King Wen of Zhou

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Ji Chang
Count of the West
King Wen of Zhou.jpg
Count of Zhou
Reign1100–1050 BC (50 years)
Born1152 BC (traditional) or 1112 BC (modern estimate)
Bi (Zhou state)
Died1050 BC (aged 62)
Cheng (Zhou state)
Bi (Zhou state)
SpouseTai Si
IssueBo Yikao
King Wu of Zhou
Xian, Marquis of Guan
Du, Marquis of Cai
Feng, Count of Wey
Wu, Count of Cheng
Chu, Monarch of Huo
Zheng, Count of Mao
Zai, Monarch of Dan
Zhenduo, Marquis of Cao
Xiu, Marquis of Teng
Gao, Count of Bi
Posthumous name
King Wen (文王)
Temple name
Shizu (始祖, lit. "First Founder")
FatherKing Ji of Zhou
MotherTai Ren

King Wen of Zhou (Chinese: 周文王; pinyin: Zhōu Wén Wáng; 1112–1050 BC, the Civilizing King) was Count of Zhou during the late Shang dynasty in ancient China. Although frequently confused with the Duke of Zhou, also known as "Lord Zhou", they are different historical personalities. Although it was his son Wu who conquered the Shang following the Battle of Muye, Count Wen was posthumously honored as the founder of the Zhou dynasty and titled King. Many of the hymns of the Classic of Poetry are praises to the legacy of King Wen. Some consider him the first epic hero of Chinese history.[1]


Painting of King Wen of Zhou by Kanō Sansetsu.
Japan, Edo period, 1632.

Born Ji Chang (姬昌), Wen was the son of Tairen and Ji Jili, the Count of Zhou, a small state along the Wei River in present-day Shaanxi. Jili was betrayed and executed by the Shang king Wen Ding in the late 12th century BC, leaving the young Chang as the Count of Zhou.

Wen married Taisi and fathered ten sons and one daughter by her, plus at least another eight sons with concubines.

At one point, King Zhou of Shang, fearing Wen's growing power, imprisoned him in Youli (present-day Tangyin in Henan) after he was slandered by the Marquis of Chong.[2] His eldest son, Bo Yikao, went to King Zhou to plead for his freedom, but was executed in a rage by lingchi and made into meat cakes which were fed to his father in Youli. However, many officials (in particular San Yisheng and Hong Yao) respected Wen for his honorable governance and gave King Zhou so many gifts – including gold, horses, and women – that he released Wen, and also bestowed upon him his personal weapons and invested him with the special rank of Count of the West. Wen offered a piece of his land in Western Luo to King Zhou, who in turn allowed Wen to make one last request. He requested that the Burning Pillar punishment be abolished, and so it was.

Subsequently, upon returning home Wen secretly began to plot to overthrow King Zhou. In his first year as Count of the West, he settled a land dispute between the states of Yu and Rui, earning greater recognition among the nobles. It is by this point that some nobles began calling him "king". The following year, Wen found Jiang Ziya fishing in the Pan River and hired him as a military counselor. He also repelled an invasion of the Quanrong barbarians and occupied a portion of their land. The following year, he campaigned against Mixu, a state whose chief had been harassing the smaller states of Ruan and Gong, thus annexing the three of them. The following year, he attacked Li, a puppet of Shang, and the next year he attacked E, a rebel state opposed to Shang, conquering both. One year later he attacked Chong, home of Hu, Marquis of Chong, his arch-enemy, and defeated it, gaining access to the Ford of Meng through which he could cross his army to attack Shang. By then he had obtained about two thirds of the whole kingdom either as direct possessions or sworn allies. That same year he moved his capital city one hundred kilometers east from Mount Qi to Feng, placing the Shang under imminent threat. The following year, however, the Count of the West died before he could cross the Ford. It is worth-noting, nonetheless, that other sources suggest he died in battle during the Zhou campaign against the Yin-Shang.[3]

Four years after his death, his second son, known as King Wu, followed his footsteps and crushed the Shang at Muye, founding the Zhou dynasty.[4] The name "Wen" means "the Cultured" or "the Civilizing" and was made into an official royal name by King Wu in honor of his father.



