The Slave State of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties

The Earliest Written History

The Shang and Zhou dynasties were the earliest to have a written history. The Shang (c.16th11th century B.C.) lasted over 600 years, with 31 kings belonging to 17 generations. The early Zhou Dynasty is known as Western Zhou because the capital was located in the west. This period (c.mid-11th century to 771 B.C.) lasted more than 290 years, with 12 kings belonging to 11 generations.

It was during these 900 years that historical records became consciously and systematically written instead of being spontaneous and fragmentary. This was made possible by the emergence of two essential conditions, a written script and a calendar, during the Shang Dynasty.

The Shang nobles were superstitious and believed that everything in the world was controlled by gods. They often sought the divine will through oracles and used a method of divination by which a spot on a tortoise shell or an animal bone was heated until it cracked and the oracle was then interpreted on the basis of the pattern of the cracks. This method has been called scapulimancy, since the scapulae or shoulder blades of cattle were often used. In many cases the question and the answer and sometimes the subsequent events were written on the bone or shell and these records are known as oraclebone inscriptions.

Oraclebone inscriptions were first discovered in Xiaotun Village , in the northwest of Anyang County in Henan . People began to collect and identify them in 1899, and there have since been more discoveries. According to preliminary research, these inscriptions contain about4,500 characters, of which some, 1,700 have been deciphered. The written characters were already formed in four different ways; there were pictographs, ideographs, associative compounds and phonetic compounds. A method of “borrowing” was used, that is, a synonym or homonym was adopted to express a different thing. For example, the character lai 来, which gave the image of wheat, was borrowed for a homophonous word meaning “to come”; feng 凤, meaning phoenix, was borrowed to write the wordfeng meaning wind (now written 风). Compared with later Han characters, the oraclebone script was more detailed in making distinctions between animals of different species and sexes. For instance, the character yu 驭, meaning “to drive a chariot”, would take the radical ma 马(horse) or xiang 象 (ele phant), depending on which animal was used. Again, the character mu 牧 (herding) would take the radical 牛 niu (cattle) or 羊 yang(sheep), depending on whether the herd was cattle or sheep. The characters 马ma (horse), 羊 yang (sheep), 豕 shi (pig), 犬 quan (dog) and 鹿 lu (deer) might have additional marks to indicate whether the animal was male or female. The characters 牝 pin and 牡 mu, which at first meant male and female cattle, were later applied to the males and females of all animals. Some of the oraclebone characters did not have a fixed form, such as that for the character 龟 gui (tortoise). The character sometimes depicted the figure of a turtle from the front and sometimes from the side, with or without a tail. In general, however, the oraclebone script is the foundation of later Han characters. Judging from the forms of the oraclebone characters and the grammar of the inscriptions, they must have gone through a rather long period of development, but the origin of this script remains to be ascertained.

The number of characters on any given piece of oracle bone could range from a handful to over a hundred. The actual content of the oracles was related to various activities of the ruling house, indicating the circumstances at the time. As divinations of good or evil, the oraclebone inscriptions are the earliest historical records known to us and are invaluable in a study of the Shang Dynasty.

From these inscriptions we know that the Shang used a lunar cal endar which was combined with the solar year through the addition of an intercalary month, once every few years, to make up the difference between a year of twelve lunar months and a solar year. The number of days in a month was fixed at 30 for a long month and 29 for a short one. The intercalary month was at first added at the end of the year as a 13th month, but later inserted in the middle of the year. Years and months were recorded by numerals in oraclebone inscriptions. Ten characters known as “heavenly stems” and twelve others known as”earthly branches” were used to name the days in a cycle of sixty days. The stems are jia 甲, yi乙 , bing 丙 , ding 丁, wu 戊 , ji 已 , geng 庚 , xin 辛 , ren 壬 , gui 癸 , and the branches are zi 子 , chou 丑 , yin 寅 , mao卯 , chen辰 , si 巳 , wu 午 , wei 未 , shen 申 , you 酉 ,xu 戌 , hai 亥 . Calendarmaking has since gone through many changes and the calculations have become increasingly exact, but the lunar calendar bound to the solar year, and the 60day cycles continued in use for over 3,000 years.

The use of a calendar was of great significance to the develop ment of historical records. Most of the oraclebone inscriptions only recorded the day and not the year or month. Some recorded all three, but with the day preceding the recorded event, followed by the month and then the year. A record of the year alone, however, did not indicate which king’s reign it referred to. Such information has to be sought by other means. In other words, while records of some form did exist, they were incomplete. Only through a study of both written sources and archaeological finds are we able to obtain more comprehensive information on the Shang Dynasty.

The engravings on Shang bronzes are an important form of documentation. A vessel may have one or a few characters, while some late Shang bronzes are inscribed with as many as 45 characters. These inscriptions are generally called jin wen (writings on bronzes) or zhong ding wen (writings on bells and tripods). Up till now, not very many of such inscriptions have been found, but they are a primary source of historical material for the Shang period.

