According to legend, the hexagram was invented by Fu Xi. Fu Xi was
one (the second) of the kings in the era of the so-called ‘Three
Sage Kings’ in pre-historical China. Each king represents a
developmental stage of human civilization. The meaning of Fu Xi is
‘to domesticate animals’; therefore, he stands for the origination
of animal herding. The other two sage kings are Sui Jen (燧人氏):
the legendary inventor of fire and Shen Nung (神農氏):
the founder of agriculture and herbal medication.
Before Fu Xi, people made their living by hunting wild animals and
collecting wild plants. Therefore, they migrated in the quest for
food and lived like wanderers, unstable and always starving.
view of this, Fu Xi invented the net. By means of the net, people
could catch birds that flew in the air, animals that walked on the
ground and fishes that swam in water. Afterwards, people could herd
and feed wild animals, have them reproduce and domesticate them;
they thus could live without enduring shortages of food.
Xi had also established the official system by which to govern
people, and initiated the marriage rites by which the household was
Abdicating the throne
and the first dynasty:
in China’s history:
‘Abdicating the throne’ is the highest political ideal in China. The
throne is handed down to an able and virtuous person rather than
one's own descendants.
times of King Yao
(approx. 2350 B.C. to 2250 B.C.), people honored Shun (舜)
as a highly virtuous person; he was very filial to his parents,
respected and loved his brothers even when he was abused. King Yao
invited Shun to assist him in administering the government.
Afterwards, he transferred the throne to Shun (approx. 2250 B.C. to
2200 B.C.) instead of his son. Later, Shun also transferred the
throne to Yu (禹)
in the same manner.
father was executed after he failed to solve the problem of floods.
Yu succeeded his father and devoted himself totally to the job. He
had worked abroad for thirteen years and he passed by his house
three times but he dared not spare the time to see how his household
was doing. Finally, he got the floodwaters under control and
eliminated the disaster.
Yu became old, he also thought of transferring the throne in favor
of a virtuous and able person named Yi (益).
However, since Yi had not yet made any significant contribution, he
couldn’t get the people’s support. After Yu died, people appreciated
Yu’s great achievements and enthroned his son, Chi (啟),
as king. Consequently the political structure of the Chinese empire
changed into the hereditary system. The hereditary system means that
the throne is handed down to the descendant or remains within the
Xia dynasty is the first dynasty recorded in China’s history. Its
territory covered approximately the area of the present southern Shansi (山西),
south-eastern Shensi (陜西)
and western Honan (河南)
provinces. The Xia dynasty lasted for some four hundred years (approx.
2000 B.C. to 1600 B.C.) till the last King Chieh (桀).
was a cruel and unjust king; the people were oppressed and lived in
fear. At that time, the chieftain of the Shang (商)
in the east, Tang (湯),
was very benevolent and talented; all of the tribes gave him their
allegiance. He led them to drive King Chieh into exile, overthrew
the Xia dynasty and established the Shang dynasty. This is the
first revolution by the nobles in China’s history. The Shang dynasty
existed for some six hundred years (approx. 1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C.)
before it was toppled by Zhou (周).
King Zhou of Shang
Zhou was the last king of the Shang dynasty. He was a man of courage
and strength; he was able to fight wild animals barehanded and also
capable of pulling several ox-carts backward. In addition, he was
also super-intelligent and could argue eloquently with people, his
words flowing like a cascading river. Due to such outstanding
talents and his prestigious position, King Zhou became extremely arrogant
and treated all others as his inferiors.
was very dissipated and wasteful. He oppressed thousands of people
and spent seven years to build his palace, having confiscated the
peoples' jewels and valuables to decorate the palace. Every day he
frolicked with his favorite concubine Da Ji (妲姬)
in the palace, with a pond filled with wine and the trees hung with
was also very ruthless and tyrannical; in a mere moment of
unhappiness, he could kill people at will. Zhou was always
suspicious of people’s loyalty; he thought up various kinds of cruel
penalties to punish those who criticized him and to intimidate his
and Gi Zi (箕子)
were his uncles and important courtiers; they had always urged Zhou
to administer the country well and to be away from Da Ji; however
Zhou never took their advice and still indulged in tyranny and
dissipation. They were loyal and stayed with Zhou while most of the
virtuous and able persons were leaving. At last Gi Zi had to pretend
insanity to evade killing; he was put into jail by Zhou. Bi Gan was
ordered to submit his heart to show Zhou how a royal heart looks.
