King Wen of Zhou

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Ji Chang
King Wen of Zhou.jpg
King of Zhou
Reign 1099–1050 BC (49 years)
Born 1152 BC
Died 1056 BC (aged 96)
Posthumous name
King Wen (文王)
Emperor Wen (文皇帝)
Temple name
Shizu (始祖, lit. "First Founder")
Father King Ji of Zhou
Mother Tairen
King Wen of Zhou
Chinese 周文王
Literal meaning "The Cultured King of Zhou"
Alternative Chinese name
Chinese 姬昌
Literal meaning (personal name)

King Wen of Zhou (Chinese: 周文王; pinyin: Zhōu Wén Wáng; 1152 – 1056 BC) was king of Zhou during the late Shang dynasty in ancient China. Although it was his son Wu who conquered the Shang following the Battle of Muye, King Wen was honored as the founder of the Zhou dynasty. A large number of the hymns of the Classic of Poetry are praises to the legacy of King Wen. Some consider him the first epic hero of Chinese history.


Born Ji Chang (姬昌), Wen was the son of Tai Ren and Ji Jili, the king of a small state along the Wei River in present-day Shaanxi. His father was betrayed and executed by the Shang king Wen Ding in the late 12th century BC.

He married Tai Si and had at least ten sons.

At one point, King Zhou of Shang, fearing Wen's growing power, imprisoned him in Youli (present-day Tangyin in Henan).[1] However, many officials respected Wen for his honorable governance and they gave King Zhou so many gifts – including gold, horses, and women – that he released Wen, who subsequently planned to overthrow King Zhou but died before he could accomplish it. His second son, King Wu, followed his father's wishes and crushed the Shang at Muye, creating the imperial Zhou dynasty.



Ah! Solemn is the clear temple,
reverent and concordant the illustrious assistants.
Dignified, dignified are the many officers,
holding fast to the virtue of King Wen.
Responding in praise to the one in Heaven,
they hurry swiftly within the temple.
Greatly illustrious, greatly honored,
may [King Wen] never be weary of [us] men.

— "Eulogies of Zhou – Clear Temple" (Chinese: 清廟; pinyin: Qīng miào)[2]

Many of the older odes from the Classic of Poetry (Shijing 詩經) are hymns in praise of King Wen. King Wen is also credited with having stacked the eight trigrams in their various permutations to create the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching. He is also said to have written the judgments which are appended to each hexagram. The most commonly used sequence of the 64 hexagrams is attributed to him and is usually referred to as the King Wen sequence.

Posthumous Honors[edit]

In 196 BC, Han Gaozu gave King Wen the title "Greatest of All Kings".[3]

See also[edit]

  1. Family tree of ancient Chinese emperors


  1. ^ Cihai, p. 201.
  2. ^ Kern (2010), p. 23.
  3. ^ Creel. The Origins of Statecraft, p. 42.


  • Ci Hai Bian Ji Wei Yuan Hui (辞海编辑委员会). Shanghai Ci Shu Chu Ban She (Shanghai), 1979 (in Chinese)
  • Wu, K. C. The Chinese Heritage. Crown Publishers (New York), 1982. ISBN 0-517-54475-X.
King Wen of Zhou
Born: 1152 BC Died: 1056 BC
Regnal titles
New title King of Zhou
1099 – c. 1050 BC
Succeeded by
King Wu of Zhou