Hey everybody, welcome back to Office Hours with the Brofessor: the Show Where I Say Things. Today we’re going to talk about the fall of the increasingly depraved and corrupt Shang dynasty. Last time we discussed how, if you didn’t happen to be a member of the Shang aristocracy, you stood a pretty good chance of getting ritually sacrificed to appease the spirits. Now we’ll talk about how this bloody and cruel regime finally met its end.
The last Shang king, named Zhou (i.e. “Zhou of Shang) reigned during the 11th century BC. He wasn’t a good guy. Remember the last king of the Xia dynasty, who liked to get drunk and make people give him horsey rides? This guy makes him look like Santa Claus.
Let’s start with the beer pool. Not content with being just another run-of-the-mill alcoholic, Zhou went so far as to actually make a swimming pool and fill it up with beer. In the middle of the pool he made an island with trees planted on it. From the trees were hanging skewers of barbecued meat, presumably so that he could eat back the calories that he burned doing beer-laps.
Now I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a pretty good idea for a fraternity party. And while it does sound like an epic rager that would be the talk of the dining hall on Monday, it wasn’t exactly kingly behavior. One day, King Zhou’s advisor confronted him on it. He said, “Look your highness, this is pretty decadent, even by Shang standards.”
But Zhou would have none of it. “What an upright man you are!” he said. “Let’s find out what the heart of an upright man looks like(1).” So he killed the dude and ripped his heart out, straight up Temple-of-Doom Aztec Style.
That was it. His vassals weren’t going to just sand back and watch their friend get be-hearted. So, in 1046 BC, they decided to fight back at the decisive Battle of Muye(2). The rebels were led by the valiant king Wu of Zhou--not to be confused with his enemy, King Zhou of Shang! Although the rebels only had fifty thousand troops against the Shang’s seven hundred thousand, their morale was high and their hearts were brave! It must have seemed unreal to the doomed Shang king as his mighty force crumbled before a relative handful. As the conquering heroes closed in on his palace, the king decided to deny the victors the satisfaction of killing him themselves. In the end he burned his palace down, with himself inside(3). Zhou of Shang would later become so reviled by history that his very name would be changed later records to 纣 zhou4 “crupper”--that is, the part of a saddle that’s strapped to a horse’s butt(4).
The once-mighty Shang had fallen. A new dynasty would rise, with the heroic Wu of Zhou at its head. Learn more about them next time, on Origins of Chinese Civilization, Part IX: The Mandate of Heaven. See you next time!
5. http://www.lishiquwen.com/news/538.html (Image)