Sima Qian

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The earliest comprehensive account of the founding of the Zhou Dynasty (which lasted from about 1045 B.C. until its extinction by the armies of the state of Qin in 256 B.C.) appears in the “Shiji”, or “Records of the Historian,” a history compiled about 100 B.C. by Sima Qian, the imperial historian and astronomer of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty. Sima Qian was unable to escape completely from the perspective of legend when writing about the past, which for him was a moral story that revealed complex interplays of heroism and immorality, often in a single individual. Nevertheless, Sima Qian was an independent thinker and judge of character, and if he did not achieve objectivity, he did at least attempt wherever possible to base his information on the best sources available to him. Sometimes he lists his sources for us, and in other cases he is willing to alert us that his account is based on unverifiable hearsay. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“In telling the story of the Zhou royal house, Sima Qian was not looking for men with feet of clay – he accepted the prevailing vision of the founders as ethical giants. Nevertheless, he did his best to create a coherent chronology of the events of the founding, and we can see his account as a comprehensive summation of the great tale that lay behind all the social and political thinking of Classical China. /+/

“The dates of the events that are narrated here, to the degree that they may accurately reflect what occurred, are generally uncertain. The date of the Zhou conquest of the Shang remains a hotly debated point, but the year 1045 B.C. seems increasingly persuasive, and alternative theories now tend to converge very close to this point. The reign of King Wen over the pre-dynastic Zhou lands was a long one; his accession may be dated c. 1100, which would roughly coincide with the accession of the last king of the Shang, whose name, perversely enough, was Zhou – he is referred to here as “Zhòu,” the diacritic mark “ò” distinguishing him from the dynastic house that brought him down.” /+/

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Zhou Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ;
Books: "Cambridge History of Ancient China" edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); "The Culture and Civilization of China", a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); "Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties" by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996); “Early Chinese Religion” edited by John Lagerwey & Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: 2009)

Qi (“Prince Millet”)

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “The personal name of Houji (his name means “Prince Millet”) of the Zhou was Qi (“the castaway”). His mother was a member of the Youtai branch lineage of the Jiang clan, and her name was Jiang Yuan. Jiang Yuan was the principal wife of the Emperor Ku. [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University. The account translated here is only the first quarter of a longer text that carries the story on through eight subsequent centuries. /+/ ]

“Jiang Yuan ventured out onto the plains one day, and there she saw the footprint of an enormous man. She felt in her heart a great stirring of pleasure and wished to tread upon it. When she did so, her body was stirred as if with child. A year later a child was indeed born. Because he was viewed as inauspicious, the baby was cast away into a narrow alley, but the horses and oxen who trod past would not step on him. So he was cast away into a deep forest, but people of the mountain woods found him and moved him. So he was cast away onto the ice of a frozen waterway, but flying birds came and sheltered him with their wings and brought him back. Jiang Yuan concluded that a spirit force lay behind all this and so she took him back in and nurtured him. Because she initially wished to cast him away he was named Qi: the castaway. /+/

“When Qi was a youth, he grew very tall, like the mark of the enormous man. In his childhood play, he loved to cultivate plants such as hemp and beans, and his hemp and bean plants flourished. When he grew into an adult he loved ploughing and agriculture. He was skilled at assessing the nature of land and selecting the appropriate grains to plant. The people all imitated what he did. The Emperor Yao heard of him and raised Qi up to be his Chief of Farming. All in the empire benefited and his work was successful. Prince Millet flourished throughout the rule of the houses of Yaotang, Yu, and into the Xia Dynasty. To each age he contributed his splendid virtue. /+/

Dr. Eno wrote: “It was a well established tradition from the early days of Zhou rule, about a thousand years before this account was written, that the grand progenitor or the Zhou clan line was Houji, who is often pictured as the man who taught the Chinese how to cultivate grains. He may be seen as a counterpart of the Spirit-like Farmer, whose similar role as founder of agriculture probably belongs to an alternative mythic tradition. In this opening paragraph, Sima Qian is tying the lineage of the Zhou house to that of the highest of all the sage kings of remote antiquity. The Emperor Ku was the great-grandson of the Yellow Emperor, who for Sima Qian represented the start of history.