Oraclebone inscriptions of the Zhou Dynasty have been discovered in recent years. The characters are so small that they can only be read with a magnifier. The content of these inscriptions are still under study, but there is a clear increase in writing on bronze vessels from the Zhou period, not only in the number of pieces but in the length of the inscriptions. For example, ling yi, an inscription dating from the early Zhou, has 187 characters; Mao gong ding of the late Zhou has499 characters. A large number of the bronze inscriptions from the Zhou Dynasty had 100300 characters each, and show a wider vo cabulary than the oraclebone inscriptions.

Most of the Zhou Dynasty bronze inscriptions are written in praise of great achievements or to celebrate grants and rewards. De tailed descriptions are often given on military expeditions, the capture of war prisoners, and grants of servants and slaves, land, chariots, horses, banners, dresses, ceremonial vessels, and gold and shell articles. Some famous inscriptions contain data about the scale of warfare and number of servants bestowed; others record the circumstances concerning grants of land and enfeoffment.

The Zhou inscriptions frequently end with the words: “For eternal preservation by our descendants.” This is clearly an expression of hope for the handing down of the inscribed bronzes from generation to generation, and of the fact that the inscriptions were written in a way to suit such a purpose. In other words, they were deliberately written as historical records and, in this sense, represent an advance over the oraclebone texts. Some of the bronzes do not record the time, but there are more bronzes than oracle bones which give years and dates. Unlike the oracle bones, the bronzes indicate the time by using the monthdayyear or yearmonthday sequence, the latter subsequently becoming the common practice in Chinese historical records.

There were also some Shang and Zhou historical records written on bamboo slips or silk. The main part of what has been preserved is contained in the Book of History (Shang Shu) and the Book of Odes(Shijing). The Book of History is a collection of political documents from the Shang, the Westem Zhou and the Spring and Autumn periods. The Book of Odes dates from the Western Zhou and the Spring and Autumn periods. These two works had a farreaching influence on the philosophy, political ideas and literature of later times. From the point of view of historical value, the Book of History has about twenty papers on Shang and Zhou history that are comparatively reliable and more or less contemporaneous with the historical events they covered. These include accounts of historical figures, speeches and events. The way in which the material is presented shows a further step forward in making conscious historical records as compared to the bronze inscriptions. The Book of Odes contains 74 “Lesser Odes”, 31 “Greatex Odes” and 31 “Sacrificial Odes of Zhou”. Most of these odes deal with events, and some with offerings to gods, and they were writter mainly during the Zhou Dynasty. The book also includes 160 “Lessons from the States”, 4 “Praiseodes of Lu” and 5 “Sacrificial Odes of Shang”, most of which were works of later times. The odes throw light on the historical conditions and are highly valuable for an understanding of history.

It can be seen that the various sources for Shang and early Zhou history, whether the oraclebone inscriptions, bronze inscriptions or the Book of History and Book of Odes, all developed independently of each other and do not give a complete year by year record of these periods. The situation started to change towards the end of the Western Zhou. From 841 B.C., the Zhou royal house began to keep annals, and some vassal states did the same about this time. Henceforth China had historical records for each year. Thus the year 841 B.C. marked the beginning of conscious, systematic records.

Although historical records of the Shang and Western Zhou are still rather inadequate to help us understand the history of this period, they nevertheless free us from dependence on legends.

The Slave-owning Shang Dynasty

According to legend the Shang Dynasty traced its origin to al ancient tribe on the lower reaches of the Huanghe River . As stated in the previous chapter, the founder of the Shang Dynasty, Xie, had assisted Yu in harnessing rivers. The legendary accounts tell us that Xie was also an official in charge of education during the reign of Shun This may be attributable to the fact that the Shang tribe had a relatively high cultural level.

The Shang moved its centre of activities five times under the three kings from Xie to Xiang Tu, and three times after Xiang Tu, during the eleven generations from Chang Ruo to Tang. These moves occurred mainly along the Huanghe River in presentday Shandong and Henan provinces.

Shang rule became powerful under Xiang Tu, its influence extending eastward to Mount Tai and north to the coast of Bohai Sea. It grew still stronger under Tang, who was also called Tai Yi.

State organization already existed under Tang. He had two men, Yi Yin and Zhong Hui, as his ministers, both known as capable offi cials. At that time Jie, the ruler of the Xia Dynasty, was opposed by the people. From Bo, a place south of presentday Caoxian in Shan dong, Tang launched attacks against Xia rule. He first conquered a dozen nearby tribes and small states and then started an expedition against the Xia king, Jie. He issued a proclamation denouncing Jie for his misrule and the harm he had done to the people’s productive pursuits. He said that the house of Xia had committed such crimes that the Lord on High had commanded him to destroy it, and since he feared the Lord on High, he dared not disobey. Tang also told people that they would be richly rewarded if they followed him and succeeded in their godgiven task. If they did not follow him, he would enslave them or kill them and they should not expect to be able to save themselves. Tang’s words show that the soldiers were free men and not slaves but that Tang himself behaved in the manner of a slaveowner. Jie was defeated in a battle fought at Mingtiao (presentday Fengqiu in Henan ) and fled to Nanchao (presentday Chaoxian in Anhui ), where he died. The Xia Dynasty was overthrown, and the Shang Dynasty established, with presentday Shangqiu city in Henan Province as the centre of its activities.

