Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Decline of the Zhou in Ancient China

The Decline of the Zhou
King Wu and the kings who followed him were all strong rulers. The Book of Documents says that the Zhou governed carefully because they feared losing the Mandate of Heaven. The power and good standing of the Zhou kings, however, eventually weakened. Soon, people to the north and to the west of the Zhou kingdom invaded the valley of the Wei River.

In 771 B.C. the people of the Zhou capital city of Hao (HOW) got ready for an attack by the invaders. A legend tells that the Zhou leader, King You (YOO), ordered fires lighted on hills around the capital when an attack seemed likely. However, several times he lit the fires when there was no invasion. He just wanted to see if the nobles would come. Finally, there really was an attack. King You ordered the fires to be lit, in hopes of bringing the nobles' armies. The nobles thought this was another false alarm and did not send their armies to help the king.

King You died in the attack, and the invaders captured the Wei River Valley.
As a result, the next Zhou king was forced to move his capital city east to the North China Plain. After the move, the power of the Zhou kings weakened. At the same time, the power of the nobles increased. Many nobles made their fiefs independent. Some even began to call themselves king.

The collapse of the Zhou brought China into a time of warfare. For this reason the last few centuries of the Zhou dynasty are sometimes called the Warring States Period, or the Warring Kingdoms Period. During this time people in China were often at war with one another. Yet this time of war also brought the development of new forms of government to bring back law and order.

As early as the 600s B.C., the kingdom of Chu (JOO) had invented a new way of dividing and governing land. The Chu kings did not give out land to noble families.

Instead they created counties and picked people to govern them. The people who governed these counties were chosen because of their abilities. The Chu system of governing counties is one of the earliest examples in world history of a bureaucracy. In the Chu bureaucracy a network of appointed government officials did specific jobs. The idea of bureaucracy spread rapidly throughout ancient China.

In 535 B.C. the king of Zheng (ZHENG), a small kingdom in the North China Plain, wrote down a set of laws. These were the earliest written laws in China. The Zheng ruler no longer believed that having virtues was enough to keep order in society He believed that specific laws were needed. The laws were meant to explain clearly what was right and what was wrong. The ruler of Zheng inscribed his new laws on the outside of a giant bronze vessel so that everyone could see the laws.

How was the kingdom of Chu governed?

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