The reign of King Xuan


The reign of King Xuan refers to the reign of King Xuan of the Zhou Dynasty, who, in order to eliminate the influence of the tyrannical politics of King Li and to ease the unstable situation at home and abroad, appointed ministers such as Duke Zhaomu, Duke Ding of Zhou and Yin Jifu to reorganize the dynastic administration, which led to a temporary revival of the declining royal family of the Zhou Dynasty and greatly enhanced the prestige of the royal family. “The rejuvenation of the Zhou dynasty was a great success.

However, the renaissance did not last long, and in his later years, the state went downhill again.


During the reign of King Li, the land that had been owned by the state was increasingly being converted into private land owned by the nobility, so King Li appointed Duke Guo Changfu and Duke Rong Yi and began to transfer the output of the mountains, forests and ponds to the royal family. This policy was opposed by the general public as it was detrimental to the interests of the common people, but the king refused to listen to them. Finally, after three years, the king fled across the Yellow River to Huo (Huo County, Shanxi) when the angry people of the state attacked the palace. After the king’s flight, the people of the kingdom elected Gong Bo He to be the regent of the king’s administration (it is said that the Duke of Zhou Ding and Zhaomu Gong were both in charge, hence the name Zhou Zhaogu). In the 14th year of the republican administration (827 BC), King Li died. The Duke of Zhou and Duke Zhaogong installed King Li’s Prince Jing as King Xuan.


After his reign, King Xuan learned from the mistakes of his father, King Li, and with the assistance of the Duke of Zhou and Duke Zhaogong, he revived the Zhou dynasty, which had been in a state of decline, by restoring the policies of the reigns of Wen, Wu, Cheng and Kang.

After conquering the Southern Kingdom, King Xuan moved his uncle Shen Bo to Xie (modern Nanyang, Henan Province) in order to consolidate the rule of the Zhou royal family over the southern lands. In the 22nd year of King Xuan (806 BC), he also continued the earlier partition of the Western Zhou, and conferred his brother You on Zheng (east of Huaxian in present-day Shaanxi Province).

King Xuan of the Western Zhou – Guo Jizi Baipan

In terms of internal affairs, the first step was to reform politics, with the Duke of Zhou and the Duke of Zhaogong as his ministers and the appointment of Yin Jifu, Zhong Shanfu and other wise officials, following the political legacy of King Wen, King Wu, King Cheng and King Kang.

King Xuan opened up the way of speech and actively listened to the opinions of his subordinates.

He also warned his officials not to embezzle taxes and fish and flesh from the countryside.

At the same time, discipline was tightened and officials were required to refrain from drinking and causing trouble.

At the same time, it was declared that “no one would be allowed to use a thousand mu”. Before King Xuan, every year at the time of spring ploughing, the Son of Heaven would hold a ritual of ploughing the fields. By the time of King Xuan, the previous method of collective ploughing of the public fields was no longer viable, and the rituals of the paddy fields existed in name only. So King Xuan announced the abolition of this ritual. This measure was a clear indication of a relaxation of control over the mountains, forests, rivers and ponds.

The situation in the country began to improve and the vassals came to see the king, and the prestige of the Zhou Dynasty was restored.


Externally, after the reign of King Xuan of Zhou, in response to the seriousness of the situation, the king sent Nanzhong to strengthen the defence of the tribe by stationing troops in Shuofang, while at the same time he sent Yin Jifu to lead an expedition to Taiyuan (the Loess Plateau in northern Shaanxi and northern Jin).

After the victory, King Xuan sent Fang Shu to lead his troops to the south to conquer Jing and Chu, and he also won some victories.

He then sent Yin Jifu to subdue the Southern Huaiyi by force, who offered tribute and temporarily took control of the south-eastern region, restoring his influence in the south.

To the south of Zongzhou, Qin Zhong was appointed as a great official and ordered him to conquer the Western Rong, but he was killed by the Western Rong. 5 brothers, Zhuang Gong, son of Qin Zhong, were summoned with 7,000 troops to conquer the Western Rong again, which resulted in victory.

Conquering the Xiyi

After the decline of the Zhou dynasty, the surrounding tribes of the Rong and Di were constantly invading the Zhou dynasty, especially the tribe of Tribe and Xirong in the northwest, which were the most threatening tribes. As they were still in the nomadic class, they often threatened the capital, Haojing, directly.

