Zhou Dynasty: 1000 - 256 BC

Major Accomplishments: Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism are created and spread rapidly through the Chinese culture.  Years of war and conflict lead to a demand for a better way and new philosophies of life compete to offer the Chinese more stability and protection from warlords.

Population: estimated about 30-35 million about 250bc

Zhou Video:

Zhou Dynasty Overview

The Zhou dynasty was founded by King Wen of the Ji family in 1076 BC, after the Shang dynasty came to an end. The dynasty’s east coast borders were to the left of the Pacific Ocean. Zhou Dynasty is defined by a unique social hierarchy, standardized spoken language, and lengthy time of reign. It would prove to be very influential because of the power that it gave to military leaders. The dynasty was also the beginning of China’s Iron Age. The Iron Age influenced future leaders to use military force to introduce the Mandate of Heaven. This created a new standard and expectation of future rulers because people thought that the actions of these rulers were very connected (in success and failure) with the gods. This, although it was important to the structure of the Zhou, was another factor in the downfall of the Zhou.


Zhou Dynasty Begins

The Zhou began after the Shang dynasty’s decline. King Wu took over in 1076 BC. The dynasty was jump started by the Iron Age that was spreading like wildfire. Their government worked toward centralization during dynasty’s reign. The Zhou has a whole had a very large military, and was a force to be reckoned with. They expanded to the Yangtze River and utilized it capabilities to the best of their ability. The Zhou also went through many rulers during the middle of their existence where there were so many different upheavals. All these changes in ruling started to split the Zhou up into regional/feudal states, and because everyone wanted to be the top dog, people started having some tension between one another. Eventually, that tension would escalate far enough to initiate a full out war between all of these regions. This blood bath of a time period is historically known as “The Period of the Warring States” and would prove too much for the Zhou to come back from.


Zhou Mandate of Heaven

One of the early, main themes in ancient China is the Mandate of Heaven. It started during the Zhou when rulers were claiming to be “Sons of Gods”. It was crucial for the Zhou leaders because it struck fear into people. Imagine being a peasant and being raised in a culture that says that the king is a god.  It’s interesting how these “gods” were rulers because there were feudal states.  Many different groups of people were following many different rulers, and that each of those leaders were considered a god. This is more than likely another reason as to why “The Period of the Warring States” was so complicated.


Zhou Iron Age

            The Zhou is very well-known because of it brought the Iron Age to China. It allowed the Zhou to have a sustainable economy while it was still hanging around. Their economy was based on agriculture, so it required many peasants and lots of work, which is convenient because they just so happen to have plenty of both during the Zhou. The important thing though is that with the coming of the Iron Age, which work was able to be done much faster and much better because of the stronger properties of iron compared to wood or iron tools. The other aspect of these new tools is that they can be used for militaristic purposes. While iron tools were handy for farming work, swords and iron armor were much more interesting to use. There’s a drastic change when going from lightweight leather armor. It gave the Zhou military a much needed improvement in their military force and strength. Also, because the regional states that the Zhou had, and because there was a significant amount of proliferation between many of them, the new technology gave these regions enough confidence to go at each other. Many argue that the Iron Age is what led to “The Period of the Warring States” since it created enough of an economic effect to fund a war between all the states and because of this boost of arrogance.


Zhou Language

The Zhou agreed on a standardized spoken language, which was considered a huge advancement in Chinese history. This spoken language was used throughout many Chinese dynasties, and is one of the most well known accomplishments of the Zhou Dynasty. This language is sometimes known as Old Chinese, or Archaic Chinese. Language helps hold a society together, and may be one contributing factor to the Zhou’s enduring rule. Because they spoke one, central language, it’s much easier for historians to discover and depict what happened during the Zhou Dynasty, and Dynasties to follow.


Confucian Social Hierarchy

The Zhou Dynasty ruled with a Confucian Social Hierarchy. Confucianism came to popularity during the Zhou Dynasty and the kings expected their citizens to follow the rules and values of Confucianism. The social structure of the Confucian beliefs starts with emperors above all, with scholars following at a close second, farmers before merchants, and merchants before slaves and women. This is atypical because a typical social hierarchy (TPS), begins with the emperor as well, but follows with merchants, then scholars and farmers, and again, slaves last. Maybe they were able to maintain a strong government for so long due to their unique social structure.


The Decline of the Zhou

Through all of their trials, tribulations, and wealth, they managed to last for 800+ years. However, all dynasties eventually come to an end, and the Zhou saw their end slowly. The Zhou Dynasty slowly diminished, because the power did not lie with the king, instead, the power was in the hands of the nobles. The conclusion of the Zhou Dynasty came about when an independent noble named Qin Shi Huang united China into the Qin Dynasty.


Zhou (Chou) Dynasty  (1076-221 BC)  (pronounced Jo)

Zhou (Chou) Dynasty  (1076-221 BC)  (pronounced Jo)


  • Regional feudal states similar to Shang
  • Ruled as coordinators rather than as a central govt.
  • military force determined strength of rulers
  • Conflict led to decline into the "Period of the Warring States" (403-221 B.C.).
  • Introduced Mandate of Heaven
  • Mandate of Heaven Principles:
  • right to rule is granted by Heaven.
  • only one Heaven so only one ruler in China.
  • right to rule depends on the virtue of the ruler.
    • Advantages: 
    • It gives the ruler supreme power politically and religiously
    • power kept in check by virtue.
    • The Mandate of Heaven justifies rebellion as long as the rebellion is successful.


  • Iron age
  • Iron was stronger and cheaper than bronze
  • weapons strengthened Zhou army
  • catapult used in China for first time
  • creation of China’s first cavalry
  • 90% of peasants lived on farms in family compounds
  • new iron tools increased harvest, food surpluses
  • which led to Population growth under Zhou
  • Silk was their most important product
  • New Roads, canals allowed better transportation, communication
  • Introduced coins, use of chopsticks
  • Cities grew in size


  • At the end of the Zhou (403 BC-221BC), China disintegrated into “the Warring States period” as Zhou leaders lost control and states fought each other
  • 100 Schools Movement tried to bring stability to China
  • Confucianism
  • Taoism
  • Legalism
  • All are philosophies of life and govt
  • Basic beliefs
  • Dualism – everything relates to everything else and works best when in balance (Yin/Yang)
  • Harmony, cooperation, submission to the larger group while allowing for individuality
  • Heaven controls life on Earth and life passes from parent to child.  Because each child receives life from its parents it makes sense that the child should “worship” his or her parents



  • Emperor in charge
  • Regional rulers and wealthy landowners
  • Farmers
  • Slaves
  • BUT,
  • Confucian ideals changed this social hierarchy near the end of the Zhou


  • Iron
  • Military improvements
  • Better infrastructure of roads, canals, bridges because of larger military


  • Bronze work for vases, cups, and other household items
  • Tombs decorated elaborately for wealthy