Zhou Dynasty

Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE) was among the most culturally significant of the early Chinese dynasties and the longest lasting of any in China's history, divided into two periods: Western Zhou (1046-771 BCE) and Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE). It followed the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE), and preceded the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE, pronounced “chin”) which gave China its name.

Among the Shang concepts developed by the Zhou was the Mandate of Heaven – the belief in the monarch and ruling house as divinely appointed – which would inform Chinese politics for centuries afterwards and which the House of Zhou invoked to depose and replace the Shang.

The Western Zhou period saw the rise of decentralized state with a social hierarchy corresponding to European feudalism in which land was owned by a noble, honor-bound to the king who had granted it, and was worked by peasants. Western Zhou fell just before the era known as the Spring and Autumn Period (c. 772-476 BCE), named for the state chronicles of the time (the Spring and Autumn Annals) and notable for its advances in music, poetry, and philosophy, especially the development of the Confucian, Taoist, Mohist, and Legalist schools of thought.

Eastern Zhou moved the capital to Luoyang and continued the Western Zhou model but with an ever-increasing breakdown of the imperial Chinese government which resulted in the claim that the Zhou had lost the Mandate of Heaven. The weakness of the king's position gave rise to the chaotic era known as the Warring States Period (c. 481-221 BCE) during which the seven separate states of China fought each other for supremacy. This period ended with the victory of the state of Qin over the others and the establishment of the Qin Dynasty which tried to erase the accomplishments of the Zhou in order to establish its own primacy.

The Zhou Dynasty made significant cultural contributions to education, literature, philosophical schools of thought, as well as political & religious innovations.

The Zhou Dynasty made significant cultural contributions to agriculture, education, military organization, Chinese literature, music, philosophical schools of thought, and social stratification as well as political and religious innovations. The foundation for many of these developments had been laid by the Shang Dynasty but the form in which they came to be recognized is entirely credited to the Zhou.

The culture they established and maintained for almost 800 years enabled the development of the arts, metallurgy, and some of the most famous names in Chinese philosophy, among them Confucius, Mencius, Mo Ti, Lao-Tzu, and Sun-Tzu all of whom lived and wrote during the period known as the time of the Hundred Schools of Thought during which individual philosophers established their own schools. The contributions of the Zhou Dynasty provided the foundation for the development of Chinese culture by those that followed, most notably the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) which would fully recognize the value of the Zhou Dynasty's contributions.

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Fall of the Shang & Rise of the Zhou

Prior to the Zhou was the Shang Dynasty who overthrew the Xia Dynasty (c. 2700-1600 BCE), claiming it had become tyrannical, and the Shang leader, Tang (dates unknown) then stabilized the region and initiated policies encouraging economic and cultural advances. The Shang made the most of the fertile soil on the banks of the Yellow River to produce abundant harvests, providing more food than required, the surplus of which then went toward trade. The resulting prosperity allowed for the development of cities, (some on a large scale, such as Erligang), arts, and culture.

The Shang were expert masons, jewelers, and metallurgists, creating masterpieces in bronze and jade, as well as producing high-quality bolts of silk. They developed a calendar, divination through oracle bones, writing, music and musical instruments, the concept of ancestor worship, Taoism, and the religious concept of the Mandate of Heaven which claimed the monarch ruled by the will of the gods.

The gods' approval of a king was evident in the prosperity of the land and the general well-being of the people. Any decline in either was interpreted as a sign the monarch had broken his contract with the gods and should be deposed. The last Shang emperor, Zhou (also given as Xin), became as tyrannical as the earlier Xia kings had been. He was challenged by King Wen of Zhou (l. 1152-1056 BCE) and was overthrown by Wen's second son, King Wu, who reigned 1046-1043 BCE as the first king of the Zhou Dynasty.

Western Zhou

King Wu at first followed the paradigm of the Shang in establishing a central government on either side of the Feng River known as Fenghao. Wu died shortly afterwards, and his brother, Dan, the Duke of Zhou (r. 1042-1035 BCE), took control of the government as regent for Wu's young son, Cheng (r. 1042-1021 BCE). The Duke of Zhou is a legendary character in Chinese history as a poet-warrior and author of the famous book of divination, the I-Ching. He expanded the territories eastward, and ruled respectfully, abdicating when the son of Wu came of age and took the throne as King Cheng of Zhou. Not every region under Zhou control admired their policies, however, and rebellions throughout the vast realm broke out, inspired by factions wishing to rule themselves.

A centralized government could not maintain the large territory that had been conquered and so the ruling house sent out trusted generals, family members, and other nobles to establish smaller states which would be loyal to the king. The policy of fengjian (“establishment”) was instituted which decentralized the government and allotted land to nobles who acknowledged the supremacy of the Zhou king. The fengjian policy established a feudal system and social hierarchy which ran, top to bottom:

  • King
  • Nobles
  • Gentries
  • Merchants
  • Laborers
  • Peasants

Each noble formed his own separate state with its own legal system, tax code, currency, and militia. They paid homage and taxes to the Zhou king and provided him with soldiers when necessary. In order to strengthen the king's position, the Mandate of Heaven concept was more fully developed. The king made sacrifices at the capital on behalf of the people and the people honored him with their loyalty and service.

This was one of the few times in China's history that the upper & lower classes worked together for the greater common good.

The fengjian policy was so successful, producing such abundance of crops, that the resultant prosperity validated the Zhou as possessing the Mandate of Heaven. The wealth that was generated encouraged the so-called well-field system which divided lands between those cultivated for nobility and the king, and those worked by and for the peasantry. This was one of the few times in China's history that the upper and lower classes worked together for the greater common good.

The Zhou culture, naturally, flourished with this kind of cooperation. Works in bronze became more sophisticated and the metallurgy of the Shang, overall, was improved upon. Chinese writing was codified and literature developed, as evidenced in the work known as Shijing (the Book of Songs, composed 11th-7th centuries BCE), one of the Five Classics of Chinese literature. The poems of the Shijing would have been sung at court and were thought to encourage virtuous behavior and compassion for members of all social classes.

This time of prosperity and relative peace, however, could not last. Scholar Patricia Buckley Ebrey comments:

The decentralized rule of the Western Zhou had from the beginning carried within it the danger that the regional lords would become so powerful that they would no longer respond to the commands of the king. As generations passed and ties of loyalty and kinship grew more distant, this indeed happened. In 771 BCE, the Zhou king was killed by an alliance [of tribesmen and vassals]. (38)

Western Zhou fell when invasions, most likely by the peoples known as the Xirong (or Rong), further destabilized the region. The nobility moved the capital to Luoyang in the east which gives the next period of Zhou history its name of Eastern Zhou.

Eastern Zhou

In the early years of the Spring and Autumn Period, chivalry in battle was still observed and all seven states used the same tactics resulting in a series of stalemates since, whenever one engaged with another in battle, neither could gain an advantage. In time, this repetition of seemingly endless, and completely futile, warfare became simply the way of life for the people of China during the era now referred to as the Warring States Period. The famous work The Art of War by Sun-Tzu (l. c. 500 BCE) was written during this time, recording precepts and tactics one could use to gain advantage over an opponent, win the war, and establish peace.

How widely read The Art of War was at this time is unknown but Sun-Tzu was not the only one who tried to end the violence through stratagems. The pacifist philosopher Mo Ti (also given as Mot Tzu, l. 470-291 BCE) went to each state, offering his knowledge in strengthening a city's defenses as well as offensive tactics in battle. His idea was to provide each state with exactly the same advantages, neutralizing all, in the hope that they would realize the futility of further warfare and declare peace. His plan failed, however, because each state, like a die-hard gambler, believed that their next offensive would result in the big win.

A Qin statesman named Shang Yang (d. 338 BCE), following Sun-Tzu's lead, advocated for total war, without regard to the old laws of chivalry, and stressed the goal of victory by any means at one's disposal. Shang Yang's philosophy was adopted by King Ying Zheng of Qin who embarked on a brutal campaign of carnage, defeated the other states, and established himself as Shi Huangdi, the first Chinese emperor. The Zhou Dynasty had fallen, and the Qin Dynasty now began its reign over China.

Zhou Contributions

The Qin would undo many of the advances of the Zhou but could not completely rewrite history. In the same way the Zhou had drawn on the accomplishments of the Shang, so the Qin did with the Zhou. The Zhou's advances in agriculture, for example, were kept and improved upon, notably irrigation techniques, dam building, and hydraulics which would be instrumental in Shi Huangdi's construction of the Grand Canal.

The use of cavalry and chariots in Chinese warfare (also originally Shang developments) were further developed by the Zhou and kept by the Qin. The Zhou had brought horsemanship to such a high level that it was considered a form of art and a requisite for the education of princes. Horses were thought so important, they were frequently buried with their masters or sacrificed for the spiritual power and protection their energy could provide to the deceased.

The most famous example of this is the tomb of Duke Jing of Qi (r. 547-490 BCE), found in Shandong Province in 1964 CE which, though still not fully excavated presently, is thought to contain the remains of 600 horses sacrificed to accompany the Duke into the afterlife. All of the states drew on the Zhou knowledge of horsemanship and Ying Zheng, in fact, made full use of the chariot and cavalry units developed by the Zhou in subduing the other states.

The Zhou separation of an army into units, deployed in different directions in battle, was also maintained by the Qin as was Zhou metallurgy. Shi Huangdi made the most of Zhou techniques in metalworking by forcing the subdued states to turn over their weapons which were melted down and turned into statues celebrating his reign.

The Zhou contributions which were discarded by the Qin were all in the areas of art and culture. The Spring and Autumn Period and its time of the Hundred Schools of Thought had produced some of the most significant philosophical thinkers in the world. The major schools of thought were founded by Confucius (l. 551-479 BCE) whose famous Confucian precepts continue to inform Chinese culture, Lao-Tzu (l. 500 BCE) who codified and founded formal Taoism, and Han Feizi (l. 280-233 BCE), founder of the school of Legalism.

There were also many lesser known, but still significant, philosophers such as the sophist Teng Shih (l. 500 BCE), the hedonist Yang Zhu (l. 440-360 BCE), and the politician and philosopher Yan Ying (l. 578-500 BCE). Among the best-known later philosophers was the famous Mencius (also given as Mang-Tze, l. 372-289 BCE) who would codify the works of Confucius, and Xun Kuang (l. 310 - c. 235 BCE) whose work, Xunzi, reimagined Confucian ideals with a more pessimistic, pragmatic vision. Except for the legalism of Han Feizi, which the Qin adopted as its national policy, the work of all these philosophers was ordered destroyed; any which survived had been hidden by priests and intellectuals at the risk of their lives.

Zhou musical contributions were also undervalued by the Qin, though they were later recognized fully by the Han Dynasty. Central to the values of the Zhou Dynasty were the concepts of Li (ritual) and Yue (music and dance), commonly given as Li-Yue. Music was considered transformative, as explained by the scholar Johanna Liu:

Since the Zhou Dynasty, music has been considered as one important subject in the curriculum including four disciplines for cultivating the sons of royal family and eminent people from the State to be prominent future leaders. In the Book of Rites, it was said…'the direction of Music gave all honor to its four subjects of instruction, and arranged the lessons in them, following closely the poems, histories, ceremonies, and music of the former kings, in order to complete its scholars.' (Shen, 65)

Each piece of music had a corresponding dance and the combination of these was thought to not only improve the moral character of the individual but assist in balancing the nature of the cosmos. Confucius believed music to be essential in cultivating a good character, especially in a ruler, and that a lover of music would conduct himself, and his administration, justly.