The state power of the Shang Dynasty was exercised by the king and the slaveowning nobility. The king was assisted by ministers and viceministers. Other officials with religious functions were the shamans, the recorders and the diviners. Actually the ministers were also religious officials. Others took charge of military affairs, production, etc. The numerous official posts were mostly hereditary for members of noble families.

The dynasty had a large and powerful army. Oraclebone inscrip tions state that “the king has set up three army units, right, centre and left.” The core of the army consisted of members of the nobility, while the soldiers were mainly commoners. A number of slaves were pressed into service as footsoldiers or for the performance of miscellaneous duties. Sometimes a clan constituted a unit of the army. The oracles record orders for “three clans”, “five clans” or “a clan with many sons” to go to battle. The army was armed with bronze weapons, the commonly used ones being axes, battleaxes, lances, spears, swords, javelins, and bronze battleaxes with iron edges. It was also equipped with bronze helmets and leather shields. In the late Shang, chariots became the principal combat force. Each chariot was drawn by two horses and carried three soldiers clad in armour!one driving, one holding a lance or spear, and the third carrying a bow and arrows; alongside the chariots marched footsoldiers. The number of soldiers in war usually varied from three to five thousand, and could reach thirty thousand. Prisons were set up and punishments were instituted for more than ten different crimes.

The Shang kings claimed that their first ancestor was the son of the Lord on High on whose command the dynasty had been founded. Thus a central element in Shang religion was the identification of the earliest royal ancestor with the supreme god. The Shang kings were born to become masters of the people and became gods after death. While they lived they ruled over the living, and after they died they ruled over the dead. In remote antiquity, the tribal heads who had worked for the good of the people and made contributions to their common cause were venerated as gods. The Shang still regarded their chiefs as gods, but these were gods who stood above the people and ruled them as kings and so were no longer the servants of the people.

The Shang possessed a complete set of instruments of violence and weapons of spiritual control as well as a welldeveloped written language. It was already a slaveowning state of considerable scale but retained a great many customs of primitive society. Special sacrifices were offered to a person’s deceased mother and the heavenly stems were used for the titles of deceased grandmothers. This shows the great respect the Shang people paid to matriarchal authority.

After the death of Tang, as his eldest son Tai Ding had died young, he was succeeded by Tai Ding’s younger brother Wai Bing who was in turn succeeded by another brother, Zhong Ren. A few years later, Tai Ding’s son Tai Jia became the fourth king of Shang. He refused to take the advice of Yi Yin, the prime minister, who then dethroned him, but restored him when he changed for the better a few years later. Another story says that Tai Jia was at first put under house arrest by Yi Yin. He escaped, killed Yi Yin and seized the throne. This restoration marked the beginning of a period of stability under six kings from Tai Jia to Tai Wu.

After Zhong Ding succeeded Tai Wu, struggles for the throne occurred many times, and the internal contentions among the nobility intensified. Misery spread wide among the people, and the dynasty declined. Small states that had submitted to the Shang now renounced their allegiance. Conditions improved somewhat under the rule of King Zu Yi, the fourth successor of Zhong Ding. Oraclebone inscriptions show that sacrifices were offered to three kings together Tiff Yi, Tai Jia and Zu Yi, the last posthumously given the title of Zhong Zong. To honour them, 300 head of cattle and sheep were used in the sacrifices. However, struggles for the throne continued throughout the period from Zhong Ding to Yang Jia.

During the reign of King Pan Geng, the Shang removed its capital to Yin (modern Anyang in Henan), laying a new foundation for Shang rule which from then on was also called the Yin Dynasty (or YinShang). One of the next kings, Wu Ding, is supposed to have spent his early years among the common people and was therefore familiar with their difficulties in making a living. After becoming king he appointed Gan Pan and Fu Yue as ministers and made great efforts to consolidate his rule.

Wu Ding also launched many military expeditions against the surrounding tribes and states. These campaigns centred on present Shanxi , northern Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia . The Tu Fang tribe and another nomadic tribe north of the Hetao (the Yellow River Bend) had joined forces to attack the Shang. For each campaign Wu Ding con scripted three to five thousand men. The more powerful nomadic tribe Gui Fang, which lived in present Shaanxi , Inner Mongolia and further north, resisted the forces of Wu Ding for three years before they were conquered. In the northwest there was also the Qiang Fang tribe against which Wu Ding once employed 13,000 men. In the south he also attacked the Jing Chu people and extended his influence to the Changjiang basin. His reign lasted 59 years and he received the posthumous title of Gao Zong.