“The word translated as “spirit force”( shen) refers both to the inhabitants of the supernatural realm of the spirits (who may be the dead or who may represent various types of animistic beings) and also to those mysterious powers that lie behind the inexplicable aspects of experience, like the miraculous events surrounding the baby Houji. In picturing their founder as a castaway, the Zhou employed a world-wide folklore theme that equally pertains to figures like Moses or Oedipus. /+/

“The Emperor Yao was a son of Emperor Ku. When the late Zhou Confucians crafted accounts of the beginnings of history, they chose to place Yao and his successor Shun at the head, omitting mention of the Yellow Emperor and those who immediately succeeded him. 3 The Emperor Shun said, “Qi, the common people are hungry. You, Prince Millet, must broadcast the hundred grains.” And so saying, he bestowed upon Qi an estate at Dai. He gave him the sobriquet Prince Millet, and bestowed upon him a new surname, the clan of Ji.” /+/

After Qi (“Prince Millet”)


Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “When Prince Millet died, his son Buzhu inherited his duties and position. In his later years, the government of the Xia Dynasty began to decline, and Buzhu discarded agricultural pursuits. Thus losing his official position, he moved away to the lands of the nomadic tribes of the Rong and Di. [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“When Buzhu died, his son Ju succeeded him. When Ju died, his son Gongliu succeeded him. Although Gongliu dwelt among the nomadic Rong and Di tribes, he reinstituted the pursuit of agriculture, was assiduous in ploughing and sowing, and assessed the character of his lands. From the Rivers Dai and Ju across to the far side of the River Wei he collected wood for his people to use, so that those whose work involved moving goods had material for transport, and those whose work kept them at home would have the means to raise livestock. All of his people relied on his beneficence and the common folk cherished him. Many moved to his lands in order to be under his protection. It was at this time that the Dao of the Zhou first arose, and so his virtue is recalled and celebrated by the poets. /+/

“When Gongliu died, his son Qingjie succeeded him and established a state in Bin. When Qingjie died, his son Huangpu succeeded him. When Huangpu died, his son Chaifu succeeded him. When Chaifu died, his son Huiyu succeeded him. When Huiyu died, his son Gongfei succeeded him. When Gongfei died, his son Gaoyu succeeded him. When Gaoyu died, his son Yayu succeeded him. When Yayu died, his son Gongshu Zulei succeeded him. When Gongshu Zulei died, his son Gugong Danfu (“The Old Duke, Father Dan”) succeeded him.” /+/

Eno wrote: “The Xia Dynasty, a predecessor of the Shang Dynasty whose historical authenticity remains uncertain, is said, in traditional accounts, to have ruled China from about 2000 to 1600. Its founder, the Emperor Yu, was the successor of the Emperor Shun. The Rong and Di were, during the late Shang and early Zhou eras, non-Chinese groups living to the north and west of China. Once Buzhu moves to live among them, his status becomes merely the leader of his clan and of any people from his original patrimonial estate in Dai who may have followed him. There are only a half-dozen Zhou ancestors who play a significant role in the narrative, but the patrician class was highly conscious of genealogy. These names would have appeared in a long array of wooden tablets in the grand progenitor’s shrine of the royal Ji clan temple complex. /+/

“The word “Dao” has far-reaching meanings. It can denote a path or an art, or in this case a tradition. It is frequently translated by the English “Way.” Confucius frequently celebrated the Dao of the ancient kings. Some interpreters believe that his praise was chiefly for the Zhou Dao, the Zhou tradition of the art of statecraft, and Sima Qian is careful to denote what he takes to be the origins of this distinctive Dao.” /+/

