King Wu of Zhou


King Wu of Zhou, Ji Fa (? -(1043 BC), surnamed Ji Fa (often referred to as the King of Inferiority in Western Zhou bronze inscriptions), was a native of Qizhou (Qishan County, Baoji City, Shaanxi Province), and the first son of King Wen Ji Chang and Ta Si of the Western Zhou Dynasty.


Rise of the First Zhou Dynasty

During the reign of King Wen Ji Chang, the state became stronger and “the world was divided into three parts, two of which belonged to Zhou”, laying the foundation for the destruction of the Shang Dynasty. After Ji Chang’s death, his son Ji Fa succeeded to the throne and was called King Wu of Zhou.

Ji Fa relied on virtuous people internally, continued to use Jiang Taigong (i.e. Jiang Shang) as the great teacher, and used his younger brother Zhou Gong Dan as the great slaughtererer, Zhaogong, Bi Gong, Kang Shu, Dan Ji and other good ministers were all in their positions, so there were many talents and the politics was flourishing. Externally, he strove to unite more vassal states to strengthen his power. King Wu was actively preparing the conditions for the destruction of Shang and waiting for the right time. To facilitate the attack on the Shang capital of Chaoge, King Wu established a new capital, Haojing, on the east bank of Fengshui (present-day Xi’an).

Watching the soldiers in Mengjin

In the second year after his reign, King Wu of Zhou led his army westward to the tomb of King Wen in Biyuan (in the present-day Chang’an district of Shaanxi Province) to pay respects, and then turned eastward toward Chaoge. In the middle of the army erected a large wooden sign with the name of his father Xibo Chang, himself only called Prince Fa, meaning that the King of Wen was still the commander in chief. The army arrived at Yujin (northeast of present-day Mengjin County, Henan Province) on the south bank of the Yellow River, and eight hundred lords came to join them on the news. With the hearts of the people turning toward Zhou and the isolation of King Zhou, the lords all urged King Wu to march to Chaoge immediately. King Wu and Jiang Shang thought that the time was not yet ripe and ordered the whole army to return after crossing the Yellow River, and warned them not to be too hasty with the words “you do not know the fate of heaven”. Because the time is not fully ripe, or the division back to the dynasty. This rehearsal for the destruction of the Shang Dynasty is known as “Mengjin’s meeting” or “Mengjin Watching”.

King Wu’s conquest of Zhou

After the Mengjin Military Observation, King Wu intensified the training of his troops and sent his spies to investigate the movements of Yin Shang. After hearing three reports from his spies, he learned that the Shang had been “slandered and used, and the loyalists were far from being deposed”: Prince Bigan had his chest cut open and his heart gouged out; Minzi pretended to be crazy and was punished as a slave; Weizi, feeling hopeless, had already left and lived in seclusion; and the people did not dare to complain. King Wu felt that Yin Shang was already in disarray, and that the time was ripe to conquer King Zhou.

In the spring of the fourth year after his reign, King Wu launched an unprecedented war against the Shang. He made Jiang Shang the commander and sent 50,000 troops across the Yellow River to the east. When the army arrived at Mengjin, the 800 lords also led their troops to help the war, and King Wu held a vow meeting at Mengjin. In the solemn atmosphere, Ji Fa, holding the yellow battle-axe in his left hand to symbolize the command of the army and the yak-tail scepter in his right hand to give orders, ascended the earthen altar under the right and left escort of Lu Shang and Shu Dan, and made a famous oath to all the generals, which was called the “Pastoral Oath” by later generations.

Dear friends and generals, Yin Zhou has abandoned the state, disrespected the gods, forsaken his countrymen, and violated the people, to the anger of heaven and people. Now, Heaven commands me to punish the kingdom of Yin. Raise your weapons and take up your shields, and fight like tigers and bears. Strive, generals!

After the ceremony and the oath of allegiance, King Wu led his army to kill the Shang capital Chao Ge with great force and soon reached Muye, only 70 miles from Chao Ge, where both armies took up positions near Muye for a duel.

King Zhou thought he had 700,000 soldiers and horses, but the Zhou army only had 50,000, which was like hitting a stone with an egg and a moth to a flame. But he didn’t know that King Wu’s army was a highly trained elite division that fought bravely and tenaciously, while half of his 700,000-strong army were temporarily armed slaves and captives captured from the eastern barbarians, who had been oppressed and abused by King Zhou and hated him to the bone, and who were willing to work for him. So as soon as the two armies met, the slaves turned their spears and surrendered, cooperating with the Zhou army to attack the Shang army, and King Zhou’s so-called 700,000-strong army collapsed in no time. Jiang Shang then commanded the Zhou army and pursued them as far as Chaoge.