Wu Ding was succeeded by Zu Geng and then by Zu Jia. The rulers after Zu Jia were mostly pleasureseeking and paid little attention to state affairs while social contradictions deepened. The last two kings were Di Yi and Di Xin. Di Yi launched many expeditions against the Yi ( Eastern Yi ) tribes between the Changjiang and Huai rivers and was victorious. He moved the capital to Zhaoge, present day Qixian in Henan . Di Xin or Zhou is known in history as an infamous tyrant. He devised many cruel laws and means of torture, op pressing and exploiting the slaves and common people. Building luxurious palaces and gardens, he led a life of debauchery with compan ions from the nobility. By tradition, the old nobles held power in Shang. But by the end of the dynasty, particularly under King Zhou, the centralized autocracy had the effect of setting aside the “elders” and only favouring those congenial to the king. This aggravated the contradictions among the nobility and caused intemal dissension. Zhou also spent nearly a year personally leading a war against the Yi. Although he won a victory after one year’s bitter fighting, he exhaust ed much of the resources of his realm and increased the burdens of the people. The intensification of class contradictions brought about great confusion. Taking advantage of the opportunity, King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty launched an attack and overthrow the Shang Dynasty.

The Social Economy of the Shang Dynasty

Animal husbandry had a long history already in Shang times. In the late Shang period, the number of cattle and sheep used in a single sacrifice might be 300400, sometimes up to a thousand. The oracle bone inscriptions many times mention hunting, e.g., in one hunting trip 384 deer were captured, and hunting was common for quite a long period. The inscriptions also record the kind and sexes of the animals, showing the developed state of animal husbandry.

Agriculture was the principal part of production with many kinds of crops. In the ruins of the Shang capital at Zhengzhou in Henan , remains of rice have been found. In the oraclebone inscriptions we find the names of the main cereals and some other plants, e.g., he 彩, meaning growing grain; shu 呆, sticky millet; su 幌, rice or millet in husk; mai 拓, wheat; ji 陟, millet; mi 致, rice; sang 稗, mulberry; and ma 醍, hemp. In the ruins of Yin at Anyang cellars have been discovered for storing grain. Some of the walls and floors of these cellars had been plastered with a mixture of mud and straw. The character ling 矇 in the oraclebone inscriptions, which means granary, applied to such cellars.

Different kinds of wine were brewed sweet wine was made of rice and fragrant wine was made of black millet. The many wine vessels found in the Yin ruins show that drinking wine was common among the nobility. Wine making and drinking were a result of the advances in agriculture.

Iron had been discovered and was already in use. Ironblade bronze battleaxes of the Shang have been unearthed recently but not iron farm implements. Tools were mainly made of wood or stone, such as wooden spades to dig earth, stone hoes for weeding grass and stone sickles for harvesting. Hundreds of sickles have been found near the royal palace among the Yin ruins, mostly showing signs of having been used. The handicraft tools included the axe, adze, knife, saw, chisel, drill, awl, needle, shovel, etc.!all made of bronze.

Bronze metallurgy was the most highly developed among the handicrafts. Remains of bronze foundries under the direct control of the royal house have been discovered at Zhengzhou , Anyang and other places. The raw material consisted of malachite (copper oxide ore), tin and lead, and charcoal was used for fuel. Pottery moulds were first made, into which molten bronze was poured. The mould was removed after the liquid had cooled off and solidified. The bronze was then decorated by carving to make it more attractive. The famous large rectangular cauldron si mu wu ding can be taken as a representative of the advanced bronze metallurgy of the late Shang. The height is 133 cm to the top of the handles, the opening 110~78 cm, and the weight 875 kgs. The furnace used for smelting bronze was made of red pottery with a thick inside wall and could stand high temperature without breaking. Usually it could only take 12.5 kgs of molten bronze. To make the abovementioned large cauldron, 70-80 furnaces were required. A couple of hundred skilled craftsmen performing different tasks were needed, not including those making the mould and handling transport. Chemical analysis has shown the tripod to contain 84.77 per cent of copper, 11.64 per cent of tin and 2.79 per cent of lead. Separate moulds were made for the ears, the body and the legs, each requiring from two to eight pieces.

Besides the common gray, black and red pottery, there were white and hard pottery and primitive porcelain made of porcelain clay fired in a kiln. These were heated to a high temperature, so that they became hard and did not easily absorb water. The white pottery has a clear pure colour with fine texture and beautiful decorations. The surface has a thin, blue or yellowish green glaze, the body is greyish white, the structure is solid, and the vessels emit a metallic sound when struck. Experimental analysis has shown that the temperature of firing was about 1,200 \ 30oC. The vessels were still quite rough, but may be said to be primitive porcelain.

The Shang people already had linen and silk textiles. On the bronzes, traces of silk fabrics have been found rough silk with plain design and damask with lozenge design.

Cowrie shells and a small number of copper shells have been unearthed from Shang ruins. The oraclebone inscriptions record the acquisition and bestowal of shells. The shell was at first used as an ornament. It began to be used as money with the growth of exchange.