Finally, Zhou’s tyranny was toppled by Zhou Wu Wang.
Duke Ji Chang
commonly known as King Wen of Zhou):
Chang was an enlightened and talented duke, reverently called
Hsi Po (西伯,
the chieftain in the west);
descendents honored him as King Wen of Zhou after he died and his son, King Wu of Zhou, established
the Zhou dynasty. He respected the elderly and cherished the young,
recruited virtuous and able persons, and adopted benevolent measures
to rule his dukedom.
Ji Chang was carrying out the benevolent policy in his state, King
Zhou was becoming more and more cruel and brutal, executing many
upright courtiers. When Ji Chand learned about these events, he
could not but sigh several times in private. Unexpectedly, these
were reported to Zhou: ‘ Hsi Po has been carrying out benevolence
and justice in his state; thereby he wins the heart of all people.
When he heard that you had executed the courtiers, he gave a long
sigh.’ Thereafter King Zhou became suspicious about Ji Chang’s loyalty,
and later he put Ji Chang into the jail at You Li (羑里).
alleged that Ji Chang accomplished the hexagram text when he was
imprisoned at You Li. In that time period, his sons and courtiers
tried every possibility to rescue him; they presented beautiful
women and rare jewels to King Zhou, and bribed King Zhou’s trusted courtier to
speak for Ji Chang. In the process, his eldest son, Bo Yi (伯邑),
was falsely incriminated by King Zhou’s concubine Ta Chi and killed;
made meat balls out of his son’s flesh and fed Ji Chang. Ji Chang
was aware of all these through divination; however, he could do
nothing but eat it to show his submission. After several years of
ordeal, Ji Chang finally attained King Zhou’s trust and was released.
Ji Chang was back, he exerted himself with the assistance of Chiang
Tzu Ya (姜子牙)
to enhance his state; his dukedom became even stronger and possessed
two thirds of states in the Shang dynasty. Till his passing away, Ji
adhered to the norm of the subject.
King Wu of Zhou
1159 B. C. Duke Ji Chang passed away. His son named Ji Fa (姬發),
succeeded to the throne, and is known as King Wu of Zhou. He
actively prepared for the punitive expedition against King Zhou.
1046 B.C. King Wu of Zhou launched the battle and dispatched troops
to attack Zhou. He led three hundred chariots and five thousand
infantry toward the east; in the meanwhile, the other dukes who
supported Zhou’s action also sent their troops to join in battle.
They encountered nearly no
resistance, and within a month they closed in on the capital of
Zhou became aware of Zhou’s invasion, he maneuvered his massive
army; it is alleged that the Zhou’s troops numbered up to seventy
thousand soldiers, significantly outnumbering Zhou’s. The two armies
met at Mu-yeh (牧野).
Zhou’s troops, however, had the force of justice, were at the peak
of morale and prepared to fight to wipe out tyranny. On the
contrary, Zhou had already been deserted by his people and his
troops were forced to fight so they fell apart immediately in
Zhou realized that any struggle was useless and hopeless, so he fled
back to his palace, lit a fire and burned himself to death. The
Shang dynasty was overthrown and King Wu of Zhou set up the Zhou
dynasty. He selected Hao (鎬)
as his capital and conferred land and the title of duke upon those
who had made meritorious contribution; thereby he founded a powerful
kingdom and set up the feudal system.
Zhou Gong Dan
Zhou Gong Dan, named Ji Dan (姬旦),
was the son of Duke Ji Chang and the younger brother of King Wu of
Zhou. He was very filial and benevolent. He assisted King Wu of Zhou
in toppling Zhou and was offered a dukedom; however, he stayed at
the capital to assist King Wu of Zhou in stabilizing the newly
built-up country and setting the new government system.
