King Xuan of Zhou

King Xuan of Zhou, surnamed Ji , was a native of Haojing (present-day Xi’an, Shaanxi Province). He was the eleventh monarch of the Western Zhou Dynasty (reigned 827-782 BC), and the son of King Li of the Zhou Dynasty, Ji Hu.
He reigned from 827 to 782 BC and was the son of King Li of Zhou, Ji Hu.

After succeeding to the throne, King Xuan of Zhou appointed Duke Zhaomu, Fang Shu, Yin Jifu, Zhong Shanfu, Cheng Bo Huifu, Duke Guo Wen, Shen Bo, Marquis Han, Xian Fu, Zheng Shu and Zhang Zhong to support the government of the dynasty; militarily, with the help of the vassals, he appointed Nan Zhong, Duke Zhaomu, Yin Jifu and Fang Shu to conquer the tribe of long-snout tribe, Xirong, Huaiyi, Xu and Chu one after another. “The reign of King Xuan was marked by a brief recovery. In the later years of his reign, he frequently used foreign troops and suffered successive defeats, losing the battle of Qianmu to Jiang Rong and wiping out the entire southern expedition. His reign was short-lived, as he was arbitrary, did not take advice and killed his ministers indiscriminately. In 782, King Xuan died.



King Xuan was the son of King Li of Zhou. During the reign of King Li, the country was depleted and the treasury was empty due to years of foreign wars. The king appointed the Duke of Rong Yi as a minister and introduced a policy of patenting the mountains, forests, lakes and ponds under the direct control of the emperor, forbidding people to enter the country to earn a living. When the people of the state became very vocal about this, King Li ordered Wei Wu to monitor the slander and forbade the people of the state to talk about state affairs and to kill anyone who violated the law.

In 841 B.C., the people of Zhou were discontented with King Li’s tyranny and gathered in the capital of Zhou (present-day Xi’an, Shaanxi Province) to besiege the palace with weapons and to kill him. King Li fled from his palace and fled along the Wei River to Pig (modern Huozhou, Shanxi). When the people entered the palace, they failed to find King Li and turned to Prince Jing. The king was forced to use his own son as Prince Jing, but they killed his son and he was spared.

After the state had calmed its anger and left, the lords elected Duke Zhaomu and Duke Ding of Zhou to act as the son of Heaven (one says that Gong Bohe acted as the son of Heaven), which is known as “republican administration”.

In 828 BC, King Li of Zhou died in the state of Swine, and Prince Jing grew up in the household of Duke Zhaomu, who was succeeded by Duke Zhaomu, Duke Ding of Zhou and the lords.

Decline and fall

After the reign of King Xuan, the Zhou dynasty was once in a state of “peace in all directions, and the kingdom was settled”. However, the successive wars consumed the country’s strength and exacerbated the social crisis of the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Interference with the Lu administration

In the spring of 817 BC (the eleventh year of King Xuan of the Zhou), the ruler of the state of Lu, Duke Wu of Lu, his eldest son, Duke Zigu, and his younger son, Duke Xuanxu, made a pilgrimage to King Xuan. The king wanted to make him the prince of the state of Lu. However, the king’s advisor, Fan Zhongfu (called Zhong Shanfu), dissuaded him from doing so, saying that it was not in accordance with the old system to abolish the eldest and establish the youngest. In the summer of the same year, Duke Wu of Lu returned to his homeland and died, and Duke Xi succeeded him as Duke Yi of Lu.

In 807 BC (the twenty-first year of King Xuan of Zhou), Bo Yi, son of Duke Zu Zu, and the Lu people attacked and killed Duke Yi of Lu, and Bo Yi was made ruler of Lu.

In 797 BC (the thirty-first year of King Xuan of the Zhou), King Xuan of the Zhou conquered the state of Lu and killed Bo Yu, the abolished Duke of Lu. Fan Muzhong said that Duke Yi’s younger brother, Du Zi Zheng, was a dignified and respectful man who respected the elderly and must follow the rituals of the previous dynasty in administering justice. King Xuan of Zhou then installed the duke as the ruler of the state of Lu at the temple court of King Yi of Zhou, the grandfather of King Xuan of Zhou, as Duke Xiao of Lu. After this incident, the prestige of the Zhou emperor was greatly diminished and the vassals disobeyed the king’s orders.

Repeated defeats

In his later years, King Xuan of Zhou used his troops against his neighbouring tribes, but most of them failed.

In 797 BC (the thirty-first year of King Xuan’s reign), he sent an unsuccessful army to attack the Rong of Taiyuan.

In 793 BC (36th year of the reign of King Xuan), King Xuan sent an army to conquer the Jorong and Ben Rong (southwest of Xia County in Shanxi), but was defeated.

In 790 BC (the 39th year of King Xuan of Zhou), King Xuan of Zhou sent an army to conquer Shen Rong (i.e. the Western Shen State, north of present-day Meili County in Shaanxi Province) and won a victory. In the same year, the Zhou army was defeated by Jiang Rong at the Battle of Qianmu, and the whole of the southern army was wiped out before King Xuan Zhou was able to break out with the help of Amu Father.

