King Zhao of Zhou

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King Zhao of Zhou
King Zhao of Zhou.jpg
King Zhao
King of China
Reign 977/75-957 BC[1]
Predecessor King Kang of Zhou[1]
Successor King Mu of Zhou[1]
Died 957 BC
Spouse Lady Yin of the Ji clan[2]
Issue King Mu of Zhou[3]
Full name
Ancestral name: ()
Given name: Xiá (瑕)
House Zhou dynasty
Father King Kang of Zhou

King Zhao of Zhou (Chinese: 周昭王; pinyin: Zhōu Zhāo Wáng), personal name Jī Xiá, was the fourth king of the Chinese Zhou dynasty. He ruled from 977/75 BC until his death twenty years later.[1] Famous for his disastrous war against the Chu confederation, his death in battle ended the Western Zhou’s early expansion and marked the beginning of his dynasty’s decline.[4]


By the time of King Zhao's coronation, his father King Kang and grandfather King Cheng had conquered and colonized the Central Plains of China, forcing most of the northern and eastern tribal peoples into vassalage. Only the Dongyi of eastern Shandong continued their resistance, but they were no longer a threat to Zhou rule.[5] As result, King Zhao inherited a prospering kingdom,[6] and could afford to build a new ancestral temple for his father. This temple, known as “Kang gong”, was built in line with ritual reforms of the time and would grow into “one of the two central temples of dynastic worship”, the other being the much older “jinggong” temple.[7]

With the north and east pacified and a large military force under his control, King Zhao turned his attention to the Yangtze basin. This region of great mineral wealth[8] was under the control of the confederation of Chu, with whom the Zhou kingdom had been on good terms for almost two centuries.[3] Under King Zhao the relationship between the two polities deteriorated,[9] however, as Chu continued its aggressive expansion[10] and Zhou demand for gold, copper and tin grew. As hostilities grew, broder clashes ensued that eventually escalated into open war.[3] No longer tolerating Chu’s perceived defiance, King Zhao invaded the Chu confederation in 961 BC. He initially conquered the region to the north of the Yangtze, and then defeated and subdued the 26 states of the Han River valley, including Chu. Probably unable to permanently occupy the latter region, the king eventually retreated with much loot.[9][11][10]

After three years, King Zhao launched another major military campaign into the middle Yangtze region. Employing half of the royal forces, organized into the "Six Armies of the West", he probably aimed to permanently bring the Yangtze basin under his control. This campaign, however, ended in disaster as the Zhou forces were defeated and almost entirely wiped out. King Zhao and his remaining troops allegedly drowned while retreating across the Han River.[9][12][13]


Zhao’s death and defeat greatly damaged the Zhou dynasty’s reputation and ended its early expansion, resulting in several foreign invasions of the kingdom. His successor and son King Mu of Zhou was able to restabilise the kingdom, but the Yangtze basin became the permanent southern limit of Western Zhou’s direct control.[14] Despite his “humiliating end”, however, King Zhao was still commemorated for his southern campaigns during the Western Zhou dynasty, as he had at least established political dominance over the region to the north of the Yangtze and east of the Han River.[15] After his death, he was also given a sacrificial site at the “Kang gong” temple he had himself built. As the first Zhou ruler to be enshrined this way, he eventually became a key figure for ancestor veneration of the middle Zhou dynasty.[16] One major reason for the initially positive appraisal of his reign was possibly that later Zhou rulers did not wanted their ancestor being remembered for a defeat that casted shame upon the dynasty.[17]

Later moralistic renditions of King Zhao's life were much more unfavorable, as they portrayed him as a ruler who loved pleasure and disregarded politics, dying on a hunting trip to the south.[18] Later Chu poets also wrote about King Zhao in the Classical Chinese poetry collection "Heavenly Questions", mocking him for his perceived arrogance.[19] An especially bizarre incident relating to King Zhao happened in the seventh century BC: When a coalition of Zhou states attacked the state of Chu, the latter sent a delegation to ask what reasons they could have for invading. The northern lords gave the feeble pretext that “King Zhao had failed to return from his southward expedition (which took place some three centuries earlier) and they had ‘come to investigate’.”[20]


  1. ^ a b c d Shaughnessy (1999), p. 29.
  2. ^ "Inscriptional Records of the Western Zhou" (PDF). Eno, Robert. Retrieved 26 September 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Blakeley (1999), p. 10.
  4. ^ Li (2006), p. 93-95.
  5. ^ Shaughnessy (1999), p. 311,312, 320-322.
  6. ^ Shaughnessy (1999), p. 320-322.
  7. ^ Kern (2009), p. 159-161.
  8. ^ Higham (2004), p. 376.
  9. ^ a b c Li (2013), p. 138.
  10. ^ a b Whiting (2002), p. 17.
  11. ^ Li (2006), p. 93.
  12. ^ Li (2006), p. 94.
  13. ^ Shaughnessy (1999), p. 322, 323.
  14. ^ Li (2006), p. 93, 94.
  15. ^ Li (2006), p. 329.
  16. ^ Kern (2009), p. 161-164.
  17. ^ Kern (2009), p. 153.
  18. ^ "Chinese History - Political History of the Zhou Dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE)". Ulrich Theobald. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  19. ^ Hawkes (1985), p. II.135.
  20. ^ Hawkes (1985), p. II.135-6.


King Zhao of Zhou
Died: 977 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King Kang of Zhou
King of China
977/75-957 BC
Succeeded by
King Mu of Zhou