Zhou Dynasty China – Ancient Chinese History

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metal pot standing on three feet - Zhou Dynasty China

A Zhou Dynasty bronze tripod

Chariots in Zhou Dynasty China

The Zhou conquered the Shang Dynasty about 1100 BC (the traditional date is 1122 BC). The Zhou said that the reason they were able to conquer the Shang was that Heaven was on their side. According to Chinese stories, backed up in some points by oracle bones, the first really independent king of the Zhou Dynasty was King Wu.

What are oracle bones?
What was the Shang Dynasty like?
A quick summary of Chinese history

According to the stories, King Wu led a big army with chariots down the south bank of the Yellow River. In 1046 BC King Wu crossed the Yellow River and conquered the Shang Dynasty at the Battle of Muye. Many of the Shang soldiers went over to King Wu’s side, because the Shang emperor, Di Xin, was unpopular.

The beginnings of feudalism

Historians call the first period of Zhou rule the Western Zhou, because the capital city, Haojing, was in the west. China was divided up into about 200 little kingdoms, and then each of these kings was under the Zhou emperor. Under each king were lesser lords, who had less power. These lords gave out land to individual farmers. In exchange, the lords collected some of the food as taxes. This system is a kind of feudalism.

How did taxes get started?
Why do people use feudalism?

The Zhou emperors’ strong armies

During the Western Zhou dynasty, the emperors ruled from great walled cities like those of the Shang Dynasty. Western Zhou emperors relied on big strong armies to stay in power. These armies learned from Central Asia how to use a lot of chariots all together to win battles.

The emperors led the armies out on campaigns almost every year, either fighting Central Asian invaders or keeping their kingdom together by preventing revolts. (Compare the Assyrians at the other end of Asia about the same time.)

Assyrians and their military campaigns

Did you find out what you needed to know about the Zhou Dynasty in China? Don’t miss our articles on the Eastern Zhou, Zhou art, and Zhou architecture!

Learn by doing – comparing the Western Zhou to the Assyrians
Eastern Zhou
Zhou Art
Zhou Architecture

Bibliography and further reading about the Zhou Dynasty:

Eastern Zhou (771-221 BC)
Qin Dynasty
Ancient China
Quatr.us home

By |2018-09-19T08:24:46+00:00June 6th, 2017|China, History|20 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Zhou Dynasty China – Ancient Chinese History. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 6, 2017. Web. January 21, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Maria Carrillo October 23, 2018 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    i have a question, were the people building the great wall concerned with the equipment given or the materials? thanks!

    • Karen Carr October 26, 2018 at 7:56 am

      The wall was built in many small bits over a long time, so the way the construction was organized also changed over time. A lot of it was done by local rulers, who organized things however they wanted.

  2. Choco74 October 23, 2018 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Interesting stuff

    • Karen Carr October 26, 2018 at 7:56 am


  3. Marigold Hevenly Nostrils(not real name) October 22, 2018 at 10:13 am - Reply

    This is pretty cool.

  4. TheDabbingCat October 15, 2018 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    AHEM…This is a good site. I would definitely share this website…

  5. Nora Mercedes Schultz October 5, 2018 at 10:51 am - Reply


  6. sundus lyfo September 19, 2018 at 8:15 am - Reply

    What dynasty had the biggest impact? Meaning, if you removed that dynasty from history China wouldn’t be the same.

    • Karen Carr September 19, 2018 at 8:18 am

      Well, I’m sure that is true for all the dynasties! But I’d give the prize to the Shang Dynasty (https://quatr.us/history/shang-dynasty-china-first-chinese-dynasty.htm) because they created the idea of one united China – otherwise China might have ended up as a lot of smaller countries, like Europe. That would have been very different!

  7. Your NAME here June 12, 2018 at 9:10 am - Reply


    Need help

    • Karen Carr June 12, 2018 at 11:42 am

      I’d be happy to help; what’s your question?

  8. Your NAME here June 12, 2018 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Good site

    • Karen Carr June 12, 2018 at 11:42 am


  9. Your NAME June 12, 2018 at 8:49 am - Reply

    What’s the Great Wall of china made of

    • Karen Carr June 12, 2018 at 11:44 am

      Stone fastened together with mortar, mostly. Different parts were built at different times, using somewhat different materials depending on what was available nearby. Some parts are built of brick, or of pounded hard dirt and wood. In many places, it’s actually two facing walls with a small space between them filled with dirt, or whatever was handy to throw in – including the bodies of workers who had died!

  10. Unknown December 7, 2017 at 7:42 am - Reply

    Can there be more to read Please!!!!

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