In the Chinese culture of the past 5,000 years, the main theme was without doubt of divine connection, and was well preserved. It guides people’s everyday life, viewpoint of the world, and transition of dynasties.
This series focused on manifestation of this main theme during remote ages. They include the Xia Dynasty (about 2070-1600 BC), Shang Dynasty (about 1600-1046 BC), and Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). Although relatively scarce, historical records and archaeological discoveries about these eras provide us a glimpse of how a foundation was laid for the glorious Chinese civilization.
(Continued from Part 1)
There was a strong relationship with divine culture and the change of dynasties. This included both the rise of a new dynasty and its fall after hundreds of years. So we ask, what are its basis for the changes, and how to achieve long-term stability and prosperity?
Change of Dynasties and Heavenly Blessing
As described in Part 1, people from the Xia to the Zhou Dynasties, including kings and officials, generally believed in divinity. Such belief was responsible not only for blessings in society, but also the ending of dynasties.
According to Shangshu (Book of Documents), King Zhou was the last king of the Shang Dynasty. His licentiousness, as well as brutality had triggered a rebellion. One of his officials, Zuyin, once warned him, “The blessing for us from the heavens may end soon… your licentiousness is leading to self-destruction and that is why heaven has abandoned us.”
Although King Zhou thought that his fate was already determined by heaven, Zuyi explained that too many wrongdoings by the king could doom his future.
In early 1046 BC, King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty traveled and defeated Shang within one month. The quick success made him very concerned.
According to Shiji (The Records of the Grand Historian), King Wu did not sleep well after returning to the capital city of Haojing. When his younger brother Zhou Gong asked why, King Wu replied, “The heavenly blessing for me is not guaranteed yet. How can I sleep?” After witnessing Shang’s easy collapse, he was worried about the uncertainty of Zhou Dynasty’s future.
Worshiping Divinity and Cherishing Virtue
Zhou Zhong, also known as the Duke of Zhou, often emphasized the importance of virtue. “The heavenly blessing is not everlasting, and it depends on virtue,” he once wrote.
King Cheng, son of King Wu, planned to move the capital to Luoyi (today’s Luoyang in Henan Province), and he asked Shao Gong (also known as Duke of Shao) to manage it.
When Zhong Gong visited Luoyi, Shao Gong asked him to remind King Cheng to cherish virtue, “We must learn from the lessons of the Xia and Shang Dynasties. I do not know how long was Xia’s fate, or if it could be extended. Its lack of virtue led to its ending. I also do not know how long was Shang’s fate or if it could be extended. Its lack of virtue also led to is ending.”
Similarly, Zhou Gong also told descendants of Shang, “Heaven will not honor those without virtue. All these countries, regardless big or small, collapsed because of ignoring heaven and virtue.”
Manifestation of Virtue
In the section of Shangshu about the Zhou Dynasty, the word of “virtue” (de) appeared in almost every article. Although there was no clear definition of virtue, its scope included the personal character of the king, education, and caring for people.
Below are some examples:
When calling on other seigneurs to join together and attack Shang, King Wu said, “King Zhou followed women’s words [doing bad deeds], and alienated himself from heaven. He destroyed the righteous principles of heaven, earth, and mankind. In addition to neglecting siblings and relatives, he abandoned traditional melodies and produced lascivious music. By doing so, he disturbed melodies that please women.”
In contrast, the Zhou Dynasty was established due to its merit. Zhou Gong once praised King Wen, King Wu’s father, “He served people humbly, looking after them, and improving agriculture. He is kind, gentle, graceful, and courteous. He kept ordinary people’s well being in his mind, and offered assistance to those in need of help. From morning to noon to dusk, he had little time to eat. He instead put all of his efforts into benefiting people. He dared not spend time hunting, and diligently fulfilled his duties.”
Learning from Lessons
The above words were given by Zhong Gong to King Cheng, son of King Wu. When King Wu died, King Cheng was very young, and Zhong Gong acted as a regent. Seven years later, he returned the power to King Cheng. Due to badmouthing by some officials against Zhou Gong, King Cheng did not trust him, and stayed away from him. As a result, Zhong Gong left.
There was thunder and strong winds before the crops were harvested in the autumn of that year. The crops were damaged, and trees were pulled up. King Cheng and his officials were panicked, and they dressed up for praying.
As King Cheng opened the box dedicated to praying, he found earlier prayer words from Zhong Gong on the second year after King Wu defeated Shang. At that time, King Wu was severely ill, and during praying, Zhong Gong offered to give his own life in exchange for King Wu’s health.
Touched by the praying words, which were confirmed by other officials, King Cheng regretted his actions and broke out in tears. “Zhong Gong was very diligent for our country, and a young man like me did not know that. The disaster we are experiencing is a warning from heaven to honor Zhong Gong’s merit. I will humbly welcome him back.” Right after he left the city, it began to rain. The wind changed direction, and the flattened crops straightened again. It was another year of good harvest.
This story was recorded in the article of “Jin Teng” of Shangshu. Upon returning, Zhong Gong continued to help King Cheng and wrote an article called “Wu Yi” (meaning “Do not slack off,” also available in Shangshu), in which he cited the story of King Zhou as presented in the previous section.
Blessing Achieved for Cherishing the Divine
Several thousands of years have passed. The divine cultures of the Xiang, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties not only help us understand the history of Chinese culture, but also shed light on our society today.
Consistent with its preceding era, people in these three dynasties believed that mankind needed to align with the divine, and that everything from natural phenomena, crop yields, to the change of dynasties and societal prosperity were controlled by the divine. Only by following the divine and cherishing virtue would they be blessed.
Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power several decades ago, however, it has abandoned China’s age-old culture.
On the one hand, it rejected the traditional divine values, and instilled the CCP culture of violence and struggle throughout the society. It also suppresses people with brutality and hate propaganda. As a result, instead of following divinity, and cherishing virtue, many people are only interested in materialistic and personal gains.
The only path to regain longevity and prosperity for Chinese civilization is returning to the traditional path—a journey of divinity, virtue, and blessing.