Emperor Yi marries his younger sister-帝乙归妹

During the later period of the Shang Dynasty, as its national power gradually declined, a Ji clan with the surname Ji emerged to the west of Mount Qi, below the rivers and streams of the Shang Dynasty. According to the “Records of the Grand Historian,” the founding ancestor of the Zhou clan was Gugongtufu, who had three sons: Taibo, Yuchong, and the youngest, Jili. Jili’s son was the later Zhou King Ji Chang. Legend has it that Ji Chang had auspicious signs at birth, and anticipating his future greatness, Gugongtufu intended to pass the throne to Jili. Upon learning of their father’s intentions, Taibo and Yuchong went to the wilderness of Jing, where they cut their hair short and adorned their bodies with patterns, signaling their willingness to yield the throne to their younger brother Jili. Subsequently, Taibo and Yuchong established the state of Wu in the Taihu Lake region.

After the death of Gugongtufu, Jili ascended the throne and became known as Duke Ji. Jili not only inherited his father’s position but also continued his governance strategies, promoting benevolence and righteousness while actively developing agriculture, leading to the rapid growth of the Zhou clan. During this time, Wen Ding was the ruler of the Shang Dynasty. Faced with the flourishing Zhou clan, Wen Ding adopted a policy of appeasement, appointing Jili as a local lord.

As the Shang Dynasty weakened and faced constant invasions from surrounding nomadic tribes, Jili took decisive military actions against these tribes. He first defeated the Yuwu tribe located in present-day Shanxi’s Changzhi area, and after their surrender, he presented captives and spoils of war to King Wen Ding, earning his approval. Wen Ding entrusted Jili with the responsibility of securing the border. Subsequently, Jili conquered the Shihu tribe, and later the Yitu tribe, capturing three major leaders and presenting them to Wen Ding. Through these campaigns against border tribes, many vassals pledged allegiance to the Zhou clan, and their military strength expanded, making Zhou increasingly powerful.

The rising strength of the Zhou clan alarmed King Wen Ding, who, in an attempt to eliminate this threat, suddenly ordered the arrest and swift execution of Jili.

After Jili’s death, his son Ji Chang succeeded to the throne, becoming the later King Wen of Zhou. Upon ascending to the throne, King Wen was determined to avenge his father and further strengthen the Zhou Dynasty. He actively pursued agricultural development, emulated the governance strategies of his grandfather and father, recruited talents, and augmented military strength.

After Wen Ding killed Jili, he also passed away a few years later, and Emperor Yi succeeded him, becoming the 30th ruler of the Shang Dynasty. Emperor Yi, newly established in his reign, faced potential threats from both the east and the west. The eastern and western barbarian tribes between the Yangtze and Huai Rivers rose in rebellion, forming alliances and preparing for a massive attack on the Shang Dynasty.

In light of these challenges, Emperor Yi might have faced simultaneous attacks from both sides. To stabilize the situation, Emperor Yi decided to adopt a conciliatory approach by arranging a marriage between one of his princesses and Ji Chang, mending the ruptured relations caused by his father’s killing of Jili. The initial relation between the Zhou and Shang was one of suzerainty, and with the establishment of this marriage, their mutual dependence deepened. Emperor Yi hoped that this marriage would help bury the hatchet between Shang and Zhou, fostering unity. Ji Chang, recognizing the profound foundation of the Shang Dynasty, considered the power difference between the two sides significant and believed that the time for overthrowing the Shang had not yet arrived. Therefore, he agreed to the marriage proposal.

Emperor Yi personally performed divination to determine the wedding date, prepared lavish dowries, and appointed Ji Chang to continue serving as the Duke of the West, leading the western vassals. On the day of the wedding, Duke Ji Chang, in a gesture of great solemnity, personally went to the northern bank of the Wei River to welcome the Shang princess.

Both the Shang and Zhou sides were joyous, and their reconciliation became a celebrated story, known as “Emperor Yi marries his younger sister.” The “Return of the Maiden” hexagram in the Book of Changes also has an oracle that says, “Return of the Maiden: Perseverance is unfavorable; no advantage to proceed.” The hexagram consists of Dui below and Zhen above, signifying the movement towards marriage and the giving away of a maiden, hence the name “Return of the Maiden.”

Having stabilized the Zhou Dynasty, Emperor Yi led the vassals, concentrating efforts on subduing the eastern and southeastern barbarian tribes. He quickly achieved victory and consolidated his rule. Emperor Yi and King Wen ascended to the throne almost simultaneously. According to oracle bone inscriptions, Emperor Yi ruled for about thirty years, while King Wen ruled for approximately fifty years, passing away in the later years of Emperor Xin’s (King Zhou of Shang) thirty-year reign. During Emperor Yi’s nearly thirty-year rule, there were no military conflicts between Shang and Zhou, indicating that the marriage of Emperor Yi to Ji Chang’s daughter indeed promoted peace and played a role in quelling military conflicts.