King Zhou of Shang

King Zhou (Chinese: 紂王; pinyin: Zhòu Wáng) was the pejorative posthumous name given to Di Xin (Chinese: 帝辛; pinyin: Dì Xīn), the last king of the shang dynasty of ancient China. He is also called Zhou Xin (紂辛; Zhòu Xīn). He may also be referred to by adding "Shang" (商 Shāng) in front of any of his names. Note that Zhou (紂) is a completely different character from the "Zhou" (周) used by the succeeding zhou dynasty. In Chinese, 紂 also refers to a horse crupper, the part of a saddle or harness most likely to be soiled by the horse.

Early reign

In the Records of the Grand Historian, Sima Qian wrote that Di Xin, in the early part of his reign, had abilities which surpassed those of the ordinary man, was quick-witted and quick-tempered. In legend, he was intelligent enough to win all of his arguments, and he was strong enough to hunt wild beasts with his bare hands. He was the younger brother of Wei Zi and Wei Zhong and father of Wu Geng. His father Di Yi had two brothers, Ji Zi and Bi Gan. Di Xin added to the territory of Shang by battling the tribes surrounding it, including the Dongyi to the east.

Late reign

In his later years, Di Xin was given over to drinking, women, sex and a lack of morals, preferring these to the proper governance of the country, and ignored almost all affairs of state. According to Sima Qian, he even hosted festive orgies where many people engage in sex at the same time with his concubines and created songs with crude (erotic) lyrics and poor rhythm. In legends, he is depicted as having come under the influence of his wicked wife Daji, and committing all manner of evil and cruel deeds with her. In fictionalizations, including the novel Fengshen Yanyi, she was said to be possessed by a malevolent fox spirit.

One of the most famous forms of entertainment Zhou enjoyed was the "Wine Pool and Meat Forest" (酒池肉林). A large pool, big enough for several canoes, was constructed on the Palace grounds, with inner linings of polished oval shaped stones from the sea shores. This allowed for the entire pool to be filled with alcohol. A small island was constructed in the middle of the pool, where trees were planted, which had branches made of roasted meat skewers hanging over the pool. This allowed Zhou and his friends and concubines to drift on canoes in the pool. When they thirst, they reached down into the pool with their hands and drank the wine. When they hungered, they reached up with their hands to eat the roasted meat. This was considered one of the most famous examples of decadence and corruption of a ruler in Chinese history.

In order to please Daji, he created the "Cannon Burning Punishment" (炮烙之刑). One large hollow bronze cylinder was stuffed with burning charcoal and allowed to burn until red-hot, then prisoners were made to literally hug the cylinder, which resulted in a painful and unsightly death.

Zhou and Daji were known to get highly aroused after watching such victims. Victims ranged from civilians and prisoners to high government officials, including Mei Bo.

In order to fund Zhou's heavy expenses each day, extremely heavy taxes were implemented. The civilians suffered greatly, and lost all hope for the shang dynasty. Zhou's brother Wei Zi tried to persuade him to change, but was rebuked. His uncle Bi Gan similarly remonstrated with him, but Di Xin had his heart ripped out so he could see what the heart of a sage looked like. When his other uncle Ji Zi heard this, he went to remonstrate with the kingly nephew and, feigning madness, was imprisoned.


When zhou dynasty's army, led by the famous Jiang Ziya, defeated the shang dynasty at the Battle of Muye in, Di Xin gathered all his treasures around himself in the Palace, and then set fire to his palace and committed suicide.

The name "Zhou" actually appeared after the death of King Zhou, a posthumous name (although perhaps used furtively by his contemporaries). This name was a representation of his actions of both dishonor and cold-heartedness. King Zhou would go down in history as the worst example of a corrupted king in China.

Events during Di Xin's regime

His given name was Shou (受), he took the throne in the year of Jihai (己亥), and his capital was at Yin (modern day Anyang, Henan Province).

He assigned Jiu (九), Zhou (周) and E (鄂) as his marquesses (侯).

In the 3rd year of his regime, people found a hawk hatched in a sparrow nest at the corner of the city.

In the 4th year of his regime, he searched criminals at Li (黎), and there was a rebellion from the Dongyi.

He created the penalty of Paolao (炮烙), where a person being punished was forced to walk on heated bronze columns.

In the 5th year of his regime, he built the pyramid of Nandan (南单). Wind with heavy dust blew in Hao (亳).

In the 6th year of his regime, Duke Wen of Zhou (a vassal) memorialized (禴) their ancestor at Bi(毕).