The Book of Rites referenced by Liu is one of the classic Chinese texts which was produced during the Zhou Dynasty during the period of the Hundred Schools of thought. The Four Books and Five Classics – which managed to survive the book burning of the Qin – became the standard texts for Chinese education. They are:

  • The Book of Rites (also known as The Book of Great Learning)
  • The Doctrine of the Mean
  • The Analects of Confucius
  • The Works of Mencius
  • The I-Ching
  • The Classics of Poetry
  • The Classics of Rites
  • The Classics of History
  • The Spring and Autumn Annals

These works continue to be studied in the present day and for the same reason: they are thought to not only educate an individual but also elevate the soul and improve one's overall character.

Conclusion

These works were only made possible by the Zhou development of writing. The Zhou developed the Shang script Jiaguwen into the Dashuan, Xiaozhuan, and Lishu scripts which would lend themselves to the development of still others. The Zhou's elevation of ancestor worship encouraged the development of religious thought and their vision of the Mandate of Heaven would continue to inform Chinese dynasties going forward for thousands of years.

If the Zhou had only produced philosophers such as Confucius and the others, it would be impressive enough, but they did far more. In the Western Zhou period, they established a decentralized, but cohesive, state which honored and inspired the people of all social classes, not just the noble and wealthy. They consistently improved upon what they had inherited from the Shang and looked for other ways to make their lives, and others', better.

In the Eastern Zhou period, even amidst the chaos of constant warfare, they continued to develop art, music, literature, and philosophy of the highest quality. The Zhou Dynasty's reign of nearly 800 years, in fact, was so profoundly influential at every level of culture that even the destructive policies of the Qin could not erase it. After the Qin fell to the Han Dynasty, the cultural contributions of the Zhou were revived and, today, are indistinguishable from Chinese culture.


The Zhou Dynasty — Ancient to Imperial China

The Zhou Dynasty (1045–221 BC) saw China grow, fracture into states, then unite in imperialism. It was technically the longest dynasty, though the Zhouhad effectively lost power by 770 BC. Major philosophies and religions emerged that were the basis of Chinese belief in later eras, such as Confucianism and Daoism.

The era is divided into three periods: the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045–771 BC), the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476), when the empire divided into dozens of competing kingdoms, which then coalesced into several big and warring kingdoms during the Warring States Period (475–221).


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The Zhou people, who overthrew the Shang dynasty, were originally one of their subordinate peoples, who lived on the Western side of the Shang heartland along the Wei River. They also had made the leap from a hunting and gathering society to an agricultural society, but eventually reverted back to hunting and gathering before building their permanent settlements and becoming a tributary group within the Shang state.

King Tai of Zhou

The Zhou people became resentful of the unsatisfactory leadership of the Shang rulers around the 12th and the beginning of the 11th century BC and began to assert their ambition of overthrowing the Shang rulers. A Zhou ruler named Tai was a key figure in making this ambition known and developed a plan for the overthrow of the Shang which was then explicitly followed over the next three generations. The Zhou people began to migrate eastward along the Wei River which quickly brought them in much closer contact with the Shang and they developed alliances with other peoples who also lived along the Western periphery of the Shang state.

King Wen of Zhou

In the year 1050 BC, the Zhou leader Wen (later referred to as King Wen) prepared the final military plan that led to the eventual demise of the Shang and that was executed by his son King Wu sometime around 1046 or 1045 BC (the exact date is unknown). At that time, the Zhou army along with their military allies marched to the Shang capital Yin (present day Anyang in the North of Henan province) and attacked the city from the Western side. Before the attack, King Wu gave a rousing speech in which he claimed that heaven had withdrawn the mandate (see mandate of heaven) from the Shang rulers and given it to the Zhou people.

King Wu of Zhou

The ensuing battle of Muye is described in a poem in the oldest surviving collection of Chinese poetry. The Zhou army used their bronze swords and axes to great effect in the ensuing day-long battle (written reports mention pieces of wood floating on rivers of blood along the streets of the capital) and the Zhou victory was complete with them in control of the former Shang capital. The Shang ruler committed suicide by lighting a fire in which he burned to death.

A portrait of the Duke of Zhou from Sancai Tuhui by Wang Qi (1529 - 1612)

Since King Wu was still a relatively young boy at the time of the conquest, his uncle - the Duke of Zhou (the younger brother of King Wen) - can be assumed to have carried much of the responsibility and authority at that time. He is reported to have been a virtuous character (and supposedly a great role model for Confucius) and acted as political advisor of his nephew King Wu instead of trying to usurp the throne at these unstable times.

After their victory, the Zhou began to dismantle the institutions of the Shang state and replaced them with their own.

They moved the capital of their new state away from present-day Anyang towards their western ancestral homeland in the valley of the Wei River. There seems to be some confusion about the actual location of the Zhou capital. What is clear though is that the Zhou rulers (as well as later dynasties) designed their capital(s) by using ideas from various fields, such as cosmology, feng shui etc. Their capital was laid out within a rectangular space that was surrounded by a tall city wall and oriented along a North-South axis.

The rulers lived in palatial buildings in the northern part of the new city whereas the common people and their activity centers like markets were located in the southern part. Furthermore, buildings for the performance of certain rituals and sacrifices by the king (and later emperor) were located along the four sides of the rectangular city.

Instead of completely annihilating or trying to assimilate the Shang people, they were given their own territory to the southeast of present-day Anyang. In this way, the reversal of the former political situation was completed with the Shang people becoming a subordinate group to the Zhou. The Shang people kept their former customs and traditions after their move to their new territory, including the ritual worship of their ancestors.

approximate territory of the Zhou dynasty state in ancient China

The Zhou people cultivated this ancestor worship as well besides their worship of heaven. Their first 2-3 centuries of leadership were very successful in that their territory continued to expand along with the substantial growth of the human population within their realm. The area within their dominion became about 4 times as large as the original Shang state by the 8th century BC. Most of the newly controlled areas were gained in the south or southeast of the former Shang heartland.

The controlled territory of the Zhou state expanded so rapidly and eventually became so large, that it couldn't be administered effectively any longer, which over time resulted in the Zhou kings gradually losing control of their empire. Eventually, they were no longer able to control their entire state from within their capital, but instead began to rely on appointed local rulers, which at first were closely related to them (through ties of blood or marriage). Control of the outlying areas was delegated to members of the royal family, which were assumed to be loyal to the Zhou rulers.

Silk painting featuring a man riding a dragon,dated to 5th century BC

As their territory got larger, there were not enough family members left to take control of these new territories. Certain military leaders (who had demonstrated their loyalty to the Zhou kings in military conflicts) were appointed then as rulers of these newly gained territories. This system worked well at the beginning as long as there were close personal bonds between those appointed leaders and the Zhou kings.

With each passing generation, these bonds weakened as the local leaders passed on their power to their offspring. Furthermore, the succeeding Zhou kings became complacent and mostly stayed within the surroundings of their royal court.

The local leaders, who didn't feel obliged to the faraway Zhou kings anymore, began to resent the need to send a large part of their agricultural surplus and wealth to the faraway Zhou rulers in the form of tributes. They correspondingly decreased their tribute payments which resulted in an ever dwindling state income over a period of successive generations.

Remains of carriages and horses of the Western Zhou period (1046–771 BCE)

By the 8th century BC, some local strongmen began to refer to themselves as kings (Chinese: wang) instead of as dukes, marquises and counts (according to the official nomenclature) in their local written communication, which was a clear subversion of the power of the Zhou kings. However, the Zhou kings didn't punish these transgressions (if ever they heard of them) since they were preoccupied with a different problem. That problem was the emergence of a new people - the Qin people - in the Wei River valleys (so in the original areas of the Zhou people), who began a series of military raids into the Zhou controlled areas.

Bronze bow device for controlling chariot reins from the Western Zhou Dynasty

The Spring and Autumn period (771 - 476 BC)

These security problems became so serious that the Zhou kings were forced to abandon their capital (near modern city of Xi'an) in the year 771 BC in order to move eastward along the Yellow River valleys. That move marks the end of the Western Zhou dynasty and the beginning of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, which was from then on only an inconsequential state. The Eastern Zhou capital was established near the area of present-day Luoyang (in the center of Henan province) and built according to the same pattern of the previous Zhou capitals (rectangular shape, tall walls, north-south axis, . . . ). Thereby preoccupied with the stabilization of their crumbling empire at its center, the Zhou didn't have the power to react in a decisive way against the subversion of some local rulers at its periphery (mostly in the areas south and southwest of the center of the Zhou state).

Map of states during the Spring and Autumn period around 500 BCE

In succession, the Zhou state in reality fragmented into a number of small states (Qin, Jin, Yan, Lu, Qi, Chen, Song, Chu, Cai, Wu) even though their rulers at first still claimed allegiance to the succeeding Zhou kings in Luoyang. In reality, the Zhou kings finally only controlled the area in close proximity to their capital. This period of fragmentation (until around 476 BC) is named the "Spring and Autumn period". It is named after the "Spring and Autumn Annals" that were published in the state of Lu and that chronicle this period year by year from the perspective of the Lu state. Some scholars believe that the "Spring and Autumn Annals" were edited by Confucius himself, who was a native of the Lu state.

spear with cloud and thunder pattern,early 6th century BC – 476 BC

The rulers of the state of Lu claimed descendence from the Duke of Zhou (younger brother of King Wen, planner of the overthrow of the Shang dynasty and uncle of young King Wu who led the Zhou conquest).

During the Spring and Autumn period, local hegemons (whom the Chinese chronicles refer to as ba wang - a king in power, but not in right) began to set up royal courts and to perform and even adapt rituals (for example royal ancestor worship) that were traditionally only performed by the real king. The hegemons started to wear royal clothing and had their subordinates pay respect to them as kings.

Some local hegemons launched military attacks to conquer the territory of weaker neighbouring states or to breakaway from their regional overlord. By the year 500 BC, there were about 250 small states of different sizes in the area that was originally under Zhou control. Some of these consisted of only one fortified town and the surrounding agricultural area whereas others occupied fairly large areas.

Due to the proliferation of royal courts, literate people (to facilitate written record-keeping and administration) who could perform the sacrificial rituals (just like the diviners during the Shang dynasty) and royal ceremonies were in high demand. Over time, a new political class emerged that the Chinese call the shi, a class of professional political administrators. They served as political advisors and usually had in-depth knowledge of history (historic annals, texts about ritual worship and sacrifices, texts that served as record keeping) and classic texts (the Confucian classics, poetry and folk songs) and that set them apart from the majority of the population that remained illiterate.

Dagger-axe (Ge) from the Spring and Autumn period

At first, these political advisors were each attached to specific local rulers but over time they became an elite class of people that could be recruited accross regional borders by whoever was willing to pay them. That set in motion a competition among local rulers to attract the best and brightest of them to their own royal court. Some of the shi therefore served a succession of different local hegemons over the span of their professional careers.

After the 6th century BC, some of the shi accumulated such diverse knowledge and experience regarding political and moral ideas and values (like Confucius) that they emerged as important thinkers who began to question the chaos and disorder in the current state of society and developed theories that were meant to bring about a well-ordered state of society again.

