Chou (jō) [key], dynasty of China, which ruled from c.1027 B.C. to 256 B.C. The pastoral Chou people migrated from the Wei valley NW of the Huang He c.1027 B.C. and overthrew the Shang dynasty. The Chou built their capital near modern Xi'an in 1027 B.C. and moved it to Luoyang in 770 B.C. Initially the Chou dominated the N China plain between Manchuria and the Chang valley. By 800 B.C., however, the local lords had become strong enough to form separate states, especially in the north and at the mouth of the Chang. In later times the state of Ch'u controlled the middle Chang valley, and the border state of Ch'in grew in the northwest. In the 6th cent. B.C. the states of Wu and Yüeh became major power. An anarchic period (403–221 B.C.) of warring states followed, at the end of which the Chou gave up their remaining power to the emerging Ch'in dynasty. Despite political disorder, the later Chou era was the classical age of China (known as the period of the "hundred schools of thought"), when Confucius, Mo-ti, Lao Tzu, Mencius, and Chuang-tzu lived, debated, and responded to the turmoil with creative ideas. In the second half of the dynasty, striking social and economic changes also took place. Iron implements were introduced from W and central Asia, the ox-drawn plow was first used, and large irrigation and water-control projects were instituted, resulting in increased crop yields in N China. Trade developed as cities grew in number and size and roads and canals were constructed. Chou society was sharply divided between the aristocratic warrior class and the peasant masses and domestic slaves. Writers of the anarchic period that followed it pictured the early Chou as an age of well-ordered beneficent feudalism, but this may merely reflect their own desire for political unity. Toward the end of the period, the rigid feudal class system was gradually weakened, the hereditary power of the aristocrats was minimized, and there was more social mobility.

See C.-Y. Hsu, Ancient China in Transition (1965); H. G. Creel, The Origins of Statecraft in China (Vol. 1, 1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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