An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Tang the Perfect 成湯

Nov 13, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Tang the Perfect (Cheng Tang 成湯), personal name Lü 履, was the founder of the Shang dynasty (17th-11th cent. BCE). He was the son of Zhu Kui 主癸, leader of the people of the Shang, and is also known as Wu Tang 武湯 "Tang the Martial", Wu Wang 武王 "the Martial King", Tian Yi 天乙, or Da Yi 大乙. The character Tang 湯 is in ancient texts exchangable with Tang 唐.

According to historiography, the forefather of the tribesleaders of the Shang was Xie 契. Until the times of Tang, the Shang tribe eight times changed their dwelling place, and finally remained in Bo 亳 (modern Caoxian 曹縣, Shandong). The most powerful kingdom of that time was the kingdom of Xia 夏 (17th to 15th cent. BC), whose ruler Jie 桀 was a cruel and irresponsible person.

Tang had two advisors, Yi Yin 伊尹 and Zhong Hui 仲虺, who suggested to him to overthrow the Xia dynasty. He therefore built up a strong army and conquered the states of Ge 葛 (modern Ningling 寧陵, Henan), Wei 韋 (modern Huaxian 滑縣, Henan), Gu 顧 (modern Fanxian 范縣, Henan) and Kunwu 昆吾 (modern Xuchang 許昌, Henan) that were located close to his own territory. The Shang were now the militarily most powerful kingdom. Tang made his famous speech against the tyrant king of the Xia that is preserved as Tangshi 湯誓 in the Confucian Classic Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents". He defeated the troops of Xia in the battle of Mingling 鳴陵 (modern Fengqiu 封丘, Henan) and forced King Jie into exile in Nanchao 南巢 (modern Chaohu 巢湖, Anhui).

The lords of all states thereupon assembled and accepted Tang as the new overlord.

Tang proclaimed an announcement, known as Tanggao 湯誥, to warn against the decay of a virtuous government and to stress the importance of a benevolent and peaceful government.

Tang was succeeded by his younger son Wai Bing 外丙.

Hu Houxuan 胡厚宣 (1992). "Tang 湯", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1087.
Li Jianping 李劍平, ed. (1998). Zhongguo shenhua renming cidian 中國神話人物辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 227.