Not listening to advice

The rite of passage was originally a ritual led by the head of a village community to plough a collective field before the start of certain agricultural work, and served to encourage collective farming. During the Western Zhou period, the communal fields became the private property of the emperor, the vassals and the nobles, and the rituals became a way for the emperor and his officials to supervise and inspect the cultivation of the commoners and to take possession of the fruits of their labour without compensation. During the reign of King Xuan of Zhou, the rituals were held on less than a thousand mu, and the Duke of Guo advised King Xuan of Zhou, who refused to listen. It is thought that the well field system had been seriously undermined during the reign of King Xuan of Zhou, and that the public land was privatised in large numbers.

After King Xuan of Zhou lost his southern division, he wanted to take a census of the population in Taiyuan to replenish his troops and conscript supplies. Zhong Shanfu argued that since ancient times, the population could be known without a census, as the Emperor could know the number of people by asking the officials, and also by managing the farming industry. There was no need to make a deliberate census of the population. The King of Zhou did not listen to the advice and eventually conducted a census in Taiyuan.


In 782 BC, King Xuan died and was succeeded by his son, King Yi of Zhou, Ji Gongcheng. The cause of death of King Xuan was recorded in many writings as the death of Du Bo on a white horse and white chariot, guarded on the left by Sikong Qi and on the right by Minister Zhu. Du Bo, wearing a red hat, came from the side of the road with a red bow and red arrows, and shot the king in the heart, breaking his spine and killing him by falling on the arrow sac.

Major achievements

When King Xuan succeeded to the throne, the Western Zhou Dynasty under the reign of King Li was in a state of decay and the people were scattered, so King Xuan ordered the restoration of the office, the widespread use of advice, the settlement of the people and the repair of weapons. The Zhou dynasty was restored to its former glory and the lords returned to the throne, and the four barbarians were subdued.


The conquest of the tribe of long-snout

During the reign of King Li of the Zhou Dynasty, the tribe of the long-snout tribe, which was located in the north and north-west of China, sent troops to plunder the area around the capital of the Zhou Dynasty, but was repelled by the minister Duoyou. In June 823 BC (the fifth year of King Xuan’s reign), the tribe again attacked the Western Zhou, with its main force concentrated at Jiaohuo (north-west of present-day Jing Yang in Shaanxi) and its vanguard reaching Jingyang (in present-day Jing Yang in Shaanxi), directly threatening the safety of the capital of Hao and the adjacent capital. With a vanguard of ten Yuan Rong troops, Yin Jifu defeated the tribe at Pang Nga (north-east of Baishui in modern Shaanxi) after a 30-mile day march, and then pursued them to Taiyuan (near Pingliang in modern Gansu). King Xuan sent his troops to Shuofang (the northern border area) to fortify the city and ease the tribe’s threat. In 816, King Xuan sent Guo Jizi Bai to lead an attack on the tribe and defeated them on the northern bank of the Luo River, beheading 500 men and capturing 50 others. When he returned to the court to present the prisoners, he ordered his subordinate Bu Qi to lead a retreat against the tribe and won the battle. After this battle, the Zhou dynasty was relieved of the problem of the tribe and King Xuan held a grand ceremony at the Imperial Temple in honour of Guo Jizibai, rewarding him with horses, bows, arrows, yagis and axes and giving him the power to conquer the barbarians.

The conquest of the Xirong

The Western Rong was a generic term for the western tribes of ancient China that had long threatened the western borders of the Western Zhou Dynasty. During his reign, King Xuan of Zhou ordered the vassals to conquer the Xirong on several occasions. In 825 BC (the third year of King Xuan’s reign), King Xuan appointed Qin Zhong as a great official and ordered him to lead an expedition against the Western Rong. In 823 BC (the fifth year of King Xuan’s reign), Qin Zhong was defeated in battle, and the king summoned his son, Qin Zhong’s five brothers, the Duke of Qin Zhuang, and gave them 7,000 soldiers, ordering them to invade the Western Rong. When he defeated the Xirong, King Xuan of Zhou made him the great governor of Xitui (in present-day Gansu) and granted him the land of Daluo Inqiu (around Lixian in Gansu).

In addition, Jin was also ordered to conquer the Western Rong on several occasions. In 806 BC (the 22nd year of King Xuan of Zhou), the Marquis of Jin led an army to attack the Zuorong (southwest of present-day Xiaxian in Shanxi). In 803 BC (the 25th year of King Xuan of Zhou), he defeated the local Rong tribe at Qianmu (south of present-day Jiexiu, Shanxi). In 791 BC (38th year of King Xuan of Zhou), he defeated the Northern Rong at Fenshui and Xishui again.

