansumarker Province. Mt Kunlun, extending for almost 2000 miles from Kara-Kunlun bordering Tibet in the west to Qilian Mountain in the east, was a source of many Chinese myths and legends.) Later kings' campaigns were less effective. King Liwang (r. 878–7 BC) led 14 armies against barbarians in the south but failed to achieve any victory. King Xuanwang (r 827–782 BC) fought the Jiangrong nomads in vain. King Youwang was killed by Quanrong, and capital Haojing was sacked. Although chariots had been introduced to China since the Shang Dynasty, the Zhou period saw the use of massed chariots in battle, a technology imported from Central Asia.

Fengjian Feudalism

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
In the West, the Zhou period is often described as feudal because the Zhou's early rule invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe. However, historians debate whether or not this description is valid; the more appropriate term for the Zhou Dynasty's political arrangement would be from the Chinese language itself: the Fēngjiàn (封建) system. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred in the later Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agrarian taxation. Zhou officials were not paid a salary but instead were given semi-regular gifts by the King, which often included land in the Wei River valley. Imperial stability was ensured through marriages between the Zhou court and local lords as well as the installment of Zhou lords into command over distant regions.

Western and Eastern Zhou

Initially the Ji family was able to control the country firmly. In 771 BC, after King You had replaced his queen with a concubine Baosi, the capital was sacked by the joint force of the queen's father, who was the powerful Marquess of Shen, and a nomadic tribe, the Quanrong. The queen's son Ji Yijiu was proclaimed the new king by the nobles from the states of Zheng, Lu, Qin and the Marquess of Shen. The capital was moved eastward in 722 BC to Luoyangmarker in present-day Henanmarker Province. Because of this shift, historians divide the Zhou era into the Western Zhou (西周, pinyin Xī Zhōu), lasting up until 771 BC, and the Eastern Zhou (Traditional Chinese: 東周, Simplified Chinese: 东周, pinyin: Dōng Zhōu) from 770 up to 256 BC. The beginning year of the Western Zhou has been disputed — 1122 BC, 1027 BC and other years within the hundred years from late 12th century BC to late 11th century BC have been proposed. Chinese historians take 841 BC as the first year of consecutive annual dating of the history of China, based on the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian. The Eastern Zhou corresponds roughly to two subperiods. The first, from 722 to 481 BC, is called the Spring and Autumn Period, after a famous historical chronicle of the time; the second is known as the Warring States Period (403 to 221 BC), after another famous chronicle and initiated by the partitioning of Jin. The Warring States Period extends slightly past the 256 BC end date of the Eastern Zhou; this discrepancy is due to the fact that the last Zhou king's reign ended in 256, 35 years before the beginning of the Qin dynasty which ended the Warring States period. The Eastern Zhou period is also designated as a period of a hundred schools. This is a reference to the different schools of historical Chinese intellectual thought. There were four main distinct which were the Ru, Mohist, Daoist, and Legalists. These schools of thought contributed to social, philosophical and political change which played a large part in the decline of the Zhou dynasty. The ruling families of the Zhou, Shang, Qin, and (possibly) Xia dynasties coexisted together as rulers of independent kingdoms until 286 BC, because that was up to when the Sung principality was conquered, which the Shang ruling family ruled while the Zhou king ruled at his independent kingdom and the Kings of the state of Yue also claimed to be descended from Yu the Great of the Xia Dynasty, while the Kings of Qin ruled over the State of Qin.


With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually diminished, and the fragmentation of the kingdom accelerated. From Ping Wang onwards, the Zhou kings ruled in name only, with true power lying in the hands of powerful nobles. Towards the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the nobles did not even bother to acknowledge the Ji family symbolically, rebelled and declared themselves to be kings. The dynasty was ended in 256 BC, before Qin Shi Huang's unification of China in 221 BC, when the last king of Zhou died and his sons did not proclaim the nominal titles of King of China.


