General Introduction to Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty followed the Shang Dynasty and was followed by the Qin Dynasty in China. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history — though the actual political and military control of China by the dynasty only lasted during the Western Zhou.
During the Zhou Dynasty, the use of iron was introduced to China, while this period of Chinese history produced what many consider the zenith of Chinese bronze-ware making. The dynasty also spans the period in which the written script evolved from the ancient stage as seen in early Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, to the beginnings of the modern stage, in the form of the archaic clerical script that emerged during the late Warring States period. During the Zhou Dynasty, the origins of native Chinese philosophy developed, its initial stages beginning in the 6th century BC. The greatest Chinese philosophers, those who made the greatest impact on later generations of Chinese, were Confucius, founder of Confucianism, and Laozi, founder of Taoism.
Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were Mozi, founder of Mohism, Mencius, a famous Confucian who expanded upon Confucius' legacy, Shang Yang and Han Feizi, responsible for the development of ancient Chinese Legalism (the core philosophy of the Qin Dynasty), and Xunzi, who was arguably the center of ancient Chinese intellectual life during his time, even more so than iconic intellectual figures such as Mencius.
The early Western Zhou supported a strong army split into two major units: "the Six Armies of the west" and "the Eight Armies of Chengzhou". The armies campaigned in the northern Loess Plateau, modern Ningxia and the Yellow River floodplain. The military prowess of Zhou peaked during the 19th year of King Zhao's reign, when the six armies were wiped out along with King Zhao on a campaign around the Han River. Early Zhou kings were true commanders-in-chief.
They were in constant wars with barbarians on behalf of the fiefs called guo, namely, statelet or principality. Charles Hucker noted that Zhou had 14 standing royal armies, with six stationed in Haojing, near present-day Xi'an, and eight armies stationed in the east along with others in the west. King Zhao was famous for repeated campaigns in the Yangtze areas and died in his last action. Later kings' campaigns were less effective. King Li led 14 armies against barbarians in the south but failed to achieve any victory. King Xuan fought the Jiangrong nomads in vain. King You was killed by the Quanrong, and the capital Haojing sacked. Although chariots had been introduced to China since the Shang Dynasty, the Zhou period saw the use of massed chariots in battle, a technology imported from Central Asia.
In the West, the Zhou period is often described as feudal because the Zhou's early rule invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe. However, historians debate whether or not this description is valid; the more appropriate term for the Zhou Dynasty's political arrangement would be from the Chinese language itself: the Feudalism system. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred in the later Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agrarian taxation. Zhou officials were not paid a salary but instead were given semi-regular gifts by the King, which often included land in the Wei River valley. Imperial stability was ensured through marriages between the Zhou court and local lords as well as the installment of Zhou lords into command over distant regions.
Initially the Ji family was able to control the country and the people in it firmly. In 771 BC, after King You had replaced his queen with a concubine Baosi, the capital was sacked by a joint force of the queen's father, who was the powerful Marquess of Shen, and a nomadic tribe, the Quanrong. The queen's son Ji Yijiu was proclaimed the new king by nobles from the states of Zheng, Lu, Qin, Xu and Shen. The capital was moved eastward in 770 BC from Haojing to Luoyang in present-day Henan Province. Because of this shift, historians divide the Zhou era into the Western Zhou , lasting up until 771 BC, and the Eastern Zhou; traditional Chinese: 東周; pinyin: Dōng Zhōu) from 770 up to 256 BC. The beginning year of the Western Zhou has been disputed; 1122 BC, 1027 BC and other years within the hundred years from late 12th century BC to late 11th century BC have been proposed. Chinese historians take 841 BC as the first year of consecutive annual dating of the history of China, based on the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian.
Agriculture in the Zhou Dynasty was very intensive and in many cases directed by the government. All farming lands were owned by nobles, who then gave their land to their serfs, a situation similar to European feudalism. For example, a piece of land was divided into nine squares in the well-field system, with the grain from the middle square taken by the government and that of surrounding squares kept by individual farmers. This way, the government was able to store surplus food and distribute it in times of famine or bad harvest. Some important manufacturing sectors during this period included bronze smelting, which was integral to making weapons and farming tools. Again, these industries were dominated by the nobility who directed the production of such materials.
With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually diminished, and the fragmentation of the kingdom accelerated. From King Ping's reign onwards, the Zhou kings ruled in name only, with true power lying in the hands of powerful nobles. Towards the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the nobles did not even bother to acknowledge the Ji family symbolically, rebelled and declared themselves to be kings. The dynasty was ended in 256 BC, before Qin Shi Huang's unification of China in 221 BC, when the last king of Zhou died and his sons did not proclaim the nominal titles of King of China.