The Hundred Schools of Thought

painting of Confucius

The Hundred Schools of Thought is a term that is commonly used to describe the proliferation of different ideologies, schools of thought etc. during the Spring and Autumn period and the succeeding Warring States Period.

Some of these schools were very concerned with philosophical knowledge and language (like Confucianism and Daoism which are explained in the next paragraphs). The School of Yin-yang tried to find the answers to the questions of society in nature, the School of Names in logic and the School of "Minor-talks" in the existing folk wisdom.

Statue of Sun Tzu in Enchoen, Yurihama, Tottori, Japan.

Other schools were very practical in nature. The School of the Military was concerned with military warfare and strategy. Its most famous adherent was arguably the philosopher Sun Tzu - writer of the still famous book "The Art of War ". The School of Diplomacy emphasized political and diplomatic skills such as debating and lobbying. Whereas the agriculturalists wanted to build an egalitarian agrarian society, the Yangists believed in the positive nature of human self-interest. Two other schools that enjoyed considerable popularity at the time, but are now largely unknown, are the schools of Moism (explained in the next paragraphs) and the doctrine of Legalism (see next chapter about the Qin dynasty for an explanation of the doctrine of legalism). The Miscellaneous School tried to integrate the different teachings from all the different schools.

Confucius on his way to the Zhou capital Luoyang

Confucius lived between 551 BC and 479 BC. There are no contemporary records of him and so we have to rely on his former students (and their students in succession) who extensively wrote about their great master posthumously. Born in one of the most prosperous states, the state of Lu, he belonged to the class of the shi and he travelled extensively within the eastern part of China, offering his counsel to the rulers of many individual states. For many years, he was trying to become an influential political advisor to one of the hegemons, but was unsuccessful in this endeavour.

He only obtained relatively minor positions with different leaders in different states and eventually gave up his ambition of becoming a truly influential political advisor and returned to his home state of Lu. Back home, he started his 2nd career as a teacher. Most of what we know about him comes from the writings of his students (and their students in succession) about his speeches and teachings.

Confucius Sites in Qufu

The three Confucian sites that are associated with the great sage in Qufu (Shandong province) are the Confucius Family Mansion, Confucius Temple and Confucius Cemetery.

His core teachings are that society is a complex network of human relationships (of which the family is a microcosm) and that in order to achieve a well-ordered society we must bring order (and therefore a certain hierarchy) to human relationships. Confucius defined the five great relationships as the ones between ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, friend and friend. He saw these five great relationships as hierarchical (with one side being the leader and the other side the follower) but also reciprocal. For example, the subject had the moral obligation to obey the ruler, but only as long as the ruler was just and the wife had to obey her husband only as long as he treated her well and so on . . . .

Confucius as scholar

Society was thought to function well as long as both sides fulfilled their role and duties. According to Confucius, the performance of rituals (for example children bowing in front of their parents or teachers to show their respect) was necessary to let people understand their role within the hierarchy. He spoke about "returning to the rites" and the "rectification of names" which he saw as a restoration of the proper hierarchical order that existed during the early Zhou dynasty, before local rulers began to appropriate royal titles and rituals for themselves.

the Confucian philosopher Mencius

He regarded the educated gentlemen of the shi class (Chinese: jun zi) as a critical element in this return to the proper order. The educated gentlemen was supposed to always follow the proper way (Chinese: dao) and therefore serve as a model citizen that other people will then try to emulate. Confucianism teaches that there is a known proper social order, that lies within the obligation of the gentlemen to be restored. Confucius died in 479 BC and his philosophical work was developed further by one student of his teachings - Mencius (372 BC - 289 BC). Mencius especially concentrated upon the relationship between ruler and subject in his philosophical writings.

According to him, the ruler had an obligation to be a just ruler, otherwise the subject had the right to overthrow him. If the subject was successful in this endeavour, then this was a clear sign that heaven had withdrawn the mandate from this ruler (see mandate of heaven).

Mencius Sites in Zoucheng

The two main sites that are associated with the Confucian sage Mencius in Zoucheng (Shandong province) are the Mencius Temple and the Mencius Family Mansion.

Portrait of Laozi

The daoist philosophy can be traced back to the old master Laozi (who lived sometime during the 6th century BC, so at about the same time as Confucius) and his later follower Zhuangzi (who lived during the late 4th to early 3rd century BC). Where Confucianism advocates action (to restore the proper order), daoist teaching advocates inaction (Chinese: wu wei) based on uncertainty, so as not to disturb the harmony of a natural order that just "is". So in Daoism the proper way is already right there naturally and doesn't need to be "made". Daoism teaches that knowledge is always partial and that if we act upon this partial knowledge, there will be unintended consequences. Laozi's vision of a well-ordered society is an agricultural society, where all the peasant's needs are fulfilled to such an extent, that there is no need to endeavour outside their home village (and therefore outside the proper order).

Ming dynasty painting (mid-16th century ink on silk) by Lu Chih showing Zhuangzi dreaming of a butterfly drawing of the Chinese political philosopher and religious reformer Mozi

The philosopher Mozi (who lived during the late 5th to early 4th century BC) advocated the practice of universal love which according to this school of thought meant to treat everyone equally and fairly and not just the immediate family members. The Moists argued that it was precisely the emphasis on one's immediate family (as propagated by Confucianism) that created the turmoil and conflict in China when many individual states (each led by a ruling family) went to war against each other.

Interestingly, the Moists were not only concerned with their philosophical teachings but also pursued an active plan of action. They taught themselves to become experts in defensive warfare and offered their services to the rulers of smaller states. Their hope was to stop the continuing warfare in China by building up the individual state's and/or city's defences to such a degree, that military warfare would cease to be an effective way to pursue one's own interests and that therefore the ruling families would have to rely on other means (such as diplomacy) to achieve their objectives. For some states this strategy proved to be effective.

The Warring States Period (476 - 221 BC)

The Spring and Autumn period had a clear starting point, when the Zhou abandoned their capital in 771 BC and moved eastward. However, there is no clear starting point for the Warring States Period. The date 476 BC chosen here is based on Sima Qian 's Records of the Grand Historian. The Warring States Period got its name from the Record of the Warring States.

Whereas the number of states increased during the Spring and Autumn period, it began to decrease during the Warring States Period with stronger states invading and assimilating weaker states. The area that is now China became less and less fragmented again. By the 3rd century BC, there were only 7 larger states (Qin, Han, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Yan) and a couple of smaller states left. Of these 7 larger states, the state of Qin was the most successful in its military campaigns. It was the Qin, who brought the Eastern Zhou dynasty (a minor state during the Spring and Autumn period as well as the Warring States Period) to an end in 256 BC, when they invaded the Eastern Zhou capital and killed their last king.

Warring States Period Map 260 BC

Under successive rulers, the Qin state's military strength grew substantially, which led to a rapid expansion of its territory in northwest China. Eventually, a new powerful Qin king would succeed in unifying China.

Chinese History Digest's summary of China's history continues with the story of the short-lived Qin dynasty in the next section.


Historiography and fictional historiography

Chunqiu-Zuozhuan

Not being part of the ancient corpus of Classics, the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals" of the state of Lu became a core part of the Confucian Classics as Master Confucius' putative evaluation of the politics of his home state. The annals consist of brief annalistic statements roughly covering the period today known as the Spring and Autumn period. The Annals are all the more important, as they include countless statements on other regional states, yet always from the perspective of Lu.

The regional state of Lu had been the domain of the Duke of Zhou, who is seen as the founder of the concept of the Heavenly mandate (tianming) bestowed by Heaven on the morally superior King Wu, founder of the Zhou dynasty. The Duke of Zhou was also credited with the creation of the rules of propriety and ceremony by which the society of the Zhou state was held together. A group of scholars called the ru 儒 (equalled with ru 柔 "soft", as shushi 術士 "skilled servicemen") was particularly interested in this ceremonial cement and tried to keep to the ritual prescriptions after the disintegration of the Western Zhou kingdom. The most important figure of the ru was Confucius (Kongzi). He is said to have studied and reorganized not just the three ancient Classics Yijing, Shangshu, and Shijing, but also the Annals of Lu.

The moral judgments of the author(s) of the Annals in their transmitted version used an encoded language (baobian 褒貶 "praise and blame", weiyan 微言 "subtle phrasing", and zhengming 正名 "rectification of names") for which a host of commentaries was eventually written during the Han period. Of these, the two "question-and-answer catechisms" (xxx) Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳 and Guliangzhuan 穀梁傳 survive. The former in particular, based on a tradition founded by Confucius' disciple Zixia 子夏, identified Confucius not just as a teacher and "transmitter", but as a person of such insight that he was virtually an uncrowned king. Hefty debates took place among the adherents of the one or other exegetic tradition of the Annals. In 51 BCE, during a conference in the Stone Canal Pavilion (Shiquge 石渠閣), the more practical Guliang tradition won through, as its interpretation was easily to apply to practical issues of governance for the Han dynasty.

Very different from these two texts with their interpretation of semantic codes in historiography is a kind of parallel text to the Chunqiu which has also partially the character of a commentary. This is the Zuozhuan 左傳, authorship of which is attributed to Zuo Qiuming 左丘明 (5th cent. BCE). Zuo brought light into the terse and often enigmatic statements of the Chunqiu texts by delivering innumerable stories on the factual background of a Chunqiu entry, and sometimes even beyond that. The Zuozhuan, the finalization of which is dated to the late 4th century, is seen as a masterpiece of historical narrative contributing to early China's literary achievements, if at the cost of historical credibility, certainly not without didactic accomplishments and integrated moral judgments. In the Zuozhuan stories, history is interpreted as the outcome of individual decisions the effects of which can be guessed by the reader. With the many situations and personal challenges historical figures are confronted with, the texts presents a full panorama of human existence, yet on the level of the ruling class. The Zuozhuan is thus directly addressing rulers to demonstrate which consequences good and bad decisions might have.

Guoyu, Zhanguo and other history books

There are some collections of historiographical stories similar to that presented in the Zuozhuan. Very close is the collection Guoyu 國語 "Discourses of the regional states" which is not organized as a chronicle, but geographically and according to persons acting in the individual stories (many of which are parallels to Zuozhuan stories). Seen from the content, the Guoyu focuses on philosophical matters and stresses the power of rhetoric, and not so much historical context and outcome. Some commentators saw the Guoyu as a kind of appendix to the Zuozhuan and use to called it, like Wei Zhao 韋昭 (d. 273 CE), as an "outer tradition" (waizhuan 外傳) of the twin-Classic Chunqiu-Zhuozhuan.

A similar text is Yanzi chunqiu 晏子春秋, attributed to Yan Ying (d. 500 BCE) of the state of Qi. The stories in this text embody a panoply of historical, rhetorical, and didactic elements. The two story collections Yuejueshu 越絕書 and Wu-Yue chunqiu 吳越春秋, focusing on events in the two southeastern states of Wu 吳 and Yue 越 during the Spring and Autumn period, were compiled in the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE).

The "counterpart" of the Guoyu on the Warring States period is the story collection Zhanguoce 戰國策 "Stratagems of the Warring States", also arranged according to states and persons. Oral persuasion of a ruler or high-standing political person by an "itinerant rhetorician" (youshui 遊說), "diplomatist" or "coalition advisor" (zonghengjia 縱橫家) is the central element of most stories. The collection was compiled in the late Former Han period by the bibliographer Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 or 77-6 BCE), as are some other biographical collections on exemplary persons of the Warring States period like the Lienüzhuan 列女傳 on paradigmatic females, Shuoyuan 說苑 "The Garden of persuasions", Xinxu 新序 "New arrangements", and supposedly also the Liexianzhuan 列仙傳 on Daoist "immortals". Some of the Zhanguoce stories have parallels in the great history book Shiji 史記 written during the mid-Former Han period by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (b. 145 or 135 BCE), showing that Sima made use of a pool of stories circulating.

