Mid 11th century BC - 256 BC, traditionally
the Western Zhou dynasty, ca. 1046 BC1 -
the Eastern Zhou dynasty, 770 BC - 256 BC, in turn divided into:
the Spring and Autumn period, 770 BC - 476 BC
the Warring States period, 475 BC - 221 BC
~~The Zhou Dynasty
late 10th century BC to late 9th century BC - 256 BC) followed the
Shang (Yin) Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty in China. The Zhou
dynasty lasted longer than any other in Chinese history, and the
use of iron was introduced to China during this time.
In the Chinese historical tradition, the rulers of the Zhou displaced
the Yin and legitimized their rule by invoking the Mandate of Heaven,
the notion that the ruler (the "son of heaven") governed
by divine right but that his dethronement would prove that he had
lost the mandate. The Mandate of Heaven established the Zhou's assumed
divine ancestor, the Tian-Huang-Shangdi, above the Shang's divine
ancestor, the Shangdi. The doctrine explained and justified the
demise of the Xia and Shang and at the same time supported the legitimacy
of present and future rulers. The Zhou dynasty was founded by the
Ji family and had its capital at Hao (near the present-day city
of Xi'an). Sharing the language and culture of the Shang (Yin),
the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, gradually
sinicized, that is, extended Shang (Yin) culture through much of
China Proper north of the Yangtze River.
In Western histories, the Zhou period is often described as feudal
because the Zhou's early decentralized rule invites comparison with
medieval rule in Europe. However, historians debate the meaning
of the term feudal; the more appropriate term for the Zhou Dynasty's
political arrangement would be from the Chinese language itself:
the Fengjian system. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively
centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and
economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred
in the later Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control
over local governments and a more routinized agrarian taxation.
In Chinese Marxist histories, the Zhou dynasty marks the beginning
of the feudal phase of Chinese history, a period which is said to
extend to the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911.
Initially the Ji family was able to control the country firmly.
In 771 BC, after King You had replaced his queen with a concubine
Baosi, the capital was then sacked by the joint force of the queen's
father, who was the powerful Marquess of Shen, and the barbarians.
The queen's son Ji Yijiu was proclaimed the new king by the nobles
from the states of Zheng, L¹, Qin and the Marquess of Shen.
The capital was moved eastward in 722 BC to Luoyang in present-day
Because of this shift, historians divide the Zhou era into Western
Zhou from late 10th century BC to late 9th century up until 771
BC and Eastern Zhou from 770 up to 221 BC. The beginning year of
Western Zhou has been disputed - 1122 BC, 1027 BC and other years
within the hundred years from late 12th century BC to late 11th
century BC have been proposed. Chinese historians take 841 BC as
the first year of consecutive annual dating of the history of China,
based on the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian. Eastern
Zhou divides into two subperiods. The first, from 722 to 481 BC,
is called the Spring and Autumn Period, after a famous historical
chronicle of the time; the second is known as the Warring States
With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually
diminished; the fragmentation of the kingdom accelerated. From Ping
Wang onwards, the Zhou kings ruled in name only, with true power
lying in the hands of powerful nobles. Towards the end of the Zhou
Dynasty, the nobles did not even bother to acknowledge the Ji family
symbolically and declared themselves to be kings. They wanted to
be the king of the kings. Finally, the dynasty was obliterated by
Qin Shi Huang's unification of China in 221 BC.
Agriculture in Zhou Dynasty was very intensive and in many cases
directed by the government. All farming lands were owned by nobles,
who then gave their land to their serfs, similar to European feudalism.
For example, a piece of land was divided into nine squares in the
shape of the character jing (®), with the grain from the middle
square taken by the government and that of surrounding squares kept
by individual farmers. This way, the government was able to store
surplus food and distribute them in times of famine or bad harvest.
Some important manufacturing sectors during this period include
bronze making, which was integral in making weapons and farming
tools. Again, these industries were dominated by the nobility who
direct the production of such materials.