An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zhou Period Political System

Oct 6, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

The system of regional states

The Shang 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE) had controlled a vast network of polities during the Erligang 二里岡 (1600-1400 BCE) and the early Anyang 安陽 (1250–1050 BCE) periods, but depended on the goodwill of their allies during the late Anyang phase. The Zhou 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) had learnt from this weakness and established a novel system of control with a twin-capital in the west and a military garrison in the east, and regional states governed by kinsmen and close supporters.

Historians combine several socio-political concepts to describe the system of the Zhou dynasty. Marxist historians identified the socio-economic system of the Shang and Zhou as that of a "slaveholder society" because of the existence of slaves or rightless people, which worked for a class of exploiters (land owners), and could, moreover be transferred or sold to others like objects (see Zhou society). Western historians used to interprete the political system of the Zhou as a "feudal" one because the king conferred the rights over land to the nobility, which in turn had the duty to serve the king, mainly during war.

Yet there are great differences between the European feudal system in its various forms and the Zhou-period system which ws called fengjian 封建 "bestowment of an official duty in combination with land". The word feng 封 means "to allot a certain tract of land to someone". In the case of Zhou-period China, this land was used to nourish a functionary and was thus a form of salary. Moreover, functions and land were bestowed on close relatives to the Zhou kings, and not to politically independent leaders ("dukes") of communities or tribes. The highest functionaries, operating in the central government, were gong 公 (conventionally translated as "dukes"). The regional level of functionaries - the regional rulers - was called hou 侯 ("marquesses"), which is actually a modern form of hou 后 "lord" (si 司 "superviser, commander" turned around, compare the name Hou Ji 后稷). Functionaries of smaller entities were given the titles i>bo 伯 ("earls"), zi 子 ("viscounts"), or nan 男 ("barons"; see titles of nobility).

Traditional historiography (Shiji 史記, 4 Zhou benji 周本紀) holds that the first round of appointments was granted to descendents of the ancient mythological emperors: The land of Jiao 焦 was given to descendents of Shen Nong 神農, Zhu 祝 to those of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di 黃帝), Ji 薊 to the descendants of Emperor Yao 堯, Chen 陳 to those of Emperor Shun 舜, and Qi 杞 to the descendants of the Xia dynasty 夏 (21th-17th cent. BCE).

The next group of appointment went to a prince of the Shang. Lufu 祿父, called Prince Wu Geng 武庚, was made regent over Bei 邶. He was advised and controlled by two brothers of the dynastic founder King Wu 周武王 that were given land nearby: Guan Shu Xian 管叔鮮 in Yong 鄘, and Cai Shu Du 蔡叔度 in Wei 衛 (together called the three "supervised" territories, San Jian 三監). King Wu thereafter entrusted Shi, the Duke of Shao 召公奭 with Beiyan 北燕 and the military commander Shang Fu 尚父 (i.e. Lü Shang 呂尚) with Qi 齊.

After the rebellion of Wu Geng, who was supported by the two lords of Guan and Cai, a second round of appointments was carried out. The Classic Zuozhuan 左傳 (Xigong 僖公 2) enumerates the regional states created at that time: Guan 管, Cai 蔡, Cheng 郕 (Cheng Shu Wu 成叔武), Huo 霍 (Huo Shu Chu 霍叔處), Lu 魯, Wei 衛, Mao 毛 (Mao Shu Ran 毛叔聃), Ran 聃, Gao 郜, Yong 雍, Cao 曹, Teng 滕, Bi 畢, Yuan 原, Feng 酆, and Xun 郇 were governed by sons of late King Wen 周文王, i.e. brothers or half-brothers of King Wu. Yu 邘, Jin 晉 (Tang Shu Yu 唐叔虞), Ying 應, and Han 韓 were governed by sons of King Wu. Fan 凡, Jiang 蔣, Xing 邢, Mao 茅, Zuo 胙, and Ji 祭 were governed by sons of Dan, the Duke of Zhou 周公旦, i.e. nephews of King Wu.

These statelets with their garrisons served as a "shield" (fanping 蕃屏) for the Zhou dynasty towards the east. The last prince of the Shang, Weizi 微子, was entrusted with the governhood over Song 宋. Another paragraph in the Zuozhuan (Zhaogong 昭公 9) explains that the Zhou saw the statelets of Wei 魏, Yi 駘, Rui 芮, Qi 岐, and Bi 畢 as the western, and original area of the Zhou, while after the conquest of the Shang, Pugu 蒲姑 and Yan 奄 in the east came into the orbit of the Zhou, as well as Ba 巴, Pu 濮, Chu 楚, and Deng 鄧 in the south, and Sushen 肅慎, Yan 燕, and Bo 亳 in the north.

It is important to note that of the 71 regional states that the Zhou created after the conquest period, 53 were governed by members of the house of Zhou (figures according to Xunzi 荀子, ch. Ruxiao 儒效). The Zhou empire was thus an "enterprise" of the family Ji 姬. For this reason, the kinship rules (zongfa 宗法) of the house of Zhou were of great significance for the appointment of regional rulers. Regional rule was otherwise given into the hands of loyal supporters of King Wu, forming a kind of meritocracy (baofeng 褒封; Gu 2002), or into those of families related by marriage, like the family Jiang 姜. King Wu destroyed the Shang-period structure of tribal power by allegiance and alliance and replaced it by a multilayered (duochongxing 多重性) system of rule by kinship in which independent states like the barbarian polity of Xu 徐 in the Huai River region found no place.