Ah! Solemn is the clear temple,
reverent and concordant the illustrious assistants.
Dignified, dignified are the many officers,
holding fast to the virtue of King Wen.
Responding in praise to the one in Heaven,
they hurry swiftly within the temple.
Greatly illustrious, greatly honored,
may [King Wen] never be weary of [us] men.

— "Eulogies of Zhou – Clear Temple" (Chinese: 清廟; pinyin: Qīng miào)[5]

Many of the older odes from the Classic of Poetry (Shijing 詩經) are hymns in praise of King Wen. King Wen is also credited with having stacked the eight trigrams in their various permutations to create the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching. He is also said to have written the judgments which are appended to each hexagram. The most commonly used sequence of the 64 hexagrams is attributed to him and is usually referred to as the King Wen sequence.

Posthumous Honors[edit]

In 196 BC, Han Gaozu gave King Wen the title "Greatest of All Kings".[6]



  • Tai Si, of the Youshen lineage of the Si clan (太姒 姒姓 有莘氏), the mother of Bo Yikao, Fa, Xian, Dan, Du, Feng, Wu, Chu, Zheng and Zai


  • Lady, of the Zi clan of Shang (子姓), a daughter of Wen Ding and a younger sister of Di Yi


  • First son, known as Bo Yikao
  • Second son, Guo (); ruled as the marquis of Zhan ()
  • Third son, Fa (; d. 1043 BC), ruled as King Wu of Zhou from 1046–1043 BC
  • Fourth son, Xian (), ruled as the Marquis of Guan until 1113 BC
  • Fifth son, Dan ()
  • Sifth son, Du (), ruled as the Marquis of Cai
  • Seventh son, Feng (), ruled as the Count of Wey from 1042 BC
    • Served as the Minister of Justice (司寇) of Zhou
  • Eighth son, Wu (), ruled as the Count of Cheng ()
  • Ninth son, Chu (), ruled as the Monarch of Huo
  • Tenth son, Zheng (), ruled as the Count of Mao ()
  • 11th son, Zai (), ruled as the Monarch of Dan ()
    • Served as the Minister of Works (司空) of Zhou
  • 12th son, ruled as the Monarch of Gao ()
  • 13th son, ruled as the Viscount of Yong ()
  • 14th son, Zhenduo (振鐸), ruled as the Marquis of Cao
  • 15th son, Xiu (), ruled as the Marquis of Teng
  • 16th son, Gao (), ruled as the Count of Bi ()
  • 17th son, ruled as the Count of Yuan ()
  • 18th son, ruled as the Marquis of Feng ()
  • 19th son, ruled as the Marquis of Xun ()
  • 20th son, Shu Ying (叔穎) ruled as the Marquis of Lai (賴國)


Yayu (d. 1192 BC)
Zulei (1192–1158 BC)
King Tai of Zhou
King Ji of Zhou
Tai Jiang of Pang
King Wen of Zhou (1125–1051 BC)
Tai Ren of Zhi

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Theobald, Ulrich (December 19, 2010). "Zhou Wenwang 周文王, King Wen of Zhou". - An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art. Retrieved 2021-04-27.
  2. ^ Cihai, p. 201.
  3. ^ <Gernet, J., (2019). EL MUNDO CHINO. Bogotá, Colombia: Editorial Planeta Colombiana>
  4. ^ Sima Qian, 史記 (Shiji) [10s BCE]. 10 vols. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing, [1959] 1963.
  5. ^ Kern (2010), p. 23.
  6. ^ Creel. The Origins of Statecraft, p. 42.


  • Ci Hai Bian Ji Wei Yuan Hui (辞海编辑委员会). Shanghai Ci Shu Chu Ban She (Shanghai), 1979 (in Chinese)
  • Wu, K. C. The Chinese Heritage. Crown Publishers (New York), 1982. ISBN 0-517-54475-X.
King Wen of Zhou
Born: 1152 BC Died: 1056 BC
Regnal titles
New title King of Zhou
1099 – c. 1050 BC
Succeeded by