The Eastern Conquest of Huaiyi

The Huaiyi, also known as the Southern Huaiyi, Huainanyi or Nanyi, became strong during the reign of King Mu of Zhou and invaded the Yishui and Luoshui valleys several times. During the reign of King Li of the Zhou Dynasty, the ruler of the state of E, who had been the southern barrier of the Western Zhou Dynasty, Ehou Huifang, joined forces with the Huaiyi and Dongyi to attack the Western Zhou Dynasty and penetrated into the Zhou hinterland. The king sent the six divisions of the Western Zhou and the eight divisions of Yin to conquer them, but failed to win. The king sent his subordinate Yu to mobilize 100 chariots, 200 soldiers and 1,000 disciples to fight against the allied forces. King Li and his father, Duke Guo, then conquered the Huaiyis with their own troops in Jiao (south of Huaiyin, Jiangsu province), Jin (south of Baoying, Jiangsu province), Tong (north of Tongcheng, Anhui province) and Yu (southwest of Huoqiu, Anhui province), finally putting down the rebellion. After the battle, the Huaiyis were intimidated by the Zhou Dynasty’s force and submitted slightly.

In 823 BC (the fifth year of King Xuan of the Zhou Dynasty), King Xuan of the Zhou Dynasty ordered Yin Jifu to collect cloth, treasure, grain and labour from the Huaiyis and issued a decree that the Huaiyis should not disturb the local law and order of the market when doing business. When the Huaiyi stopped paying tribute and rebelled again, King Xuan of Zhou ordered Duke Mu to lead an army to conquer them. According to the inscription of Shi Huan Gui, Shi Huan was the general who led the troops of Qi, Qi and Lai and destroyed the four chiefs of the Huaiyi, Ran, Yi, Bell and Da, taking captives, livestock and possessions. After this battle, the Huaiyi were completely subservient to the Western Zhou.

During the Western Zhou Dynasty, the state of Xu was a powerful state in the east, but after successive attacks by the Zhou Dynasty, some of its clans moved south to the Huai River valley and gradually developed into one of the strongest forces among the Huaiyi. During the reign of King Xuan of Zhou, he ordered his minister Nan Zhong and his teacher Huang Fu to reorganise the Saturday division at the temple of Taizu, and then led a large army with his teacher Huang Fu and his horse Cheng Bo Huu Fu to conquer. The army marched east along the Huai River and after a fierce battle, the Zhou army defeated the State of Xu. After the submission of the State of Xu, all the surrounding states and tribes submitted to Zhou. In 810 BC, Nan Zhong sent Koma Father and Gao Father to Huaiyi, and all the states and tribes were ordered to welcome the ambassadors and offer their wealth.

Crushing the state of Chu

The state of Chu, also known as the Jing barbarians, was made a viscount by the emperor of the Zhou Dynasty, but the state rarely paid tribute to the Zhou royal family, and this was compounded by the Zhou Dynasty’s policy of inhibiting the development of the state and discriminating against its rulers. In the eighth month of 823 BC (the fifth year of the reign of King Xuan of the Zhou), King Xuan of the Zhou, with his senior minister Fang Shu as his general, led an attack on the state of Chu with 3,000 chariots and won a great victory. It is estimated that as many as 36,000 troops were used in this invasion of Chu. The bell excavated from the tomb of the Marquis of Jin must have been given to the Marquis of Jin as a trophy of the battle. As a result of these wars, the boundaries and prestige of the Western Zhou were greatly expanded.


The division of vassals

After the subjugation of the state of Chu, King Xuan of Zhou ordered Duke Zhaomu to build a residence, palace, temple and capital at Xieyi (modern Nanyang, Henan Province) and to open up the land there. King Xuan also went to Mui (north-east of Meixian in modern Shaanxi) to honour Shen Bo, giving him a chariot, horses and jade gui and establishing the state of Shen as a military town to appease the south. At the same time, the state of Lu was also re-founded to the west of Shen by King Xuan of Zhou. King Xuan of Zhou also conferred the title of Marquis of Han on Hancheng (in the area from Hejin in Shanxi province to Wanquan in Wanrong county) and established Korea as a military town to appease the north. In 806 BC, King Xuan of Zhou conferred his younger brother You on Zheng (east of Huaxian County in modern Shaanxi) and established the state of Zheng. In addition, King Xuan of Zhou also conferred Zhong Shanfu on Fan (southeast of present-day Chang’an district in Shaanxi) and founded the state of Fan. His son Chang-fu was appointed to Yang (southeast of Hong-dong, Shanxi) and founded the state of Yang.

Other measures

In addition to his military achievements, King Xuan also took some political measures to restore the prestige of the emperor. During his reign, King Xuan ordered the construction of a palace and ordered Zhong Shanfu to build a city in Qi to strengthen the defence of the eastern border. He also followed the example of his ancestors and met with the lords at the eastern capital of Luoyi (modern Luoyang, Henan Province).

This is recorded in The Records of the Grand Historian, Volume 4 – The Fourth Book of the Zhou Dynasty.

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