The head of state

One of the forefathers of the Zhou, Gu Gong Danfu 古公亶父, selected his third son Ji Li 季歷, and not the older ones Tai Bo 太伯 (who became, according to legend, the ruler of Wu 吳 in the far southeast) and Yu Zhong 虞仲 (who became ruler of Yu 虞). Yet with the foundation of the dynasty by King Wen and his son King Wu, the role of successor to the throne fell to the first son of the primary consort. The Zhou were the creators of primogeniture.

These novel rules of ancestry (zongfa 宗法, see Zhou religion) gave all rights into the hands of the oldest son of the principal consort (di zi 嫡子). He and his descendents were the main line (dazong 大宗) of the ruling house, while the sons of a secondary consort (shu zi 庶子, bie zi 別子) and their descendants (yet only those by primary consorts) constituted lesser lines (xiaozong 小宗, jibie 繼別, jimi 繼禰). These "lesser lineages" venerated other forefathers than the main lineage. For this reason, the regional lords were not allowed to found a royal ancestral temple (wangmiao 王廟) in their territory, and their grand masters (dafu 大夫), local administrators and usually descendants of the regional rulers, were not allowed to venerate the ancestors of the regional rulers in their temples.

The Zuozhuan (Huangong 桓公 2) therefore compares the Zhou empire with a family: each regional ruler had his own house (jia 家), each regional minister (qing 卿) a "wing" (ceshi 側室, i.e. lodge of younger brothers), each grand master's younger or half-brothers had secondary altars (erzong 貳宗), and each serviceman (shi 士, also offsprings of regional houses or those of grand masters) and commoner was treated in a similar way.

With the appointment of rulers over the regions of his empire which were tied to him by a strict system of kinship, the king of Zhou was not any more a primus inter pares, but the master of the regional rulers, as the philosopher and historian Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877-1927) constated (Yang 1994: 77). The regional rulers were not independent and free to decide over whether supporting the king of Zhou or not: they were functionaries, not more. This system of dependency was cascaded down to the lowest level of local administration.

The position of the king of Zhou was reinforced by the metaphysical concept of the Mandate of Heaven (tianming 天命, see Zhou religion) given into the hands of the house of Zhou. Heaven, as the master of the world, had appointed Ji Fa 姬發 (King Wu) king of the empire, as a kind of functionary himself. Even the role of the king was embedded into a kinship network, by alleging that he was the "Son of Heaven" (tianzi 天子), as the Classic Shangshu 尚書 says (ch. Shaogao 召誥): Huangtian Shangdi, gai jue yuanzi 皇天上帝,改厥元子 "August Heaven, the High Ancestor, changed his primary son." This ideology bolstered the position of the Zhou king fundamentally.

Figure 1. The pyramid of appointment

Right in the beginning of the Western Zhou period, a circumstance emerged that became paradigmatic for the question of rulership and regency. When King Wu died, his son, King Cheng 周成王, was allegedly too young to rule, and matters of political matters was therefore taken over by his uncle, the Duke of Zhou. The Duke received the regional rulers and military commanders in the Bright Hall (mingtang 明堂), bearing an axe as the symbol of royal power, just as the Son of Heaven did. The Duke of Shao likewise supported his nephew. When King Cheng was facing death, he followed this paradigm and entrusted the dukes of Shao and Bi with the regency of the empire. King Wu's order of succession of only the oldest son of a primary consort prevented struggles for the throne, but made necessary an arrangement of rulership.

The king of Zhou was the supreme military commander, but he could also lay supreme command into the hands of a trusted and experienced functionary. All appointments (ceming 冊命), be they temporary or permanent, were made in the framework of ceremonies carried out at the ancestral altar (see Zhou religion). The ritual classic Zhouli 周禮 (part Chunguan 春官, ch. Dazongbo 大宗伯) enumerates the nine types of etiquette (jiu yi 九儀) according to which functionaries were appointed and ranked, namely nominal offices (zhi 職), robes (fu 服), positions [at the royal court] (wei 位), ritual vessels (qi 器), concessions for regulations (ze 則), appointing own functionaries (guan 官), concession for a regional state (guo 國), establishment of pastures [for breeding war horses] (mu 牧), and the concession of "first-class" regional lord (bo 伯).

Policy making

Even if the king of Zhou was an absolute monarch, it was common that high dignitaries gave him advice. King Wu trusted the military advice of Lü Shang, Grand Duke of Qi (Qi Taibo 齊太伯 or Qi Taigong 齊太公), and the military and civilian support of the dukes of Zhou, Shao, and Bi 畢. King Cheng relied on the support of the Duke of Zhou as "Grand Commander" (taishi 太師, usually translated as "Grand Preceptor"), and the Duke of Shao as Grand Guardian or Grand Protector (taibao 太保). In the first seven years of the reign of King Cheng, the Duke of Zhou was regent, and made all political decisions – not without debates with the Duke of Shao. The attack on the Shang prince Wu Geng and his supporters, the destruction of the Huaiyi 淮夷 tribes in the east, the relocation of the Shang people, and the construction of an eastern capital seat, were all decisions of the Duke of Zhou. The highest advisors of the king of Zhou were called the "Three Dukes" (sangong 三公).