Documents of the early period of the Zhou Dynasty mention traders driving oxcarts carrying goods to distant places. At Zhengzhou and Anyang, hard pottery with impressed design, sea shells, clam shells, whale and tortoise scapulae (used for divination) have been found to have come from far away.

he development of production was closely connected with the advance of scientific knowledge. Astronomy was needed to determine the seasons for farming and animal husbandry. And mathematics and mechanics helped water conservency planning and design and construction in the cities. The oracle-bone inscriptions have records of solar and lunar eclipses and of some constellations and newly discovered stars. The Shang calendar shows the important results of astronomy and mathematics of that time. Numerals from one to ten thousand with a decimal system were used.

Tradition says that Xie, the founder of the Shang royal lineage, worked together with Yu in harnessing the rivers and that Ming, Tang’s ancestor eight generations before, was drowned while doing the same work. In its early period the Shang people had inhabited the lower reaches of the Huanghe River and had much to do with water control. There must have been many records concerning this, but now they are no longer available.

The Shang capital cities were built according to a plan that determined the arrangement of palaces, temples and various workshops. The characteristic of Chinese architecture based on wooden structures had already taken shape. The foundations of the palaces and temples of Yin ruins were generally of pounded earth, one of them as large as 46.7 by 10.7 metres. The remains of the stone or bronze bases of the rows of columns allow us to see the complicated structure of the palaces with heavy gates and compound rooms. These building foundations, with a north-south or eastwest direction, formed groups of mutually compatible structures. Their style and technique exercised a farreaching influence on the architecture of later ages, and the knowledge of applied mechanics was already fairly advanced.

In the relations of production, the Shang Dynasty had entered slave society. The slaves were engaged in farming, domestication of animals and primitive handicrafts, or did household work for slaveowners. The oracle-bone inscriptions record using war prisoners for farming and animal husbandry. There is not much historical material on the actual conditions under the slave system. In the oraclebone inscriptions the character ÖÚzhong, (meaning many people), resembles a picture of three men under the sun and has commonly been interpreted as slaves labouring in the fields. In a large tomb at Wuguan Village at Anyang , which had been twice plundered, 79 skeletons were found, buried with the man the tomb was made for. The other tombs of the Yin ruins also contain the remains of people buried alive with the dead or killed as sacrifices. It is generally explained that these people were slaves. That is more or less guesswork and does not clarify the position of slaves in social production. Not until the Zhou Dynasty did more factual data on the slave system appear.

The Rise of the Zhou and the Establishment of the Slaveowning Zhou Dynasty

The people of Zhou were an ancient tribe on the loess plateau in the middle reaches of the Weishui (the Wei River ). The ruling clan’s family name was Ji. Their earliest ancestor, Qi, was worshipped as the god of agriculture.

Qi lived in Tai, which is said to be present Wugong County in Shaanxi . His great-grandson Gongliu started a settlement in Bin, the area around Binxian and Xunyi counties in Shaanxi . He studied the topography, found the water sources and organized production, developing agriculture and the domestication of animals. Ten generations from Gongliu to Gugong Tanfu lived in Bin. Threatened by the Rong and Di* tribes from the northwest, Gugong Tanfu led his people to Zhouyuan (the Zhou plain) at the foot of Mount Qi (now Qishan County in Shaanxi ). People in his time gave up cave-dwelling and built houses and city walls and began to live in cities called yi, which were administered by officials. Making use of the rich soil of Zhouyuan, the people developed farm production and laid the foundation for the rise of the Zhou. About this time Zhou began to have contacts with the Shang.

Gugong Tanfu was later honoured as Great King. He was suc-ceeded by Ji Li, or King Ji, during whose reign the Zhou state grew strong. In the wars against the Rong Di tribes the captured prisoners
were made slaves. The relations between the Zhou and the Shang became closer; Ji Li married the Shang woman Tai Ren and was re-ceived in court by the Shang king who granted him some land and gave him horses, jade and other valuables. He was also appointed an official in charge of livestock. However, later he was killed by King Wen Ding of the Shang.

Ji Li was succeeded by his son Chang, who later became the celebrated King Wen of the Zhou. Seeing that the Shang king, Zhou, had earned the hatred of the nobility by his efforts to win over and recruit the slaves of certain tribes and states, Chang proposed an agreement among the slaveowners. It authorized searches for escaped slaves, who should be returned to their respective owners and must not be hidden by anyone. This agreement won the support of the nobility and raised King Wen’s prestige among the tribes and states.

He carried out a series of campaigns against hostile tribes and states and subdued them. Then he attacked Chong (now Huxian in Shaanxi ), a powerful state on the Zhou’s eastern border. Chong was friendly to the Shang and was treated as an enemy by the Zhou. With the help of his allies King Wen subdued Chong, capturing many of its people. He then moved his capital to Fengyi (on the west bank of the Feng River in Shaanxi ), ready for eastward expansion. The many riv-ers and rich soil in this area favoured agriculture. In King Wen’s last years, his power extended to the southwestern part of present Shanxi and the western part of present Henan, posing a threat to Zhaoge, the Shang capital.