Persuasion or rhetoric was a critical element in policy making. The fundaments of this skill are therefore described in books like Lüshi chunqiu (ch. Shunshui 順說), Hanfeizi (ch. Shuinan 說難) or Shiji (ch. 67 Rizhe liezhuan 日者列傳).


History of Zhou Dynasty 1122–255 BC

The Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, and the use of iron was introduced to ancient China during this time. The Zhou Dynasty was founded by the Ji family and had its capital at Hao (near the present-day city of Xian). Sharing the language and culture of the Shang, the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, gradually sinicized, that is, extended Shang culture through much of China Proper north of the Yangtze River. In western histories, the Zhou period is often described as feudalism because the Zhou's early decentralized rule invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe.

However, historians debate the meaning of the term feudal, the more appropriate term for the Zhou Dynasty's political arrangement would be from the Chinese language itself: the Fengjian 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. In Chinese histories, the Zhou Dynasty marks the beginning of the feudal phase of Chinese history, a period which is said to extend to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.

With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually diminished, 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 and declared themselves to be kings. They wanted to be the king of the kings. Finally, the dynasty was obliterated by Qin Shi Huang's unification of China in 221 BC.

Mathematics was already fairly advanced in the Zhou Dynasty in 1100 BC as imbedded in Yiching, The Book of Changes. This book can be found in most American bookstores. Besides Yiching, other books of the Zhou period were impressive, including the Book of Poems, the Book of Learning, the Book of Li (Rules of Social Conduct), and Spring and Autumn (History of the Late Zhou Period). There were many great thinkers during this period. Among them Confucius (551–479 BC) was the most celebrated. He is considered the originator of Chinese humanism. He established moral codes to guide human conduct, and a set of proper relations among different members of a society, between emperor and subjects, parents and children, older and younger brothers, and husband and wife.

Besides Confucius, there were many other prominent philosophers. There was Lao Tse who was the founder of Daoism, advocating the return to nature and “doing nothing in following the course of nature.” Lao Tse suggested that if there are no laws, there will be no laws to break and there will be no criminals. There was Han Fei-tze who taught almost the opposite by emphasizing the importance of the legal system. There was Guan Zhong who understood much economics including the incentives of different forms of government taxation. There were a hundred schools of thought contending, like a hundred flowers blooming and a hundred birds singing. It was a golden period of China’s cultural development. The writings of that period are available today for us to read and enjoy.

Agriculture in 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, similar to European feudalism. For example, a piece of land was divided into nine squares in the shape of the character jing, 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 them in times of famine or bad harvest. Some important manufacturing sectors during this period include bronze making, which was integral in making weapons and farming tools. Again, these industries were dominated by the nobility who direct the production of such materials.


Doctrine of the Zhou dynasty

The Zhou also had to contend with the validity of their rule. In order to convince their subject peoples, especially the nobles, of the legitimacy of their power, the Zhou invented a new system of authority which they called t’ien ming (tianming), or “the Mandate of Heaven.” This concept is still an integral aspect of Chinese theories of authority. The Zhou defined the kingship as an intermediary position between heaven and earth the Chinese character for emperor or lord, “ti,” demonstrates this eloquently. The ideograph consists of three horizontal lines joined by a vertical line. This represents the connection between heaven (at the top) and the earth (at the bottom). This relationship is mediated by the lord or emperor (the center horizontal line). Heaven (“t’ien”) desires that humans be provided for in all their needs, and the emperor, according to the idea of “t’ien ming” is appointed by heaven to see to the welfare of the people. This is the “Decree” or “Mandate” of heaven. If the emperor or king, having fallen into selfishness and corruption, fails to see to the welfare of the people, heaven withdraws its mandate and invests it on another. The only way to know that the mandate has passed is the overthrow of the king or emperor if usurpation succeeds, then the mandate has passed to another, but if it fails, then the mandate still resides with the king.

The Mandate of Heaven is probably the most critical social and political concept in Chinese culture. It explains historical change, but also provides a profound moral theory of government that is based on the selfless dedication of the ruler to the benefit of the general population. The concept also recreates the Chinese concept of Heaven, which was derived from the earlier concept of a “Lord on High,” or “Shang-Ti,” into a force that regulates the moral universe. It is this moral aspect of Heaven and the “Mandate of Heaven,” which was to affect the general tendency of Chinese culture and philosophy to focus on moral and social issues—more so than any other ancient culture.

The Eastern Zhou

Around 771 BC, northern tribes overran the western Zhou and conquered their capital city. The Zhou king was killed, but his son, the heir to the throne, fled to Loyang and established his government there. This begins the period of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, which was to last until its overthrow by the Ch’in dynasty in 256 BC. In Chinese history, this period is called “the Spring and Autumn period” (771-401 BC) and the “Warring States Period” (401-256 BC). This era of the Eastern Zhou would also see the most energetic flowering of Chinese thought and culture in Chinese history. For it is during the reign of the Eastern Zhou that the greatest philosophers established the rudiments of Chinese philosophy, ethics, political theory, and culture.

In the Spring and Autumn period (771-401 BC), China largely consisted of a group of minimally powerful kingdoms. The Zhou themselves never regained enough military or political power to reconquer the west or even to maintain much control over the city-states they ruled over. Because of the instability of these kingdoms, and because of the encroachments on their territories by barbarian tribes to the south, the smaller territories entered into alliances with one another and agreed to have certain territorial lords rule over them as “hegemons.” So the Spring and Autumn period was one of great uncertainty and danger, in which territory shifted back and forth, invasions were frequent, and alliances formed and dissolved with astonishing rapidity.


Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050–221 B.C.E.), an introduction

One of a pair of tigers, possibly the base supports for a bell stand, Middle Western Zhou dynasty, c. 950–850 B.C.E., bronze, China, Shaanxi province, Baoji, 25.3 high x 15.9 x 75.2 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1935.21)

The Zhou people had their origins in the far western reaches of the Yellow River in present day Shaanxi province. They conquered the Shang around 1050 B.C.E. and established their own dynasty . The Zhou shared many cultural similarities with the Shang. They performed similar religious rituals, used bronze ritual vessels, and practiced divination.

During its first years, known as the Western Zhou (c. 1050–771 B.C.E.) because its capital was located in western China, the Zhou dynasty mirrored the Shang in ruling as a centralized empire. Since its territory was vast—larger than the Shang—the early Zhou kings developed a form of feudalism with regions ruled by appointed relatives and other noblemen. To legitimize their overthrow of Shang, they introduced the concept of Heaven (Tian), and the Mandate of Heaven. They believed that a king could

Lidded ritual ewer (huo) in the form of an elephant with masks and dragons, ca. first half 11th century B.C.E. (Shang dynasty), bronze, 17.2 high x 10.7 x 21.4 cm, China, Middle Yangzi Valley (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1936.6a-b)

rule only if he received heaven’s favor. This belief carried a sacred moral power and required that a king, the Son of Heaven, be a virtuous ruler. The arts of the early Zhou were essentially a continuation of those of the Shang dynasty . That was especially true of bronze casting and jade working. The Zhou people used Shang bronze designs as a foundation for their own decorative bronzes, but they also introduced new motifs and shapes.

Over time, the Zhou kings’ authority decreased as the individual states grew more independent, wealthy, and powerful. In addition, a nomadic invasion forced Zhou rulers to flee to the east and build a new capital at modern-day Luoyang . This marked the beginning of the period known as the Eastern Zhou dynasty (771–221 B.C.E.). The Eastern Zhou was an era of intense political turmoil. States were at constant war with one another for land and political control. In fact, the latter half of the period is known as the Warring States Period (475–221 B.C.E.), when the small states eventually consolidated into seven strong kingdoms. These seven states fought with each other for mastery until one of them, Qin , succeeded and established the Qin dynasty (221–206 B.C.E.).

Square lidded ritual wine container (fangyi) with taotie, serpents, and birds, Early Western Zhou dynasty, c. 1050–975 B.C.E., Bronze, China, Henan province, Luoyang, 35.3 high x 24.8 x 23.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1930.54a-b)

The weakening of central Zhou authority is reflected in the visual arts. Bronze objects were no longer used solely for state and religious rituals. Local rulers could commission and purchase bronzes to display their status and wealth. This was evident in bronze inscriptions. Zhou bronze inscriptions (such as one on a square lidded ritual wine container) lengthened and often recorded some honor or achievement of the living aristocrat, reflecting the elite’s desire to document their status and prestige.

Bell (bo) with birds and dragons from a set of four, late Spring and Autumn period, Eastern Zhou dynasty, c. 500–450 B.C.E., bronze, China, Shanxi province, State of Jin, Houma foundry, 66.4 high x 47 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1941.9)

A new addition to Zhou bronzes are musical instruments, including bells. From the ample discovery of musical instruments in Zhou tombs, it is evident that music played an extremely important role in the Zhou dynasty, whether for religious or recreational purposes. New decorative techniques were invented.

Basin (jian) with narrative scenes, Middle Eastern Zhou dynasty, c. 5th century B.C.E., bronze, China, 28 high x 61.4 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1915.107)

Pictorial depictions of ancient Chinese life, such as hunting scenes (like on a basin or jian), appeared for the first time. New casting techniques, such as the lost-wax method , made possible an even greater range of styles and decoration.

Dragon pendant, Eastern Zhou dynasty, 750-500 B.C.E., jade, 6.2 x 9.2 x 0.5 cm, China (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Gift of Arthur M. Sackler, S1987.668)

The jade objects of the Zhou were larger in number compared to those of the Shang and made in a wider variety of styles. Like bronzes of the period, jades were used less often as ritual objects and more as ornaments and symbols of status and wealth.

The arts and humanities also flourished during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Many of China’s great thinkers lived during this period. New ideas of all kinds emerged, including the schools of Confucianism (emphasizing social and family structure), Daoism (following the patterns of nature), and legalism (promoting systematic rewards and punishments). They addressed the most important question of the time: how to create a stable and harmonious society. These competing philosophies and systems of thought continued to influence Chinese beliefs in later eras, and many of them are still in active use today.

This resource was developed for Teaching China with the Smithsonian, made possible by the generous support of the Freeman Foundation

Additional resources:

George W. Weber Jr. The Ornament of Late Chou Bronzes: A Method of Analysis. New Brunswick. pl. 52.

William Watson. The Art of Dynastic China. New York, 1981. ill. 262.

Sekai bijutsu zenshu [A Complete Collection of World Art]. 40 vols., Tokyo, F1951-1953. cat. 81-82.

Mizuno Seiichi. In Shu seidoki to tama [Bronzes and Jades of Ancient China]. Tokyo. pls. 152-153.

Hai wai i chen [Chinese Art in Overseas Collections]. Taipei, 1985. vol. 2, p. 125.

Chugoku bijutsu [Chinese Art in Western Collections]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1972-1973. fig. 72.

Noel Barnard. Bronze Casting and Bronze Alloys in Ancient China. Monumenta serica, no. 14 Canberra. pl. 29.