Yet the kings also relied on the hints of oracles (see Zhou religion) to make political decisions easier. Before attacking King Zhou of the Shang, Ji Fa made a divination. The Duke of Zhou made a divination when seleting an ideal place for the eastern stronghold Chengzhou 成周, the eventual Luoyang 洛陽, Henan.

Yet suggestions for policy making might come from all levels of the nobility and even from commoners, as the Shiji (4 Zhou benji) alleges. Such from the ranks of functionaries were common. Ji Gong Moufu 祭公謀父 (a posthumous honorific name actually meaning "counsellor-father"), for instance, voted against King Mu's 周穆王 war against the Quanrong 犬戎 tribes. Rui Liangfu 芮良父 and the Duke of Shao criticized the military plans of King Li 周厲王 (r. 878-841 BCE).

Decisions of the court were made public by proclamations (gao 誥) to the nobility.

The central government

Even if the Zhou kings regularly toured their empire, they had a fix seat in their homeland in the west. King Wen once destroyed the Shang outpost of Chong 崇 and thereupon transferred his seat from Qishan 岐山 (close to present-day Baoji 寶雞, Shaanxi) to Feng 豐 (酆) farther east (just west of Xi'an 西安). His son, King Wu, created a new seat not far away, in Hao 鎬. The Feng-Hao region was called Zongzhou 宗周 "Ancestral Zhou". After the victory over the Shang, the Duke of Zhou decided to establish a secondary capital in the east, mostly for military reasons, to be ready if rebellions should break out. This capital was called Chengzhou (today's Luoyang, Henan).

The core of the central government was a kind of royal council consisting of "dukes" (gong). The dukes were related to the royal house by kinship. In a similar way, the government on each level consisted of a nobleman and his relatives as advisors: "ministers" (qing) gave advice to the regional rulers, younger brothers (ceshi) gave advice to the "ministers", second-born scions (erzong) gave advice to the grand masters (dafu), "friends" (pengyou 朋友) gave advice to the servicemen (shi), and all state employees had relatives which assisted them (according to a commentary by Du Yu 杜預, 222-284, on Zuozhuan).

The semi-classic Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記 (ch. Baofu 保傅) explains that there were Three Dukes (sangong), namely the Duke of Shao (lord of Yan) as Grand Guardian (taibao), the Duke of Zhou (lord of Lu) as Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅), and the Grand Duke of Qi as Grand Commander (taishi). The Duke of Bi might have been Grand Astrologer (taishi 太史), who was also the chief archivist of the royal house (Wang, Yang 1996: 333). He also occasionally played a role in central government decisions.

The royal domain encompassed the two capital regions. It was called neifu 內服 "interior service" or wangji 王畿 "royal fields", while the regions controlled by the regional rulers were called waifu 外服 "exterior services".

Recent research based on bronze inscriptions shows that the Zhou empire was practically divided into two zones, one covering the "colonized east" governed by regional states, and the other the western region and Luoyang (i.e. the royal domain) directly under the control of the royal house. Regional rulers of the east were called hou 侯 (in rare circumstances, like the state of Xu 許, nan 男人, or dian 甸), those of the west were called bo 伯 (rarely zhong 仲, shu 叔, and ji 季 - actually terms express family relationships), and on lower levels bang 邦, cai 采, or wei 衛 (dignitaries who had authority over certain areas of land). The word bang 邦 referred to polities in the west, but not to particular regional states in the east. These two zones were founded, organized, and governed in different ways (Li 2008: 47-48).

The daily business of the central government was run by two sections of officials, namely the Ministerial Department (qingshiliao 卿事寮), and the Department of the Grand Astrologer (taishiliao 太史寮). Both terms are not mentioned in transmitted sources, but are reconstruced on the base of bronze inscriptions and neglected sources. The structure of the Zhou government as described in the ritual classic Zhouli, with six ministers (liu qing 六卿) as heads of six departments or "ministries" related to the seasons (see Six Ministries) does not fit with other sources like bronze inscriptions, the Shangshu, or later writings.

The concept of the central government as composed of two departments was first described by Yang Kuan (1984). It was criticized by Zhang Zhikang (1988), who said that Yang relied too much on bronze inscriptions and totally ignored written sources, particularly the Zhouli. Zhang points at the multiple functions that the highest dignitaries of the central government took over. This makes it nearly impossible to speak of a regular structure of administration.

