King Zhao of Zhou’s three conquests against the barbarians of Chu

King Zhao was the fourth king of the Zhou dynasty, the first three being King Wu, King Cheng and King Kang. Was the ‘Chu’ that King Zhao was invading the ‘son of Chu’ at the time, i.e. the later state of Chu? Many ancient historians believe that King Zhaozhi of Zhou was invading the “son of Chu”, but modern historians have come to the conclusion that he was not invading the “son of Chu”, but the “barbarians of Chu”. In fact, modern historians have argued that it was not the “Chu Tzu” but the “Chu barbarians” who were being conquered by the king.

  At that time, the Chu region was a period of barbarian tribes that often attacked the Zhou dynasty and its neighbouring feudal states, posing a major threat to the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou dynasty implemented a series of strategies, starting with isolation, to crush the barbarian tribal alliances of Chu. At that time, there were two meanings of “Jing Chu”, one being the son of Chu, whose fiefdom was only 50 miles in circumference, and it was not necessary for King Zhao to personally lead six divisions to destroy him. Moreover, when King Zhao was crusading against other tribes, Chu Zi had followed him. At that time, the “Chu barbarians” were concentrated in the Danjiang region in the middle and upper reaches of the Han River and in the Handong region in the lower reaches, the core of which was the “Tonglu Mountain”, now near Daye in Hubei. In ancient times, copper was used to make weapons, agricultural tools and coins, so the area controlled by the barbarian tribes was profitable, which was one of the main objectives of King Zhao’s crusade against the Chu barbarians.

  It has long been established that King Zhao invaded Chu several times, three times in total, but only twice in the Records of the Grand Historian. What is the evidence for the fact that King Zhao’s invasion of Chu was carried out three times?

  It is recorded in the Records of the Grand Historian that King Zhao personally led two crusades, the last of which resulted in the death of his entire army on the way to the invasion. The Book of the Bamboo Chronicle records three invasions in which King Zhao was wiped out. In the sixteenth year of King Zhao of Zhou (985 BC), “when he invaded Chu and waded Han, he encountered a large bull.” In the nineteenth year of King Zhao of Zhou (982 BC), “The heavens were clouds of sun, the pheasants and rabbits were shaken, and six divisions were lost to Han.” The Ancient Bamboo Book of Chronicles records that “In the last year of King Zhao, the night was clear, and the five colours of light penetrated the purple weir, and his king did not return from his southern tour.”

  In the first expedition to Chu, King Zhao himself led his army across the Han River and encountered a rhinoceros, an animal no longer found in China; in the second expedition, Lord Zai and Xin Bo were sent to invade Chu and their army was wiped out at the Han River; in the third expedition, King Zhao himself led his army, which was wiped out and the king died. Here is the Spring and Autumn style of writing, where the failure to return from a southern tour means that King Zhao of Zhou died.

  The Records of the Grand Historian record the two invasions of Chu led by King Zhao himself, while the Chronicle of the Bamboo Book gives a more detailed account. Which is the more accurate one? On 15 December 1976, during the levelling of land in Zhuangbai Brigade, Famen Commune, Fafeng County, Baoji City, Shaanxi Province, members of the commune discovered a cache of bronze artefacts from the Western Zhou period. One of these was a ‘wall plate’, which has an inscription of 284 characters on its base, recording the main historical figures of the ‘Wei family’ during the Western Zhou period. The inscription reads: “King Honglu Zhao, who flogged Jing and Chu extensively, only hunted southwards.”

The Wall Plate

   The eventual destruction of the entire army of King Zhao of Zhou, also written in Spring and Autumn style in later times, proves that both the Records of the Grand Historian and the Bamboo Book Chronicle are accurate, except that the Bamboo Book Chronicle is a little more detailed.

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