Ji Fa, King Wen’s son, succeeded as King Wu. He moved the capital to Hao (southwest of present-day Xi’an in Shaanxi ). In the ninth year of his reign when the contradictions in Shang society sharpened, he attacked Shang which had been exhausted in its wars against the Eastern Yi tribes. When his forces reached Mengjin (now Mengxian , Henan ), 800 enfeoffed lords spontaneously joined him, but he did not continue his drive until two years later. Then he advanced eastward with 300 war chariots, a shock brigade of 3,000 men and 45,000 armoured soldiers. The forces of the tribes of the southwest also joined in when he started the campaign against King Zhou of the Shang. At Muye to the southwest of the Shang capital of Zhaoge, he and his men took an oath denouncing King Zhou for failing to offer sacrifices to ancestors and distrusting his kinsmen and for shielding people who had committed crimes and slaves who had escaped from their masters. The Zhou and Shang armies fought a battle at Muye. As the Shang soldiers turned against their ruler, King Wu quickly cap-tured Zhaoge, where the Shang king burnt himself of death.

Having vanquished the Shang, King Wu established the Zhou Dynasty. Among his chief ministers were Dan, the Duke of Zhou; Shi, the Duke of Zhao; and the Venerable Duke Jiang (Lii Shang, also known as Taigong Wang or Jiang Taigong). He enfeoffed Wu Geng, the son of King Zhou of the Shang, at Yin and appointed his own brothers Guan Shu, Cai Shu and Huo Shu to watch over Wu Geng. King Wu died two years later and was succeeded by his young son Song as King Cheng with his uncle, the Duke of Zhou, as regent. Guan Shu and Cai Shu and other nobles were dissatisfied and Wu Geng took this opportunity to rebel against Zhou rule in collaboration with these nobles and some tribes and small states in the east. The Duke of Zhou led his forces in an eastern expedition, crushed the re-bellion in three years, and extended the influence of the Zhou Dynasty to the lower reaches of the Huanghe and Huaihe rivers.

The Zhou capital city, Hao, was far removed from the east where the Duke of Zhou was carrying on his military campaign. Luoyi, now Luoyang city in Henan , was then chosen as the eastern capital and as a strategic centre from which the east could be controlled politically and militarily. Here many people who remained loyal to the Shang were forced to move and troops were stationed to watch them. The new dynasty was stabilized only after the eastern expedition of the Duke of Zhou and the building of the eastern capital.

The Zhou regime was a dictatorship by the slaveowning nobility. It was based on a coalition of the royal clan and other noble clans, with or without the same surname as the royal family, under the supreme authority of the king. In each of the fiefs, power was based on a similar coalition of the ruling family and other noble clans, with or without the same surname, under the supreme authority of the fief holder.

Under Zhou rule there were many fiefdoms, some ruled by clans with the same surname as the royal house and some ruled by clans with other surnames. Of the latter there were those who were related by marriage to the Zhou rulers, leading clans surviving from the Shang period, and also fiefdoms transformed from old tribes. Some had been set up before and were then recognized by the Zhou ruling house; others were established after the reclamation of land and construction of city walls and ancestral temples. The Zhou enfeoffment policy had a positive significance in the development of production. The principal fiefdoms were Jin, Wei and Yan to the north of the Huanghe River , and Xu, Cai, Chen, Song, Cao, Lu and Qi to the south of the river. The state of Wu in the far southeast gradually became important, and so did Qin and Zheng which were established later.

This enfeoffment policy benefited vassals who were related to the royal house in one way or another. It also preserved the power of the noble class which, though unrelated to the new dynasty, did not challenge its authority. In this way the Zhou Dynasty won the general support of the nobility.

At the height of its power, the Zhou domain extended south across the Changjiang River , northeast to present-day Liaoning , west to Gansu , and east to Shandong . In the northeast the Su Shen tribe inhabiting the vast area from the Songhuajiang to the Heilongjiang rivers presented King Wu with an arrow that had a head made of stone and a shaft made of wood. King Wu inscribed some words on the shaft and gave it to the state of Chen which kept it in its treasury down to the Spring and Autumn period. After the successful eastern expedition of the Duke of Zhou, this tribe again sent an emissary to offer congratulations.

The Zhou Dynasty established a patriarchal clan system. Within the clan there was a distinction between major and minor lineages. The king made the eldest son born of his wife heir to the throne this was the major lineage. The other sons born of his wife and of his con-cubines became the heads of minor lineages. The Vassal lords with the royal surname belonged to minor lineages in relation to the king, but in their own states they established the same kind of lineage system with a major lineage and many minor ones. A dafu (great officer) belonged to a minor lineage in relation to the vassal lord, but within his own fief he also maintained a system under which the first son of his wife was his legitimate heir representing the major lineage.

Thus by combining blood relationship with an enfeoffment policy, the nobles bearing the same surname were united. At the same time, the royal house intermarried with the ruling families of the fiefdoms and be- came related to those with different surnames. The king of Zhou of a younger generation called the vassal lords with the same surname paternal uncles and those with different surnames maternal uncles. Such a clan relationship, coupled with intermarriages, strengthened the ties between the royal house and the vassal lords.