Table 1. The central government of the Western Zhou (neifu 內服)
Grand Commander (taishi 太師)
Grand Guardian (taibao 太保)
Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅)
Ministerial Department (qingshiliao 卿事寮) Department of the Grand Astrologer or Grand Secretariat (taishiliao 太史寮)
1. Administrator of State Affairs (changren 常任)
Overseer of the Masses (situ 司徒)
Overseer of Works (sikong 司空)
Overseer of Mounts (sima 司馬)
2. Balancer of Justice (zhunren 準人)
Overseer of Bandits (sikou 司寇)
Overseer of Functionaries (sishi 司士)
3. Administrator of the Royal Domain (changbo 常伯)
Royal Guard (huben 虎賁)
Grand Astrologer (taishi 太史)
Astrologer-Recorder (shi 史)
Censor (xingshi 省史)
Grand Supplicator (zhu 大祝)
Overseer of Divination (sibu 司卜)
Royal Household Administration
Grand Steward or Superintendant (zai 宰)
Junior Steward (neizai 內宰)
Food Steward (shanfu 膳夫)
Palace Steward (shougong 守宮)
Steward of Coaches (yuzheng 御正), Chief Interior Scribe (neishiyin 內史尹), Chief Book Maker (zuoceyin 作冊尹)

The Ministerial Department administered the "three affairs" (sanshi 三事, san you si 三有司) and the four regions (sifang 四方). The "three affairs" were managed by the functionaries called Administrator of State Affairs (changren 常任), Balancer of Justice (zhunren 準人), and Administrator of the Royal Domain (changbo 常伯). All these offices are not mentioned in the Zhouli, but appear in bronze inscriptions (e.g. Mao Gong ding 毛公鼎, Ling yi 令彞) as well as in the Classic Shangshu (ch. Lizheng 立政).

The Administrator of State Affairs (changbo), was superior of three functionaries, which are occasionally called "three dukes" (sangong 三公) or the Three Supervisors (sanyousi 三有司, also written 𤔲), namely the Overseer or Supervisor of the Masses (situ 司徒, in the early Western Zhou called Overseer of Land (situ 司土), the Overseer of Works (sikong 司空, or Supervisor of Constructions, sigong 司工), and the Overseer of Mounts (sima 司馬).

The Overseer of the Masses (situ 司徒, da situ 大司徒, also called situ 司土, zhong situ 冢司土; according to the Zhouli head of the "Terrestrial Offices"), was responsible for registering land (ji tian 藉田) and census. Apart from these civilian duties, he was also commander of infantry of the divisions of Chengzhou (see Zhou military) and assisted the king during appointment ceremonies.

The Overseer of Works (sikong 司空, also written sigong 司工; according to the logic of the Zhouli head of the "Hibernal Offices") controlled the construction of military roads, canals, and of buildings used by the king. Occasionally, the Overseer of Works might take over jurisdictional matters as Overseer of Bandits (sikou 司寇; according to the Zhouli head of the "Autumnal Offices").

The third person was the Commander of Mounts (sima 司馬; according to the Zhouli head of the "Aestival Offices") who took over command during military campaigns – but quite interestingly, no source has been found yet proving that the sima took really part in battles (Wang, Yang 1996: 336-337).

The royal guard (huben, huchen 虎臣) also belonged to the juristiction of the Administrator of the Royal Domain. It consisted usually of 800 men (Wang, Yang 1996: 337), and protected the king in daily life and during his tours and ceremonies, but might also take over attacks during military campaigns. During the conquest of the Shang, the guard was allegedly 3,000-strong.

The department of justice (sifaguan 司法官), headed by the Balancer of Justice (zhunren), consisted of the sections of the Overseer of Bandits (sikou 司寇), a kind of Minister of Justice, and the Overseer of Functionaries (sishi 司士). The first Minister of Justice was the Duke of Su 蘇公 (Su Bensheng 蘇忿生), his successor the "Uncle" Duke of Kang 康叔. The Overseer of Functionaries was responsible for discipline among the "hundred offices" (bailiao 百寮) and thus a kind of judiciary official. This post might correspond to the office of "Master of the Elite" (shishi 士師) in the Zhouli.

The civil department (minshiguan 民事官) of the Administrator of the Royal Domain (changbo) was supervising local administration, scattered tribes, and important passes.

The Department of the Grand Astrologer (taishiliao) was responsible for appointments (ceming), salaries (zhilu 制祿), records and maps, sacrifices, divination, rituals, astronomy and astrology, and the observation of agriculture, i.e. a kind of secretarial and cultural branch of government. It might correspond to the "Spring Offices" in the Zhouli. Head of the Department was the Grand Astrologer (taishi 太史, gong taishi 公太史). His rank was only second to that of Grand Commander (taishi) or Grand Guardian (taibao). The first Grand Astrologer of the Zhou was the Duke of Bi 畢.

During sacrifices or other ceremonies, the Astrologer-Recorder (shi 史) read aloud the king's proclamations. He was also responsible for documenting all events and sacrifices and for archiving them. The function of "heralding" the royal proclamations was during sacrifices also taken over by the Supplicator or Invocator (zhu 祝). The function of the Censor (xingshi 省史) was to control and perhaps punish officials. Concerning the status and rank of the supplicatory, sources are contradictory. While the ritual Classic Liji 禮記 (ch. Quli 曲禮 B) and bronze inscriptions rank this office quite high, the Zhouli sees it as a rather subaltern office. The Overseer of Divination (sibu 司卜) corresponds to the Grand Diviner (dabu 大卜) in the Zhouli. Divination was important aspect of policy making (Wang, Yang 1996: 343).

