The Zhou empire (1046-256 BCE) was amongst the most culturally far-reaching of the beforehand Chinese dynasties and the longest lasting of any kind of in China\"s history, divided into two periods: western Zhou (1046-771 BCE) and also Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE). It complied with the Shang empire (c. 1600-1046 BCE), and also preceded the Qin empire (221-206 BCE, pronounced “chin”) which gave China that name.

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Among the Shang concepts occurred by the Zhou to be the Mandate of sky – the belief in the monarch and also ruling home as divinely appointed – which would inform Chinese politics for centuries afterwards and which the residence of Zhou invoked come depose and replace the Shang.

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The western Zhou period saw the rise of decentralized state v a society hierarchy matching to europe feudalism in i beg your pardon land was owned by a noble, honor-bound to the king who had actually granted it, and was worked by peasants. West Zhou fell just prior to the era known as the Spring and also Autumn period (c. 772-476 BCE), called for the state chronicles of the time (the Spring and also Autumn Annals) and also notable because that its advances in music, poetry, and philosophy, particularly the development of the Confucian, Taoist, Mohist, and also Legalist institutions of thought.

Eastern Zhou moved the resources to Luoyang and continued the western Zhou model but with an ever-increasing break down of the imperial Chinese federal government which caused the insurance claim that the Zhou had actually lost the Mandate that Heaven. The weak of the king\"s position gave rise to the chaotic era known as the Warring States period (c. 481-221 BCE) throughout which the 7 separate claims of China combated each other for supremacy. This duration ended v the win of the state of Qin end the others and the facility of the Qin dynasty which tried come erase the accomplishments of the Zhou in order to create its own primacy.

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The Zhou dynasty made significant cultural contributions to agriculture, education, military organization, Chinese literature, music, thoughtful schools the thought, and social stratification as well as political and spiritual innovations. The structure for numerous of these breakthroughs had to be laid by the Shang Dynasty but the form in i beg your pardon they came to be recognized is entirely credited to the Zhou.

The culture they established and also maintained for virtually 800 years permitted the advance of the arts, metallurgy, and some the the most well known names in Chinese philosophy, among them Confucius, Mencius, Mo Ti, Lao-Tzu, and Sun-Tzu all of whom lived and also wrote throughout the period known as the time of the Hundred schools of Thought throughout which individual philosophers developed their own schools. The contribute of the Zhou Dynasty listed the structure for the development of Chinese society by those that followed, most notably the Han empire (202 BCE-220 CE) i beg your pardon would totally recognize the value of the Zhou Dynasty\"s contributions.

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Fall that the Shang & climb of the Zhou

Prior come the Zhou to be the Shang empire who overthrew the Xia dynasty (c. 2700-1600 BCE), claiming the had come to be tyrannical, and the Shang leader, flavor (dates unknown) then stabilized the an ar and initiated policies encouraging economic and social advances. The Shang make the most of the fertile soil ~ above the financial institutions of the Yellow flow to produce abundant harvests, providing an ext food than required, the excess of which climate went toward trade. The result prosperity allowed for the breakthrough of cities, (some on a huge scale, such together Erligang), arts, and culture.


King tang of Shang
Ma Lin (Public Domain)
The Shang were experienced masons, jewelers, and metallurgists, developing masterpieces in bronze and jade, as well as producing high-quality bolts the silk. They developed a calendar, divination with oracle bones, writing, music and also musical instruments, the concept of ancestor worship, Taoism, and the religious concept that the Mandate of heaven which asserted the monarch ruled by the will of the gods.

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The gods\" approval of a king was evident in the prosperity the the land and the basic well-being of the people. Any decline in either was construed as a sign the king had broken his contract through the gods and should it is in deposed. The last Shang emperor, Zhou (also given as Xin), came to be as tyrannical as the previously Xia kings had been. He was tested by King Wen the Zhou (l. 1152-1056 BCE) and also was toppled by Wen\"s second son, King Wu, who reigned 1046-1043 BCE together the an initial king of the Zhou Dynasty.

Western Zhou

King Wu at an initial followed the paradigm the the Shang in developing a main government top top either side of the Feng River well-known as Fenghao. Wu died shortly afterwards, and also his brother, Dan, the battle each other of Zhou (r. 1042-1035 BCE), took control of the federal government as regent for Wu\"s young son, Cheng (r. 1042-1021 BCE). The duke of Zhou is a legendary character in Chinese background as a poet-warrior and author that the famous book of divination, the I-Ching. He expanded the territories eastward, and also ruled respectfully, abdicating once the boy of Wu came of age and also took the throne together King Cheng the Zhou. No every an ar under Zhou regulate admired your policies, however, and also rebellions transparent the huge realm broke out, inspired by factions wishing to dominance themselves.