Of the various officials under the king the taishi or taibao (prime minister) was the most powerful. There were a minister of civil ad-ministration and land affairs (situ), a minister of military affairs (sima), a minister of construction (sikong), a minister of justice (sikou), and officials in charge of agriculture. Most of the official posts were held by nobles by hereditary right; the fiefs were, of course, also hereditary. The political organization in each fiefdom was similar to that at the royal court.

The king and the vassal lords each had his own armed forces. As in the Shang Dynasty, the main fighting force was composed of soldiers riding in chariots.

To maintain the rule of the dynasty, rites and laws were formulated. Punishments were used to control the slaves and common people while the function of ritual was to maintain the hierarchy within the nobility. Mainly an expression of different political status, the ranks also indicated seniority and the relative position of men and women.

The power of the king was bestowed by Heaven or the Lord on High. Like the Shang, the Zhou Dynasty identified its ancestral god with the supreme god. The Zhou admitted that the Shang kings were the elder sons of the Lord on High, but since they had failed to live up to his expectations, the Lord on High shifted his favour from the east to the west. As the Zhou Dynasty embodied the divine will, it was given supreme power over the human world. But the mandate of Heaven was not permanent; it depended on whether the conduct of posterity met with the approval of Heaven. Here again the ancestral

Economic Development Under Zhou Slavery

The slave system was well developed under Zhou rule. The king, vassals and high officials owned slaves of different status and under different names and forced them to create great wealth for them. The slaveowners held power and were also dominant economically. The common people living in the capital cities were called guo ren, also interpreted as “freemen”. The peasants in rural communes were called ye ren or “people in the fields”.

After the Zhou conquest a large number of the Shang people and their slaves became slaves of the new rulers. Ancient records state that King Wu attacked 99 states, taking prisoner large numbers of people who possibly became slaves. The kings of Zhou conducted expeditions to the east and the south and frequently fought against the Gui Fang tribe in the north. In one battle 13,081 men and many chariots, horses, cattle and sheep were captured. Convicts were another source of slaves. The common people who revolted against the nobles were considered to have “committed crimes” and criminals were often con-verted into slaves and forced to perform all sorts of labour. But they were not necessarily slaves for life, and were generally released after serving their sentences.

Bronze inscriptions record the grants by the Zhou kings and nobles of tens, hundreds or thousands of slave families. One of the char-acteristics of the slave system in ancient China was the organization of the slaves on a family basis, although this was not the case with all slaves. In these inscriptions gifts of slaves are often mentioned along with gifts of all kinds of utensils, money, cattle, horses and land. This shows that slaves were treated in the same way as utensils or animals. They could be bought and sold. According to one inscription, five slaves were worth a horse and a bundle of silk.

There were fewer cases of slaughtering slaves and prisoners of war under Zhou rule than under the Shang, but it was still rather common to bury people alive to accompany the dead, though in smal-ler numbers. This shows that, under the Zhou slave system, production could obviously absorb a greater labour force than under the Shang. In the bronze inscriptions there are many examples of slaves being forced to perform productive labour!mostly farming and in some cases handicraft work.

The royal house was nombinally the owner of all land in the country. The royal domain around the capital was directly owned while the nobles and officials each had his own fief. These fiefs were hereditary and, to a large extent, could be handled freely by their own-ers. The land system was one of ownership by the slave-holding nobility.

A poem from the Zhou Dynasty describes thousands of people working in the fields. The grain of the slave-owner piled high on the farms. The poem says that a thousand granaries and ten thousand bas-kets should be prepared to handled the grain. This is probably a description of a bumper harvest with the slaves working collectively on the land.

Within the rural commune, farmland was periodically distributed on the basis of fertility. An able-bodied peasant could use 100 mu of the best land and 50 mu of fallow; or 100 mu of middle-grade land and 100 mu of fallow; or 100 mu of poor land and 200 mu of fallow. The peasant worked a piece of land distributed to him and let another piece lie fallow. Land was redistributed after several years. Between the fields were irrigation canals along which roads were built. Alt-hough there is no definitive proof, this may have been the farming system that was later referred to as the “well fields” (jingtian 小弥). Eight households are supposed to have cultivated one plot of land each with a common field in the middle. According to one interpreta-tion, the crops from the central field were given to a lord. The charac-ter jing 小, “well”, resembles such a group of nine fields.

The peasant clans lived together in the rural communes. The set-tlements were called yi or she and were surrounded by open fields. They had their own houses, gardens or orchards. Between them there was equality, but the neighbourhood leaders controlled who was joining or leaving these communities. Women were brought together for”making ropes at night”. The peasants were given land by the commune to produce grain, vegetables, fruits, domestic animals, fuel and clothing to support themselves.

Tools for farm production used during the Zhou period were not much different from those of the Shang Dynasty. But production was improved as the slaves and the peasants of the communes had accumulated much experience over a long period. The main method of farming was called ou geng, or “two men working together”. This was probably designed to make deeper ploughing possible. The system of fallow was a progressive development and gradually replaced the slash and burn method. The technique of simple drainage and irrigation was also improved as were weeding, seed breeding and pest con-trol. People grew rice, sorghum, sticky millet, wheat, beans, millet, mulberry, hemp, melons and fruits. There was a greater variety than in the Shang period, covering nearly all the principal crops we have to-day.

