Chou dynasty

The ancient Chinese Chou dynasty administered its territory under a feudal system led by a hereditary king. Political control passed in the second half of the dynasty to the rulers of independent regional governments, who recruited professional civil officials.

Background of Chou dynasty

The Chou dynasty also called Zhou dynasty was the final of three hereditary dynasties that controlled ancient China: the Hsia, Shang, and Chou. The Chou dynasty was China’s longest-running dynasty, lasting nearly a millennium (1122–221 BC).

The Chou dynasty came before the Shang dynasty, while archaeological evidence shows that the two shared certain cultural characteristics and may have coexisted for a period.

The Chou dynasty was created in the eleventh or twelfth century BC, when King Wu Wang (d. 1115 BC), ruler of the western border state of Chou, deposed Chou Hsin (c. 1154-c. 1122 BC), the final Shang king.

Wu defended his attack by declaring that he had a “mandate from god” to save Shang. In actuality, the fragmented governmental structure through which the Shang ruled its lands had likely deteriorated, allowing the Chou to seize the weakening empire.

The advent of the notion of heaven, which the Chou saw as the moral power of the cosmos, signified the shift from Shang to Chou. The belief that the Chou king’s authority was a gift from heaven was central to this worldview.

If the monarch did well, his mandate to govern would be kept, and the kingdom would grow; however, if the king disregarded his responsibilities or acted tyrannically, his mandate would be revoked, and the country would be in disarray. As a result, moral ideals were connected with government behaviour; this concept would be taken up by the philosopher Confucius (551–479 BC).

This governmental framework was evolved by the early Chou monarchs into a more closely knit system of feudalism kept together by familial connections. Kinship and marriage established all links between the monarch and the nobility—every level of the political system was, in essence, an extension of the royal family. By 800 BC, there were about 200 lords in the feudal system.

There are two phases of the Chou dynasty. It is known as the Western Chou from 1122 to 771 BC, and the Eastern Chou from 770 to 221 BC. The latter is further split into two periods: the Spring and Autumn era (770-476 BC) and the Warring States period (770-476 BC) (475–221 BC). Despite its duration, the Chou dynasty was characterized by political turmoil as it transitioned from centralized monarchy to dispersed state power and, eventually, imperial governance.

However, as the Chou expanded their empire, familial connections grew increasingly diffused and provincial lords gained more influence. As a result, the king’s authority began to dwindle. By the eighth century BC, the Chou dynasty was under pressure from non-Chinese people and rebellious nations that it was seeking to subdue, and in 771 BC, the Chou capital of Hao was attacked, thereby ending the Western Chou dynasty and the monarchy’s central authority.

Political unrest and brutality characterized the Eastern Chou dynasty. The Chou provinces were divided into fifteen major kingdoms and numerous minor fiefdoms during the Spring and Autumn period (called after a series of historical chronicles published at the time), each of which enjoyed sovereignty over its own affairs.

The monarch was still in charge of ceremonial and religious responsibilities, but he had no actual military or political power. This decentralized arrangement fostered rivalry and conflict among the states, which grew in severity over time. During the Warring States era, the states regrouped as a few great rulers solidified their powers and competed for domination.

Structure of Government in Chou dynasty

Territories were ruled by a feudal system led by a hereditary monarchy under the Western Chou dynasty. The Chou king owned all of the land in the kingdom, which he allocated to his nobles, all of whom were related to him. The Chinese aristocracy was organized into a rigid system of nobles with titles such as gong, hou, bo, zi, and nan (roughly rendered as “duke,” “marquis,” “earl,” “viscount,” and “baron”).

Each noble was given a plot of land and the title “lord” in exchange for appearing at court, recruiting laborers for public projects, and providing military help to the monarch. Greater nobles established similar contracts with lesser nobles, and this pattern continued down the social ladder. Titles were passed down from father to son through the male line. Each ruler nominated his own administrative and military personnel, who held hereditary positions.

The monarch was relegated to exercising mainly ceremonial and religious tasks under the Eastern Chou dynasty; he was king only in name. Political authority transferred to state rulers, some of whom even adopted the title “king.”

The administration of the states became increasingly difficult under this decentralized arrangement, necessitating skilled and qualified public officials. Rather of delegating authority as in the feudal system, these monarchs recruited a new cadre of educated bureaucrats known as Shi, whose service was based on merit rather than familial ties. The Shi included the renowned Chinese philosophers Confucius and Mencius (c. 371-c. 289 BC).

Factions and political parties in Chou dynasty

Political thinking was split throughout the Chou dynasty into three groups that competed and coexisted with one another: Confucianism, Taoism, and legalism.

Based on Confucius’ philosophy, Confucianism maintained that domestic order was a result of the ruler’s moral and religious integrity, which acted out of a feeling of duty to his people. It was also the result of a well-structured, hierarchical society in which everyone recognized their station and acted accordingly. Thus, Confucianism stressed moral character and order as the keys to successful administration, most notably as personified in the king. It saw the early Chou feudal system as desirable.

Taoism, based on the teachings of Lao-tzu (sixth century BC), argued for a more hands-off approach to administration. For Lao-tzu, the main evils of society were ambition and desire, and hence the best form of governance was a system of tiny, independent communities, each living by its own means in harmony with one another. According to this view, the government should do nothing and let the people to their own devices.

Finally, legalism was the most strict of the philosophies, so named because of its stress on laws. Legalism held that the moral qualities of the ruler were unimportant to successful administration, and that order was dependent on efficient institutional frameworks and realistic political answers to modern challenges. Legalists pushed for a rigid legal system that applied objectively and equitably to everyone. They thought that with a competent legal system, a monarch might allow government to run itself.

Significant Occurrences in Chou Dynasty

The Western and Eastern Chou dynasties were established by 771 BC, when the Chou capital of Hao was attacked by northern invaders supported by rebel Chinese kingdoms. King You (d. 771 BC), the final Western Chou ruler, was assassinated. Following it, the capital was relocated to Luoyang, which was deemed safer. However, the move constituted a watershed moment in the Chou dynasty’s history: from that point forward, the Chou monarchs had a considerably less significant role in government.


The Ch’in state emerged as the dominating force during the Warring States era by consolidating authority and killing its adversaries. The last Chou king was ousted in 221 BC. Under King Cheng (c. 259-210 BC), who became known as the “First Sovereign Emperor,” the Ch’in finally built the first consolidated kingdom in Chinese history. Regardless, the early Chou emperors’ hierarchical, ritual-based governance structure remained an ideal for Confucian thinkers.

  1. We’re a group of volunteers and tarting a rand new scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with…

  2. I very delighted to find this internet site on bing, just what I was searching for as well saved to…

, ,

Leave a Comment