Jenny F. So. Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections. Ancient Chinese Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. 3 New York, 1995. vol. 3. p. 377, 447, fig. 77.4, M43.

Grace Dunham Guest, Archibald Gibson Wenley. Annotated Outlines of the History of Chinese Arts. Washington, 1949. p. 4.

compiled by the staff of the Freer Gallery of Art. A Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes: Acquired During the Administration of John Ellerton Lodge. Oriental Studies Series, no. 3 Washington, 1946. pp. 7, 64-65, pl. 34-35.

Michael Sullivan. The Arts of China., 3rd ed. Berkeley. p. 45.

Sherman Lee. A History of Far Eastern Art. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1964. p. 45, fig. 38.

Dagny Carter. Four Thousand Years of China’s Art. New York. pp. 48-49.


Share Ancient Chinese History And Literature

After Ji Fa's army defeated the Shang Dynasty, in 1046 BC, the third dynasty in Chinese history was established: the Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty was divided into two periods of Chinese History , the "Western Zhou" Dynasty and the "Eastern Zhou" Dynasty.

After the establishment of the Zhou Dynasty, Ji Fa learned from the demise of the Shang Dynasty, and he was very careful in handling relations with various regions. On the one hand, he is unwilling to make the power and army in these areas too strong on the other hand, he needs the army in these areas to maintain his rule. For these purposes, Ji Fa implemented a system of enfeoffment. The implementation of the enfeoffment system strengthened the rule of the Zhou Dynasty. After the death of Ji Fa, the next two leaders, Zi Chan and Ji Zhao have been implementing this positive policy, and people live peaceful life. This peaceful life lasted from 1042 BC to 996 BC, for a total of 46 years.

When Ji Zhao died, the new leader Ji Xia inherited the policy. During the reign of Ji Xia, he began to wage war on the southern region and experienced three battles in total. After the end of the war, when Ji Xia returned to the country, he encountered an abnormal rainstorm. This rainstorm lasted for a long time, and Ji Xia's army was wiped out. Ji Xia also died in this bad weather. When Ji Xia died, his son Ji Man inherited the throne. His son, like him, continues to wage war in other places. Although the prolonged war caused the Zhou Dynasty to continuously expand its territory, its overall strength was not as good as before, and people's living standards also dropped sharply.


Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou began as a semi-nomadic tribe that lived to the west of the Shang Kingdom. Due to their nomadic ways, they learned how to work with people of different cultures. After a time, they settled in the Wei River valley, where they became vassals of the Shang. The Zhou eventually became stronger than the Shang, and in about 1040 B.C. They defeated the Shang in warfare. They built their capital in Xi'an. Part of their success was the result of gaining the allegiance of disaffected city-states. The Shang were also weakened due to their constant warfare with people to the north.

Traditional Chinese history says that the Zhou were able to take over the Shang because the Shang had degenerated morally. Part of this belief may have been caused by the Zhou themselves, who are credited with the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. The Zhou used this idea to validate their takeover and subsequent ruling of the former Shang kingdom. The Mandate of Heaven says that Heaven, or tian, places the mandate, tianming, to rule on any family that is morally worthy of the responsibility. Also, the only way to know if the Mandate of Heaven had been removed from the ruling family was if they were overthrown. If the ruler is overthrown, then the victors had the Mandate of Heaven.

The Zhou adopted much of the Shang lifestyle and often importing Shang families or communities to new towns they built to utilize the knowledge of the Shang artisans. The bronze vessels of the Zhou are nearly identical with those of the Shang. The Zhou also adopted much of the Shang writing system, rituals, and administration techniques. The Zhou however, began a different form of governing, which was basically feudal. Land was given to people in elaborate ceremonies. The landowners became vassals to the king. Descent became patriarchal, from father to son, rather than from eldest brother to youngest brother as practiced by the Shang.

The Zhou, despite transporting the Shang to their cities for their skills, did not want to live directly with the Shang. Their capital was divided into two sections, one for the Zhou, which contained the imperial court, and the other half for the transported Shang. Other Zhou cities exhibit this same characteristic. However, this was the only major change in cities from the Shang Dynasty to the Zhou Dynasty. Otherwise, the houses remained the same as in the Shang Dynasty.

The Zhou also brought their religion with them. They banned human sacrifice. They practiced the cult of Heaven. The worship of sun and stars was the most important thing. Some of the popular Shang gods became incorporated into this system. They were lesser gods, and served as feudal lords to the Heaven-god.

The Zhou Dynasty is divided into sub periods. The first is the Western Zhou, which occurs from the time of their victory over the Shang until about 771 B.C. when they were forced east by barbarians from the north. The king was killed but his son was saved and moved east where a new capital was formed in Luoyang. This began the period known as the Eastern Zhou. The Eastern Zhou is further divided into two time periods, the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. The Spring and Autumn Period occurred from about 770-476 B.C. During this time, the Zhou emperor steadily lost power due to the realization by the feudal lords that he was not powerful and could be beaten, which had been proven by the defeat in the west. The second half, the Warring States Period, is so named because of the power struggle between the large states of China that were trying to gain control over the entire area. It lasted from about 475 - 221 B.C.

This time period of the Warring States is considered the classical age, it was a time of great philosophers. This cultural flowering is sometimes called the One Hundred Schools Period. Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism developed during this time. Of these three, Legalism had the most immediate effect, as it was the philosophy that the Qin, the next dynasty used as the basis of their rule. Some of the most memorable poetry and prose were also written during this time. Other advances included the writing down of the laws, an increase in market places, and a money economy. The development of iron, and tools made of iron, greatly increased agriculture and thus population exploded.

Kings of the Zhou Dynasty

The rulers of the Zhou dynasty were titled Wang (王, literally “king”) like the Shang rulers before them. The position is normally translated into English as "king". 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 Absolute chronology of the Western Zhou Dynasty.


Main keywords of the article below: classes, dynasty, strict, order, social, like, hierarchy, ancient, zhou, followed, people, china, ranking, royal.

KEY TOPICS
Like any other royal hierarchy in China, the Zhou dynasty too followed a strict order or ranking among the social classes or the people. [1] Zhou dynasty was an ancient Chinese dynasty which was preceded by the Qin dynasty and followed by the Shang dynasty. [1] The Zhou dynasty lasted for a period which was more than the period which any other dynasty in China lasted for. [1]

From the Western Zhou Dynasty, dated c. 1000 BC. The written inscription of 11 ancient Chinese characters on the bronze vessel states its use and ownership by Zhou royalty. [2] That period known in ancient Chinese history as the Zhou dynasty had begun. [3]


In Ancient China an author would write about government, social classes, civilization and the four major professions. [4] In Ancient China the author would think about government, social classes, the civilization and the inventions. [4]

This state was Qin, and it was the founder of the Qin dynasty who therefore became the First Emperor of China, in 221 BCE. His reign marked the transition to a new phase in ancient Chinese history. [3] Chu was an ancient Chinese state in the Yangtze valley during the Zhou's dynasty. [4]

Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, and Mohism all began during the Zhou Dynasty in the 6th century BCE, and had very strong influences on Chinese civilization. [2] The Zhou dynasty ruled China from 1122 BCE to 256 BCE. In 771 BCE, however, the Zhou capital was sacked by invaders, and the Zhou capital was moved further east. [3] The gods' blessing was given instead to the new ruler under the Zhou Dynasty, which would rule China for the next 800 years. [2] Under the Zhou Dynasty, China moved away from worship of Shangdi ("Celestial Lord") in favor of worship of Tian ("heaven"), and they created the Mandate of Heaven. [2] The conclusion of the Zhou Dynasty came about when an independent noble named Qin Shi Huang united China into the Qin Dynasty. [5] China created a substantial amount of literature during the Zhou Dynasty. [2]

The three social classes in China under the Zhou dynasty are King, Nobles, and Peasants. [6] The four occupations or "four categories of the people" was a hierarchic social class structure developed in ancient China by either Confucian or Legalist scholars as far back as the late Zhou Dynasty and is considered a central part of the Fengjian social structure (c. 1046-256 BCE). [7]

The Zhou period as a whole was a time of dramatic change for ancient China, in government, war, philosophy, economy and society. [3] The existence of ancestor veneration is attested in the earliest texts from ancient China, the Shang dynasty oracles, and its roots undoubtedly reach far back into Neolithic times. [8]

Slavery had been common during the Shang Dynasty, but this decreased and finally disappeared under the Zhou Dynasty, as social status became more fluid and transitory. [2] Zhou Dynasty is defined by a unique social hierarchy, standardized spoken language, and lengthy time of reign. [5]

Divisions in Society Over time, ancient Sumerian society became divided into social classes, or groups with different levels of importance. [9] Linked to all the other changes in Chinese society from mid-Zhou times onwards, social classes became much more fluid. [8]

Shang - Merchants and Traders The Shang were the lowest group on the social classes for ancient China. [10]

During the ancient Shang and Zhou dynasties, the shi were regarded as a knightly social order of low-level aristocratic lineage compared to dukes and marquises. [11]


Zhou Dynasty was a feudal period, where China was roughly united by a single spoken language: Mandarin Chinese. [6] The Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE) was the longest-lasting of ancient China's dynasties. [12] China was formed by independent states before Qin Shihuang united them all the "Son of Heaven" of Zhou dynasty was like today's Japanese emperor, they were titled as the monarch of China, but they only had very limited power and held a very small territory. [6] The Zhou Dynasty is associated with the country of China during 1100 BC to 221 BC period of time. [6] The result of thesefactors was the toppling of the Zhou Dynasty in the 3rd CenturyBC/BCE and the founding of the legendary Imperial Period of China. [6] It was King Wu's brother, known as the Duke of Zhou, who performed the necessary steps for laying the basis upon which the Zhou Dynasty would consolidate its power throughout North China. [12] The Zhou Dynasty of China succeeded the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. [6] After Zhou Dynasty fell, China went into a warring states period where there was alot of political confusion. [6] During the Zhou dynasty is when the two great philosophies of China developed. [6] The Zhou Dynasty occupied a large portion of modern daynortheastern China. [6]

The most influential minds in the Chinese intellectual tradition flourished under the Zhou, particularly towards the last period of the Zhou Dynasty, considered a time of intellectual and artistic awakening. [12] Philosophies and Religion During the Zhou Dynasty, the origins of native Chinese Philosophy developed, its initial stages beginning in the 6th century BC. There was Confucius (Confucianism) and Lao-tzi (Daoism) that were the main philosophers, but other minor philosophers were Mozi (Mohism), Mencius (philosophy unknown), and Shang Yang and Han Fei who were responsible for the development of Legalism. [10] You are not older than the Zhou Dynasty! The Chinese people developed advanced procedures of bronze-ware making during the Zhou Dynasty. [6] During the Zhou dynasty, the Chinese developed irrigation and flood- control systems. [6]

The peasants are found in the lowest part of the social heirarchyof the Zhou dynasty. [6]

It was located in the Yellow River valley during the second millennium BCE. Citizens of the Shang Dynasty were classified into four social classes: the king and aristocracy, the military, artisans and craftsmen, and peasants. [13]

Oracle bones : Inscriptions of divination records on the bones or shells of animals, dating to the Shang Dynasty of ancient China. [13] With so many advances in Ancient China, one might think social life in would be quite rewarding. [7]