The Old Duke

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “The Old Duke, Father Dan revived the enterprise of Prince Millet and Gongliu. He built up his virtue and performed acts of righteousness, and the people of the state stood by him. The Xunyu, a people of the Rong and Di tribes, attacked him, wishing to obtain his stored riches. He willingly gave his riches to them. They attacked again, wishing to obtain his land and its people. The people were all furious and wished to go to battle. The Old Duke said, “Rulers are set up by the people in order to benefit the people. Now the Rong and Ti make war on me on account of my land and people. What difference would it make to the people if they were under me or under another? The people wish to go to war on my behalf, but I could not bear to cause the slaughter of their fathers and sons and then rule over them!” [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Thereupon, the Old Duke gathered together his personal retinue and moved away from Bin. He crossed the rivers Tai and Ju, and traveled over Mt. Liang, settling finally at Qixia. And then the entire people of Bin, with the young supporting the aged and parents holding their children, removed en masse to Qixia in order to return to the protection of the Old Duke. When nearby states heard of the humaneness of the Old Duke, many of them too removed to Qixia. Then the Old Duke discarded all the customs of the Rong and Di peoples and ordered the construction of walled cities and private enclosed dwellings. He built walled towns apart from his own. He established the five high ministerial offices and the people all celebrated his virtue in song. /+/

“The eldest son of the Old Duke was named Taibo; the second son was named Yuchong. The consort Taijiang gave birth to the youngest son, Jili. Jili married Tairen. All the wives were most worthy. Tairen gave birth to Chang, and at the time of his birth, the portent of a sage was seen. The Old Duke said, “The flourishing of my house would seem to lie with Chang!” The older sons, Taibo and Yuchong, saw that the Old Duke wished to have Jili as his successor in order that the rulership ultimately be passed to Chang. Thereupon, the two men fled to the lands of the Jing and Man tribes in the south, tattooed their bodies and cut their hair, in order that the throne be passed to Jili.” /+/

Eno wrote: The “vaguely populist notion that the legitimacy of rulers is tied to the interests of the people, is a powerful notion connected with the late Zhou vision of what made the Zhou founders great...The Zhou followed a strict rule of succession: the oldest son always succeeded the father. This text, however, reflects not fact but the historical vision and values of authors from the late Zhou and early Han, and as we shall see, there was among them great interest in the idea of legitimacy through virtue, rather than through blood. This tale, popular in the late Zhou, elegantly blends the two ideals.” /+/

The Old Duke’s order to construct walled cities and private enclosed dwellings “portrays the most significant sorts of transformations: the creation of fully ordered space, physically demarcated by walls, and the introduction of self-perpetuating proto-bureaucratic social organization. These changes are pivotal signs of sinicization (acculturation to Chinese norms; also called “sinification”). It is provocative that in this narrative, they follow the success of the Old Duke’s moral accomplishments.” /+/

King Wen, Lord of the West

King Wen

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “When the Old Duke died, his son Jili succeeded him: he is known as Gongji. Gongji cultivated the Dao of the Old Duke. He was earnest in acts of righteousness, and the patrician lords followed him. When Gongji died, his son Chang succeeded him. He was known in his day as the Lord of the West, and we refer to him as King Wen. [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“King Wen followed the course set by Prince Millet and Gongliu and emulated the models set by the Old Duke and Gongji. He was earnest in his humaneness; he honored the elderly; he was caring of the young; he treated worthies in lower positions with ritual courtesy. He attended upon the shi (elite men) of the realm with such assiduousness that he took no time to eat all day long, and for this reason the shi allied with him in great numbers. The incorruptible hermits Bo Yi and Shu Qi living in Lone Bamboo heard that the Lord of the West earnestly nurtured elders and said, “Why should we not go to him?” Worthies such as Taidian, Hongyao, San Yisheng, and the grandee Xin Jia all went over to the Lord of the West. /+/

“Hu, the Marquis of Chong, slandered the Lord of the West to the Shang king Zhòu. “The Lord of the West is storing up good deeds and piling high the influence of his virtue. This will become most unfavorable for your Majesty.” The Emperor Zhòu thereupon imprisoned the Lord of the West at Youli. /+/

“Hong Yao and others like him were distressed at this. They sought from the Yuxin clan one of its beautiful maidens, from the Rong tribe of Li a finely dappled horse, from the tribe of Yuxiong nine teams of horses, which together with other objects strange and rare they offered to Zhòu through his court favorite Bi Chong. Zhòu was greatly pleased. “One of these things would have been sufficient to free the Lord of the West – and how many there are!” And so he released the Lord of the West. He presented him with bow and arrow, hatchet and war axe, and set him to lead his armies. “The man who slandered the Lord of the West,” he said, “was Hu, Marquis of Chong.”

