Historic Battles Series: Battle of Muye – 1046 BCE

Painting of the 1758 Battle of Oroi-Jalatu, in which the Qing defeated the Dzungar.

Everyone has flaws. We all commit mistakes. However, the margin for error during wars is extremely low. War isn’t as forgiving as you think. This is part 1 of the ‘ancient battles series’ featuring the mighty Shang Kingdom Vs the passionate Zhou.

The Battle of Muye – 1046 BCE: 

In Brief

The Battle of Muye or Mu was a campaign fought in ancient China between the Zhou and Shang. The Zhou victory led to the Shang being replaced and consequently justified the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven. The victory of the Zhou led to the fall of the Shang. By the 12th century BC, Shang influence spread west to the Wei River valley, a territory that was held by clans known as the Zhou. 

The Build-Up

King Wen of Zhou, the ruler of the Zhou, who was a Shang vassal, was given the title “Count of the West” by the King Di Xin of Shang (King Zhòu). Di Xin used King Wen to watch his rear while he was involved in a south-eastern campaign.

Eventually, Di Xin, worrying King Wen’s growing power, imprisoned him. Although Wen was later released, the tension between Shang and Zhou began. Wen prepared his army and seized a few smaller states which were loyal to Shang, gradually weakening Shang’s allies. However, King Wen died in 1050 BC before Zhou’s actual offensive against Shang. Di Xin paid very little attention to these, as he saw himself as the rightful ruler of China, a post appointed by the heavens, or perhaps because he was becoming fascinated with his personal life with his beautiful consort Daji, to the elimination of all else.

King Wen’s son King Wu of Zhou led the Zhou in a revolt a few years later. The cause for this delay was because King Wu believed that the “heavenly order” to defeat Shang had not been given, as well as the view of Jiang Ziya to wait for the best opportunity.

Chinese civilians greatly supported King Wu’s rebellion. In legend, Di Xin, initially, had been a good ruler. But after he married Daji, he became a ruthless ruler. Many called for the end of the Shang dynasty.

The Battle

With Jiang Ziya as the strategist, King Wu of Zhou led an army of about 50,000. Di Xin’s army was at war in the east, but he still had about 530,00 men to defend the capital city of Yin. But to further secure his victory, he gave weapons to about 170,000 slaves to protect the capital. These slaves did not want to fight for the corrupt Shang dynasty and defected to the Zhou army instead.

This event greatly lowered the morale of the Shang troops. When engaged, many Shang soldiers did not fight and held their spears upside down, as a sign that they no longer wanted to fight for the corrupt Shang. Some Shang soldiers joined the Zhou outright.

The Zhou troops were much better trained, and their morale was high. In one of the chariot charges, King Wu broke through the Shang’s defense line. Di Xin was forced to flee to his palace, and the remaining Shang troops fell into further chaos. The Zhou were victorious and showed little mercy to the defeated Shang, shedding enough blood “to float a log”.


After the battle Di Xin decorated himself with many valuable jewels then lit a fire and blazed himself to death in his palace on the Deer Terrace Pavilion. King Wu killed Daji after he found her with the plan to execute her given by Jiang Ziya. Shang executives were released without charge with some later working as Zhou officials. The magnificent grain store was opened shortly after the battle to feed the hungry population. The battle marked the end of the Shang dynasty and the inception of the Zhou dynasty.

Source: Cambridge History of Ancient China, Wikipedia

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