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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: September 2009

6 - The legacy of the Western Zhou

Summary

Given 1045 bc as the year of the Zhou conquest of Shang, the Western Zhou dynasty would have lasted 274 years, just about the same length of time as the Ming dynasty (276 years: ad 1368–1644). However, after the downfall of the Western Zhou dynasty, the Zhou court continued to exist in Luoyi for another 515 years, making the history of the Zhou royal house much longer than that of any other royal or imperial lineage that ever ruled China. Compared to other major dynasties in Chinese history, the strength and glory of the Western Zhou dynasty seem to have passed too early and the course of its weakening seems to have been extraordinarily long. But the very fact that the royal line could persist for nearly 800 years indicates also the unique power of the Zhou system. The Western Zhou state declined as the result of being perplexed by internal problems under outside pressures, and fell as the outcome of a “sudden” foreign attack joined by some of Zhou's former allies. It was the growth of the regional states that deprived the Western Zhou state of its energy and resources; it was also this growth that preserved a Zhou world and a long-lasting royal line. The Western Zhou state was itself a contradiction – a contradiction that inevitably brought it to a disastrous end.

As the last of the early royal dynasties in China, the Western Zhou state left its clear imprint on later Chinese history.

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