Stories from Ancient China: Jiang Ziya, The Advisor Who Helped Establish the Zhou Dynasty

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Jiang Ziya (BC 1152) was known as the good adviser of King Wen of the Zhou Kingdom.

At the age of 32, Jiang Ziya went up a mountain where he cultivated Daoism—he changed himself by studying and living in accordance with Daoist teachings. At that time, the Shang Dynasty was in a continuous state of war, and he went to the mountain in part to avoid the war.

After 40 years of cultivation, he came down from the mountain. He had to seek refuge at a friend’s house and did all kinds of work to make a living. He made bamboo baskets, got wheat ground into flour and sold it on the market, sold cattle, was a fortune teller, and so on. But he could not keep a job for very long, and each time he started a new job he soon failed. So, his wife often taunted him.

He later served as an officer under the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, Emperor Zhou, who was a tyrannical ruler and addicted to alcohol and women. Jiang Ziya concluded that the end of the Shang dynasty would be near.

He decided to move with his wife to the Zhou Kingdom ruled by King Wen. However, his wife did not want to go with him because she suspected that he was not a capable man. Therefore, he fled alone to the Zhou Kingdom.

Jiang Ziya went fishing along the river each day. He used a short rod and a long line. The hook was a straight one without any bait. He believed King Wen would pass by one day so he waited patiently. Many people wondered if he could get any fish at all. He said that by his patience he would finally get what he wanted. A few years passed and Jiang Ziya was 80-years old.

One day King Wen passed by on a hunting trip. He stopped and had a chat with Jiang Ziya.

“The world is not owned by one person only, but by the people of the whole world,” said Jiang Ziya. He advocated that a king should behave morally and cultivate virtue so that he would rule by means of virtue.

King Wen was impressed by Jiang’s views on the people and the ruler. He invited Jiang to be his military advisor.

Later, Jiang Ziya consecutively assisted both King Wen and his successor, King Wu. With his help, the Zhou Dynasty was established and it became the longest-lasting dynasty in China’s history.

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