In the very beginning of the Zhou period, both capitals, Zongzhou (Feng-Hao) the west and Chengzhou (Luoyang) in the east had a full staff of the two Departments. The eastern one was supervised by the Duke of Zhou, and the western one by the Duke of Shao. This parallel structure was one reason why many dignitaries bore the suspicion that the Duke of Zhou planned to create a kind of counter-government. When King Cheng took over full regency, he abolished the civilian character of Chengzhou and reduced it to a military garrison (Wang, Yang 1996: 340).

The needs of the royal household were managed by the Grand Steward (zai 宰), an office which already existed under the Shang, and gradually emerged as a political one with great responsibility, the Counsellor-in-chief. The Duke of Zhou is occasionally called zai, which means that he controlled both the affairs of the royal household and grand politics, as regent for King Cheng. The Grand Steward supervised all the King's officials (zhenzhishi 朕執事).

Bronze inscriptions give a hint at the existence of a Grand Steward and a Junior Steward (neizai 內宰, gongzai 宮宰), as in the Zhouli (xiaozai 小宰). The latter was also called yanyin 奄尹 "Manager of the Interior". It might have been that the Junior Steward was responsible for the royal household internally, and the Grand Steward for external affairs, like proclamations or else. The Food Steward or Provisioner (shanfu 善夫, in the Zhouli written 膳夫) cared for provisions, royal banquets, and the reception of guests. He was also entrusted to transmit orders by the king, even such to the eight divisions. The Palace Steward (shougong 守宮, in the Zhouli called gongzheng 宮正) cared for security in the palace. The head of the royal coaches was called yuzheng 御正. King Mu's chief coacher was Zao Fu 造父.

Zuoce neishi 作冊內史 or zuoming neishi 作命內史 or simply neishi 內史 or neishi yin 內史尹 were recorders, scribes, archivsts, keepers of records, and took part in cadastral records and recorded the daily activities of the king. Apart from these duties of clerical work, the chief recorder was entitled to receive tributes and presents for the queen, supervised the casting of ritual bronze vessels, made proclamations in the ancestral temple, inquired regional rulers, took care for the royal banners and insignia (Wang, Yang 1996: 347).

The Shangshu (ch. Lizheng) adds to these keepers of the robes (zhuiyi 綴衣), equerries (quma 趣馬), heads of palatial departments (xiaoyin 小尹), personal attendants (zuoyou xipu 左右攜僕), and treasurers (shufu 庶府).

Li (2008) elucidates the development of the central administration of the Western Zhou, which began as a mixed military-civilian administration, in which the Ministerial Department, the office of the Astrologer-Scribe, the Royal Household, and the religious institution with the Grand Invocator were proceedingly enlargarged horizontally (number of offices and personnel) and vertically (central and local). During the mid-Western Zhou period, the royal household (wangjia 王家) gained more prominence, and the offices of the Overseer of the Masses and the Overseer of Bandits emerged. In the garrison places where the Eight and Six Royal Divisions (see Zhou military) were found, a civilian bureaucracy came up. Military personnel perhaps carried out civilian functions (Li 2008: 81). The organization in six armies moreover corresponded, quite probably, to the civilian organization in six districts (liu xiang 六鄉). The Grand Steward gained more importance as assistant (youzhe 右[=佑]者) in court cerenmoies. In his place, the Food Steward became the head of the Royal Household (Li 2008: 94-95).

Regional administration

The differences in local conditions between the regional states made local policy necessary. The state of Qi, for instance, had a large population of Shang people, subjects of the former enemy, and the state of Lu was inhabited by many "uncivilized" Yi tribes. The lords of Qi and Lu therefore adapted their policy to these people and so deviated somewhat from the main line of the Zhou regulations. The state of Wei, new homeland of many Shang people, preserved much of their customs and habits (Wang, Yang 1996: 329; Gu 2002). (verschoben hierher)

The region outside the royal domain (waifu 外服) was governed by regional rulers (fangbo 方伯, later usually called zhuhou 諸侯), functionaries or governors entrusted with the control of a certain territory on behalf of the king. The functionary would take care of the defense and economy ("the people") of the territory and would be allowed to live of the soil. The bestowment of the territory was called feng 封, a character showing a hand 寸 and a surveying tool 圭 or boundary markers. Depending on the size of the territory, the regional lords might be given ranks like hou 侯, dian 甸, nan 男 (or ren 任), and wei 衛 (according to Shangshu, ch. Jiugao 酒誥), or hou, tian 田 (=dian), and nan (inscription of Ling yi 令彞), or hou, dian, nan, cai 采, and wei (Shangshu, ch. Kanggao 康誥). The terms neifu and waifu referred to the "interior" and "exterior" services the various officials delivered to the king.

The government of each regional state was more or less a copy of the central administration (Wang, Yang 1996: 349). The regional rulers were bound to the royal house not just by kinship (at least the greater part of them), but also by a sworn alliance (meng 盟), "not to hurt each other" (wu xiang hai 無相害). Some of the regional state were given special duties. Lu, for instance, the state of the Duke of Zhou, was allowed to deliver sacrifices to King Wu, and to praise the virtue of the late Duke. The state of Wei 衛 was granted the right to venerate Kang Shu. The state of Qi had the special duty to take over military campaigns in the east.