After Zhou Wu Wang died, Zhou Gong Dan continued to assist his 12
year old nephew, King Cheng of Zhou (成王),
in administering the country. On the pretext of this, the son of
Zhou: Wu Geng (武庚)
allied with three brothers of Zhou Gong Dan who were originally
assigned to supervise Wu Geng but suspected that Zhou Gong Dan had
the intention of usurping the throne; they started rebelling and
tried to restore Shang. Zhou Gong Dan could not but lead the troops
personally to quell the uprising. After 3 years of bitter battling,
he succeeded in conquering the dissenters as well as the other fifty
disobedient tribes. After he settled the disturbance in the
southeast and returned, he started to enact rites and promote music
to cultivate the people.
Zhou Gong Dan paid great respect to those who were virtuous and
talented, and was eager to recruit them for the country. Several
times he wrapped his wet hair during washing them and rushed to meet
those who wanted to see him; he also spit food out of his mouth and
stopped the meal in order to receive them
Once, King Cheng of Zhou was seriously ill; Zhou Gong Dan cut his
nails and threw them into the river, praying to the god of the river
for the health of King Cheng: ‘King Cheng is young and ignorant,
provided that anything had been done wrong and someone has to die,
please let me die.’ King Cheng finally recovered, and after he grew
up, Zhou Gong Dan finished seven years of acting as the regent and
handed power over to him.
Due to malicious gossip, Zhou Gong Dan could not help but exile
himself. Later on King Cheng found out about Zhou Gong Dan’s prayer
when he had been ill; he realized Zhou Gong Dan’s loyalty and
immediately asked him back. Zhou Gong Dan had dedicated his whole
life to Zhou till his death. He was buried next to King Wen of Zhou as
the utmost honor.
Zhou Gong Dan is the most esteemed model of the statesmen whom the
followers of Confucius admired; Confucius promoted his established
rites and musical system during his whole life.
was born in 551 B.C., more than two thousand five hundred years ago
in the state of Lu
(now the Province of Shantung
an ordinary civilian but a descendent of a nobleman of Song (宋);
his father passed away when he was aged three and he was reared in
poverty by his mother.
Confucius grew up and lived in turbulent times when the imperial
dynasty of Zhou was in decline, the country was disunited, and
morality and propriety began to degenerate. He always aspired for
the prosperous years of Zhou and attempted to revive the glorious
culture of Zhou. At the young age of
twenty, he worked as bookkeeper for a
granary and was also put in charge of a pasturage; late on after he
was twenty two years old, he started his teaching career. Confucius
believed in "education for all", this means that there should be no
class discrimination in studying and learning. Hence, he had up to
three thousand disciples over his entire life.
forty-three, after being exiled abroad for approx. eight years, he
returned to the home state and devoted himself to compiling the
literary works. He accomplished the editing jobs on the Book of
the Book of Odes
the Book of Rites
the Book of Music
the Book of Changes
and the Spring and Autumn Annals
They are the so called ‘Six Classics’, which were handed down and
had influence greatly on later generations
he was fifty-one year old, in a very short period of time he was
promoted to chief officer in charge of justice in the state of Lu;
however, due to the effects of the other states, he was forced to
resign the job in short order. Thereafter he started a fourteen-year
long journey among the feudal states to promote his political ideas
and seek the platform to realize them; however, due to all the
feudal lords only caring about their own interest and benefit, he
was doomed to fail. Finally he gave up and went home to resume his
Confucius’s philosophy is all presented in the Analects論語,
the Canon of Filial Piety孝經,
the Great Learning大學,
and the Doctrine of the Mean中庸.
These books widely cover the codes of conduct from the
self-cultivation of the individual to household management, from the
country’s administration up to how to pacify the world. His thoughts
focused on ‘benevolence, justice and propriety’ and ‘loyalty and
forgiveness’; his ideal is that every individual can restrain
himself and resort to propriety to carry out benevolence, and that
the ruler can administer the country virtuously.
Confucius passed away in 479 B.C. at the age of seventy-three.
his disciples and followers were scattered country-wide, serving the
feudal lords and preaching his thoughts. Confucianism from sprouting
to surviving, gradually prevailed and surpassed other schools of
thought. Emperor Ping (平帝)
of the Han dynasty (漢)
at 5 A.C. praised Confucius as ‘revered and accomplished’. From then
on, Confucianism was recognized from generation to generation as the
preeminent philosophy in China.
tired of learning and teaching throughout his life, Confucius has
long been honored in China as "the Greatest Sage and Foremost
Teacher’ and ‘the Teacher of All Ages’.