Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
There was an important and subtle shift in religious attitude here. In
taking careful note of the position and alignment of planets, King Wen
was paying attention to the cosmos or nature and the way it functions.
He was looking more to the world of nature for guidance than to any
god. The word the Zhou Chinese used for nature and its functions (on
earth as well as in the skies) was “Heaven.” He andmany Zhou Chinese
seem to have concluded that the world of the dead and the gods was not
exclusively worthy of human attention. Heaven itself had its own stan-
dards andways of communicatingwith people, and perhaps they could
understand Heaven as much by observing it as by offering prayers and
sacrifices to the gods and ancestors. Amore rational contemplation and
observation of Heaven became increasingly popular during the Zhou,
and it marked a step away from the more directly “religious” approach
of the Shang Chinese. In fact, Zhou kings called themselves “Sons of
Heaven” because they believed they were doing the will of Heaven
and conforming to its standards. (The term “emperor” [huangdi]did
not come into widespread use until the third century B.C.)
While this more rational approach to understanding the cosmos
overshadowed the cult of the dead, it never eclipsed it. It would
veneration after the Shang. They did not, and veneration of the ances-
tors is a Chinese religious custom that continues right up to the present,
especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The cult of the dead lost some of
its supreme central importance to the Chinese people and government
but was never fully forgotten.
King Wu eventually set up a new government in China. His
government was a feudalism, meaning that it had a central head-
quarters and capital city but divided up China into semi-independent
regions called guo, or “states,” which were ruled over by noblemen, or
members of the Zhou royal family. (The Zhou instituted a system of five
ranks for these noblemen.)
What happened to the old Shang royal family? King Wu did not
completely exterminate it but allowed it to continue offering sacrifices
to its ancestors. These rituals, however, were now private family func-
tions and no longer held significance for the central government. The
Shang royal family was not satisfied with this arrangement, and after
King Wu died it rebelled against the Zhou. Because King Wu's son
and successor was much too young to deal with this rebellion, King
Wu's brother, known to history as the Duke of Zhou, was assigned as
a regent or temporary ruler to act on behalf of the young king. The
Duke of Zhou is another of ancient China's greatest cultural heroes,
and Confucius (born hundreds of years after these events) greatly
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