The king's control over the regional states was realized in a ceremonial, and in a practical way. The ceremonial way consisted in the duty to keep to the rules of kinship, and to regularly repeat the oath of allegiance towards the king. The practical control consisted of the king's right to appoint the highest ministers of the regional states. All three ministres in the larger states were appointed by the king, while he was content to appoint two of the three ministers of the states of secondary rank.

The ranks of ministers and grand masters in each state was clearly defined, as can be seen in Zuozhuan, Chenggong 成公 3. The highest minister (shangqing 上卿) in a mid-size state had thus a lower rank than that in a greater, and a higher rank than that in a small state. The same practice was known for grand masters, as Mengzi 孟子 (ch. Wan Zhang 萬章 B) confirms.

Control over the regional states was also carried out by the Ministerial Department (qingshiliao). This central government institution transmitted the orders of the king and punished regional lords refusing to obey the royal orders.

The duties of the regional rulers might include service in the central government. The most famous examples are the dukes of Zhou and Shao, which were nominally entrusted with the governance of the regional states of Lu and Yan, respectively, but took over the post of Grand Commander, and Grand Guardian. Transmitted sources explain that after the final destruction of the rebellious Shang prince and his Zhou supporters, the Duke of Zhou ordered the regional rulers to assemble at the royal court in Zongzhou (Feng-Hao). At that occasion he created the state offices and fixed the rules for ceremonies and ritual music (according to Shiji, 4 Zhou Benji). From then on, the regional rulers payed the royal court a small visit (xiaopin 小聘) every second year, a great visit (dapin 大聘) every third year, and convened to a grand audience (chao 朝) in the Bright Hall (mingtang 明堂) every five years (Liji, ch. Wangzhi 王制).

The regional rulers were obliged to deliver tributes to the royal court, which was actually an early form of taxes collected locally and then partially delivered to the central government treasury.

Tribes not incorporated into the world of regional states also delivered tributes. The Sushen in the northeast, for instance, delivered arrows and soundstones, the state of Chu in the middle Yangtze region bows and arrows, the polity of Shu 蜀 in Sichuan precious stones, and the Huaiyi tribes various clothes (Wang, Yang 1996: 354). Even if the tributes were not worth a lot, they were part of a ceremonial system, and the refusal to deliver tributes might result in a punitive campaign.

The control over the empire was held up by regular hunting tours which combined military prowess by regular visits to the regional states. The king thus "toured" (xun 巡) the empire to merging hunting (shou 狩) with defense (shou 守). The regional rulers for their side were obliged to regularly attend court audiences which combined various other ceremonies. The spring audience was called chao 朝, the summer audience zong 宗, the autumn audience jin 覲, and the winter audience yu 遇. The king had the right to punish regional rulers or even attack them militarily for not appearing for an audience.

Last but not least, the regional lords had the duty to protect the king. This became most evident in the very late Western Zhou period, when the lords of Shen 申 and Zeng 繒 cooperated with the Xianyun 玁狁 tribes to punish King You 周幽王 (r. 781-771) for his misdoings. When his heir, King Ping 周平王 (r. 770-720 BCE), fled to the east, he was supported by the lords of Qin 秦, Jin, and Zheng 鄭. This situation proved that the royal house had not any more the power to control the regional rulers.

Over time, the one or other regional state became stronger and more independent. The founder of the state of Qi, for instance, reported annually to the Duke of Zhou, while the latter's successor, Boqin 伯禽, reported only every three years to the throne. Moreover, the home state of the Duke of Zhou, Lu, was not able to exert the same mode of power as Qi, and became "a subject" of Qi. The state of Jin was from the time of King Kang 周康王 allowed to settle regional disputes by its own, without inquiring the royal court. The dukes of Jin thus became more independent from the royal house.

The decisive events destroying the Western Zhou balance between centre and region were King Xuan's 周宣王 (r. 827-782 BC) interferral into the succession crisis in the state of Lu in 796, and King Yi's 周夷王 unjust murder of the lord of Qi, Duke Ai 齊哀公.

The system of regional states was also unable to protect the house of Zhou from the south and from the west, and the kings of Zhou repeatedly suffered defeat by tribal units standing outside the system of regional states.

Legal system

Transmitted sources speak of a legal code of nine chapters (xingshu jiupian 刑書九篇) or "nine punishments" (jiu xing 九刑). While the cipher 9 might stand for a number of chapters, it might also refer to nine types of punishments, as Zheng Xuan's 鄭玄 (127-200) commentary on the Shangshu (ch. Lüxing 呂刑) holds: tattooing (mo 墨), cutting off the nose (yi 劓), cutting off the knee cap (yue 刖), castration (gong 宮), and the death penalty (dapi 大辟, see Five Punishments), as well as banishment (liu 流), monetary redemption (shu 贖), lashes with the whip (bian 鞭), and beating with the stick (pu 撲).

These "regular punishments" (zhengxing 正刑) are to be contrasted with eight "consultative punishments" (yixing 議刑, bayi 八議, babi 八辟) which allowed the exemption from or reduction of punishment for certain persons, namely relatives of the king (qin 親), friends of the king (gu 故), worthies (xian 賢), competent persons (neng 能), persons of merit (gonggui 貴), diligent persons (qin 勤), and honoured guests (bin 賓, or descendents of any of the former group).

