Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou clan was formed by several small tribes that lived on the banks of the Jinghe and Werhe Rivers (in Shaanxi province) during the later period of Longshan culture. The clan's family name is Ji, and its ancestor's name is Houji, which meant the God of grains. This indicates that the Zhou Clan was apt at farming. Archaeologists call the cultural ruins of this time the early Zhou culture. After several hundred years of growth and development, the Zhou clan gradually became strong and powerful. In the 16th century B.C., Wen Wang's grandfather Danfu led the Zhou Clan to "wade across the Qiju River, climb the Liangshan Mountain and stop at the foot of the Qishan Mountain". The Zhou clan settled down in present day Fufeng and Qishan Counties, Xi'an, Shaanxi, where it established an official ranking system and a governing body. The powerful Shang Dynasty at the time did not underestimate the existence of the Zhou clan. It appointed Wen Wang of Zhou the head of all dukes with the title "Count of the West". The capital of the Zhou Fang state is well-known Zhouyuan City. It’s a tributary state of Shang dynasty. By early 11th century B.C, the Zhou had become powerful. It attacked neighbouring states to expand its territory and moved its capital from Zhouyuan to the western bank of the Feng River in the today's Chang'an County, Xi'an. State Zhou's expansion east brought it into sharp conflict with the Shang Dynasty. Last king of the Shang Dynasty once imprisoned Xi Bochang (King Wen of Zhou) in Youli. Subsequently, King Wen's ministers and subordinates kept presenting tribute of treasure and beautiful women to king of Shang for the release of King Wen of Zhou. Upon returning home, King Wen made speedy preparation to attack the Shang. At this period, Shang fell into a decline, its power gradually diminished. King Wen of Zhou instructed Heir-Prince Ji Fa (King Wu) to commence preparation to overthrow the Shang before his death. After King Wu succeeded to the throne of Zhou, he mobilized a large army to march east and allied with those from various neighbouring states. About in 1046 B.C., the war of Muye took place. King of Shang sent an army of 170,000 soldiers fighted against Zhou, but his army turned against him, show the way for King Wu's forces. The Shang dynasty fled and the king killed himself in Lutai. Thus a new Dynasty, the Zhou, began.
Feng and Hao were the capital cities of the Western Zhou Dynasty. They were also the first national center in the Xi’an area. King Wen (Xi Bo Chang) built Feng as his capital during about 11th century B.C. His son, King Wu built another capital in Hao. The two capitals were separated by the Fenghe River and connected by a bridge. This marked the emergence of the ancient city in Xi'an. The cultural relics on display here were mostly unearthed at present-day southwest of Xi’an, where the capital city of Hao was located. These cultural relics are important material references for the study of the history of Western Zhou Dynasty.

After its establishment, the Western Zhou Dynasty was constantly involved in expansionist wars. The most important state affairs at the time were either sacrificial ceremonies or wars. Sacrificial ceremonies were intended to pray for good luck and wars were intended to conquer territory and capture slave.

King Wu now controlled the area of the former Shang and other small states. But he was confronted by the problem of how to control the large territories in the east. In order to control the newly conquered broad areas, he finally adopted a policy of "feoffing relatives and establishing feudatories to protect the Zhou". He thus granted titles and land to his relatives and meritorious officials to establish fiefs in different areas. Each of these fiefs became a base for governing the people in that area and served as a strategic point of defence for the Zhou Dynasty. They were vassal states. King Wu feoffed Yin Wu Geng (son of King Zhou of the Shang) where the original Shang capital in order to control the Shang people. At the same time he appointed his two brothers Guan and Cai as marquis to watch over Wu Geng. Besides, he enfeoffed the Duke of Zhou (Ji Dan), his brother at Lu, Jiang Shang at Qi, and Duke Zhao at Yan. After King Wu's death, his son succeeded to the throne and became King Cheng. As King Cheng was too young to rule, the Duke of Zhou Ji Dan acted as regent. He established the rule that the King’s eldest son born of his wife should be heir to the throne. Thus the throne was transferred through generations of the oldest son. This was the major lineage. The other sons born of his wife and his concubines became the minor lineages. The vassal lords with the royal surname belonged to minor lineages in relation to the king, but in their own states, established the same kind lineage system as a major lineage and many minor ones. The vassals awarded their land and people to his family and favorites. These people were called Dafu (the title of a senior official), who were in charge of sacrifice, administration or military affairs. Duke of Zhou also helped king Cheng of Zhou to establish a new district-city Loyi near the today’s Luoyang to have the newly conquered territories under rule within a manageable distance. Inscriptions on He Zun unearthed in Baoji (Shangxi province) show us about this. Soon both the luoyi and Haojing became political, military and cultural center of Zhou Dynasty.

