The Zhou Conquest
c. 1050-1045 BCE
According to Sima Qian (the Grand
Historian), the last Shang king liked the company of women, drank too
much, enjoyed “depraved songs” with erotic lyrics, and hosted orgies. At
the same time he raised taxes while generally neglecting matters of
state. When some of his subjects objected, he invented a new way of
punishing them, by roasting them on a rack. He turned some of his
critics into mincemeat, others into dried meat strips. He appointed
evil officials, and his good officials drifted away from his palace to
serve the Zhou. ... When
he heard [that the Shang king killed an official by cutting his chest
open while he was alive], the Zhou king (i.e. King Wu) launched his
invasion and defeated the Shang troops, and the last Shang king plunged
to his death in a fire. The Zhou king then impaled the head of the dead
tyrant on a pole for all his vanquished subjects to see. [OE, 43]
King Wu King Cheng The Duke of Zhou
From Hao to Chengzhou
The Mandate of
The following section of the “Shao Announcement” (from the
Book of Documents) is supposed to record the words of the second
Zhou ruler’s uncle, the Duke of Zhou, who served as regent for the young
From Oracle Bones to the Yijing
|Ah! August Heaven, High God [Shangdi;
a.k.a. the Lord on High], has changed his principal son and has revoked
the Mandate of this great state of Yin [a.k.a. Shang]. When a king
receives the Mandate, without limit is the grace thereof, but also
without limit is the anxiety of it. Ah! How can he fail to
be reverently careful!
Heaven has rejected
and ended the Mandate of this great state of Yin. Thus, although
Yin has many former wise kings in Heaven, when their successor kings and
successor people undertook their Mandate, in the end wise and good men
lived in misery. Knowing that they must care for and sustain their
wives and children, they then called out in anguish to Heaven and fled
to places where they could not be caught. Ah! Heaven too
grieved for the people of all the lands, wanting, with affection, in
giving its Mandate to employ those who are deeply committed. The
king should have reverent care for his virtue. ... Let the king reverently
function in his position; he cannot but be reverently careful of his
virtue. We cannot fail to mirror ourselves in the Xia [an earlier
dynasty]; also we cannot fail to mirror ourselves in the Yin. ... We must
not presume to suppose that the Yin received the Mandate of Heaven for a
fixed period of years; we must not presume to suppose that it was not
going to continue. It was because they did not reverently care for
their virtue that they early let their Mandate fall. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 36]
- How did this attempt to justify the Zhou
Conquest change the way that power was legitimized from the previous
Continuity ... and the Seeds of Change
The Shang oracle bones reveal much about the king and
little about his officials or the people who worked the land, while the
gradually expanding source base for the Zhou, biased as it is toward
ritual language, still provides information about a greater variety of
people. Even so, our overriding impression must be of the continuities
between the Shang and the Zhou. Both peoples used oracles constantly.
The Shang king consulted oracle bones for momentous matters of state,
like the launchings of military campaigns, and for personal matters,
like his toothaches. The Zhou kings continued to divine with oracle bones at
the same time they read the hexagrams [of the Yijing] formed by yarrow stalks, and their subjects used oracles to
determine whether they should marry or what the ancestors were saying
during their ceremonies. [OE,
From W. Zhou to Spring & Autumn
In early times
this process [i.e. the use of Yijing
divination] apparently resembled the kind of divination that had been
practiced in the Shang period; over time, however, divination changed
from a method of consulting and influencing ancestors — the “powerful
dead” — to
a method of penetrating moments of the cosmic process to learn how the
Way is configured, what direction it takes at such moments, and what
one’s own place is — and
should be — in the scheme of things. By developing the capacity to
anticipate and accord with change, one could avert wrong decisions,
avoid failure, escape misfortune, and, on the other hand, make right
decisions, achieve success, and garner good fortune. [SCT, 318]
- How might the more “humanistic” emphasis of
the Mandate of Heaven have gradually affected the conceptual
understanding of the divination process during the shift from Oracle
Bone to Yijing divination?
divide the six centuries of warfare (from 770 to 221 B.C.E.) comprising
the Eastern Zhou period into two halves. The first half they call the
Spring and Autumn period (770-481 B.C.E.), after the book entitled The Spring and Autumn Annals. Much of what is known asbout the Spring and Autumn period comes from a book entitled The Commentary of Mr. Zuo, which purports to explain the different events in The Spring and Autumn Annals
and which may have been written down only in the second century B.C.E. ... The
rulers of the different Chinese states, which numbered more than one
hundred at the beginning of The Commentary of Mr. Zuo,
regularly vowed friendship with each other by making blood covenants
before the gods. Just as regularly they violated these pledges so they
could fight to erase a perceived slight, to vanquish a threat to their
homeland, or to resolve a succession dispute. And battle they did. The Commentary of Mr. Zuo
describes over five hundred battles among polities and more than one hundred civil wars
within polities — all in the 259 years between 722 and 463 B.C.E. [OE, 58-9]
rulers rose to prominence during these difficult times. Duke Huan of Qi
(reigned 685-643 B.C.E.) was the first man whom the Zhou king recognized
as lord protector. ... The Commentary of Mr. Zuo
says much more about the second man to gain the title of lord
protector, the ruler Duke Wen of the Jin polity, who was often called
by his nickname Double Ears (Chonger).