Apart from such regular cases of exemption from common punishment, there might have been cases when the penal statutes were not appropriate to determine a correct punishment. In such cases, the delinquent was "rectified" by the five penalties (wu xing bu jian, zheng yu wu fa 五刑不簡,正於五罰), which consisted of monetary payment, namely 100 huan 鍰 (a monetary unit, see Zhou money) instead of tattooing, 200 for cutting off the nose, somewhat less (bei cha 倍差) for cutting off a foot, 600 for castration, and 1,000 for the death penalty. A further reduction of penalty was to reckon the charge among the "five cases of error" (wu guo 五過, i.e. misdoings in office). Yet in such a case the judges were guard against the influence of power, private grudge, female solicitation, bribes, or applications

Punishments followed the "principles of ritual" (li ze 禮則), and were thus subject to strict procedures, among others, interviews of the claimant and the accused. The Shangshu chapter Kanggao explains that when both parties were present, with their documents and witnesses all complete, the judges listened to the fivefold statements (wuci 五辭, namely words, colour, respiration, ears, and eyes, compare ch. Xiaosikou 小司寇) that may be made. When they have examined and fully made up their minds on those, they adjusted the case.

During the reign of King Mu, the penal code Lüxing was created which listed allegedly 1,000 crimes to be punished with tattooing, 1,000 crimes for which the delinquent's nose was cut off, 500 crimes punished by cutting out the knee-cap or off the foot, 300 crimes punished by castration, and 200 crimes for which the death penalty was due. The code was created by the Marquis of Lü 呂侯 (also called Lü Fu 呂甫). Its creation is described in the Shangshu chapter of the same name.

Apart from already existing laws (like the [putative] Xia code Shuxing 贖刑), new ones were promulgated by the Zhou kings, including the predynastic ruler King Wen. Such promulgations are quoted in the Shangshu chapters Kanggao, Jiugao or Duoshi.

The chapter on the Minister of Justice (sikou) in the Zhouli explains that the rulers of regional states were punished according to three principles (sandian 三典), namely lightly for new states, with a middle strictness for average states, and severely for states in disorder or rebellion. For each realm of function in the state, there were different criteria of assessment and five objectives which the Zhou hoped to fulfill with the help of punishments.

Quotation. Control of the empire by punishment
以五刑糾萬民,一曰野刑,上功糾力。 [The government] controls the population by the five types of punishment. First, the punishment of the countryside for which the efforts [of the cultivators] are the criterion and by which physical forces are rectified.
二曰軍刑,上命糾守。 Second, the punishment of the army for which the [execution of] orders is the criterion and by which defense is rectified.
三曰鄉刑,上德糾孝。 Third, the punishment of the districts for which moral conduct is the criterion and by which filial piety is rectified.
四曰官刑,上能糾職。 Fourth, the punishment of functionaries for which competence is the criterion and by which duties are rectified.
五曰國刑,上愿糾暴。 Fifth, the punishment of the royal domain for which attention is the criterion and by which violence is checked.
Translation according to Biot, Vol. 2, 309.

With the help of punishments, the functionaries of the state were caused to serve the government at its best. Yet labourers were also tested for their performance. Peasants cultivating state-owned land or building roads, dykes, and temples, were strictly supervised by the government. The other people could be controlled by the instrument of appealing to "virtuous" or "filial conduct".

The most severe punishment was the extirpation of several generations, was was the case with the rebels Wu Geng, Guan Shu and Cai Shu. As "virtue" played an important role in the philosophical legitimity of the Zhou dynasty (see Zhou philosophy), violation of principles as filialty were severely punished. Regional rulers might be decreased in their rank, or their territory reduced.

The same chapter of the Zhouli described the methods by which the Minister of Justice (sikou) interviewed delinquents to find out more about the case (Wang, Yang 1996: 373). Delinquents were usually put into jail (huantu 圜土).

Generally seen, the penal law of the Zhou seemed to have been somewhat softer than that of the Shang which made use of cruel punishments as burning alive or cutting out the bowels. The Zhou kings therefore admonished their functionaries to use corporal punishments with caution and after deliberate condideration. All crimes, even lesser ones, were to be punished, but according to reasonable standards. The king warned his functionaries, "deal reverently and intelligently in your infliction of punishments" (jing ming nai fa 敬明乃罰, Shangshu, ch. Kanggao).

Legal disputes among high dignitaries had to be resolved by the royal court, as seen in the inscriptions of the Hu Ding 曶鼎 tripod (II, III) and the San shi pan 散氏盤 plate. In the first case, the arbiter was Xing Shu 邢叔, in the second one a grand master from the family Donggong 東宮 (Cook, Goldin 2016: 131-135).

