The Decline of King-Army

The title “King-Army”(王师) had special meaning. It was the honorable name of armies of supreme rulers. This name originated from the Western Zhou Dynasty, because the title of supreme rulers was “King”. Though the title of supreme rulers had been “Emperor” (皇帝) since the Qin (秦) Dynasty, the armies of an emperor were still called “King-Army”.

In the Western Zhou Dynasty, King-Army was the main force which kept the safety of Huaxia. According to rituals, the Heaven-Son(天子, the holy title of the kings of Zhou Dynasty) led his King-Army which included six armies (六师) to punish the feudal states and foreign nations which didn’t obey the royal family of Zhou. A large feudal state could keep three armies, a middle feudal state could keep two armies, and a small feudal state only could keep one army. In the Western Zhou Dynasty, the fighting strength of King-Army was strong because the royal family had enough financial resources. If the Heaven-Son wanted to punish a feudal monarch, no one was able to resist King-Army. But in the last days of Zhou Xuan-King (周宣王), King-Army was defeated by the Rong (戎) Nation several times, and King-Army was severely weakened. In 771 BC, Hao (镐), the capital of Zhou, was captured and destroyed suddenly by Quanrong (犬戎), a strong tribe of the Rong Nation. The royal family had to move the capital to Luo Yi (洛邑, modern-day Luoyang 洛阳). The royal family lost the large western manors and became straitened, so King-Army was weakened seriously.

Zhou Ping-King (周平王), the first king of the Eastern Zhou (东周) Dynasty, moved to the new capital with the support of the Zheng (郑) State and the Jin (晋) State. So Zheng Wu-Gong (郑武公), the monarch of Zheng State, became the prime minister (the title was “Qingshi” 卿士) of the royal family. After the death of Zheng Wu-Gong, Zheng Zhuang-Gong (郑庄公) succeeded his father as the prime minister of the royal family. Zheng Zhuang-Gong was ambitious, so Ping-King felt worried. When the monarch of Guo (虢) State had an audience with Ping-King, the king thought the monarch of Guo really supported him, and he wanted the monarch of Guo to take the place of Zheng Zhuang-Gong. Zhuang-Gong heard this information, and questioned the king. Ping-King didn’t want to offend Zhuang-Gong, and denied the information. In order to show sincerity, the royal family and Zheng State interchanged hostages. Wangzi Hu (王子狐), the oldest son of Ping-King went to Zheng State. Gongzi Hu (公子忽), the oldest son of Zheng Zhuang-Gong went to King-City, the respectful name of the capital of the king.

In 720 BC, after the death of Zhou Ping-King, Wangzi Hu died on the way to King-City. So his younger brother Wangzi Lin (王子林) ascended to the throne, and he was Zhou Huan-King (周桓王). This young king decided to give the power to the monarch of Guo. Zheng Zhuang-Gong became angry. He sent his army to reap the wheat that belonged to the king in the beginning of this summer, and reap the rice that belonged to the king in this autumn. Because of this, the royal family and Zheng State intensely disliked each other. In 717 BC, there was a famine in King-City, and the royal family asked the Lu (鲁) State for aid. Lu State sent envoys to four states Song (宋), Wei (卫), Qi (齐) and Zheng (郑) for purchasing grain. During this year, Zheng Zhuang-Gong went to King-City and visited Huan-King. Huan-King treated him impolitely. In 715 BC, the monarch of Guo became the first-premier (the title was “Youqingshi” 右卿士) of the royal family. Zheng Zhuang-Gong was the secondary-premier (the title was “Zuoqingshi” 左卿士). Zheng Zhuang-Gong didn’t want the relations to deteriorate sharply with the royal family, so he let the monarch of Qi State mediate. In 714 BC, the monarch of Song didn’t pay respects to the king, and Zheng Zhuang-Gong took the opportunity to fake the mandate of the king and attack Song State.

Zheng Zhuang-Gong wasn’t greedy, and he gave his captured cities to his allies. The strong states Qi, Lu, Guo were friendly to Zheng State. In 707 BC, Zheng Zhuang-Gong and Qi Xi-Gong (齐僖公) visited the Ji (纪) State and plotted to attack Ji, but the people of Ji State were conscious, so the plot failed. Because Ji State was intimate with the royal family, and the actions of Zheng State offended Zhou Huan-King in these years, Huan-King decided to show his hand at last. He removed the authority of Zheng Zhuang-Gong, and then Zheng Zhuang-Gong refused to have audiences with the king.

The king was enraged and couldn’t tolerate Zheng State. In this autumn, Zhou Huan-King called up the armies of three states Cai (蔡), Wei (卫) and Chen (陈) for supporting King-Army to punish Zheng State. Zhou Huan-King commanded King-Army which deployed to the middle ground. The armies of Cai and Wei deployed to the right, and the monarch of Guo State commanded them. The army of Chen deployed to the left, and Zhougong Heijian (周公黑肩) who was one of prime ministers commanded them.

Zheng Zhuang-Gong commanded his army to resist the armies of Zhou Huan-King. Gongzi Tu (公子突), the second son of Zhuang-Gong, advised his father to let the left flank to resist the armies of Cai and Wei, and the right flank to resist the army of Chen. He said, “Chen State is in a turmoil, so the people don’t want to fight. If we attack them first, they will run away. King-Army will attend to them and their array will be disarranged. Cai and Wei are weak, so their armies will run away first. Then we can focus on King-Army and we will win.” Zheng Zhuang-Gong agreed with him. Gongzi Hu commanded the left flank, Zhai Zu (祭足) who was an important minister of Zheng State commanded the right flank. Zheng Zhuang-Gong commanded the middle army with Yuan Fan (原繁) and Gao Qumi (高渠弥) who were two important ministers of Zheng State. The array of Zheng State’s army looked like fish scales. This tight formation had strong power of attack. The Roman army often used this kind of formation, but in fact this formation wasn’t characteristic of Roman legions.

This battle took place in Ruge (繻葛). As was expected, the armies of Cai, Wei and Chen ran away, and King-Army was in confusion. Zheng’s army focused on King-Army, and King-Army was severely defeated. Zhu Dan (祝聃), a general of Zheng State, shot the shoulder of Zhou Huan-King. The king endured pain and restrained King-Army from confusion. Zhu Dan asked permission to go after King-Army, but Zheng Zhuang-Gong thought his army couldn’t be too disrespectful to the king, so he stopped Zhu Dan. That night, Zheng Zhuang-Gong sent Zhai Zu to express regards to Zhou Huan-King and his army. Huan-King had no alternative but to withdrew his army.

After this battle, the Heaven-Son and his army lost prestige. Since then, King-Army didn’t take part in disputes of feudal states any longer. When the royal family had trouble, they always depended on the aid of feudal states. In 636 BC, the tribes of Di (狄) Nation attacked King-City, and the royal guard troop which was formed by young noble men (their title was “Yushi” [御士]) wanted to resist. But, Zhou Xiang-King (周襄王) didn’t agree, and he went to Zheng State. With the aid of states, the tribes of Di were defeated, and the king returned to King-City.

In 256 BC, facing the rampant offensive of the Qin (秦) State, Zhou Nan-King (周赧王), the last king of the Zhou Dynasty, allied with six states and let his army help the armies of six states to attack Qin State. At that time, the royal family was very poor, and they only had no more than 200 chariots. This action failed, and Qin State retaliated. The royal family abandoned resistance, and Zhou Dynasty, the longest and most influential dynasty which lasted more than 870 years, ended.

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