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Excuse my romanisation.

The Zhou dynasty is divided by historians into the Western Zhou period, and the Eastern Zhou period. During the Western Zhou period, the capital was located at Hao, near Xian in Shenxi province. This period lasted from the founding in approximately 1122 BCE to 771 BCE. The Eastern Zhou period is divided into the "Spring and Autumn", and the "Warring States". The next nodes in DMan's list thus refer also to parts of the Zhou dynasty.

The Zhou people, originally subject to the rule of the Shang dynasty, were settled in the Wei river basin in Shenxi. They no doubt absorbed Shang military methods and culture, including the chariot. Their usurpation of Shang rule is attributed to three great kings, known by their posthumous designations:

  • Wen Wang, or the King of Culture to whom is attributed such qualities as benevolence, concern for the welfare of the people, and religious reverence for his ancestors (these were good things).
  • Wu Wang, or the King of War, who sacked the Shang capital of Yin. According to history, the Shang king rather romantically set his palace alight and himself with it, rather than be captured by the Zhou invaders. He installed a puppet king at Yin after his invasion.
  • Chen Wang, the Fulfillment king, called Zhou Gong, or the Duke of Zhou, arguably the most famous of all three. He decreed that he had regental powers over the Shang puppet king, which gave other Zhou princes with ambition to rebel. He built a city at Luoyang near Yin, which was his base of operations. He invented the concept of the "Mandate of Heaven", which has been preserved through Chinese history.

    He is associated with the creation of the Yijing (I Ching), the Classic of Changes, also called the Zhou yi.

Zhou feudalism

Instead of having the entire kingdom as a royal domain, as the Shang had, the Zhou parcelled out walled garrisons at strategic points to relatives of the royal family, and to Shang co-operators. Though the entire realm was nominally the King's property (the feudal concept of titled land-ownership), regional lords were appointed by the king. It is interesting to note that originally, this system was not hereditary, but became so, with the King confirming sons of lords into their father's title.

The aristocracy, called Shi, meaning official or warrior, were the equivalent to European landed gentry, and lived in relative luxury, freeing them to learn poetry, archery, charioteering (the position of the aristocrat in an armed force), and music.

During this time the "equal field" system developed, which was an impractical agricultural ideal. The idea was that eight families would tend a collection of nine fields, arranged in a square. The eight outer fields would be worked by one family each, while the centre field would be worked by all, and the produce of that field given to the local lord.

Cultural works

In this period, a height was reached in the technology of bronze casting, and many ceremonial vessels remain from this time. This art was lost until later, and later Zhou artifacts show a decline in skill. Jade imported from Central Asia began to be carved, and valued.

Early Zhou also developed several great classics of Chinese literature, including the Shujing, the Classic of Writings, the Yijing, the Classic of Changes, and the SiJing, the Classic of Songs.


Later Zhou history is characterised by degeneration. Because of the Zhou custom of delegating royal power to lords, the local domains became pseudo-kingdoms, almost independent of royal control, and as rich and powerful as the royal domain. In 771 BCE, the royal capital at Hao was invaded and sacked by non-Han natives from northern Shenxi, and sacked. The King was killed in the violence, and the royal court fled to Luoyang. Thus ends the height of Zhou power, and begins the period known as the Spring and Autumn.

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