In the fourth year of King Xuan’s reign (824 BC), Qin Zhong, a descendant of Feizi, was appointed as a great official and began a large-scale war of counterattack against the Rong. When Qin Zhong attacked the Western Rong, he was killed. King Xuan then ordered his son, Duke Zhuang of Qin, and his five brothers to invade the Rong and won. In the fifth year of King Xuan’s reign, King Xuan also joined with Yin Jifu to invade the Western Rong at Guna (northwest of Chengcheng in modern Shaanxi). Later, Yin Jifu led his troops to attack the area around Zhen Yuan in Gansu Province, forcing the Western Rong to retreat to the northwest.

At the same time, King Xuan waged a war against the Kaunyu, Kunyi and Tribe. These Rong tribes originally took advantage of the decline of the Zhou dynasty and at one point penetrated deep into the hinterland of the Zhou, forcing the Zhou people, who were used to settling down and farming, to flee in all directions and make life difficult. King Xuan’s war was to expel the tribe to the far north. Afterwards, King Xuan had Nanzhong guard Shuofang so that they would not have the chance to invade the northern border again.

The victory in the war against the Xirong defended the lives and property of the people, and the common people rejoiced, as expressed in the poems ‘Shi Jing – Xiao Ya – Out of the Chariot’ and ‘Shi Jing – Xiao Ya – June’, which express their joy at the victory and their praise of the war heroes.

Conquering the Huaiyis

In response to the Huai-yi, who had invaded the Jianghan region, from the second year of King Xuan (826 BC), King Xuan began to conquer the Huai-yi in the south-east and the Jing barbarians in the south. He ordered Duke Zhaomu, his minister Nanzhong, Master Huangfu and Grand Secretary Cheng Bohuifu to lead an army to conquer the Huaiyis, travelling eastwards along the Huai River and making the most powerful of the large and small Fang states in the region, the State of Xu, to submit and make a pilgrimage to Zhou. During this period, King Xuan also ordered Fang Shu to lead his troops to conquer the Jing Barbarians (i.e. the state of Chu) and Yin Jifu to conquer the Xu Rong. All these battles were fought with great difficulty, and countless battles were fought over a period of more than ten years. In the 18th year of King Xuan’s reign (810 BC), Nan Zhong sent Koma Father and Gao Father to the Huaiyi territory, and all the states met the king’s orders and offered tribute before they were conquered. King Xuan gave these newly conquered territories to the war heroes Zhaomu Gong, Shen Bo and Zhong Shanfu, all of whom are recorded in the poems Jiang Han and Song Gao in the Book of Songs.

Conquest of the Southern Kingdom

In King Xuan’s later years, the frequent use of foreign troops greatly depleted the Zhou court’s fighting strength. In the wars against the Shen Rong, Taiyuan Rong, Jiao Rong and Ben Rong, victory was achieved only against the Shen Rong. In the conquest of Jiang Rong in the 39th year of King Xuan’s reign (789 BC), the two sides fought at Qianmu, with King Xuan calling on the “Southern Division” to take part in the battle, which resulted in the defeat of the Southern Division. The fact that the Zhou dynasty had a strong army of six divisions from the west and eight divisions from the Zhou dynasty, but used the divisions of the southern kingdom in this battle, is a reflection of the shortage of troops.


After the conquest of the southern kingdom, King Xuan moved his uncle Shen Bo to Xie (modern Nanyang, Henan Province) in order to consolidate the rule of the Zhou royal family over the southern land. In the 22nd year of the reign of King Xuan (806 BC), he also continued the earlier feudal divisions of the Western Zhou, and installed his brother You in Zheng (east of Huaxian in modern Shaanxi Province).