As the Duke Dan of Zhou acted as regent, his eldest son Boi Qin got fief as the marquis of Lu. The Qi is the fief of Jiang Shang, The Yan is the fief of the Duke of Zhao, After Wu Geng's rebellion was crushed, and his fief was given to Kangshu, the younger brother of King Wu, who was appointed the marquis of Wei. West of Wei, there was Jin. As well as Song Vassal state. All of these vassal states serving to contain, protect and restrain each other contributed considerably to the political stability in the early years of the Dynasty. During the King Cheng and King Kang’s period, is known in history as "golden Years of Cheng-Kang" It was recorded that "during the reign of Cheng and Kang, criminal laws were shelved for forty years", indicating that there was a stable and peaceful period after King Cheng's crushing of Wu Geng's rebellion.
During the golden period of the Zhou, the domain extended south across the Yangtze River, north to Liaoning, east to the coastal area, and west to Gansu and Qinghai, which was much larger than the domain of Shang. The Zhou established complex state machinery to effectively control the entire country. Criminal laws instituted were more systematic than those of the Shang Dynasty. All land and people were nominally the property of the king of the Zhou. Therefore, when they were feoffed, the king would hold ceremonies. These vassal states had to present themselves to the king at court at regular times. Meanwhile, they had the duty to protect the royal house and to pay tribute and be on active service (including military service). Otherwise, they would be punished for slighting the royal house. However, the lord vassal states often ceded or exchanged land, without the king's permission, their land which gradually became private property. At the same time, the quantity of private farm land kept on increasing because of the constant availability of new land. So, more and more new private land appeared. This resulted in sabotaging the Well-Field system-based public land-ownership system.
During the reign of King Li, conflicts between the royalty and the people began to surface. The tyrannical rule of King Li - exorbitant taxing, oppressing the people, forbidding public discussion of state affairs - at last provoked a people's revolution in 841 B.C., resulting in King Li's flee to Zhi (Huoxian in Shanxi) and Gongbohe acted as regent . This period was called “Gonghe”. The first year of the Gonghe reign (841 B.C.) was the beginning of accurate chronology in Chinese history. King Xuan, having learned from the mistakes of his predecessors, made changes to state policies. To relieve the threat from the Rong Di Tribe, he waged a victorious war against them. Victories were also won in battles against the Jinchu and Huaiyi. Despite these victories, the country was still in turmoil.

At the end period of the Western Zhou Dynasty, what threatened the Zhou most was the Quan Rong in the northwest. The last king, You, was a self-willed, self-indulgent and cruel ruler. He dismissed Queen Shen and crown Prince Yi Jia and made his favorite concubine Bao Si Queen. Queen Shen’s father attacked the king in collaboration with the Quan Rong tribe. As the vassals no longer trusted King You, they refused to send him reinforcements. King You was killed at the foot of Mount Li (present-day Xi'an, Shaanxi province). Western Zhou Dynasty came to end in 770 B.C.

With the help of his vassal states, the son of King You, Yi Jia, took the throne and became King Ping. He removes the capital to Luoyi. The Eastern Zhou Dynast thus began. 


The western Zhou Dynasty represented the highest level of economic development in China's slave society. Agriculture was the main social and economic sector of the time. Land ownership was based on the "nine- square pattern" system, nobles were invested with hereditary titles as well as land along with the slaves working on it. "Nine-square pattern"of farming is in a tract of land was partitioned into nine squares. The eight outer squares were allocated to slaves who had to work thecentral square gratis for their masters.
The Western Zhou achieved further development in social economy. Slaves were exploited in the production of more surplus labour products, spurring the development of the handicraft industry. The bronze industry became more prominent. In addition to the royal bronze workshops, there were also fief-owned ones. Bronze products greatly increased in quantity and became more popular among people. The development of the bronze industry also brought prosperity to other industries. The script became more widely used - in addition to inscription on oracle bones, epigraphs were engraved on thousands of bronze utensils, which recorded all sorts of social events of that time. Remarkable progress was also made in agriculture, animal husbandry, textile, metallurgy, architecture, astronomy, and geography. Smelted iron tools were also found in tombs of late Western Zhou, indicating that the Chinese had mastered the technique of iron smelting before that period.

Science and Technology

During this period, science and technology developed fast. Men were able to produce carts that could point directions. In 776B.C, people observed and recorded in writing a solar eclipse. The written record of the solar eclipse is the earliest and most accurately timed in the world. Mathematics had become one of the six major courses of learning for the nobles. According to historical records, prior to the construction of a city wall, Shi Mimu of the State of Jin would accurately calculate the length, width and height of the wall, the earthwork, stonework and labor for the wall and moat, the distance of travel to and from work for workers from various states, and the amount of food they needed to consume. This fully indicates how developed mathematics was at the time.