... Born to a non-Chinese mother, Double Ears won his father’s realm
after nineteen years in exile and then ruled for only eight,
from 636 to 628 B.C.E. [OE, 58-61]
his travels Double Ears demonstrated the qualities expected of a great
ruler, as shown in his visit to the large kingdom of Chu, south of the
Yangzi. Its ruler invited Double Ears to a banquet, at which he asked
Double Ears what he would do to repay his host if he regained the
territory of Jin, which had been his father’s realm. Double Ears
due to your kind assistance, I am able to return to Jin, and if Jin and
Chu should take up arms and meet on the plain of battle, then for your
sake I will withdraw my forces for a distance of three days’ march. If,
having done that, you fail to command your troops to withdraw .... I
will go round and round with you!|
Of course, the promise returned to haunt Double Ears, but his willingness to make it shows him to be a true leader. ...
In 632 B.C.E. he faced his first real test when his forces went into
battle at Chengpu against those of Chu. ... Double Ears honored his
earlier promise by ordering his forces to withdraw — to the dismay of his
own officers. Yet, after the agreed-upon three days had passed, the
tenacious Chu general still wanted to fight the Jin troops. ... Although
the battle occurred on schedule the next day at Chengpu, the Jin troops
staged a retreat, which tricked the Chu forces into attacking. They
suffered a stunning loss. Even though Double Ears had shown himself to
be the most powerful ruler within the central states, he still recognized the Zhou ruler as his superior. The Zhou
king in turn named him lord
protector and awarded him various insignia appropriate to his new
rank. [OE, 63-4]The reign of Double Ears (636-628 B.C.E.) marked the end
of an era. ... A
dramatic change in warfare occurred in the sixth century in both
ancient Greece and ancient China. In both societies, chariot warfare
led by aristocrats gave way to infantry battles, in which common
farmers fought. This change in warfare reflected a political shift. ...
The shift from chariot warfare to infantry, with the accompanying
increases in army size, created a demand for a new type of general.
Rulers could not allow men to lead their troops simply because their
fathers had been commanders before them. Instead, they sought expert
generals who knew how to fight. They believed that the art of war could
be taught, and the first treatises on warfare began to circulate in
this period. The most well known, The Art of War took shape before 481 B.C.E. and is attributed to Sun Wu, a
general who, if he really existed, lived in the late sixth century B.C.E.
... His most radical teaching held that the most successful generals
avoided war when possible:
The art of war — in
a quasi-mystical way — promised to teach students to identify weaknesses
in their enemy and to understand the right moment to attack. [OE, 64-6]
bring the enemy’s army to submit without combat is the highest skill.
Therefore the best is to attack his strategems and deliberations, the
next best is to attack his system of alliances, the next best is to
attack his army, and the worst is to attack his cities. ... Therefore
he who is skilled in the use of armies brings the enemy’s army to
submit and does not engage in combat.|
Deception and ReversalThe military is a way (dao) of deception.
Thus when able, manifest inability. When active, manifest inactivity.
When near, manifest as far. When far, manifest as near.
When he seeks advantage, lure him.
When he is in chaos, take him.
When he is substantial, prepare against him.
When he is strong, avoid him.
Attack where he is unprepared. Emerge where he does not expect.
These are the victories of the military lineage. They cannot be transmitted in advance.
[SCT, 217 (Chapter 1)]
Knowing the other and knowing oneself,In one hundred battles no danger.Not knowing the other and knowing oneself,One victory for one defeat.Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself,In every battle certain danger.[SCT, 218 (Chapter 3)]
The Changing Polity
From Spring & Autumn to Warring States
the beginning of the [Spring & Autumn] period, a hierarchy divided
society into different social strata, with birth determining to which
lineage a man belonged. The lineages of rulers related to the Zhou
kings ranked at the top. Under them were the lineages providing
ministers for those kings and then the lineages of high officers. At
the bottom of the aristocracy were the knights, or “men of service.”
Below them were the laboring peoples. ...
Throughout the period of the Warring States rulers hungered for [the
skill of acumen], and tutors strived to impart it to their students.
Some teachers, like Sunzi, taught the acuity of the battlefield.
Others, like Confucius, despised warfare and sought to teach a different type of skill — one that could be used to reform the world of men. [OE, 59-68]