“Thereupon, the Lord of the West presented to Zhòu the lands west of the River Luo that were in his possession, with the request that in recompense Zhòu abolish the practice of subjecting criminals to the punishment of walking over hot coals. Zhòu agreed to it. The Lord of the West continued to carry out good practices without fanfare, and the patrician lords all came to him to have him mediate their disputes. At this time, there was a legal dispute between the men of Yu and Rui that defied all solution. They took the case to the land of Zhou. Entering within the borders of the Zhou lands, they saw that those who tilled the land all yielded to one another on issues concerning the boundaries of their fields, and the custom of the people was always to yield to their elders. Before they had reached the court of the Lord of the West, the men of Yu and Rui all felt shamed. “The people of Zhou would be ashamed to wrangle as we do. What is the point in going on? We can only humiliate ourselves!” And so they returned home and settled their dispute by yielding to one another. When the patrician lords heard of this, they said, “It would appear that the Lord of the West is destined to receive Heaven’s mandate.”

“The Lord of the West occupied his throne for about fifty years altogether. When he was a prisoner in Youli, he is said to have fashioned the sixty-four hexagrams of the Yi jing from the eight trigrams. The poets tell us that the Lord of the West’s receipt of the mandate should probably be dated from the resolution of the dispute between Yu and Rui, ten years before his death. He was posthumously titled King Wen – the “Civilizing King.” He reformed the legal codes and rectified the calendrical periods according to the dates of the new moons. He posthumously honored the Old Duke as King Tai, and his father, Gongji, as King Ji. It seems that the portents foretelling that this clan would rule as Kings over all China date from the reign of King Tai. /+/

“The following year, the Lord of the West campaigned against the Western Rong tribes. The year after, he campaigned against the state of Mixu. The year after, he defeated the state of Qi. When the Shang minister Zuyi learned of this, he reported it to Zhòu. Zhòu replied, “Do I not possess the Mandate of Heaven? How could this man affect me?”

“The following year, the Lord of the West campaigned against Gan, and the year after that against Hu, Marquis of Chong. At this time, the Lord of the West ordered the construction of the walled city of Feng and moved his capital from Jixia to Feng. The following year, the Lord of the West died. He was succeeded by his son, Prince Fa, who is known as King Wu – the “Martial King.”

Interpretation of the King Wen Section

Dr. Eno wrote: “The late Zhou vision of political legitimacy took as a key test the responses of men who had held aloof, at personal cost, from prevalent political corruption. These were men who responded only to virtue and never to personal gain, and legends of the sage kings focus on the moment when their transcending virtue is “recognized” by worthy men who have hidden their talents from the world. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The traditional tales of the evil nature of the last king of the Shang are legion. Generally, he is portrayed as a sex-crazed alcoholic whose greatest delight was disemboweling virtuous ministers, his literary character thus being a perfect foil for the flawless King Wen. While Zhòu’s action here is recounted to show his corrupt character, it is worth noting that throughout Chinese history – some would say until today – legal practice has adhered to the principle that the innocence of a prisoner is chiefly determined by the net worth of bribes offered on his behalf. /+/

“The growing power of King Wen (referred to in the text as “Lord of the West,” the title he enjoyed during his life) is portrayed in terms of his increasing influence among the patrician lords; that is, the local lords of patrimonial estates allocated by royal fiat. Yet our texts often picture the Zhou founders as the innovators of this system of dynastically dispensed patrimonial rights, and this account, and others like it, may be suspected of projecting the late Zhou community of contending patrician lords into its vision of the past. In terms of traditional ways of speaking of these phenomena, we can say that it is projecting “Zhou feudalism” into the Shang period. /+/