Map of western Zhou
Philg88 (CC BY-NC-SA)

A centralized government can not keep the huge territory that had actually been conquered and so the ruling residence sent out trusted generals, family members members, and other noble to establish smaller says which would be loyal to the king. The policy of fengjian (“establishment”) to be instituted i beg your pardon decentralized the government and allotted land to noble who identified the dominance of the Zhou king. The fengjian policy established a feudal system and also social hierarchy which ran, height to bottom:

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Each noble formed his very own separate state v its own legal system, taxation code, currency, and militia. They payment homage and taxes come the Zhou king and detailed him with soldiers once necessary. In stimulate to combine the king\"s position, the Mandate the Heaven concept was more totally developed. The king made sacrifices at the resources on instead of of the people and the world honored him v their loyalty and service.

This was among the few times in China\"s history that the upper & lower classes worked together because that the greater typical good.

The fengjian policy was therefore successful, creating such abundance of crops, the the result prosperity validated the Zhou as possessing the Mandate of Heaven. The wide range that was generated urged the so-called well-field system which divided lands in between those grew for nobility and also the king, and those functioned by and for the peasantry. This was among the couple of times in China\"s history that the upper and lower classes functioned together for the greater usual good.

The Zhou culture, naturally, flourished with this sort of cooperation. Functions in copper became much more sophisticated and also the metallurgy the the Shang, overall, was boosted upon. Chinese writing was codified and literature developed, as evidenced in the work well-known as Shijing (the Book that Songs, created 11th-7th centuries BCE), one of the Five classics of Chinese literature. The poems that the Shijing would have been sung at court and were assumed to encourage building behavior and also compassion because that members of every social classes.

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This time of prosperity and relative peace, however, could not last. Scholar Patricia Buckley Ebrey comments:

The decentralized dominion of the western Zhou had actually from the start carried within it the risk that the local lords would become so powerful that they would certainly no longer respond come the commands of the king. Together generations passed and ties of loyalty and also kinship grew more distant, this undoubtedly happened. In 771 BCE, the Zhou king was killed by one alliance . (38)

Western Zhou fell when invasions, most likely by the peoples known as the Xirong (or Rong), more destabilized the region. The nobility moved the funding to Luoyang in the east which provides the next period of Zhou history its name of east Zhou.

Eastern Zhou

By all accounts, the era of eastern Zhou was chaotic and also violent yet managed to develop literary, artistic, and philosophical works of startling originality and also substance. The Spring and also Autumn period which starts the era of east Zhou still retained some of the courtesy and also decorum of the job of western Zhou yet that would certainly not last for long. The separate states – Chu, Han, Qi, Qin, Wei, Yan, and also Zhao - all had much more power than the Zhou at Luoyang at this time. Also so, it to be still believed that the Zhou hosted the Mandate that Heaven and also so every state tried come prove themselves the Zhou successor.

In the early years that the Spring and Autumn Period, chivalry in fight was tho observed and also all 7 states supplied the exact same tactics bring about a collection of stalemates since, whenever one engaged with an additional in battle, neither might gain one advantage. In time, this repetition of look at endless, and fully futile, warfare ended up being simply the way of life for the people of China during the era currently referred to together the Warring claims Period. The famed work The art of War through Sun-Tzu (l. C. 500 BCE) to be written during this time, record precepts and tactics one can use to gain advantage over an opponent, win the war, and also establish peace.


How widely review The art of War was currently is unknown yet Sun-Tzu was not the just one who tried to finish the violence with stratagems. The pacifist theorist Mo Ti (also given as Mot Tzu, l. 470-291 BCE) visited each state, providing his expertise in increase a city\"s defenses and also offensive techniques in battle. His idea to be to provide each state with precisely the exact same advantages, neutralizing all, in the hope that they would realize the futility of additional warfare and declare peace. His plan failed, however, due to the fact that each state, like a die-hard gambler, thought that their following offensive would an outcome in the big win.

A Qin statesman named Shang Yang (d. 338 BCE), adhering to Sun-Tzu\"s lead, promoted for total war, without regard to the old regulations of chivalry, and also stressed the goal of win by any means at one\"s disposal. Shang Yang\"s ideology was adopted by King Ying Zheng of Qin who undertook a brutal project of carnage, beat the various other states, and established himself together Shi Huangdi, the an initial Chinese emperor. The Zhou empire had fallen, and also the Qin empire now started its power over China.

Zhou Contributions

The Qin would undo numerous of the developments of the Zhou but could not completely rewrite history. In the same means the Zhou had attracted on the success of the Shang, therefore the Qin did with the Zhou. The Zhou\"s advances in agriculture, because that example, were kept and also improved upon, notably irrigation techniques, dam building, and also hydraulics which would be instrumental in Shi Huangdi\"s building of the cool Canal.

The use of cavalry and chariots in Chinese war (also initially Shang developments) were further developed by the Zhou and kept by the Qin. The Zhou had brought horsemanship to such a high level that it was considered a form of art and a requisite because that the education and learning of princes. Equines were assumed so important, they to be frequently buried with their masters or sacrificed for the spirituality power and also protection their energy could carry out to the deceased.


