Mao Zedong commented on King Zhou of Shang Dynasty: being able to write and fight is not an unforgivable evil

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Comment on King Zhou of Shang Dynasty

Why is Shang Dynasty called “Shang Dynasty”? It is because of commodity production, which is verified by Guo Moruo. It is wrong to regard King Zhou, Qinshihuang and Cao Cao as bad people. In fact, King Zhou is a very capable man who can write and fight. He managed the southeast and consolidated the unification of Dongyi and the Central Plains, which was meritorious in history. King Zhou defeated the barbarians of Xuzhou and won the war, but the loss was great. There were too many captives to digest. King Wu of Zhou took advantage of the weakness to attack, and a large number of captives defected, resulting in the collapse of the Shang Dynasty. History books say that King Wu of Zhou defeated Zhou and “blood flowed on the pestle”, which is a false statement. Mencius didn’t believe this. He said, “it’s better to believe in books than to have no books.”

— Excerpt from Mao Zedong’s talk on reading Stalin’s “socialist economic problems of the Soviet Union” in November 1958 (see page 1158, analysis of Mao Zedong’s reading notes, edited by Chen Jin, Guangdong People’s publishing house, July 1996 edition)

Why did king Zhou die? It is mainly Bigan who opposes him, Jizi who opposes him, and Weizi who opposes him. King Zhou went to fight Xu Yi (a big country, which is now near Xuzhou), fought for several years, and destroyed that country. King Zhou is very talented. Those bad words after him are all spoken by people in the Zhou Dynasty. Just don’t listen. Why is his country divided? It is because these three people are opposition. At worst, Wei Zi was a traitor. He sent two people as representatives to invite soldiers in the Zhou Dynasty. King Wu went back to Mengjin Guanbing for the first time, and then worked for another two years. He said he could fight because he had an insider. King Zhou killed Bigan and locked up Jizi, but he was not prepared for neutrinos. He only knew that he was an opposition and did not know that he knew foreign countries. This is the reason for King Zhou to overturn the case. King Zhou was very famous at that time, and the people of Shang Dynasty supported him very much. King Zhou committed suicide, but he did not surrender. Wei Zi was a traitor. Zhou should have sealed him, but he dared not, but Wu Geng, the son of King Zhou. Later, Wu Geng rebelled, and then sealed the Weizi as song, which is Shangqiu.

— Excerpt from Mao Zedong’s conversation with Wu Zhipu and others on June 22, 1959 (see the party’s literature, 1995, issue 4)

Analysis: it is Guo Moruo’s unique opinion according to the scattered records of oracle bones and historical books that the last monarch of the Yin Dynasty, Xin (i.e. King Zhou of Shang Dynasty), conquered and operated in the southeast, and was taken advantage of by King Wu of Zhou from the northwest. Later, historians such as Jian Bozan also followed his theory. Mao Zedong accepted this innovative idea and affirmed that King Zhou “made meritorious contributions to consolidating the unification of the eastern barbarians and the Central Plains in history”.

King Zhou has always had a bad reputation. History books after the Zhou Dynasty regard them as people who are “all evil and no way”. The reason, according to Guo Moruo’s analysis, mainly comes from two Xi Wen style articles of King Wu of Zhou when he attacked Zhou, namely, the oath of Tai and the oath of shepherd in the book of history. For example, the latter said: “today, King Zhou of Yin only used women’s words, abandoned his ancestors and did not answer them, and fainted his family and country; leaving his king’s father and brother without use, but only four sins. Escaping is worshiping or long, believing or making, so as to tyrannize the people and traitor the Shang state.” This was originally for the sake of famous political propaganda. Therefore, Guo Moruo said in refuting Confucianism that later generations were “poisoned by the propaganda of Zhou people”.

In October, 1958, at the first Zhengzhou conference, Mao Zedong pointed out that “it is wrong to regard King Zhou of Shang Dynasty, Emperor Qinshihuang and Cao Cao as bad people.” He said that it was too much to describe King Zhou in history books as a green faced and heinous villain. Even Mencius protested for him and said, “if you believe in books, it’s better to have no books”, “the evil of Jie and Zhou was not so much, because the evil of a gentleman was in the low place, and the evil of the world all belonged to Yan.” King Zhou doted on Daji and opened his heart to doing things. These two bad things made him a bad name as a tyrant, so the evil in the world came down to King Zhou, as if he had done nothing good. In fact, King Zhou is smart and able to argue, and he is martial and literate. He is very heroic in fighting. In the late Shang Dynasty, the barbarians between the Yangtze and Huaihe rivers became strong and threatened the Shang Dynasty. King Zhou’s parents used troops against the eastern barbarians several times and won victory, but they did not repel the expansion and offense of the eastern barbarians to the Shang Dynasty. After King Zhou came to power, he personally led a large army to invade the barbarians in the East, fought an unprecedented victory, captured “billion trillion barbarians”, thus repulsing the expansion of the barbarians and safeguarding the security of the Shang Dynasty in the southeast. Moreover, King Zhou was able to write martial arts. His strategy for the southeast gradually developed the culture of the Central Plains to the southeast, which contributed to the history of our country. Mao Zedong said that the word “Shang Dynasty” meant doing business, which marked that the Shang Dynasty had begun to have commodity trade, and by the time of King Zhou, it had become the richest and most literate slavery country at that time.

As for the lessons of King Zhou’s subjugation, Mao Zedong believed that first, King Zhou worked hard for King Wen and King Wu of Zhou, absorbed merchant culture, promoted the development of the society of the Zhou Dynasty, and actively prepared to overthrow the rule of the Shang Dynasty, completely losing his vigilance. He didn’t listen to the continuous admonition of the Shang Dynasty’s great aristocracy, Weizi, Jizi and Prince Bigan. As a result, Bigan was killed, Jizi was imprisoned as a slave, and Weizi ran away. King Zhou fell into a situation of betrayal. First, King Zhou would not do captivity work and concentrated a large number of prisoners of war in the capital; However, Zhou people did undercover work among King Zhou’s prisoners of war. When the army led by King Wu of Zhou Dynasty was 70 miles away from the Shang capital, the court of the Shang Dynasty got the news and hurriedly stopped singing, dancing and drinking to celebrate the victory and began to discuss the strategy of fighting the enemy. At this time, the main force of the Shang Dynasty was still far away in the southeast battlefield, and could not be recruited for the time being. King Zhou could only arm a large number of Dongyi prisoners of war and drive to the front. As a result, the captives revolted one after another, turned the spearhead, and united the Zhou army to attack Shang Zhou. King Zhou saw that the general trend was gone, and he climbed the deer terrace and burned himself to death. “Zhou conquered the eastern barbarians and died”, this is the end of the Shang Dynasty, the tragedy of King Zhou.

The evaluation of historical figures mainly depends on his major aspects, main points and his actual behavior in the historical process. This is Mao Zedong’s consistent view. Therefore, in addition to King Zhou, there are also Qin Shihuang, Xiang Yu, Cao Cao, Wu Zetian and others who are often criticized in history. Mao Zedong is always willing to list their good aspects to overturn the case for them. But this kind of overturning is definitely not arbitrary and subjective, and it is always based on history. Take the evaluation of King Zhou of Shang Dynasty as an example. Mao Zedong said that King Zhou was a person who “respected literature and was able to fight” and “had great skills”, which is based on this view. In “Xunzi Feixiang chapter”, King Zhou said that “long, beautiful, outstanding in the world; super strong, enemy of hundreds of people”.

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