King Wen of Zhou Seeking Talent-周王求贤

Emperor Yi, towards the end of his reign, moved the capital to Mo, known as Chaoge today (in present-day Qi County, Henan Province). His eldest son was named Weizi Qi, but due to his mother’s low status, he couldn’t be declared the crown prince. However, his younger son, Xin, was born to Emperor Yi’s primary consort and later succeeded to the throne. Emperor Xin, commonly known as King Zhou of Shang, was the last ruler of the Shang Dynasty. The title “King Zhou” is not an official imperial title but a posthumous epithet given by later generations, indicating his notorious reputation for cruelty and moral degradation.

Historical records depict King Zhou as an intelligent and martially capable individual with early military achievements. Unfortunately, his wisdom and martial prowess didn’t last long. Over time, he transformed into a cruel and unvirtuous ruler, revealing a nature inclined towards greed and sensuality. As his military achievements grew, he indulged in extravagance, becoming increasingly luxurious and tyrannical. The king’s folly provided an opportunity for unscrupulous officials to take advantage, leading to widespread corruption in the government. The Shang Dynasty, under King Zhou’s rule, further declined, facing external threats from surrounding tribes, and the realm plunged into darkness as the suffering of the people intensified.

Meanwhile, the Zhou clan on Mount Qi, under the dedicated governance of Duke Ji Chang (Western Duke), was flourishing. Since Emperor Yi had eased tensions between Shang and Zhou through diplomatic means, Ji Chang did not pursue an eastern expansion against Shang but rather paid annual tributes in a seemingly submissive manner. According to “Lüshi Chunqiu,” Ji Chang’s tributes were always sincere and respectful, making King Zhou pleased and rewarding him with vast territories. However, Ji Chang’s outward compliance masked his true intentions. While appearing obedient to Shang, he actively developed the strength of Zhou, accumulating power for the eventual downfall of Shang. Ji Chang advocated virtue, promoted the well-being of common people, prioritized agriculture, and implemented benevolent governance. Under his rule, the Zhou clan prospered economically, and their influence expanded as many regional lords willingly submitted to Zhou’s authority.

The growing strength of the Western Zhou attracted the attention of King Zhou of Shang. One of King Zhou’s close aides, Duke Chong Hou Hu, advised King Zhou that the Western Duke deliberately displayed virtue to gather support and resources, secretly plotting rebellion. Enraged by this suggestion, King Zhou ordered the arrest of Ji Chang and imprisoned him in Youli (modern-day Tangyin County, Henan). Although Ji Chang was calm during his imprisonment, King Zhou, unable to discern any signs of rebellion, decided to test Ji Chang’s loyalty. The Shang court collected numerous offerings, including beautiful women, fine horses, and precious jewels, to demonstrate their sincere allegiance to Shang. King Zhou, pleased by the tribute of beautiful women, ordered Ji Chang’s release and even granted him the authority to independently wage war against smaller states that did not comply with Shang’s commands. This historical event is known as the “Youli Crisis.”

Despite Ji Chang’s release from Youli, he witnessed King Zhou’s debauchery and incompetence. Returning to the Western Zhou, Ji Chang solidified his determination to overthrow the Shang Dynasty. Aware that Western Zhou had sufficient strength to confront Shang, Ji Chang sought a capable military strategist to assist him in warfare. He began actively recruiting talents while simultaneously strengthening his own power.

News of Ji Chang’s broad search for virtuous individuals reached an elderly man with white hair, offering a glimmer of hope. This man was Jiang Shang, later renowned as Jiang Taigong.

Originally named Lv Shang, with the surname Jiang, styled as Ziyu, Jiang Taigong hailed from a family that had once assisted Yu the Great in flood control. When their ancestral land became the territory of Lu, they adopted the Jiang surname. Despite his family’s decline, Jiang Taigong, formerly known as Lv Shang, strived for a higher purpose in governance and nation-building. Despite facing poverty in his youth, engaging in activities such as selling beef and running a liquor store, he never abandoned his lofty aspirations for statecraft. Diligently studying throughout his life, he became proficient in astronomy, geography, military strategy, and the art of governing a nation. Despite his wisdom and outstanding talents, he struggled to gain the recognition of King Zhou and remained unemployed.

Upon learning of Ji Chang’s active search for virtuous individuals, Jiang Taigong, eager to realize his ambitions, left Chaoge and arrived at the Wei River, southwest of Mount Qi. Settling near Poxi, he began fishing without using bait or a hook, suspending the fishing line three feet above the water’s surface. A passing woodcutter, intrigued by Jiang Taigong’s unconventional method, questioned how fish could possibly be caught without a hook. Jiang Taigong, unmoving, replied, “As long as the fish are willing, they will take the bait themselves.”

Word gradually spread about the peculiar old man by the Wei River who fished without a hook, and Ji Chang also heard the rumors. Intrigued by the uniqueness of this individual, Ji Chang visited the Wei River under the pretext of going on a hunting expedition. Observing the odd old man fishing, Ji Chang engaged him in conversation and discovered that the spirited elderly person possessed exceptional eloquence and profound insights. Delighted by their conversation, Ji Chang inquired about the state of the world and strategies for governing a country. Jiang Taigong proposed that to govern and prosper, one must appoint individuals based on their merits and emphasize the discovery and utilization of talent—an idea that resonated with Ji Chang’s own views. Overjoyed, Ji Chang realized that Jiang Taigong was the talented individual he had been seeking, and he requested Jiang Taigong to join him in achieving the great plan of overthrowing Shang.

Jiang Taigong was appointed as Grand Tutor, entrusted with the management of both military and political affairs. With his strategic acumen finally put to use, he played a pivotal role in Ji Chang’s efforts to strengthen and expand the Western Zhou. In gratitude for Ji Chang’s recognition, Jiang Taigong devoted his wisdom to assist Ji Chang in nation-building. Together, they developed the internal strength of Zhou, focusing on both domestic and foreign affairs. Simultaneously, they strengthened ties with neighboring tribes, gradually undermining the foundation of Shang rule. Jiang Taigong led extensive military campaigns, pacifying ethnic minorities in the west and defeating Chong, a significant ally of Shang in the west. Through continuous external warfare, the influence of Zhou expanded, gradually occupying two-thirds of the realm. This success was largely attributed to the strategic brilliance of Jiang Taigong.