Zou Dynesty was also Known as Chou Dynasty, a dynasty that ruled ancient China for some eight centuries, establishing the distinctive political and cultural characteristics that were to be identified with China for the next two millennia. The beginning date of the Zhou has long been debated. Traditionally, it has been given as 1122 BCE, and that date has been successively revised as scholars have uncovered more archaeological evidence. The most recent findings have placed the outright start of the dynasty at 1046 BCE. The dynasty ended in 256 BCE.
Ceremonial bronze gui, late 11th–early 10th century … Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The Zhou coexisted with the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 bce) for many years, living just west of the Shang territory in what is now Shaanxi province. At various times they were a friendly tributary state to the Shang, alternatively warring with them. One of the Zhou ruling houses devised a plan to conquer the Shang, and a decisive battle was fought, probably in the mid-11th century BCE. However, a rebellion broke out before the whole Shang territory could be consolidated by the Zhou. The fighting went on for three years before the rebellion was put down, and finally the Zhou solidified their reign over all of China. An array of feudal states was created within the empire to maintain order and the emperor’s hold on the land. The original Zhou capital had been located near present-day Xi’an in Shaanxi on the Wei River above its confluence with the Huang He (Yellow River). To support the empire in the east and its loyal feudal rulers, an eastern capital was built at Luoyang on the middle reaches of the Huang He.
Chinese bronze zhong
, late Zhou dynasty (c.
Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The stability of that arrangement lasted some 200 years before it began to collapse with the increasing local interests of the 20 or more feudal lords. In the 8th century BCE the political system, which had essentially consisted of a network of extended family, began to weaken seriously. With the decline of the feudal king’s power, de facto power fluctuated among various of the feudal chiefs as they were able to make themselves overlords.
China: The history of the Zhou (1046–256 BCE)
The period before 771 bce is usually known as the Xi (Western) Zhou dynasty, and that from 770 is known as the Dong (Eastern) Zhou dynasty. The Dong Zhou itself is often further subdivided into the Spring and Autumn (Chunqiu) period (770–476 bce), when China consisted of many small squabbling states, and the Warring States (Zhanguo) period (475–221 bce), when the small states consolidated into several larger units, which struggled with one another for mastery. Finally, one of those small kingdoms, Qin (from which derives modern China’s name), succeeded in conquering the rest of the states and establishing the Qin dynasty (221–207 BCE).