Handicrafts continued to develop. After conquering Shang, the Zhou kings sent the “six clans of Yin people” and “seven clans of Yin people” to the states of Lu and Wei, and among these there were ropemakers, makers of two different kinds of vessels and potters as well as makers of flags, horse harnesses, files and axes, fences and mallets. These captured handicraftsmen played an important role in the devel-opment of Zhou handicrafts.

Bronze casting continued to be an important handicraft, especially the building of chariots which were not only a means of con-veyance for the nobility but, more importantly, a kind of military equipment. As more fiefs were estblished, the construction of build-ings also developed.

Zhou handicrafts and trade were mainly controlled by the nobles or officials and served the nobility. The status of the workers and their leaders was inherited. At this time slaves, cattle and horses, arms and jewellery were exchanged through barter, and in the capital there were markets under state control. Cowries were still used as money, with strings of shells as the units of calculation. Metals were also used as means of exchange. Among the common people barter mostly in-volved daily necessities.

The Zhou Dynasty from Prosperity to Decline

After the death of King Wu, the Duke of Zhou was in charge of state affairs for seven years until King Cheng came of age. The four decades under King Cheng and his son King Kang were marked by political stability and economic prosperity.

Under the next rulers, King Zhao and King Mu, the strength of the dynasty was at its height and wars were fought against the peoples of the surrounding areas. These conflicts intensified with the Zhou side enjoying the initiative. King Mu, powerful and ambitious, is said to have toured the regions far out in the west.

After King Mu and throughout the reigns of King Gong, King Yi, King Xiao, King Yi and King Li, the prestige of the dynasty gradually declined and contradictions between the royal house and the people began to surface. King Li exploited the capital residents or freemen more mercilessly than ever and that roused general opposition. His ministers advised him to stop his oppression, but he refused to listen. Instead, he suppressed all public discussion. His tyranny continued for three years; then the capital residents could no longer tolerate it and rose in armed revolt. They attacked the royal palace and forced the king to flee. Then they surrounded the residence of the Duke of Zhao where they had heard that Prince Jing, heir to the throne, was hiding. The Duke made his own son take the place of the prince, thus saving the heir who later became King Xuan.

After King Li had fled, the Duke of Zhou and the Duke of Zhao, descendants of the two mentioned earlier, took charge of the government; this period was called the gonghe. One account says that the man in power was Duke He of the state of Gong, hence the name gonghe. The first year of gonghe was 841 B.C. From that year on, we have accurate dates of recorded Chinese history.

King Li died in Zhi (now Huoxian in Shanxi ) 14 years after his flight. The Dukes of Zhou and Zhao had Prince Jing enthroned as King Xuan. In the first years of his rule severe droughts occurred, but they did not develop into a serious situation. Later King Xuan carried out wars against some neighbouring tribes and states and won some victories, but was defeated in wars against the Jiang Rong tribeI and agaisnt the Tiao Rong and the Ben Rong tribes.2 For a time during King Xuan’s reign there were signs of prosperity. But the contradictions between the Zhou state and the neighbouring peoples and the social contradictions in the Zhou-controlled areas were not resolved. Moreover, continuous wars consumed much of the dynasty’s man-power and material resources.

King You, who succeeded King Xuan, was a stupid, selfindulgent and cruel ruler. The existing contradictions grew worse. As the Book of Odes pointed out: “Some people leisurely stay at home, some work untiringly for the country, some lie in bed doing nothing, some always have to go to war, some drink and make merry, some are fearful of meeting disaster, some talk nonsense or gossip, some have to do all kinds of work.” The struggles between big and small slaveowners became sharper with the small slave-owners complaining: “People have land, you take it away; people own slaves, you seize them!” Uninterrupted famine and severe earthquakes compelled people to leave their homes and wander about. Those who were politically sharp used the earthquakes as a pretext to warn that “high cliffs may turn into deep valleys, while valleys may become hills and moun- tains.” The Zhou Dynasty faced a crisis.

During King You’s reign the neighbouring people made continu-ous attacks. He dismissed Queen Shen and the crown prince Yi Jia and made his favourite concubine Bao Si queen and her son heir to the throne. Marquis Shen, father of Queen Shen, attacked the king in collaboration with the Quan Rong tribe 1 and Lii, Zeng and other states. As the vassals refused to send him reinforcements, King You was killed at the foot of Mount Li. The capital was sacked and its treasures plundered. Under the threat of the Quan Rong and their allies, the Zhou ruler had lost control of the old capital by 771 B.C. In the fol-lowing year King You’s successor, King Ping, moved the capital to Luoyi with the support of some of the nobles and vassals. From this year the dynasty is known as Eastern Zhou. The dynasty’s power and prestige had declined sharply, and history entered a new stage.