This was the situation at the end of the ancient period in Medieval China and into modern times, the Chinese people have been continuing to expand, firstly completing the settlement of the Yangtze basin, then the southern provinces, and finally the south west and the north, in Manchuria. [8] Today, and since ancient times, the Chinese people have called themselves the Han, after the dynasty which united them within a single state (202 BCE to 220 CE). [8]

Although the dynasty lasted longer than any other in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Zhou dynasty's ruling family only lasted during the first half of the period, which scholars call the Western Zhou (1046-771 BCE). [3] Some scholars think the earlier Xia Dynasty never existed--that it was invented by the Zhou to support their claim under the Mandate that there had always been only one ruler of China. [2] The need for the Zhou to create a history of a unified China is also why some scholars think the Xia Dynasty may have been an invention of the Zhou. [2] The Zhou established authority by forging alliances with regional nobles, and founded their new dynasty with its capital at Fenghao (near present-day Xi'an, in western China). [2] This period, in the second half of the Eastern Zhou, lasted from about 475-221 BCE, when China was united under the Qin Dynasty. [2]

Chinese script cast onto bronzeware, such as bells and cauldrons, carried over from the Shang Dynasty into the Zhou it showed continued changes in style over time, and by region. [2] The Duke of Zhou: Portrait of the Duke of Zhou in Sancai Tuhui, a Chinese encyclopedia published in 1609 during the Ming Dynasty. [2]

By the end of the Han dynasty, northern China still remained home to the great majority of the Chinese people, and the heart of Chinese civilization. [8]

According to Mr. Donn "Ancient China had lots of laws and dynasty's". [4] The Chou or Zhou dynasty ruled China from about 1027 to about 221 B.C. It was the longest dynasty in Chinese history and the time when much of ancient Chinese culture developed. [14] The Western Zhou period was a vital and formative one in ancient Chinese history. [3]

In Shang and early Zhou times, the social groups in society the aristocracy and their warrior-entourages, the traders and artisans, the peasants and slaves were fixed hereditary classes there was probably very little movement between them. [8] By this time, two key Chinese social characteristics had solidified: l) the concept of the patrilineal family as the basic unit of society, and 2) the concept of natural social differentiation into classes. [2]

Over time, an increasingly elaborate society grew up on this foundation: trade and industry expanded, new social classes emerged, political institutions became more complex, culture grew in sophistication. [8] The old order was vanishing what would replace it? It was as a time of frequent warfare and violence, but also of economic growth, increased trade, towns and cities growing in size, the rise of new social classes such as merchants and government officials. [3]


An official career in Han times was for the most part open only to members of the gentry class, which, although much larger than the old aristocracy had been, still remained a very small group within the wider society of ancient China. [8] Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were founded by Mozi (470-391 BCE, the founder of Mohism) and Shang Yang (390-338 BCE) and Han Fei (280-233 BCE), responsible for the development of Legalism, a school of thought in ancient China which would later be immensely influential. [3] From being a single political entity, ancient China became fragmented amongst numerous competing states. [3] Metal coins were first introduced in ancient China at this time (at about the same time as they were in the Middle East), and this would have helped stimulate trade. [3] Ancient China began in 5000 BC. This civilization started around the Yellow Sea they started building villages around it because it was a good resource. [4] It expresses a basic truth that Ancient China was (like all ancient societies) a hierarchical society. [8] One of the early, main themes in ancient China is the Mandate of Heaven. [5] The Mandate of Heaven philosophy carried on throughout ancient China. [2]

NONG - PEASANT FARMERS Peasant farmers were second only to Gentry scholars in ancient China. [15] Ancient China was controlled by clans, or extended families, that often fought each other to protect their power over the different regions. [16] The author is important to Ancient China because they write every thing down and they record it. [4] The laws in ancient China were every man must carry duties with obedience. [4] In ancient China the urban population probably never numbered more than 10-15% of the population. [8] In ancient China there were many inventions and accomplishments. [4] In conclusion there are many things for the author to write about in Ancient China. [4] An author in Ancient China was expected to write everything down. [4]


Scholars use this event to divide the history of the Zhou dynasty into two periods: the Western Zhou (1122-771 BCE) and the Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE). [3] After a series of wars among these powerful states, King Zhao of Qin defeated King Nan of Zhou and conquered West Zhou in 256 BCE his grandson, King Zhuangxiang of Qin, conquered East Zhou, bringing the Zhou Dynasty to an end. [2] Eventually the Zhou dynasty came to an end in 256 BCE, when one of these kingdoms, Qin, marched on the Zhou capital and annexed the rump of territory still controlled by the Zhou king. [3] Shang dynasty society was dominated by an hereditary warrior aristocracy, and the same was true under the Zhou dynasty, down to at least the 7th century BCE. Its economic power was based on fief-holding: the highest nobility were regional lords controlling large chunks of territory, and answering to them were lesser lords holding smaller territories. [8] In 1046 BCE, the Shang Dynasty was overthrown at the Battle of Muye, and the Zhou Dynasty was established. [2] The Zhou dynasty was founded by King Wen of the Ji family in 1076 BC, after the Shang dynasty came to an end. [5] Over time, the central power of the Zhou Dynasty slowly weakened, and the lords of the fiefs originally bestowed by the Zhou came to equal the kings in wealth and influence. [2] The Zhou Dynasty slowly diminished, because the power did not lie with the king, instead, the power was in the hands of the nobles. [5] Confucianism came to popularity during the Zhou Dynasty and the kings expected their citizens to follow the rules and values of Confucianism. [5] Under the initial period of the Zhou Dynasty (called the Western Zhou period), a number of innovations were made, rulers were legitimized under the Mandate of Heaven, a feudal system developed, and new forms of irrigation allowed the population to expand. [2] The Zhou Dynasty overthrew the Shang Dynasty, and used the Mandate of Heaven as justification. [2]

Like other river valley civilizations of the time, the people under the Zhou Dynasty followed patriarchal roles. [2] Under the Zhou Dynasty, many art forms expanded and became more detailed, including bronze, bronze inscriptions, painting, and lacquerware. [2] Lu was a state during the Zhou's dynasty Lu was founded in the 11 century BC. Wu was one of the states during the western Zhou dynasty. [4]

Large scale irrigation and water-control projects were instituted for the first time in China during the Zhou dynasty period. [17] The Zhou dynasty, along with the preceding Shang dynasty, corresponded with the Bronze Age in China. [17] In Zhou dynasty China, membership of the shih class was mainly hereditary: to become a member of this literati class, one needs to be born into it. [18] Know more about the contributions of the Zhou dynasty of China by studying its 10 major achievements. [17]

The Zhou era (1046 BC - 256 BC) lasted for 790 years making Zhou dynasty the longest reigning dynasty in Chinese history. [17] Culturally, the literati as a social class did not exist during a large part of the Zhou dynasty, and only came into existence in late Zhou ( Warring States ) period. [18] The four occupations or "four categories of the people" was a hierarchic social class structure developed in late Zhou Dynasty by either Confucian or Legalist scholars. [17]

How did the political ideas of the dynasty affect people in the different social classes? 1. [19] Citizens during the Shang dynasty can be classified into four social classes: the king & aristocracy, the military, artisans & craftsmen, and peasants. [20]

Social Classes Shi - Gentry Scholars Nong - Farmers Gong - Artists and Craftsman Shang - Merchants and Traders Although the king was not included in the social classes, it was for a good reason. [10] The Shi - During the ancient Shang and Zhou dynasties, the shi were regarded as a knightly social order of low-level aristocratic lineage compared to dukes and marquises. [7] Ancient Chinese education served the needs of a simple agricultural society with the family as the basic social organization. [21] It has left its mark on not only the development of Ancient Chinese social life but transformed civilizations on both sides of the continent. [7]

The Shang Dynasty is the first period of prehistoric China that has been conclusively proven to have existed by archaeological evidence, such as excavated graves and oracle bones, the oldest substantial evidence of Chinese writing. [13] Under the Shang Dynasty, the Chinese built huge cities with strong social class divisions, expanded irrigation systems, monopolized the use of bronze, and developed a system of writing. [13]

It followed the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) and it finished when the army of the state of Qin captured the city of Chengzhou in 256 BCE. The long history of the Zhou Dynasty is normally divided in two different periods: Western Zhou (1046-771 BCE) and Eastern Zhou (770-256 BCE), so-called following the move of the Zhou capital eastwards where it was safer from invasion. [12] The Zhou Dynasty came to an end during the Warring States period in 256 BCE, when the army of the state of Qin captured the city of Chengzhou and the last Zhou ruler, King Nan, was killed. [12] According to experts, the first ruler of the Zhou Dynasty isrevered as King Wen in 1099 BCE. After Wen was dethroned by theShang court, his son King Wu became ruler. [6] Fighting broke out, the dynasty became vulnerable, and the Zhou dynasty came to an end in about 256 BCE as they were captured by a group called the Qin that took advantage of the dynasty's hard times. [10]

The Zhou Dynasty contributed to the use of iron. said to have created the Mandate Heaven. Defeated the Shang Dynasty. Immortal at about 3000 BCE. [6] The Zhou Dynasty occurred right after the Shang Dynasty, and just before the Qin Dynasty. [6] This was the major turning point in the Zhou Dynasty, which marks the end of the Western Zhou period. [12] Reading Focus Who gives you permission to do the things you do? Your mother? Your teacher? Read to find out how the rulers of the Zhou dynasty turned to the heavens for permission to rule. [6] He ruled the Eastern part and was the last ruler of the Zhou Dynasty. [6] Following them, there were the artisans, farmers and craftsmen with the merchants, traders, and peddlers at the bottom with the exception of slaves because there were very few in the Zhou dynasty. [10]


Imagine yourself back in Ancient China around the Shang period, living near the Yellow River, or Yangtze, as they call it. [7] Traditionally, ancient China was family centered, not oriented toward God or the State, thus promoting filial piety to enhance family life and society. [7] It was customary in ancient China to identify the supreme authority of rulers with a higher power. [12] Ancient China produced what has become the oldest, still extant, culture in the world. [12] Oracle bone : Pieces of ox scapula or turtle plastron, used for divination in ancient China. [13]

Ancient Chinese society was divided into two distinct classes, the upper and the lower class. [7]

Although shamans and diviners in Bronze Age China had some authority as religious leaders in society, the scholars did not want religious leaders amassing too much power and influence like military strongmen (one example of this would be Zhang Jiao, who led a Taoist sect into open rebellion against the Han government's authority). [11] There were also multiple persecutions of Buddhism in China, a lot of the contention being over Buddhist monasteries' exemption from government taxation, but also because later Neo-Confucian scholars saw Buddhism as an alien ideology and threat to the moral order of society. [11]

From existing literary evidence, commoner rankings in China were employed for the first time during the Warring States period (403-221 BC). [11] Since Neolithic times in China, agriculture was a key element to the rise of China's civilization and every other civilization. [11]

This was also a period where philosophical schools flourished in China, while intellectual pursuits became highly valued amongst statesmen. [11]

One of his later successors was Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 BC), who not only cemented the ideology of Confucius into mainstream Chinese thought, governance, and social order, but also installed a system of recommendation and nomination in government service known as xiaolian. [11] In some manner this system of social order was adopted throughout the Chinese cultural sphere. [11]