Abolition of the rituals of land ownership

Originally, the land was owned by the Zhou dynasty, and the Zhou emperor would subdivide the land into well fields, where the peasants would work. In the spring of each year, the son of the emperor himself would hold a ceremony of naming a thousand mu of land, which meant that the whole country would be mobilised for farming. In the late Western Zhou, however, the original system of state ownership of land was greatly undermined, and not only did the original ‘public’ land become the private property of the nobility, but also the land reclaimed from the wasteland became private. The land was divided up by the nobles and given to the people to cultivate on their own. In the reign of King Li, he resorted to tyranny in order to reclaim the land, and as a result he was driven away. When King Xuan came to the throne, he realised this fact and abolished the annual spring cadastral ceremony. The abolition of this system, which should have been a compulsory practice for the Zhou emperors, was a recognition by King Xuan of private ownership of land, and since private ownership was already a fact, the rituals involved were redundant. The recognition of private ownership of land by King Xuan led to an increase in the people’s motivation to work and to the restoration of agricultural production, which had been destroyed during the reign of King Li. It was in this way that King Xuan had the strength to conquer the tribe and the Western Rong in the north, and the Huaiyi and Jing barbarians in the south, thus leading to the rise of King Xuan. However, King Xuan’s move to comply with the situation was not well understood by the old guard. The defeat of King Xuan at the Battle of Qianmu was blamed on the fact that he was not a member of the Qianmu clan.

Population statistics

After the defeat at the Battle of Thousand Mu, the southern king decided to “count the people in Taiyuan”. This means to count the population. The nobles objected to his decision, and Zhong Shanfu argued that since ancient times, it was not necessary to count the population to know the size of the population. The king’s noblemen objected to this, and Zhong Shanfu argued that since ancient times, it was not necessary to count the population to know the size of the population. King Xuan did not heed his advice, and still conducted the population count. King Xuan’s move increased the state’s control over the population and solved the problem of a shortage of soldiers.

The Crisis after the Revival

The main achievement of King Xuan’s rise to power was his martial success, while political reforms were difficult to achieve due to the strong resistance of the nobility. The work of informing the people had not been completed by the time of his death. In his later years, his ambition for prosperity was greatly diminished, and he often lived in the palace and enjoyed the pleasures of feasting. In his later years, his ambition to rise to power was diminished. The fact that some of the nobles fled when they felt the crisis was approaching is an indication of the contradictions of the ruling class, and when his son, King You, came to the throne, the Zhou court was finally in crisis.


Under the surface of the reign, social tensions continued to develop in the Western Zhou, with some vassals no longer contributing to the defence of the royal family, and some even plotting rebellion.

A bronze vessel of the time, the Yuding, tells us that the former vassal lords of the Zhou dynasty joined forces with the eastern and southern Huaiyis to attack the Zhou royal family and fought until they reached the vicinity of Cheng Zhou.

In 789 B.C., the royal army of the Zhou Dynasty crushed Jiang Rong, but the army was almost lost and King Xuan was nearly captured.

King Xuan rose through the ranks and did achieve some political and military successes.

He won many victories in a series of wars against Yan Yun, Xi Rong, Xu Rong and Jing Chu; but there were also times of defeat.

King Xuan’s repeated levies were opposed by his ministers, and there was a mass exodus of serfs, with some rural areas becoming deer farms and some fields bowing to moss.

In terms of political reform, it was difficult to achieve much due to the strong resistance of the nobility.

The work of informing the people had not been completed by the time of his death.

In his later years, his ambition for prosperity was greatly diminished, and he often lived deep in the palace, craving feasting and pleasure.

He was willing to invade Lu in order to force his favourite Duke of Lu to become king, and this led to discord among the lords of the same name.

The fact that some of the nobles fled when they felt the crisis was approaching is an indication of the sharp contradictions of the ruling class.


After the reign of King Xuan, with the assistance of the Duke of Zhou and the Duke of Zhaogong, the formerly turbulent situation was gradually stabilized through the reorganization of internal affairs.

However, the heavy military and corvée duties increased the burden of the working people and intensified the class conflicts.

So it was not until his son, King You, took the throne that a major crisis finally struck the Zhou dynasty. In the end, it was impossible to conceal the scene of the Western Zhou’s downfall.

The reign of King Xuan of the Western Zhou is historically known as the “Middle Renaissance”, and there are many documents to prove this. However, the scholarly community has been divided on this issue, with different comments.

Some scholars argue that “King Xuan of the Zhou was a visionary and decisive lord”; others point out that “instead of easing social conflicts, the period of King Xuan revealed the weakness of the ruling power”; some history textbooks even conclude that “The so-called ‘Revival of King Xuan’ clearly does not live up to its name”.

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