The Chinese Emperors

Zhou dynasty












Zhou Dynasty
The History of Zhou Dynasty

Mid 11th century BC - 256 BC, traditionally divided into:

the Western Zhou dynasty, ca. 1046 BC1 - 771 BC
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 Henan Province.

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 Period.

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.

The Kings of Zhou Dynasty
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