- The Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE) was the longest-lasting of ancient China’s dynasties. It followed the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) and it finished when the army of the state of Qin captured the city of Chengzhou in 256 BCE. The long history of the Zhou Dynasty is normally divided in two different periods: Western Zhou (1046-771 BCE) and Eastern Zhou (770-256 BCE), so-called following the move of the Zhou capital eastwards where it was safer from invasion. ( source: https://www.ancient.eu/Zhou_Dynasty/ )
- For more than two centuries, the Zhou dynasty seemed to enjoy heaven’s blessing. The kingdom expanded to cover a vast area, from well north of the Yellow river to the south of the Yangtze river. The Zhou led a rebellion against the Shang at around 1100 B.C. and founded the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou rulers claimed that they had a mandate from heaven to govern China as long as they did so wisely and justly.
The Zhou dynasty was divided into 2 periods:
- The Zhou Dynasty was never a wholly unified realm. The Zhou court extended its power over the eastern plain by granting authority to members of the royal family and in some cases to favoured adherents, who established walled forts supported by garrison troops among the original habitants of the east. In some cases, local chiefs were accepted as Zhou supporters. Hence, there came into existence a network of city-states on the plain, from which military and political control spread over the surrounding farming villages. Any local leader who challenged the Zhou order was quickly punished by the army and the regional delegates were closely watched.
- During the Western Zhou period, goods circulated mostly through tribute and gift rather than trade, cities were noble fortresses, artisans were a hereditary caste of serfs attached to states or courts, and ministers and court members were chosen based on birth rather than talent. Battles between regional leaders were relatively short and, for the nobles, restrained by a code of chivalry. (source: https://www.ancient.eu/Zhou_Dynasty/)
- After the barbarian invasion drove the Zhou rulers eastwards, the state of Qin became responsible for guarding the western frontier and they gradually moved eastward and eventually occupied the original Zhou domains. Thus the Qin became a close ally to the Zhou and they also had marriage relations with the Zhou ruling class. The city states slowly emerged as powerful independent fiefs and the real Zhou power disintegrated. The states located on the peripheries grew into major territorial powers, and its rulers normally had greater military and economic strength than the king, who was now dependent on a small royal domain around Luoyang. By 700 BCE, the state of Qin in the west, Jin in the north, Qi in the east and Chu in the south were the main centres of power in China. The royal Zhou domain on the central Yellow River plain was powerless in comparison to the peripheric realms.
- As a result of this growing conflict, rulers could no longer afford to hire their ministers on the basis of birth as talent become far more important. Trade expanded, money and goods circulated mostly through commerce, and rich merchants sometimes won high office. Thinkers competed for the ruler’s patronage, moving from one court to the other explaining their social, economic, military and political views in search for employment. The main intellectual focus was practical political and social concerns while metaphysical speculations remained secondary. Arts and philosophy flourished in China like never before: Thinkers belonging to the diverse Hundred Schools of thought developed many different ideological traditions. (source: https://www.ancient.eu/Zhou_Dynasty/)
- The Eastern Zhou rulers had even less authority over the local rulers than their Western Zhou predecessors. As the kingdom slowly fragmented into rival states, some people longed for the return of strong rulers who would govern China.