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 founded during the Zhou Dynasty, ultimately for means to aid agricultural irrigation. The Prime Minister of Wei, Sunshu Ao, who served King Zhuang of Chu (楚莊王) (died 591 BC) dammed a river to create an enormous irrigation reservoir in modern-day northern Anhuimarker province. For this Sunshu is credited as China's first hydraulic engineer. The later Wei statesman Ximen Bao, who served Marquis Wen of Wei (文侯) (445 BC-396 BC), is 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 (漳河) to a spot further up the Huang Hemarker.


Image:Defang Ding.jpg|Defang bronze ritual vessel, Western Zhou DynastyImage:Dake Ding.jpg|Dake bronze ritual vessel, Western Zhou DynastyImage:You with zigzag thunder pattern.jpg|You bronze ritual vessel, Western Zhou DynastyImage:Qizhong Hu.jpg|Qizhong Hu bronze vessel, Western Zhou DynastyImage:Dou with an inland hunting scene.jpg|Dou vessel with a hunting scene, Eastern Zhou DynastyImage:Bo of Duke of Qin.jpg|A bo bell of the Duke of Qin, Eastern Zhou DynastyImage:Pu with openwork interlaced dragons design.jpg|Pu vessel with dragon designs, Eastern Zhou DynastyImage:Bi with two dragons and grain pattern.jpg|A jade bi with two dragons, Eastern Zhou DynastyImage:Zhou ritual food vessel p1070295.jpg|Eastern Zhou bronze ritual food vessel (ding) with lacquer design, 5th-4th century BCImage:Freer 005.jpg|An Eastern Zhou Dynasty bronze ding vesselImage:Freer 007.jpg|An Eastern Zhou Dynasty bronze musical bellImage:Freer 009.jpg|Western and Eastern Zhou Dynasty bronze vesselsImage:3rd century BC Eastern Zhou bronze and silver flask.jpg|An Eastern Zhou Dynasty bronze and silver canteenImage:CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - square bronze hu.jpg|A square bronze hu vessel, Eastern Zhou DynastyImage:Freer 032.jpg|An Eastern Zhou Dynasty bronze bird-shaped wine serverImage:Chinese silk, 4th Century BC.JPG|Embroidered silk gauze garment from a 4th century BC, Zhou era tomb at Mashan, Hubei province.Image:Changshadragon.jpg|Silk painting of a man riding a dragon, 6th century BC.

