Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: King Wu of Zhou

King Wu’s name (周武王) literally means “Martial King”. He founded the Zhou dynasty (周朝) after defeating the last Shang dynasty (商朝) ruler, Zhouxin (紂辛), in the bloody battle of Muye (牧野之戰) in ca. 1046 BCE.

After his victory Wu set about unifying the country by setting up a feudal system of governance, only to die two or three years later in about 1049 BCE. His brother, the legendary Duke of Zhou (周公), took over as regent until Wu’s young son, Cheng (成), was old enough to assume the throne, and laid the foundations upon which the Zhou dynasty flourished.

Appearances in the Analects
Book 3, Chapter 25
Book 8, Chapter 20

Book 3
Chapter 25
子謂韶,「盡美矣,又盡善也。」謂武,「盡美矣,未盡善也。」
Confucius described Shao music as being perfectly beautiful and perfectly good and Wu music as being perfectly beautiful but not perfectly good.

Book 8
Chapter 20
舜有臣五人,而天下治。武王曰:「予有亂臣十人。」孔子曰:「才難,不其然乎,唐虞之際,於斯為盛,有婦人焉,九人而已。三分天下有其二,以服事殷,周之德,其可謂至德也已矣。」
Shun ruled his empire with only five ministers. King Wu of Zhou said: “I have ten able ministers to keep everything in order.” Confucius said: “Talented people are hard to find: are they not? The times of Yao and Shun were said to be rich in talent, but King Wu was only able to find nine such men because one of his ministers was a woman. Although the Zhou controlled over two-thirds of the empire, it still served the Shang. You can truly say that the virtue of the Zhou was supreme.”

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