The system of regional states established by the first Zhou rulers had disintegrated during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE). The lords became rulers themselves. Among the multitude of big and small states, a few gained hegemony over the smaller ones, and also exerted control over the kings of Zhou. The permanent warfare made it necessary to build up standing armies and to create a centralized state. One of the first states to reorganizing its political structure was the state of Qi during the councelorship of Guan Zhong 管仲 (d. 645). "Master Guan" 管子 divided the territory into administration units and likewise organized traders, artisans, soldiers, citizens and peasants in units controlled by officials, that were rewarded or punished according to their effectiveness. This kind of centralized state would be much more capable to cope with all matters that required a strong organisation like war and public work. Guanzi was the first legalist, a school of thought that should later be fundamental for the founding of the Chinese empire. The other states one by one copied this system and gave up the old kinship official system. Instead of ministers (qing) and grand masters (dafu) that had often been related to the lord's family, a class of professional officials called shi took over the state service. They gained specialized knowledge in both military and civil service. Confucius mourned his life long for the old elite and their rites that now suffered social decline. As a crucial person in the new administration, some counsellors (xiang 相) could dominate over the whole state and made the ruler a simple puppet in their hands.
It was the work of political advisors who restructured the state system of the regional states in matters of administration, economy and military. Strengthening the state by concentrating the power within the hands of the sovereign and by codifying (penal) law, increasing the state income by enhancing agricultural productivity and systematizing the tax system, and professionalizing the military were the main strategies of these advisors. The first country that during the so-called Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) undertook such reforms was the state of Wei 魏 under Marquis Wen 魏文侯 (r. 424-387) who was assisted by Confucian scholars like Zixia 子夏, Tian Zifang 田子方, and Duan Ganmu 段干木, and by legalist and military advisors like Li Kui 李悝, Wu Qi 吳起 and Ximen Bao 西門豹. In the state of Chu, Wu Qi had King Dao 楚悼王 (r. 402-381) reformed the official system that was overloaded with useless persons and retainers. In the state of Qi, it was Zou Ji 鄒忌 and Shen Dao 慎倒 and who helped King Wei 齊威王 (r. 379-343) resp. Xuan 齊宣王 (r. 343-324) to eliminate the power of other "clans". The legalist advisor Shen Buhai 申不害 helped Marquis Zhao 韓昭侯 (r. 359-333) of the state of Han 韓 to appoint the most able state officials. But far the most influential advisor was Shang Yang 商鞅 (later Lord Shang 商君, hence his book Shangjunshu 商君書 "The Book of Lord Shang") who assisted Duke Xiao of Qin 秦孝公 (r. 362-338). By means of cruel penalties, awards and promotions the population of Qin was made productive and obedient. Measures and weights were standardized, and the whole territorial administration was reorganized in townships (xiang 鄉) and districts (xian 縣). Furthermore, the old well field system was finally abandoned and replaced by a system that yielded higher tax revenues.
But it was not only the bureaucracy that caused a drastic change in state affairs. Becoming independent from their former lords, the kings of Zhou, the dukes (gong) of the great states appointed their own followers and kinsmen with territories inside their regional domain. Several of these families could gain independence from their lord, like the families Zhao 趙, Wei 魏 and Han in the state of Jin. The political system with the king of Zhou at the top and regional rulers acting as his deputies thereby dissolved gradually, and the former Dukes adopted the title of king.
Penal law was an important issue during the restructuring of the regional states during the Warring States era. Almost every state began to codify penal law, but only few writings and documents have survived, like the fragments of Li Kui's Fajing 法經 "Book of Standards", or the Qin regulations discovered in a tomb near Yunmeng 雲夢, Hubei. It was especially state officials who were the target of exact law observation. Penal law of the Warring States era provided three kinds of punishments: death penalty (sixing 死刑), mutilation (rouxing 肉刑), and slavery (tuxing 徒刑). Of course, there were also lesser punishments like exile, beating, penalty fee, and compulsory labour. A very heavy penalty was the extinction of three generations (sanyi 三夷) of relatives of a guilty person.
Education was restricted to members of the nobility. As can be seen from the ritual classics the main focus of early Zhou education were propriety (li 禮) and music (yue 樂), archery (she 射) and driving a chariot (yu 御), writing (shu 書) and mathematics (shu 數). These six majors (liuyi 六藝 "the six arts or skills") that partially reflect the military activities of the aristocracy were thought to princes and members of the aristocracy at royal schools (daxue 大學) like the Biyong 辟雍 and Xuegong 學宮 schools at the royal court of the Zhou kings. Other regional states also maintained schools (xiang 庠, xu 序), like the Xihe Academy 西河學宮 in Wei 魏 and the Jixia Academy 稷下學宮 in Qi. From the Spring and Autumn period on and the development of a regular state administration by officials (shi 士) literary knowledge and exertise became more important than military training. Classical writings like the Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs" and Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes" became the focus of educational material. This situation again changed when the political events made it necessary to study practical administration and to consider flexible politics in order to survive. It was the time of the "Hundred Schools" (baijia 百家) whose representants tought political and philosophical ideas at the courts of the regional rulers throughout China. Mozi 墨子, Mengzi 孟子, Xunzi 荀子, the legalists (fajia 法家; Shen Dao 慎到) and scholars of various schools like the early Huang-Lao thought 黃老思想 (Song Jian 宋鈃, Jiezi 接子, Tian Pian 田駢) and correlational thinking (yinyang wuxing 陰陽五行: Zou Yan 鄒衍) wandered from court to court and spread their ideas among the officialdom and the educated elite.

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