Zhou dynasty kings

Personal name Posthumous Name Reign years1 Name by which most commonly known
Ji Fa
1046 BC-1043 BC1 Zhou Wuwang
(King Wu of Zhou)
Ji Song
1042 BC-1021 BC1 Zhou Chengwang
(King Cheng of Zhou)
Ji Zhao
1020 BC-996 BC1 Zhou Kangwang
(King Kang of Zhou)
Ji Xia
995 BC-977 BC1 Zhou Zhaowang
(King Zhao of Zhou)
Ji Man
976 BC-922 BC1 Zhou Muwang
(King Mu of Zhou)
Ji Yihu
922 BC-900 BC1 Zhou Gongwang
(King Gong of Zhou)
Ji Jian
899 BC-892 BC1 Zhou Yiwang
(King Yi of Zhou)
Ji Pifang
891 BC-886 BC1 Zhou Xiaowang
(King Xiao of Zhou)
Ji Xie
885 BC-878 BC1 Zhou Yiwang
(King Yi of Zhou)
Ji Hu
877 BC-841 BC1 Zhou Liwang
(King Li of Zhou)
  Gonghe (regency)
841 BC-828 BC Gonghe
Ji Jing
827 BC-782 BC Zhou Xuanwang
(King Xuan of Zhou)
Ji Gongsheng
781 BC-771 BC Zhou Youwang
(King You of Zhou)
End of Western Zhou / Beginning of Eastern Zhou
Ji Yijiu
770 BC-720 BC Zhou Pingwang
(King Ping of Zhou)
Ji Lin
719 BC-697 BC Zhou Huanwang
(King Huan of Zhou)
Ji Tuo
696 BC-682 BC Zhou Zhuangwang
(King Zhuang of Zhou)
Ji Huqi
681 BC-677 BC Zhou Xiwang
(King Xi of Zhou)
Ji Lang
676 BC-652 BC Zhou Huiwang
(King Hui of Zhou)
Ji Zheng
651 BC-619 BC Zhou Xiangwang
(King Xiang of Zhou)
Ji Renchen
618 BC-613 BC Zhou Qingwang
(King Qing of Zhou)
Ji Ban
612 BC-607 BC Zhou Kuangwang
(King Kuang of Zhou)
Ji Yu
606 BC-586 BC Zhou Dingwang
(King Ding of Zhou)
Ji Yi
585 BC-572 BC Zhou Jianwang
(King Jian of Zhou)
Ji Xiexin
571 BC-545 BC Zhou Lingwang
(King Ling of Zhou)
Ji Gui
544 BC-521 BC Zhou Jingwang
(King Jing of Zhou)
Ji Meng
520 BC Zhou Daowang
(King Dao of Zhou)
Ji Gai
519 BC-476 BC Zhou Jingwang
(King Jing of Zhou)
Ji Ren
475 BC-469 BC Zhou Yuanwang
(King Yuan of Zhou)
Ji Jie
468 BC-442 BC Zhou Zhendingwang
(King Zhending of Zhou)
Ji Quji
441 BC Zhou Aiwang
(King Ai of Zhou)
Ji Shu
441 BC Zhou Siwang
(King Si of Zhou)
Ji Wei
440 BC-426 BC Zhou Kaowang
(King Kao of Zhou)
Ji Wu
425 BC-402 BC Zhou Weiliewang
(King Weilie of Zhou)
Ji Jiao
401 BC-376 BC Zhou Anwang
(King An of Zhou)
Ji Xi
375 BC-369 BC Zhou Liewang
(King Lie of Zhou)
Ji Bian
368 BC-321 BC Zhou Xianwang
(King Xian of Zhou)
Ji Ding
320 BC-315 BC Zhou Shenjingwang
(King Shenjing of Zhou)
Ji Yan
314 BC-256 BC Zhou Nanwang
(King Nan of Zhou)
255 BC-249 BC Zhou Huiwang²
(King Hui of Eastern Zhou)
2 Nobles of the Ji family proclaimed King Hui as King Nan's successor after their capital, Luoyangmarker,
fell to Qin forces in 256 BC.

However Zhou resistance did not last long in the face of the Qin
advance and so King Nan is widely considered to have been the last king of the Zhou dynasty.

See also


  1. Schirokauer & Brown 2006. "A Brief history of Chinese civilization: second edition". Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, pp. 25–47.
  2. Gernet, Jacques. A History of Chinese Civilization, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition 1996, ISBN 0-521-49781-7, p51.
  3. Khayutina, 2003
  4. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, Anne Walthall, James B. Palais (2006). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-13384-4. Page 14.
  5. Shaughnessy, Edward L. Historical Perspectives on The Introduction of The Chariot Into China. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jun., 1988), pp. 189–237.
  6. The State of Yue


  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, Anne Walthall, James B. Palais (2006). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-13384-4.

  • Lee, Yuan-Yuan and Shen, Sinyan. (1999). Chinese Musical Instruments (Chinese Music Monograph Series). Chinese Music Society of North America Press. ISBN 1-880464039
  • Shen, Sinyan (1987), Acoustics of Ancient Chinese Bells, Scientific American, 256, 94.
  • Sun, Yan. 2006. "Cultural and Political Control in North China: Style and Use of the Bronzes of Yan at Liulihe during the Early Western Zhou." In: Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Edited by Victor H. Mair. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu. Pages 215-237. ISBN 9780824828844; ISBN 0824828844.
  • Feng, Li. 2006. Landscape and Power in Early China: The Crisis and Fall of the Western Zhou 1045-771 BC
  • Schirokauer & Brown 2006. "A Brief history of Chinese civilization: second edition" Wadsworth, a division of Thomson Learning, pp. 25-47
  • Leeman, Bernard. 2005.Queen of Sheba and Biblical Scholarship. Queensland Academic Press Australia. ISBN 0975802208

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