The Zhou Dynasty

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The Zhou Dynasty was the longest in Chinese history, lasting 806 years between 1045 – 256 BCE and is generally divided into two periods – Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou. Eastern Zhou is itself divided into two further periods – the Spring and Autumn Periods (770 – 476 BCE) and the Warring States Period (476 – 221 BCE).

The Zhou Dynasty is well-known for its religious and philosophical contributions, as well as its beautiful and highly skilled bronze-ware.

King Wu of Zhou was the first ruler of the Zhou Dynasty, whose overthrew the last king of Shang, Zhou Wenwang. The challenge of establishing the chronology of the early Zhou dynasty, especially the date of the Zhou Conquest of Shang, regularly stimulates the interest of scholars. The establishment of a precise date is particularly hard as research on historical chronology languished from the Tang dynasty until the first half of the present century when both Western and Chinese scholars again took up the question of the historical evidence for the early dynasties.

Chronological research focusing primarily on the Shang inscriptions made it possible to close in on the date of the founding of Zhou from the perspective of the preceding dynasty and pointed strongly toward a date in the middle decades of the eleventh century for the overthrow of Shang (Parkenier, p.358).

During the late Western and early Eastern Zhou periods, members of the Ying clan formed the ruling classes of several small states – such as Jiang, Huang, and Xu – that occupied the lower Yangzi and Huai River valleys. Constant pressure from the Zhou court caused Xu to push south into the lower Huai River valley, and eventually by the mid-seventh century B.C., into the land between the Huai and Yangzi Rivers in southern Anhui and Jiangxi Provinces (So, p.200).

The fall of the Zhou Dynasty can be attributed to a number of different reasons, but one aspect was that from the time of Ping Wang (770 – 720 BCE), the nobles held the real power. After some time, the nobles declared themselves rulers and paid no allegiance to the Ji family. When King Nan of Zhou died, his sons did not take the title of king. Soon after this, the Qin Shi Huang united China into one country.


Pankenier, David (1992) The “Bamboo Annuals” Revisited: Problems of Method in Using the Chronicle as a Source for the Chronology of Early Zhou – Part 1, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Cambridge University Press on behalf of the School of Oriental and African Studies.

So, Jenny F. (1994) An Inscribed Early Eastern Zhou Fou in the Arthur M. Sackler Collection, Artibus Asiae, Artibus Asiae Publishers.


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