King Zhou (/dʒoʊ/; 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. In
Chinese, 紂 also refers to a horse crupper, the part of a saddle
or harness that is most likely to be soiled by the horse.
1 Early reign
2 Late reign
4 Mentions in literature and legend
5 God of marriage
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, and was quick-witted and quick-tempered. According
to 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 Zi Qi (子启) and Zi Yan (子衍) (later
rulers of Zhou's vassal state Song) and father of Wu Geng. His
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
Dongyi to the east.
In his later years, Di Xin gave himself over to drinking, women and
abandoned 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 engaged in
immoral things 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 thirsted, 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.
Daji were known to get highly aroused after watching such
torture. Victims ranged from ordinary people and prisoners to high
government officials, such as Mei Bo.
In order to fund Zhou's heavy daily expenses, extremely heavy taxes
were implemented. The people 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
When Zhou dynasty's army, led by the famous Jiang Ziya, defeated the
Shang dynasty at the
Battle of Muye
Battle of Muye in 1046 BC, 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, both
dishonorable and cold-hearted. King Zhou would go down in history as
one of the worst examples of a corrupted king in China.
Mentions in literature and legend
Zhou is mentioned in the
Confucian Analects (19 "子張"); and also
in the Three Character Classic. Zhou is also one of the main
Fengshen Yanyi and its various derivations in popular
media. Thus, Di Xin, also known as Zhou, has served as a (negative)
exemplar of Confucian principles (presented as the wicked 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 visited the Goddess Nüwa's temple and
offended the Goddess with his lustful comments towards her beauty. In
Nüwa decided that the
Shang dynasty should end and sent her
three subordinates to become three beautiful women (including Daji) to
bewitch Zhou. Under the influence of these women, Zhou becomes a
ruthless king, losing the support of people and triggering his
God of marriage
According to the Investiture of the Gods,
Jiang Ziya recognized that
King Zhou was a well-versed and well-trained individual that became an
incapable ruler only because of having fallen victim to seduction.
After his death,
Jiang Ziya deified King Zhou as the Tianxi Xing
(天喜星 "Star of Heavenly Happiness"). As the Tianxi Xing, he had
the responsibility of managing the marriage affairs of humans.
^ "Zhou". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ Wu, 220.
^ Wu, 220-221, referencing Sima Qian's Yin Benji chapter (史记 ·
Lüshi Chunqiu (吕氏春秋·仲冬纪第十一)
^ See, for example, Qu Yuan, Tian Wen (天问). "梅伯受醢".
Wu, K. C. (1982). The Chinese Heritage. New York: Crown Publishers.
King Zhou of Shang
King of China
1075 BC – 1046 BC
Wu of Zhou
Kings of the Shang dynasty
Wen Wu Ding
Xia → Shang → Zhou → Qin → Han → 3 Kingdoms → Jìn / 16
Kingdoms → S. Dynasties / N. Dynasties → Sui → Tang → 5
Dynasties & 10 Kingdoms → Liao / Song / W. Xia / Jīn → Yuan
→ Ming →