A guide to...
Did the Shang Dynasty have any enemies?
In Shang times, there was another tribe nearby called the Zhou. The Zhou tribe began to get bigger and stronger and its leader, King Wen of Zhou, started talking to his friends and advisors about how good it would be to overthrow the Shang Dynasty and take control of their land.
King Wen never followed through his desires to defeat the Shang Dynasty, but when his son Wu grew up and was made king, he decided to fulfil his father’s wishes and he devised a plot to topple the Shang Dynasty once and for all. The Zhou army assembled and started to march towards the Shang territory.
What happened when the Shang heard about the plot?
A Shang messenger learned about the forthcoming attack and ran to the Shang leader, King Di Xin, to tell him the news. King Di Xin was a cruel and ruthless king who lived an extravagant lifestyle. He charged his people high taxes and spent the money on building a luxurious life for himself. When the messenger arrived, King Di Xin was busy drinking wine and watching dancers at the palace with his wife, Daji.
King Di Xin was alarmed at the news of the Zhou attack and he called his officials together for an emergency meeting, asking for his army to be assembled at once. The officials told him that the army was already busy as the king had sent them on a mission to capture the Dongyi tribe and they were too far away to be called back in time to fight the Zhou army.
The king and his officials made a new plan. They would put together an army from the slaves and prisoners that they kept and they would send a decree that Shang peasants and farmers would leave their villages and come and join the battle too. They managed to put together an army of hundreds of thousands of men. “We will easily capture the Zhou invaders now!” declared King Di Xin.
Did King Di Xin's slave army fight well?
The two sides met at a place called Muye. However, many of the Shang peasants and slaves that had been called to fight were feeling resentful. They did not like the way they had been treated by King Di Xin and they did not want him to be king any more. They faced the difficult decision of deciding whether to fight for a king they did not support or to become traitors and join the other side, even though it meant that King Di Xin might have them tortured and killed. Thousands of Shang peasants dropped their spears as a sign that they would not fight for King Di Xin, joining the increasingly powerful Zhou army instead.
What happened to King Di Xin?
When King Di Xin heard about the defecting slaves, he knew that he was in trouble. He locked himself in his palace and commanded that a feast be prepared for him. Then he ordered his men to burn his palace, killing himself and destroying many of his precious possessions. Once the Zhou army had won the Battle of Muye, King Wu of Zhou stormed the palace and found the dead body of King Di Xin. He chopped off the corpse’s head and put it on a flagpole to declare his victory. He announced that the Shang Dynasty had come to an end and declared himself the first king of the new Zhou Dynasty instead.