The merchants, traders, and peddlers of goods were viewed by the scholarly elite as essential members of society, yet were placed on the lowest of the four grades in the official Chinese social hierarchy, due to the view that they do not produce anything, only profit from others' creations. [11] The commercialization of Chinese society in the Song and Ming periods further blurred the lines between these four hierarchic social distinctions. [11] This was in spite of the fact that throughout Chinese history, the merchant class were often wealthy and held considerable influence above and beyond their supposed social standing. [11]

Artisans and craftsmen -- their class identified with the Chinese character meaning labor -- were much like farmers in the respect that they produced essential goods needed by themselves and the rest of society. [11] Since ancient times, the skilled work of artisans and craftsmen was handed down orally from father to son, although the work of architects and structural builders were sometimes codified, illustrated, and categorized in Chinese written works. [11] Under Duke Xiao of Qin and the chief minister and reformer Shang Yang (d. 338 BC), the ancient State of Qin was transformed by a new meritocratic yet harsh philosophy of Legalism. [11]

Eastern-Han (AD 25-220) historian Ban Gu (AD 32-92) asserted in his Book of Han that the four occupations for commoners had existed in the Western Zhou (c. 1050 - 771 BC) era, which he considered a golden age. [11] He notes that although no statute in the Qin or Han law codes specifically mentions the four occupations, some laws did treat these broadly classified social groups as separate units with different levels of legal privilege. [11] The emperor --embodying a heavenly mandate to judicial and executive authority--was on a social and legal tier above the gentry and the exam -drafted scholar-officials. [11]

According to this system, the king or the emperor came at the top of the rankings and was the most powerful man of the dynasty. [1] By the late Ming Dynasty, they often needed to solicit funds from powerful merchants to build new roads, schools, bridges, pagodas, or engage in essential industries, such as book-making, which aided the gentry class in education for the imperial examinations. [11] There was also a gradual fusion of the wealthy merchant and landholding gentry classes, culminating in the late Ming Dynasty. [11]

By the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the socioeconomic class of farmers grew more and more indistinct from another social class in the four occupations: the artisan. [11]

Gong- these were the first members of the Chinese nobility and came from the Shang royal family. [1] Anthony J. Barbieri-Low, Professor of Early Chinese History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, writes that the classification of "four occupations" can be viewed as a mere rhetorical device that had no effect on government policy. [11] The court eunuchs were also viewed with some suspicion by the scholar-officials, since there were several instances in Chinese history where influential eunuchs came to dominate the emperor, his imperial court, and the whole of the central government. [11]

The food that farmers produced sustained the whole of society, while the land tax exacted on farmers' lots and landholders' property produced much of the state revenue for China's pre-modern ruling dynasties. [11]

Southern states, beyond the pale of the early Zhou sphere, were gradually drawn into the Zhou state system in later Zhou times, as the older Zhou states of northern China reached out for allies in their constant struggles with one another. [3] At about the time that the Zhou replaced the Shang, a new crop, the very nutritious soya bean, was spreading in northern China, which will have made them better-fed and healthier, with more of their children surviving to adulthood and becoming parents themselves. [8] The Zhou created the Mandate of Heaven: the idea that there could be only one legitimate ruler of China at a time, and that this ruler had the blessing of the gods. [2] A number of important innovations took place during this period: the Zhou moved away from worship of Shangdi, the supreme god under the Shang, in favor of Tian ("heaven") they legitimized rulers, through the Mandate of Heaven (divine right to rule) they moved to a feudal system developed Chinese philosophy and made new advances in irrigation that allowed more intensive farming and made it possible for the lands of China to sustain larger populations. [2] Example of Western Zhou Bronze: A Chinese bronze "gui" ritual vessel on a pedestal, used as a container for grain. [2]

Under the Zhou it came to dominate most of northern China, and began expanding into the Yangtze basin to the south. [8] When the Duke of Zhou stepped down, China was united and at peace, leading to years of prosperity. [2] Western Zhou period : The first period of Zhou rule, during which the Zhou held undisputed power over China (1046-771 BCE). [2]

In 1046 BCE, the Zhou, a subject people living in the western part of the kingdom, overthrew the Shang Dynasty at the Battle of Muye. [2] Qin, Zhou, Song, Han and Shu were all named after a dynasty. [4] The city states are Qin, Zhou, Yan, Song, Han, Zongshan, Qi, Shu, Cho, Lu and Wu. [4] The Zhou ruled until 256 BCE, when the state of Qin captured Chengzhou. [2] The new Zhou rulers consolidated their rule by placing members of their family and other loyal followers in charge of many of the states which had formed the old Shang confederation. [3] In c. 1045 BCE, the powerful and ambitious king of Zhou sent his army to defeat the Shang army in the battle of Muye. [3] The Zhou believed that the Shang kings had become immoral with their excessive drinking, luxuriant living, and cruelty, and so had lost their mandate. [2]

During Zhou times, society was divided into three classes of families the king and his family, noble families, and peasant families. [9] The gentry class originated in Shang and early Zhou times as groups of warriors who made up the personal retinues of the lords. [8] Under the Shang and early Zhou, peasants formed a hereditary class of serfs, tied to the lands they farmed. [8] Some of the previous lords kept their territories by submitting to Zhou authority, and others were brought into the Zhou royal family by marriage, but the end result was that the old Shang confederation was welded into a much tighter political system under the control of the Zhou royal clan. [3] An early Zhou palace at Fenzhou, probably the residence of a high ranking member of the royal family, is very similar to those of the Shang, and the early Zhou adopted the ritual and burial practices of the Shang. [3]

The Zhou capital was then moved further east, and later scholars have given the term Eastern Zhou to the following period (771-256 BCE). [3] The whole period of the Eastern Zhou is also known as the period of "the One Hundred Schools" a time when numerous teachers and their disciples preached new beliefs and new ways of doing things. [3] This blood bath of a time period is historically known as "The Period of the Warring States" and would prove too much for the Zhou to come back from. [5]

From middle Zhou times (c. 800 500 BCE), however, as trade and industry expanded strongly, a much larger urban population grew up. [8] Zhou military power was dealt a major blow, however, when, in c. 977 BCE, the "Six Armies" were wiped out along with the king on a campaign in the Yangtze valley. [3] At the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty's rule, the Duke of Zhou, a regent to the king, held a lot of power, and the king rewarded the loyalty of nobles and generals with large pieces of land. [2] The Zhou continued and developed lacquer work done in the Shang Dynasty. [2]

All these changes in ruling started to split the Zhou up into regional/feudal states, and because everyone wanted to be the top dog, people started having some tension between one another. [5] When many of the former Shang-dominated states to the east tried to shake off Zhou rule, the duke of Zhou led an expedition which brought them firmly under control. [3] One of these states was the kingdom of Zhou, which lay on the western frontiers of the Shang-dominated area, and may not have been fully assimilated into it. [3]

These were purchased by an expanding ruling class, which arose from the multiplying of centres of royal power amongst more than a hundred Zhou rulers of principalities and a much larger number of subordinate lords of fiefs. [3] The occurrence of rich burials on a royal scale in different parts of the Zhou realm testifies to the growing independence and power of these princes. [3]

As time passed, however, the ties of blood thinned, and the Zhou ruling clan, widely-distributed as it was over many principalities, became increasingly fragmented in its loyalties. [3] While many of these writings have been destroyed over time, their lasting impression on history is evidence of the strength of Zhou culture. [2] Under the Zhou, slavery became less prominent perhaps the Zhou were less inclined to enslave defeated people and instead benefit from the tribute their new subjects could yield them. [8] The Zhou claimed that their rule was justified by the Mandate of Heaven. [2] Other improvements to bronze objects under the Eastern Zhou included greater attention to detail and aesthetics. [2] Not unconnected to this, during the Eastern Zhou period Chinese philosophy developed, its initial stages beginning in the 6th century BCE. The Eastern Zhou period was a time of change and uncertainty. [3] Although idealized in later times, this probably formed an organizing structure in many rural areas, particularly where a farming colony had been set up in frontier territory (the early Zhou period was a time of rapid expansion for the Chinese). [8]

According to traditional Chinese histories, the early Western Zhou kings were supported by a strong army, split into two major units: "the Six Armies of the West" and "the Eight Armies of Zengzhou." [3]

Example of Lacquerware: These are Chinese Western Han (202 BC 9 CE) era lacquerwares and lacquer tray unearthed from the 2nd-century-BCE Han Tomb No.1 at Mawangdui, Changsha, China in 1972. [2] It was also at this point that there first emerged the concept of a Chinese emperor who would rule over all the various kings, though the first Chinese emperors did not rule until China was unified under the later Qin Dynasty. [2] They largely had the support of the Chinese people: Di Xin (the final king of the Shang Dynasty) had become cruel, spent state money on drinking and gambling, and ignored the state. [2] Under the Shang dynasty the Chinese people covered a sizeable portion, but by no means all, of the north China plain, plus some of the Loess plateau to its west. [8]

Over the centuries, the expansion of the Chinese people led to large-scale migrations of peoples from southern China into Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, where they created new political states and culture areas. [8]

Agriculture remained at the root of ancient Chinese civilization, and the vast majority of the people gained their livelihood from farming. [8] The Chinese economy and society in ancient times, like all economies at that time (which had advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage), were based on agriculture. [8] The heartland of the Chinese culture area in ancient times, and long after, was the Yellow River valley. [8]

These states formed the central players in this new phase of ancient Chinese history. [3] The growth of bureaucracy began the rise of a key new class in ancient Chinese society, the gentry. [3]

Official government policies could not halt the general trend throughout China’s ancient history for the merchant class to grow in numbers, wealth and influence. [8] Slaves remained a part of society throughout ancient China’s history, but only as a tiny part of the total, quite unlike in Greek and Roman society, for example. [8] Ancient China's author was a part of the civilization and the four major professions. [4] Ancient China's civilization was filled with lots of city states and resources. [4]

In 221 BCE, the Qin state emerged victorious and unified China once more under the Qin Dynasty. [2] Confucianism remained prevalent in China from the Han Dynasty in 202 BCE to the end of dynastic rule in 1911. [2] Towns and cities could be found in China as far back as the Shang dynasty, if not before. [8]

Soya beans had been introduced into northern and central China towards the end of the Shang period. [3] It was during this period that the Iron Age spread in China, leading to stronger tools and weapons made from iron instead of bronze. [2] The Iron Age had reached China by 600 CE, but it was during this period that the age spread and took root in China: by the time of the Warring States Period, China saw a widespread adoption of iron tools and weapons that were significantly stronger than their bronze counterparts. [2] By the end of 5th century BCE, the feudal system was consolidated into seven prominent and powerful states--Han, Wei, Zhao, Yue, Chu, Qi, and Qin--and China entered the Warring States period, when each state vied for complete control. [2] When China first emerges into the light of history, in the second millennium BCE, it was inhabited by many peoples, with different languages and cultures. [8] By one perspective, the history of China is therefore how one particular people and their culture came to dominate such a large region. [8]

At the same time that this evolution was taking place, this people were expanding ever outwards, to fill the area which today we call "China". [8] According to this idea, there could be only one legitimate ruler of China at a time, and this ruler reigned as the "Son of Heaven" with the approval of the gods. [2]

Trade became increasingly important among states within China. [2] They remained until the Spring and Autumn period, when the princes of the expanding states into which China was now divided looked to them to officer their new armies and staff their new bureaucracies. [8] A Map of the Warring States of China: This map shows the Warring States late in the period. [2]