“King Wen is frequently cited as one of the prime contributors to the canonical mantic work, the Yi jing. The legend greatly enhances his prestige as a universal sage, rather than merely a political paragon. Note all the words and phrases qualifying the certainty of the facts cited here. Sima Qian often softens his assertions when he has doubts about the adequacy of his evidence.” /+/

King Wu

King Wu

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “When King Wu assumed the throne, he had the Grand Duke Wang as his commander-in-chief and Dan, the Duke of Zhou as his chief of staff. Others, like the Dukes of Shao and Bi, were his advisors. He took the example of King Wen to be his teacher, and he set about to continue his work. [ Eno wrote: “Chinese readers would recognize the high officers of King Wu named here as a roll of great “founding fathers.” The Grand Duke Wang was an aged hermit who had been “discovered” by King Wen (he is a “patron saint” of military masters). The three other dukes were all relatives of King Wu; the Duke of Zhou was his younger brother.] [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“In the ninth year of his reign, King Wu went to perform sacrifices at Bi. He went east to review his troops, reaching the Ford of Meng on the Yellow River. Here he had a wooden temple tablet for King Wen crafted, and he placed it in a chariot located in the midst of his armies. Referring to himself as “Prince Fa,” he declared that he meant to campaign according to the intention of King Wen, and that he dared not presume to take such a decision upon himself. Thereupon he issued a statement to the chief officers in charge of the cavalry, the infantry, public works, and the royal seals. “Be earnest and solemn, all of you! I am but ignorant. Yet because my forbears had virtuous ministers, I, a mere child, have inherited great works, and I shall thoroughly establish codes of reward and punishment in order that further meritorious deeds may be accurately assessed.” /+/

“Then, King Wu raised his armies. The Grand Duke Wang addressed his troops thus: “Oh, you masses of infantrymen and you who man the oars of our ships! Know that should any of you dally to the battle, he will lose his head!” King Wu crossed the Yellow River. In midstream, a white fish leapt into the royal boat. King Wu stooped to retrieve it and offered it up in sacrifice. Once he had crossed over, a fire cameplummeting down from above and landed by the king’s chamber, where it flowed into a crimson crow which cried with a ghostly sound. And just at this time, eight hundred patrician lords converged upon the Ford of Meng, all by chance, without any prior planning. They all said, “Let Zhòu be attacked!” King Wu replied, “I am not yet certain of the Mandate of Heaven. The time is not yet right.” And he led his troops back home.” /+/

Eno wrote: “What are we to make of this?Why is King Wu – the Martial King – portrayed as so reluctant to overthrow a dissolute ruler, despite some broad hints that destiny just may be on his side (it’s important to know that meteoric red crows are not native to China)? Was this legend a cautionary lesson that the early Zhou royal house wished to propagate for the benefit of would-be usurpers – one should only contest for the Mandate with excruciating caution? Conventions for evil rulers require not that they lack sage advisors, but that sage advisors be rejected, and, on occasion, hideously murdered. The two princes mentioned are supposed to have been exemplary men. Bigan, other texts tell us, was killed by being split in two. /+/

King Wu Prepares to Battle the Shang

Bronze dagger axes

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “The king abided for two more years. Then he heard that the depravity of Zhòu had reached new depths, that he had killed Prince Bigan and imprisoned Prince Ji. The Master Musician Ci and the Junior Musician Qiang packed up their instruments and fled to Zhou. Thereupon, King Wu issued a proclamation to the patrician lords that read: “The Shang have committed repeated crimes. They cannot but be attacked to the end!” Then, following after his father, King Wen, he led into campaign three hundred war chariots, the Tiger Brave Guard, numbering three thousand, 45,000 armored soldiers, all marching eastward to attack Zhòu. [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

