Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou, or Chou, dynasty, was founded by the Ji family of China on or about 1040 B.C. In time, the Zhou, following the Mandate of Heaven and believing they were more morally responsible than the Shang, were able to overthrow the Shang dynasty.

The Zhou nomadic tribe had served as vassals to the Shang, adopting many of their customs and traditions. They spread this culture throughout China and north of the Yangtze River by conquest and colonization.

The Zhou dynasty is divided into two periods, the Western Zhou which existed from the takeover of the Shang until approximately 771 B.C. and the Eastern Zhou. Barbarians from the north forced the king?s son to move further east from Xi?an to establish a new capital in Loyang and form the Eastern Zhou.

The Eastern Zhou was further divided into two time periods, the Spring and Autumn period from 770 to 446 B.C., and the Warring States period. The Spring and Autumn period was named after the Spring and Autumn Annals adapted by Confucius.

There were over 150 kingdoms at one time that existed during the Spring and Autumn period. This was a period of constant conflict and warfare between the feudal lords, resulting in a gradual loss of power by the ruling family.

The Warring States period of the Zhou dynasty is aptly named due to the ongoing battles among the states of China from 475 B.C. to 221 B.C. The feudal lords of the Warring States continued to take advantage of the weakened Eastern Zhou after its earlier defeat by the barbarians.

The armies of the Zhou were the first to use men on horseback and chariots in warfare. The Zhou wars progressed from a respectful form of fighting by the upper class to a more brutal form of warfare that was fought by thousands of peasant foot soldiers.

Great clay walls were built around the city-states for protection from the invaders and barbarians from the north. Many of these walls were later joined to form the Great Wall of China that exists today.

Feudalism, similar to the medieval period of European history, existed within the Zhou dynasty. Farms were controlled by the nobles and divided among the serfs or vassals. A portion of the land was taken by the government and the products were stored as surplus in times of famine or poor harvests.

The time period of the Warring States, often referred to as the One Hundred Schools period, was a classical age showing remarkable advances in culture and philosophy. It was a time of many schools of thought, such as Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism.

Advancements in culture by the Zhou dynasty were evident in their intricate bronze weapons and vessels for worship. Huge clay pyramids were built for the ancestors as the practice of divination was adopted from the Shang dynasty.

During the Warring States time period, laws were written, prose and poetry were created, and the economy grew rapidly as iron was introduced to replace the primitive tools used for farming by earlier dynasties.

The Eastern Zhou dynasty is credited with the evolution of writing in the development of an ancient form of script that replaced the earlier bronze inscriptions of the Western Zhou.

Zhou kings were eventually overthrown and the Zhou dynasty in China was replaced in 221 B.C., with the Qui dynasty. The Qui succeeded in unifying the fragmented kingdoms of the Zhou city-states.

The Zhou dynasty reigned for the longest period in the history of China. Much of their remarkable culture remains including the concept of irrigation, the use of paint and chopsticks, copper coins, iron tools, and the importance of trade.