After the defeat in Muye, King Zhou fled back to Chaoge and felt that there was no way to return to Heaven, so he ordered people to move all the treasures in his palace to the Deer Terrace and then set fire to himself and died. When the people of Chao Ge heard that King Zhou was dead, they lined up to welcome the Zhou army into the city. When King Wu entered the city and came to the Deer Terrace, he shot three arrows at the corpse of King Zhou and cut off the heads of King Zhou and Daji and hung them under a white flag outside the palace for public display. Two of King Zhou’s favorites, Evil Lai and Fei Zhong, were also beheaded. The people were happy to have the evil men eliminated. From then on, the Shang dynasty, which had lasted for more than 600 years, was completely destroyed by the self-immolation of the evil King Zhou, who was known as King Wu.

The historical fact of King Wu’s conquest of Shang can be proved by the first batch of Li Gui, which is banned from exhibition abroad. The Li Gui, also known as King Wu’s conquest of the Shang, was a sacrificial vessel made by the official name of Li during the reign of King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty, and was unearthed in 1976 in Lintong, Shaanxi Province, being the earliest Western Zhou bronze found. There is an inscription of 4 lines and 32 characters cast on the bottom of the belly of the gui, which reads: King Wu invaded Shang, and the star of the year was in the right place in the early morning on the day of Azi, which was suitable for conquest; eight days after the victory over Shang, on Xinwei, King Wu rewarded “Yousi” Li with copper at the local army station, and Li felt so honored that he cast a treasure vessel with copper to commemorate this event. The historical facts recorded by Li Gui confirm the records of Shang Shu – Mako Oath, Yi Zhou Shu – Shi Pao and other documents.

The Poetic Edda sings of the Battle of Muye: “Wei Shi Shang Fu, when Wei Ying Yang.” In the Battle of Muye, King Wu was the commander-in-chief and Taigongwang was the commander-in-chief, probably holding a military flag with an eagle emblem painted on it, flying with the wind, and the morale was high, so it was called “Muye Ying Yang”.

The destruction of the Shang Dynasty and the establishment of the Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou dynasty was established and its capital was set at Haojing (southwest of Xi’an, Shaanxi). King Wu of Zhou posthumously crowned his father Ji Chang as King Wen and divided up the lords.

Due to excessive hard work, Ji Fa fell ill in the second year after the destruction of Shang. At that time, the world was not yet at peace and the Zhou ministers were worried that Ji Fa’s death would bring turmoil. Ji Fa’s condition was once a little better, but soon deteriorated again. He was worried that his son Ji recited was still young and lacked political experience to take up the important task of managing the world, so he entrusted all the important task of supporting the government to Shu Dan. He died soon afterwards and was named King Wu posthumously.

Major achievements

Enclosing the state and building a nation

After the Battle of Muye, King Wu entered the capital of Shang and divided Shang’s territory into three states: Name, Yong and Wei, with Name being the son of Zhou, Lu Fu (i.e. Wu Geng), while Yong and Wei were managed by King Wu’s brothers Guan Shu Xian and Cai Shu Du respectively, collectively known as the Three Supervisors (one says that Guan Shu supervised Wei, Cai Shu supervised Yong and Huo Shu supervised Jin to monitor Wu Geng). Then he sent troops to conquer the Shang lords who had not yet submitted to him, and it is recorded that 99 countries were conquered and 652 were submitted.

In the fourth year of King Wu’s reign (about 1046 B.C.), after the destruction of Shang, King Wu returned to the west and held a grand ceremony at his newly moved capital, Haojing (i.e., Zongzhou, east of Fengshui, northwest of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province), to officially announce the establishment of the Zhou Dynasty.

After the establishment of the Zhou dynasty, the political situation was quite severe, and King Wu, who ruled such a large area as a “small state” ruler, was worried about the rebellion of the vassals. In order to strengthen the regime and meet the needs of the new situation, King Wu decided to reward the ruling group according to their merits, adjust the internal relations of the ruling group, and implement the feudal political system centering on the Zhou royal family. The main feudal officials were Jiang Tai Gong, Zhou Gong Dan and Zhaogong Shi. In order to control the vast new conquered areas, the early Zhou followed the feudal system of the Shang Dynasty, in which the kings, meritorious officials and nobles of the previous generations were divided into vassals and vassal states were established. There were 71 vassal states, including Lu, Qi, Yan, Wei, Song, Jin and Guo.