In the eleventh year of the reign of King Wu, on the day wu-wu in the twelfth month (roughly January) the entire army crossed the Ford of Meng and the patrician lords all convened.’” They said, “Let there be no delay!” King Wu then uttered the “Great Oath,” proclaimed to all the hosts. Now king of the Shang, Zhòu, heeds the words of his wife and cuts himself off from Heaven, destroys the three standards, leaves behind his ancestral fathers and mothers, abolishes the music of his ancestors and creates lascivious music in its stead, thereby altering and bringing chaos to the correct notes of the scale in order to please his wife. Therefore I, Fa, will now reverently execute the punishment of Heaven. Gentlemen, be zealous! Let there be no need for a second or third assault!” /+/

In the second month (roughly March) at first light on the day jia-zi, King Wu held a dawn court outside the capital city of Shang, in the suburban plain of Muye. King Wu leaned upon a yellow battle-axe in his left hand, and grasped a white banner in his right, which he waved high. /+/

““How far you have come, men of the western lands! We have with us great lords, infantry chiefs, cavalry chiefs, ministers of works, clan leaders, and generals. We have a thousand lesser officers and a hundred high officers, and men from Yong, Shu, Qiang, Mao, Wei, Lu, Peng, and Pu. Raise your halberds! Line up your shields! Set your spears! I will swear an oath.”“ /+/

King Wu Battles the Shang and Defeats Their Leader Emperor Zhou

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “The ancients had a saying. ‘The hen does not crow at dawn. When the hen crows at dawn, the household is doomed.’ Now Zhòu, the king of the Shang, heeds only the words of his wife. He discards his ancestors and keeps not to his sacrifices. Benightedly he casts away his house and his state, abandoning the path of his ancestral fathers and mothers. The criminal outcasts of the four quarters he honors and appoints to high office, entrusting them with his missions of state, letting them violently oppress the common folk in the rape of the Shang state! “Now I, Fa, reverently execute the punishment of Heaven. In the affair of this day, go no further than six or seven paces without stopping to regroup – gentlemen, be zealous! Charge no more than four times – five – six – seven – and then regroup. Gentlemen, be zealous! Be awesome – like tigers! Like bears! Like jackals! Like dragons! Here in the suburbs of Shang, do not slaughter those Shang troops who flee, for they will serve us in the west. Gentlemen, be zealous! If you should not be zealous, may you yourselves be slaughtered!” [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Eno wrote: “ Sima Qian has taken this entire passage from one of the canonical books of the Confucian tradition, the “Book of Documents”. This section is a chapter known as the “Oath of Mu” (that is, the speech at Muye). When the oath was finished, the patrician lords arranged their four thousand chariots in battle formation on the plain of Muye.” /+/

The Shiji continues: “When the Emperor Zhòu learned that King Wu had come, he too called up his troops, numbering 700,000 (!), to repulse the attack of King Wu. King Wu dispatched the Grand Duke Wang with a hundred officers to inspire the troops and detached a corps of cavalry to charge the soldiers of the Emperor Zhòu. Zhòu’s troops, though numerous, possessed no will to fight whatever; it had been their wish that King Wu come as quickly as possible. The armies of Zhòu all reversed their weapons as they engaged in the battle, that the way might be opened for King Wu. And as King Wu galloped through the ranks, the soldiers of Zhòu all collapsed and turned in revolt upon Zhòu himself. /+/

“Zhòu fled back to his palace and mounted to the tower of Deer Pavilion. There he clothed himself in his most precious jewels and, setting himself afire, burned to death. King Wu grasped the great white banner to signal to the patrician lords, and the lords then all bowed low to King Wu. King Wu bowed in return and every one of the lords became his follower. As King Wu approached the city walls of Shang, the people of the city all awaited him outside the wall. Thereupon, King Wu ordered his officers to proclaim to the people of Shang, “Heaven above has sent down its blessing!” And the people of Shang all fell to the ground bowing prostrate with hands clasped. King Wu bowed to them in reply.” /+/