During the second part of the period, called the Warring States period, strong states vied for power until the Qin conquered them all and created a unified dynasty. [2] Han was the emperor from 206 BC - 220 BC. Qin was the first imperial dynasty. [4] King Wu took over in 1076 BC. The dynasty was jump started by the Iron Age that was spreading like wildfire. [5]

The Shang from the region of the Yellow River is an example of a clan that grew powerful enough to become a dynasty. [16]

The Shang dynasty developed a social class system with the king and his ruling family at the top. Next were landowning nobles who supplied the king's military with fighters and weapons. [16] Unlike most ancient civilizations farmers weren't on the bottom of the social scale. [4] The social structure of the Confucian beliefs starts with emperors above all, with scholars following at a close second, farmers before merchants, and merchants before slaves and women. [5] This is atypical because a typical social hierarchy (TPS), begins with the emperor as well, but follows with merchants, then scholars and farmers, and again, slaves last. [5]

The scheme reflects Confucian ideals more closely than it does social realities at any time in Chinese history. [8] Slaves were not even mentioned as one of the four classes of traditional Chinese thought: they were not regarded as a members of society they were possessions, like oxen and pigs. [8] According to the traditional Chinese view, the town dwellers artisans and merchants were the least favoured of the four classes. [8]

According to the traditional Confucian view, society is made up of four classes: government officials, farmers, artisans and merchants. [8] These classes were usually better off than the peasants, and during the long Zhou period, as the economy expanded the merchants especially flourished. [8]

During the first part of the Eastern Zhou period, called the Spring and Autumn period, the king became less powerful and the regional feudal became lords more so, until only seven consolidated powerful feudal states were left. [2] The first part of the Eastern Zhou period is known as the Spring and Autumn period, named after the Spring and Autumn Annals, a text that narrated events on a year-by-year basis, and marked the beginning of China's deliberately recorded history. [2]

The second part of the Eastern Zhou period is known as the Warring States period during this time these few remaining states battled each other for total power. [2]

As time went by some clans became more and more prominent, and in the Spring and Autumn period (traditionally 771-476 BCE) they became a threat to the power of the regional lords (who themselves had reduced the Zhou king to a cipher). [8] The lords under feudalism gained increasing power, and ultimately the Zhou King You was assassinated, and the capital, Haojing, was sacked in 770 BCE. The capital was quickly moved east to Chengzhou, near modern-day Luoyang, and the Zhou abandoned the western regions. [2] The first period of Zhou rule, which lasted from 1046-771 BCE and was referred to as the Western Zhou period, was characterized mostly by unified, peaceful rule. [2] In the first centuries of the Eastern Zhou period, the forces which the states fielded against each other were based on chariots, manned by warrior-aristocrats who fought according to widely recognised rules of war. [3] He looked back on the Western Zhou period, with its strong centralized state, as an ideal. [2] Duke of Zhou : A regent to the king who established the feudal system, and held a lot of power during the Western Zhou period. [2] The assassination marked the end of the Western Zhou period and the beginning of the Eastern Zhou period. [2] During the Western Zhou period, the focus of religion changed from the supreme god, Shangdi, to "Tian," or heaven advances were made in farming technology and the feudal system was established. [2]

With the decline in the royal authority of the Zhou kings, the later Zhou period saw the rise of a new trans-state system to regulate the conflict between the states. [3] The rulers of the principalities which made up the Zhou state continued by and large in their allegiance to the Zhou king, and the frontiers of the Zhou state were pushed ever further outwards, including (despite several major setbacks) into the Yangtze region to the south. [3] One of the symbolic changes which marked the Warring States period from the earlier Spring and Autumn period was the fact that the rulers of the surviving states did not even bother to acknowledge the Zhou king as their superior. [3] At the beginning of the Zhou period, princes given charge over the different territories had often found themselves surrounded by hostile peoples, and dependent on the military of the Zhou king to maintain them in their new positions. [3] The Eastern Zhou kings were too weak to control the power of the territorial princes. [3]

Mandate of Heaven : The Chinese philosophical concept of the circumstances under which a ruler is allowed to rule. [2] The Chinese Character for "Tian": The Chinese character for "Tian," meaning "heaven," in (from left to right) Bronze script, Seal script, Oracle script, and modern simplified. [2]

What happened to the many non-Chinese peoples who had originally inhabited this vast region? Put simply, the great majority became assimilated into the Chinese nation. [8] Farmers were landholders like gentry scholars, and agriculture long played a key role in the rise of Chinese civilization. [15]

His example of faithful service to the king, and not grasping for supreme power for himself, made him one of the most revered figures in the whole of Chinese history. [3] These were the first "scholar-officials" belonging to the new "gentry" class, which would play such a key role in later Chinese history. [3]

These top officials and super-rich merchants were able to establish big landowning families which would endure for centuries, becoming the nucleus for a new aristocracy which, by the end of the Han dynasty, completely dominated Chinese society. [8] The emperors of the later Han dynasty (or "Eastern Han", as it was called) owed their throne to the support of this new class. [8] Three large dynasties were Qin Dynasty, Shang Dynasty and Han dynasty. [4] In 221 BCE, the Qin state conquered the others and established the Qin Dynasty. [2] The Warring States period saw technological and philosophical development, and the emergence of the Qin Dynasty. [2] Ceramic and Jade art continued from the Shang Dynasty, and was improved and refined, especially during the Warring States Period. [2]

Under the Han regime the clan became an important social unit again. [8] The early Shi came from the ancient warrior caste, but the make-up of the Shi gradually evolved until it was mostly made of aristocratic scholars who studied in order to occupy positions of rank, and then further into a bureaucratic scholarly elite where noble lineage was de-emphasized. [15]


They formed an army led by King Wu of Chou and rebelled, conquering the last Shang king, King Zhou in about 1045 BC. They inhabited what near the Yellow River and what is now present day Shaanxi (around the eastern side of China). [10] For three centuries after the Zhou conquered the Shang, Zhou rulers maintained order in North China and expanded their territories. [12] During the course of several centuries, the Zhou moved away from barbarian pressures, migrating towards the westernmost agricultural basin of North China, the lower Wei River valley, present-day Shaanxi province. [12] The Zhou also introduced coins to China and began the use of chopsticks. [6] The Shi jing (Book of Poetry) offers another glimpse of life in early Zhou China. [7] It spread basically from east to west and it was originally started by the Zhou it provided a good route out of China. [10] For about two centuries Zhou China enjoyed stability and peace. [21]

The nobles rebelled and declared themselves kings, and and the dynasty ended in 256 BC. Qin Shi Huang reunited china in 221, after the warring states period. [6] Like many great governments and kingdoms, some mistakes were made, but this dynasty had a great rule of about seven hundred years and was known for all the things it did to make China a better place. [10] All subsequent dynasty changes in China would be justified with arguments along these same lines. [12] The Shang Dynasty was located in the Yellow River valley in China during the second millennium BCE. It was a society that followed a class system of land-owners, soldiers, bronze workers, and peasants. [13] The Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) unified China under the Legalist system, but became infamous for its oppressive measures, and so collapsed into a state of civil war. [7] Chaos and war prevailed and the battles continued until eventually the state of Qin conquered the other states and unified China once more in 221 BCE, the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE). [12]

The Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1046 BCE) was the second dynasty of China which succeeded the Xia Dynasty (c. 2700-1600 BCE. [12]

Jie, the last king of the Xia Dynasty (the first Chinese dynasty), was overthrown c. 1760 BCE by Cheng Tang. [13] After defeating the Shang, King Wu began a new dynasty called the Zhou (JOH). [6] The Zhou justified the change of dynasty and their own authority by claiming that the dispossessed Shang had forfeited the " Mandate of Heaven " by their misrule. [12] Here they began to develop Shang-style agriculture, and they also built a city in an area named Plain of Zhou, which gave its name to the state and the dynasty. [12] Zhou Wu-The first emperor of the dynasty and first peasant to rise to the position of Emperor. [6] The real power of Zhou was so small, that the end of the dynasty was hardly noted. [12] He became king of Zhou in 1099 BCE during the last days of the Shang Dynasty. [12] The Shang Dynasty was overthrown in 1046 BCE by the Zhou, a subject people living in the western part of the kingdom. [13]

RANKED SELECTED SOURCES(22 source documents arranged by frequency of occurrence in the above report)


The Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou dynasty emerged in East Asia around 1045 BCE and lasted until 221 BCE.

The Zhou government established itself through the principle of the Mandate of Heaven–the idea that the supreme god granted permission for an emperor to rule but that this came with a responsibility to rule well. If they did not, the mandate (or permission) would pass to a new ruler.

This excerpt from the Classic oF History (written in the 6th century BCE) tells the story of an ancient king who ruled wisely.

In the twelfth month of the first year… Yi Yin sacrificed to the former king, and presented the heir-king reverently before the shrine of his grandfather. All the princes from the domain of the nobles and the royal domain were present all the officers also, each continuing to discharge his particular duties, were there to receive the orders of the chief minister. Yi Yin then clearly described the complete virtue of the Meritorious Ancestor for the instruction of the young king.

He said, “Oh! of old the former kings of Xia cultivated earnestly their virtue, and then there were no calamities from Heaven. The spirits of the hills and rivers alike were all in tranquility and the birds and beasts, the fishes and tortoises, all enjoyed their existence according to their nature. But their descendant did not follow their example, and great Heaven sent down calamities, employing the agency of our ruler- who was in possession of its favoring appointment. The attack on Xia may be traced to the orgies in Ming Tiao… Our king of Shang brilliantly displayed his sagely prowess for oppression he substituted his generous gentleness and the millions of the people gave him their hearts. Now your Majesty is entering on the inheritance of his virtue — all depends on how you commence your reign. To set up love, it is For you to love your relations to set up respect, it is for you to respect your elders. The commencement is in the family and the state….

“Oh! the former king began with careful attention to the bonds that hold men together. He listened to expostulation, and did not seek to resist it he conformed to the wisdom of the ancients occupying the highest position, he displayed intelligence occupying an inferior position, he displayed his loyalty he allowed the good qualities of the men whom he employed and did not seek that they should have every talent….

“He extensively sought out wise men, who should be helpful to you, his descendant and heir. He laid down the punishments for officers, and warned those who were in authority, saying, ‘If you dare to have constant dancing in your palaces, and drunken singing in your chambers, — that is called the fashion of sorcerers if you dare to see your hearts on wealth and women, and abandon yourselves to wandering about or to the chase, — thar is called the fashion of extravagance if you dare to despise sage words, to resist the loyal and upright, to put far from you the aged and virtuous, and to seek the company of…youths, — that is called the fashion of disorder. Now if a high noble or officer be addicted to one of these three fashions with their ten evil ways, his family will surely come to ruin if the prince of a country be so addicted, his state will surely come to ruin. The minister who does not try to correct such vices in the sovereign shall be punished with branding.’…

“Oh! do you, who now succeed to the throne, revere these warnings in your person. Think of them! — sacred counsels of vast importance, admirable words forcibly set forth! The ways of Heaven are not invariable: — on the good-doer it sends down all blessings, and on the evil-doer it sends down all miseries. Do you but be virtuous, be it in small things or in large, and the myriad regions will have cause for rejoicing. If you not be virtuous, be it in large things or in small, it will bring the ruin of your ancestral temple.”

Source: James Legge, trans, The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism, in F. Max Mueller, ed., The Sacred Books of the East, 50 vols., (Oxford: Clarendon, 1879-1910), Vol 3. pp. 92-95.


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