The main purpose of this feudal system of King Wu of Zhou was threefold.

Firstly, to pacify the Yin people: King Wu Geng, the son of Zhou, feuded in Yin and set up three states around Yin, namely Huo Shu, Guan Shu and Cai Shu, to keep an eye on Wu Geng. This was a clear move to tell the world that the destruction of Zhou was a way to hang the people and eliminate their sins, but not to destroy Yin and extinguish their sacrifices, so as to pacify the Yin people in the east.

Secondly, the feudal states of Jiao, Zhu, Ji, Chen and Qi were given to the descendants of the ancient emperors who had merited the people, in order to show that the people were encouraged to repay their merits.

These feudal states were used for the development of the region and for the purpose of providing sufficient food and troops.

Patriarchal system

The patriarchal system had its beginnings in the primitive clan period, but it was during the Western Zhou period that the system emerged as a complete system for maintaining relations among the nobility. After King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty destroyed the Shang Dynasty and unified the whole country, a systematic and complete management system was formed under the patriarchal system: “The Son of Heaven established a state, the vassals established families, the ministers set up side chambers, the great officials had two clans, and the soldiers had subordinate sons and daughters”.

The patriarchal system was a system of inheritance of rights according to lineage, which originated from the patriarchal clan patriarchy. The core of the system was the first-born son inheritance system, which was mainly used to distinguish between first-born and second-born, and to establish the inheritance of status and property within the family, to improve and consolidate the feudal system, and to prevent disputes among nobles over the inheritance of power. Because of the right to inherit property within the family, the great patriarchs were respected by the common patriarchs, which is called “respecting the ancestors and honoring the patriarchs”.

The Well Field System

In line with the feudal system in the political organization, the patriarchal system in the social organization, and the ritual and music system in the cultural thought, King Wu of Zhou implemented the Jingtian system in the economic aspect. During the Western Zhou Dynasty, roads and channels were crisscrossed, dividing the land into squares, shaped like the character “well”, hence the name “well field”. The well field belonged to the king of the Zhou Dynasty and was allocated to the common people. The lord was not allowed to buy, sell or transfer the well field, and he had to pay a certain amount of tribute. The lord forced the common people to cultivate the well fields collectively, with the private fields around them and the public fields in the middle. The king of the Zhou Dynasty divided the land among the lords, and the lords gave the land to the vassals, who in turn gave the land to their sons and subordinates. In this way, the king of Zhou effectively controlled the vast land and kept the people in the small farmer economy under the feudal system.

The ancient Chinese well field system is different from the Western manor, accompanied by a correspondingly different political system. In the Western manor system, large tracts of arable land were cultivated cooperatively and communally by peasants, who were attached to the land and were therefore serfs, or slaves. The landowner is the nobleman. In China, the Well Field System divided the land into wells, and the peasants were not attached to the land; although the land was owned by the nobility, the peasants were not serfs, so the political systems in China and the West were naturally different. Therefore, strictly speaking, ancient China did not have a slave society in the strict sense, nor a primitive communist society, but had a short-lived feudal society. After Shang Yang abolished the Well Field System, the political system in China was actually a centralized system based on the county system.

Rites and music of the world

After King Wu of Zhou established the Western Zhou, he initiated a series of unprecedented measures, the core idea of which was “respecting heaven and protecting the people”, and from then on Shaanxi Ji Zhou became the founder of Chinese civilization – the feudal system in political organization, the patriarchal system in social organization, the economic system in The ritual and music system in cultural thought influenced China for more than 3,000 years.

The ritual system of the Zhou dynasty should be called a ritual and music system, which is divided into two parts: ritual and music. The ritual part was mainly about the division of people’s status and social regulation, which eventually formed a hierarchy. The music part was based on the ritual hierarchy and used music to alleviate social conflicts. The former is the basis and premise of all systems, while the latter is the form and guarantee of the system’s operation.

In order to maintain harmony among people in such a society, the rulers used music as a basic way to communicate their emotions through spiritual and cultural appeal, and to resolve all kinds of confrontations and conflicts caused by the hierarchical and orderly rituals. The rulers adopted music as a fundamental way to communicate emotions and to resolve the confrontations and contradictions caused by the hierarchical and orderly rituals.

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