Yi Yin Releases Tai Jia-伊尹放太甲

With the assistance of Yi Yin, Tang successfully overthrew the rule of the Xia Dynasty and established the Shang Dynasty. At the beginning of the Shang Dynasty, there was much work to be done for reconstruction, and Tang, with the help of Yi Yin, perfected various laws and systems, rapidly restoring social order and setting the state on the right track. Tang ruled for thirty years, and on his deathbed, due to his special trust in Yi Yin, he entrusted him with the important task of assisting the succeeding monarch.

During the Shang Dynasty, the rule of succession was “brother follows brother,” and in the absence of a brother, it would be the son’s turn to inherit. Since Tang had no brothers, his eldest son, Tai Ding, should have succeeded him. However, Tai Ding died while Tang was still alive. According to customs, it should be Tai Ding’s younger brother, Wai Bing, who would succeed. Thus, Yi Yin supported Wai Bing in ascending to the throne. Wai Bing reigned for three years before passing away, and his brother Zhong Ren succeeded him. Being frail and sickly, Zhong Ren was destined to be a short-lived monarch, and he died after four years in power. At this point, the only one qualified to inherit the throne was Tang’s grandson, Tai Jia. At the time, Tai Jia was only ten years old, but Yi Yin unhesitatingly supported the young Tai Jia to take the throne of the Shang Dynasty. Yi Yin himself took on the responsibilities of governance, guiding and teaching Tai Jia how to distinguish right from wrong and govern the country wisely, with the hope of molding him into a virtuous monarch.

While Tai Jia was initially receptive to Yi Yin’s teachings and exhibited cautious behavior, being respectful of ancestral rituals and diligent in state affairs, he soon became accustomed to the luxurious life associated with wielding power. Moreover, having lost his father at a young age and lacking strict discipline, he gradually developed a wayward and indulgent nature. Within a few years, he became careless in his actions, reveling in pleasure, indulging in feasts, and repeatedly violating established rites and laws. More ominously, he began to resemble Xia Jie, showing a propensity for exploiting the labor of the people, displaying cruelty and bloodlust, causing immense suffering among the populace, who harbored deep discontent against him.

Both Yi Yin and the court officials were deeply concerned about Tai Jia’s lack of improvement and his cruel tendencies. They repeatedly advised him, reminding him of his responsibilities as a monarch and the need to exercise restraint. However, Tai Jia paid no heed to Yi Yin’s counsel, not only persisting in his own ways but also intensifying his behavior. Yi Yin, extremely worried, feared that if Tai Jia continued his reckless behavior, the hard-won foundation of the Shang Dynasty established by Tang would be jeopardized.

In order to safeguard the future of the Shang Dynasty and mold Tai Jia into a wise ruler, Yi Yin decided to take drastic measures. Coincidentally, it was nearing the anniversary of Tang’s death, and according to tradition, a grand sacrificial ceremony needed to be held. Tai Jia, being fond of amusement, had no interest in presiding over such a dull and formal event. However, Yi Yin emphasized that as a descendant of Tang, who had built the foundation of the dynasty, Tai Jia had an obligation to uphold the traditions and continue Tang’s legacy. The only way to fulfill this duty was to reflect on his actions and grasp the principles of governing the country. Reluctantly, Tai Jia agreed to host the ceremony, and together with his court officials, he arrived at Tang’s burial site—Tong Palace.

During the ceremony, Yi Yin read the sacrificial text, declaring to the spirit of Tang that, for the eternal prosperity of the Shang Dynasty, Tai Jia would remain in the Tong Palace for self-reflection, seeking to understand the principles of ruling. Hearing this, Tai Jia realized that he would be confined to the Tong Palace and subjected to instruction. Although dismayed, he had no choice but to comply, as the court officials present supported Yi Yin’s decision.

Tai Jia entered the Tong Palace, devoid of the comforts of a high bed or soft bedding, deprived of luxurious attire and exquisite meals. Isolated from the company of followers, away from extravagant pleasures and various temptations, he spent his days and nights earnestly tending to the spirit of his grandfather, Tang, reading the admonitions written by Yi Yin. Tai Jia embraced a simple lifestyle and gradually found tranquility within himself.

Aware of the difficulties Tang faced in founding the dynasty, Tai Jia developed a genuine admiration for his grandfather. Reflecting on his own lack of contributions to the country, despite ascending to the throne, and his indulgence in pleasure while mistreating the people, he felt deep shame. Simultaneously, contemplating Yi Yin’s earnest teachings and his inability to comprehend them, he experienced regret. Determined to make amends, Tai Jia decided to dedicate himself to learning, aspiring to become a just and wise monarch who would honor his grandfather’s legacy.

In this manner, over the course of three years of continuous learning and self-improvement, Tai Jia underwent a profound transformation. He gained a genuine understanding of his grandfather’s hardships and the establishment of the Shang Dynasty, leading to a sincere admiration for Tang. Acknowledging his own lack of contributions to the country and his past behavior, he felt ashamed of his earlier actions and genuinely repented. Consequently, Tai Jia made a firm decision to focus on his studies, aiming to become a virtuous ruler who adhered to the principles of his ancestors, understood the state’s laws, and knew how to navigate the challenges facing the country.

After three years of this transformative process, Tai Jia was reintegrated into the royal capital, thanks to Yi Yin’s observations and conviction that Tai Jia had truly reformed and acquired significant knowledge. Yi Yin, along with civil and military officials, conducted a solemn ceremony to welcome Tai Jia back to Bo, where he resumed his position as the ruling monarch. Under the joint rule of Tai Jia and Yi Yin, the Shang Dynasty experienced social stability, the people lived in peace, and regional lords submitted, entering a period of stability and prosperity. The “Records of the Grand Historian – The Annals of Yin” states that after Tai Jia returned to power, “the regional lords all submitted to Yin, and the people lived in tranquility.” Tai Jia, therefore, earned the respect of officials and the people and was later known as “Tai Zong.” Yi Yin also composed “The Instructions of Tai Jia,” praising Tai Jia’s virtuous rule.

Nevertheless, during Tai Jia’s reign, Yi Yin continued to play a decisive role in state affairs. It was only after eight years of Tai Jia’s son, Wo Ding, ascending to the throne that Yi Yin passed away. It is said that, at the time of his death, a thick fog enveloped the sky for three days. Wo Ding, appreciative of Yi Yin’s dedicated service to the Shang Dynasty, personally presided over the funeral rites. Following the imperial customs, Yi Yin received an honorable burial in the outskirts of Bo.

Yi Yin was not only a founding hero who assisted Tang in seizing control of the realm but also a true “elder of five