The Zhou began as a semi-nomadic tribe that lived to the west of the Shang kingdom. Due to their nomadic ways, they learned how to work with people of different cultures. After a time, they settled in the Wei River valley, where they became vassals of the Shang. The Zhou eventually became stronger than the Shang, and in about 1040 B.C. they defeated the Shang in warfare. They built their capital in Xi'an. Part of their success was the result of gaining the allegiance of disaffected city-states. The Shang were also weakened due to their constant warfare with people to the north.
Traditional Chinese history says that the Zhou were able to take over the Shang because the Shang had degenerated morally. Part of this belief may have been caused by the Zhou themselves, who are credited with the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. The Zhou used this idea to validate their takeover and subsequent ruling of the former Shang kingdom. The Mandate of Heaven says that Heaven, or tian, places the mandate, tianming, to rule on any family that is morally worthy of the responsibility. Also, the only way to know if the Mandate of Heaven had been removed from the ruling family was if they were overthrown. If the ruler is overthrown, then the victors had the Mandate of Heaven.
The Zhou, despite transporting the Shang to their cities for their skills, did not want to live directly with the Shang. Their capital was divided into two sections, one for the Zhou, that contained the imperial court, and the other half for the transported Shang. Other Zhou cities exhibit this same characteristic. However, this was the only major change in cities from the Shang Dynasty to the Zhou Dynasty. Otherwise, the houses remained the same as in the Shang Dynasty.
The Zhou also brought their religion with them. They banned human sacrifice. They practiced the cult of Heaven. The worship of sun and stars was the most important thing. Some of the popular Shang gods became incorporated into this system. They were lesser gods, and served as feudal lords to the Heaven-god.
Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Item a Gift of Professor and Mrs. R. Norris Shreve
This time period of the Warring States is considered the classical age, it was a time of great philosophers. This cultural flowering is sometimes called the One Hundred Schools Period. Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism developed during this time. Of these three, Legalism had the most immediate effect, as it was the philosophy that the Qin, the next dynasty used as the basis of their rule. Some of the most memorable poetry and prose was also written during this time. Other advances included the writing down of the laws, an increase in market places, and a money economy. The development of iron, and tools made of iron, greatly increased agriculture and thus population exploded.
Zhou Dynasty / Western Zhou Dynasty (11 cent. -771 BC) / Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 - 221 BC)
According to standard Chinese accounts, the last Shang ruler, a despot was overthrown by a chieftain of a frontier tribe called Zhou, which had settled in the Wei Valley in modern Shaanxi Province. The Zhou dynasty had its capital at Hao, near the city of Xi'an, or Chang'an, as it was known in its heyday in the imperial period.
In 771 B.C, The capital was moved eastward to Luoyang in present-day Henan Province. Because of this shift, historians divide the Zhou era into Western Zhou (1027-771 B.C.) and Eastern Zhou (770-221 B.C.)?And Eastern Zhou divides into two subperiods. The first, from 770 to 476 B.C., is called the Spring and Autumn Period; the second is known as the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.).
Sharing the language and culture of the Shang, the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, gradually sinicized, that is, extended Shang culture through much of China Proper north of the Chang Jiang (or Yangtze River). The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other, from 1027 to 221 B.C.Initially from Shang, there was the notion that the ruler (the "son of heaven”) governed by divine right but that his dethronement would prove that he had lost the mandate.