The War of King Wu Against King Zhou-武王伐纣

After ruling for fifty years, Duke Chang of the Western Zhou passed away before achieving the complete overthrow of the Shang Dynasty. Although he did not launch a direct attack on the Shang during his reign, with the assistance of Jiang Shang, he laid a solid foundation for his descendants to overturn Shang rule. Following Duke Chang’s death, he was posthumously honored as King Wen. His son, Duke Fa, ascended the throne, known as King Wu of Zhou. King Wu inherited his father’s aspirations and actively prepared for an attack on the Shang. To facilitate the attack on the Shang capital, Ao, he relocated the capital from Feng to Hao.

At this time, under the tyrannical rule of King Zhou, the Shang political system had become highly corrupt. To test the Shang’s strength and gauge the reactions of the surrounding states to an attack on the Shang, in the second year of his reign, King Wu, under the pretext of mourning King Wen, led a large army westward to Mount Biyuan (present-day Chang’an, Shaanxi), the burial site of King Wen. Subsequently, he turned eastward toward Ao, reaching Mengjin on the south bank of the Yellow River (northeast of present-day Mengjin, Henan). King Wu claimed to be Prince Fa, erecting a large wooden plaque in the army with the name of his father, Duke Chang, indicating that King Wen still commanded the army. More than eight hundred feudal lords attended the alliance meeting, where King Wu conducted a solemn oath ceremony, and the feudal lords urged him to attack Ao immediately. However, King Wu and Jiang Taigong believed that the Shang’s military strength was still formidable, and the time to attack was not yet ripe. Thus, they cautioned everyone to patiently await the opportune moment. King Wu then ordered the entire army to cross the Yellow River, withdraw from Shang territory, and wait for the right time. This event is known as the famous “Mengjin Observance of Armaments,” during which King Wu discerned that people’s hearts leaned toward Zhou, and King Zhou was already facing internal dissent.

Just as the crisis in the west of the Shang Dynasty eased, the Dongyi people in the east took advantage of the situation to launch a large-scale attack on the Shang. King Zhou assembled a powerful army to attack the Dongyi people. The battle was fierce, with the Dongyi forces proving brave and skilled in archery. However, the Shang army, well-equipped with finely crafted bronze weapons, had superior weaponry and inflicted significant casualties. Additionally, the Shang army even deployed elephants in battle, as recorded in ancient texts: “The Shang people employed elephants to oppress the Dongyi.” The Shang forces gained the upper hand, defeating the Dongyi army, capturing many prisoners, and enslaving them.

Possibly during this campaign, passing through the Su clan territory, King Zhou captured Daji. King Zhou, after obtaining Daji, favored her greatly. Despite the continuous military expeditions depleting the national strength, he showed no intention of reform, becoming more extravagant and indulgent. He constructed the Lutai platform and implemented brutal punishments, leading to criticism from virtuous ministers like Bi Gan and Jizi, with one executed and the other imprisoned. The ministers, Tai Shi and Shao Shi, realizing that King Zhou was beyond redemption, fled from Ao with the ancestral temple utensils, intensifying internal conflicts within the Shang royal court.

Seeing that the time was ripe, King Wu and Jiang Taigong decided it was time to act. King Wu issued a proclamation to the various vassal states, decisively deciding to march towards Ao for the final battle to overthrow the Shang.

Around the year 1046 BCE, King Wu led an army with 300 chariots, 3,000 guards, and 45,000 soldiers to cross the Yellow River at Mengjin and arrive at the outskirts of Ao, known as Muye (south of present-day Weihui, Henan). There, they joined forces with armies from allied states such as Yong, Shu, Qiang, Wei, Lu, Peng, Pu, and others, totaling 4,000 chariots.

Before the battle, King Wu held a grand oath ceremony, delivering a solemn pledge to the entire army as recorded in the “Book of Documents – Oath at Mu.” The oath listed the crimes of King Zhou, emphasizing that the campaign against him was in accordance with the “will of heaven.” It also called for strict discipline and bravery in battle.

The massive Zhou army had already reached the outskirts of Ao, catching King Zhou off guard. Hurriedly stopping the revelry, he summoned his ministers to discuss countermeasures. With the main Shang army away, the city’s defenses were weakened. In desperation, King Zhou armed prisoners, slaves, and captured soldiers, amassing a force of 170,000 and marched towards Muye for a hasty confrontation.

The decisive Battle of Muye ensued, where the morale of the Zhou army was high, and