The most famous example of this is the tomb of fight it out Jing the Qi (r. 547-490 BCE), discovered in Shandong province in 1964 CE which, despite still not completely excavated presently, is believed to contain the stays of 600 horses sacrificed to accompany the fight it out into the afterlife. All of the states drew on the Zhou understanding of horsemanship and also Ying Zheng, in fact, made full use the the chariot and also cavalry units occurred by the Zhou in subduing the various other states.

The Zhou separation that an military into units, deployed in various directions in battle, was also maintained through the Qin together was Zhou metallurgy. Shi Huangdi made the many of Zhou approaches in metalworking through forcing the subdued says to rotate over their weapons which to be melted down and also turned right into statues celebrate his reign.

The Zhou contributions which to be discarded by the Qin were all in the areas of art and also culture. The Spring and Autumn duration and the time the the Hundred institutions of believed had developed some that the most significant philosophical thinkers in the world. The major schools of believed were founded by Confucius (l. 551-479 BCE) whose well known Confucian precepts proceed to notify Chinese culture, Lao-Tzu (l. C. 500 BCE) who codified and also founded official Taoism, and Han Feizi (l. C. 280-233 BCE), founder of the college of Legalism.


There were additionally many lesser known, but still significant, thinkers such together the sophist Teng Shih (l. C. 500 BCE), the hedonist Yang Zhu (l. 440-360 BCE), and the politician and philosopher Yan Ying (l. 578-500 BCE). Among the best-known later philosophers to be the famed Mencius (also given as Mang-Tze, l. 372-289 BCE) who would codify the functions of Confucius, and Xun Kuang (l. C. 310 - c. 235 BCE) who work, Xunzi, reimagined Confucian ideals through a much more pessimistic, realistic vision. Other than for the legalism of Han Feizi, which the Qin adopted as its nationwide policy, the work-related of every these thinkers was notified destroyed; any kind of which survived had actually been covert by priests and also intellectuals at the risk of your lives.

Zhou musical contributions were likewise undervalued by the Qin, despite they were later on recognized totally by the Han Dynasty. Main to the worths of the Zhou empire were the principles of Li (ritual) and Yue (music and dance), generally given together Li-Yue. Music was considered transformative, as defined by the scholar Johanna Liu:

Since the Zhou Dynasty, music has actually been taken into consideration as one essential subject in the curriculum consisting of four self-controls for cultivating the boy of imperial family and eminent human being from the State come be influential future leaders. In the Book the Rites, it to be said…\"the direction the Music gave all respect to its four subjects that instruction, and also arranged the lessons in them, following very closely the poems, histories, ceremonies, and music the the former kings, in stimulate to finish its scholars.\" (Shen, 65)

Each item of music had a matching dance and also the mix of these was believed to not only boost the ethical character of the individual yet assist in balancing the nature of the cosmos. Confucius thought music come be crucial in cultivating a an excellent character, specifically in a ruler, and that a lover the music would conduct himself, and also his administration, justly.

The book of Rites referenced through Liu is one of the standard Chinese messages which was created during the Zhou Dynasty during the duration of the Hundred schools of thought. The four Books and Five classics – which regulated to survive the book burning the the Qin – ended up being the standard messages for Chinese education. Castle are:

The book of Rites (also well-known as The book of great Learning)The doctrine of the MeanThe Analects that ConfuciusThe works of MenciusThe I-ChingThe standards of PoetryThe standards of RitesThe standards of HistoryThe Spring and Autumn Annals

These works continue to be studied in the current day and also for the same reason: they are thought to not only educate an individual but also elevate the soul and also improve one\"s in its entirety character.


These functions were only made possible by the Zhou breakthrough of writing. The Zhou developed the Shang manuscript Jiaguwen into the Dashuan, Xiaozhuan, and also Lishu script which would lend us to the breakthrough of still others. The Zhou\"s key of ancestor worship motivated the advancement of religious thought and their vision that the Mandate of heaven would proceed to notify Chinese empires going front for countless years.

If the Zhou had only created philosophers such as Confucius and also the others, it would be outstanding enough, however they did far more. In the west Zhou period, they developed a decentralized, however cohesive, state which honored and also inspired the people of all social classes, not just the noble and also wealthy. Lock consistently improved upon what they had inherited from the Shang and also looked because that other methods to make their lives, and others\", better.

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In the eastern Zhou period, also amidst the chaos of consistent warfare, they ongoing to construct art, music, literature, and also philosophy of the greatest quality. The Zhou Dynasty\"s reign of practically 800 years, in fact, was so profoundly prominent at every level of society that even the devastating policies that the Qin could not erase it. After the Qin dropped to the Han Dynasty, the social contributions the the Zhou were revived and, today, are identical from Chinese culture.