King Wu Establishes the Zhou Dynasty

Zhou Dynasty 1000 BC

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “Then King Wu entered the city and went to the place where Zhòu had died. The king himself shot the corpse three times with arrows before descending from his chariot. Then he stabbed it with his sword, grabbed his yellow battle axe and chopped off Zhòu’s head, impaling it on the pole of his white banner. Then he sought out Zhòu’s two favorite concubines; they had already hung themselves. King Wu also shot them three times with arrows, stabbed them with his sword, and, using a black axe, chopped off their heads, impaling them on the poles of smaller white banners. Then King Wu left the city and returned to his troops. [Source: Shiji 4.111-126 by Sima Qian, via Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The following day the king performed ceremonies purifying the roads and repaired the state altars of the Shang, together with the Shang palaces. At an appointed time, a hundred officers led the way, riding forth with raised flags. Shuzhen Duo, a younger brother of King Wu, followed leading the battle chariots. Dan, the Duke of Zhou, carried a great battle axe, the Duke of Bi carried a lesser battle axe, and they flanked King Wu. San Yishang, Taidian, and Hongyao formed King Wu’s personal guard, armed with swords. Entering into the city, they took up positions south of the altar of state to the left of the leading warriors, with their retainers all arrayed to their left. Maoshu Zheng offered up the ritual water; Kangshu Feng of Wei laid out the reeds; Shi, Duke of Shao, presented the vegetable offerings; the Grand Duke Wang led forth the sacrificial ox. Yin Yi, the liturgist, spoke. “The last descendant of the Shang, Zhòu, discarded the bright virtue of his forbears, disgraced the spirits by ignoring their sacrifices, and brought benighted violence against the people of the city of Shang. His doings became known to the Heavenly Emperor, the Lord on High.” King Wu then repeatedly bowed prostrate. “The receipt of the great mandate has been shifted away from the Shang. I receive the bright mandate of Heaven.” Again he repeatedly prostrated himself, and then they departed. /+/

“The son of Zhòu, Lufu, was awarded a patrimonial estate within which were settled the remnant people of the Shang. Because King Wu was only first settling the Shang people and had not yet achieved full control, he appointed his younger brothers Guanshu Xian and Caishu Tu to serve Lufu as chief ministers and control the people of Shang. Then King Wu ordered the Duke of Shao to release Prince Ji from prison, and he ordered the Duke of Bi to release all common people from prison. He ordered that the gate of Shang Rong’s neighborhood be specially marked. [Shang Rong was a minister of the Shang who dared to remonstrate to Zhòu about his faults.] /+/

“He ordered Nangong Kuo to distribute the goods collected in the storerooms of Deer Pavilion and the grain in the granaries of Ju Bridge, in order to succor the poor and the weak and the masses of laborers. He ordered Nangong Kuo and Shi Yi to set out the nine cauldrons and precious jades. Then King Wu ordered the Duke of Shao to release Prince Ji from prison, and he ordered the Duke of Bi to release all common people from prison. He ordered that the gate of Shang Rong’s neighborhood be specially marked. “These were sacred properties belonging to the holder of the mandate. He ordered Hong Yao to erect a raised earthwork to surround the grave of Prince Bigan. Then King Wu ordered the liturgist of the clan to perform a grand sacrificial rite among the armies, following which he demobilized his troops and returned to the west.” /+/

Eno wrote: “The granting of an hereditary estate to Zhòu’s son was an important pious act. Although Zhòu himself was morally discredited, the Zhou founders did not wish to discredit the Shang Dynasty as a whole. Their own legitimacy depended upon their claim that they had received the heavenly mandate that the Shang had once properly held. In setting up Lufu, King Wu was ensuring that the entire line of Shang kings and queens would continue to receive the sacrificial offerings upon which they depended for sustenance – it would be grotesque, in the political and religious culture of the time, to subject the spirits of the former holders of the mandate to starvation. Hence Lufu was established not as the head of a state, per se, but as the leader of a clan lineage and its sacrifices.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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