|King of China|
Bronze vessel from the Xia Dynasty
|Consort to||Daughter of the Chief of Northern Tribe|
|Issue||Zhu of Xia|
|Father||Xiang of Xia|
|Religious beliefs||Chinese mythology|
Shaokang (Chinese: 少康; pinyin: Shàokāng, his surname was Sì 姒) was the sixth ruler of the Xia Dynasty of China. He was the son of Xiang. His father was killed in a battle against Han Zhuo's two sons, Han Jiao and Han Yi; Shaokang's mother Ji managed to escape and had him after a few months. In 2079 BC Shaokang and his followers engaged in a battle against Han Zhuo, defeated and killed him, and restored the Xia Dynasty. The plot of Shaokang's revenge of his father's death is reminiscent of Homer's representation of Orestes.
Shaokang's restoration of Xia is considered as a significant Chinese legend/story. Prior to Shaokang, the Xia royal family had become corrupt, squandered away the family fortune, and lost the good will of the people. Shaokang's father was on the run, and only held the title of King in name. When Xiang was killed, Shaokang's mother supposedly escaped by crawling through a hole dug by dogs at the foot of a wall. She escaped to her parents' holding, and secretly gave birth to Shaokang. Because the world did not know about Shaokang, most presumed that the last of the Xia family had died.
Under the protection of his maternal grandfather, Shaokang grew up. From an early age, his mother taught Shaokang his birthright, the failing of his family in corruption, and the need to restore rule. Under his mother and grandfather's watchful eyes, Shaokang learned history, literature and the art of war, for the eventual goal of overthrowing Han Zhuo and restoring Xia.
By the time Shaokang turned 16, the rumor of his existence as the last heir of Xia had reached Han Zhuo. Soon Han Zhuo dispatched his two sons to find and kill Shaokang and he was forced to flee from his grandfather's estate.
He managed to find safety in the Kingdom of a Northern Tribe. The tribal leader had some past ties to the Xia family, and resented the rule of Han Zhuo and his tyrannical ways. He saw potential in the young exiled prince of Xia, so he decided to grant Shaokang his daughter's hand in marriage, and 100 sq. "li" (about 25 sq. miles) of rich farm land as his own county. This gave Shaokang a base of operation, from which he could learn the art of state management and build his own population center to prepare.
In the 1st three dynasties of China, most of China were sparsely populated wilderness. It was often the case that secondary heirs of noble and royal families were given land grants over vast empty regions, where they were expected to build their own population centers, attract migrant populations to settle in their regions, and thus build their own fortunes. Eldest sons were expected to inherit the primary estate of their fathers, and continue to build the existing population centers. Younger sons, secondary heirs, were given the opportunity to prove their worth by the land grants. Successful leaders could build their own city states and eventually their own Kingdoms. In the Zhou Dynasty, the Zhou King gave a land grant to a royal horse breeder for lifelong service. This horse breeder's descendants managed to turn this small land grant in the Western wilderness of China into the Kingdom of Qin, which eventually conquered all of China and established the 1st Imperial dynasty of Qin in 221 BC.
Coincidentally, to the good fortune of Shaokang in his marriage and his land grant, a former minister of the Xia family had hidden away a vast sum of fortune and had been buying arms and building an army in secret preparation for revenge on Han Zhuo. This minister, upon hearing that the heir of Xia had survived, rejoiced and immediately joined his forces with Shaokang, thus renewing his loyalty to Xia. With his base secure and his army building and training, Shaokang continued to build his estate under the old banner of Xia, preaching and reminding people of the benevolence of old Xia rule.
Han Zhuo, in the mean time, grew increasingly tyrannical and imposed heavy taxes upon the people of the old Xia Kingdom. Many people fled from his rule. When Shaokang's new Xia Kingdom grew in size and fortune, so spread the rumor of Shaokang's benevolence. People began to compare Shaokang to the 1st benevolent kings of Xia. Many fled to settle in Shaokang's estate.
Han Zhuo became fearful that Xia had survived and now rivaled his power in size. He despatched his sons in the largest expedition force he could muster to destroy Shaokang. Shaokang by this time has become a seasoned leader. He gathered up his forces to meet Han Zhuo's army. He won the battle decisively and killed Han Zhuo's sons. Then Shaokang's army swept to the door step of the old Xia capital, where the Xia people greeted him as a liberator by opening the door to the citadel. Han Zhuo, sensing defeat, committed suicide.
Shaokang entered the Xia capital, once again as the King of Xia. He ordered his army to protect the people and their possessions, and help them restore peace and allow Xia to prosper.
As a king
With Xia's ancestral home secured, Shaokang paid homage to his ancestors and received the homage of surrounding tributary kingdoms.
In this time this grew into the official religion in China in the form of ancestor worshiping. This is a highly political and symbolic ritual. Royal families were heads of clans. Each Kingdom was essentially one clan. Royal families were thus also protectors of the ancestors' bones for that clan, and they were responsible for officiating religious ceremonies as a state function. This kind of religious ceremony of paying homage to one's ancestors was also considered as a status symbol. A kingdom who was too poor to conduct the ceremony with sufficient amount of expense was considered to be weak enough to be destroyed. Shaokang thus had to officiate a ceremony to pay homage to his ancestors as part of his reclaiming of his birthright as a king.
- Tian Wen: A Chinese Book of Origins by Yuan Qu, Stephen Field, page 112.
- David Hawkes, "The Heirs of Gao-yang". T'oung Pao, Second Series, Vol. 69, Livr. 1/3 (1983), p.9.
- The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art, and Cosmos in Early China by Sarah Allan
- The Cloudy Mirror: Tension and Conflict in the Writings of Sima Qian by Stephen W. Durrant
|King of China
2007 BC – 1985 BC