In the 9th year of his regime, he sent troops to Yousu (有苏), and captured a very beautiful woman called Daji, Yousu's daughter.

He wrote the article of Qiongshi (琼室), and built the gate of jade (玉门).

In June of 10th year of his regime, he hunted in the west suburbs.

In the 17th year of his regime, his vassal Zhou sent troops to Qu (翟).

In the winter, he swam at Qi (淇). (He saw an old man who was afraid of the cold water, his retinue told him this was because the old man's bone marrow was not full inside, so he cut the old man's bone open to see. )

In the spring of 21st year of his regime, many his vassals visited another vassal, Zhou. Boyi (伯夷) and Shuqi (叔齐) went to Zhou from Guzhu (孤竹).

In the winter of 22nd year of his regime, he searched for criminals at Wei (渭).

In the 23rd year of his regime, he imprisoned the Duke Wen of Zhou (a vassal) at Jiuli (羑里).

In the 29th year of his regime, Duke Wen of Zhou was released and returned to Cheng (程).

In the 30th year of his regime, Duke Wen led many vassals came and worship him.

In the 31st year of his regime, Duke Wen training his troops at Bi (毕) and met Jiang Ziya as prime minister.

Five stars showed in the sky together. Red birds gathered at Zhou's palace.

The Mi (密) tribe invaded Ruan (阮), Zhou sent troops to fight Mi.

In the 33rd year of his regime, the Mi tribe surrendered, and Zhou moved their capital to Cheng (程).

King Di Xin rewarded Zhou, and gave bows, arrows and axes to Zhou, and commissioned Zhou to fight for Shang.

In the 34th year of his regime, the Zhou army conquered Zhe (耆) and Er (邘), then started to fight Chong (崇). Chong surrendered.

In December, the Kun Barbarians (昆夷) invaded Zhou.

In the 35th year of his regime, Zhou faced serious famine because of crop failure.

Zhou moved their capital to Fēngjīng.

In the 36th year of his regime all the vassals of Shang gathered in Zhou, and started to sent troops to Kun.

Duke Wen of Zhou ordered his son Ji Fa (姬发) to encamp their army at Gao (镐).

In the 37th year of his regime, he wrote the poem "Piyong" (辟雍).

In the 39th year of his regime, the minister of Shang, Xinjia (辛甲) escaped Shang and ran to Zhou.

In the 40th year of his regime, he wrote the poem "Lingtai" (灵台).

Di Xin sent Jiao Ge (胶鬲) to ask for the Jade Book (玉版) from Zhou.

In the 41st year of his regime, Duke Wen of Zhou died, Ji Fa succeeded him as Duke Wu.

In the 42nd year of his regime, Duke Wu of Zhou gave the book of Dan (丹书) (a book of Art of Ruling by Huang Di) to Jiang Ziya.

In the spring of 43rd year of his regime, he inspected his army.

There were landslides at the mountain of Yao.

In the 44th year of his regime Duke Wu of Zhou sent troop to Li (黎).

In the 47th year of his regime the minister of Shang, Xiangzhi (向挚) ran to Zhou.

On the day Wuzi (戊子) November of 51st year of his regime, Zhou army passed Mengjin (孟津).

Di Xin imprisoned Jizi, killed minister Bi Gan, minister Weizi (微子) ran to Zhou.

In the 52nd year of his regime, year of Gengyan (庚寅), Zhou started fighting Shang.

In autumn, the army reached Xianyuan (鲜原).

In December, the vassals of Yong (庸), Shu, Qiang (羌), State (髳), Wei, Lu, Peng (彭) and Pu (濮) all followed Zhou to fight Shang.

Shang was defeated at the Battle of Muye and the shang dynasty ended.

Mentions in literature and legend

Zhou is mentioned in the Confucian Analects (zizhang); and, also, in the Three Character Classic. Zhou is also one of the main subjects of Fengshen Yanyi, as mentioned above, together with representation in various derived popular media. Thus, Di Xin, also known as Zhou, has served as a (negative) exemplar of Confucian principles (presented as the bad ruler who justifies regime change according to the Mandate of Heaven), as well as becoming an icon of popular culture. This makes for a biographically interesting figure, but one challenging a clear distinction between history, legend, and philosophical point-making.

In Fengshen Yanyi, Zhou visits Goddess Nüwa's temple and offends the Goddess with his lustrous comments on her beauty. Being offended, Nüwa decides that shang dynasty should end and sends her three subordinates to become three beautiful women (including Daji) to bewitch Zhou. Under the influence of these women, Zhou becomes a ruthless king, loses the support of people and makes his downfall.

Last update 19-06-2012

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