Episode 5 Companion: Emperor Jie, Tang of Shang, the Thera Volcano, and Shang’s campaign against Xia



Relief rubbing of Emperor Jie of Xia, 17th and last Xia Emperor, ruled c. 1728-1675 BCE

Jie is center holding a halberd symbolizing oppression.  He is sitting on two kneeling women, showing his abuse of power.

Taken as rubbing from a Wu Family shrine in Shandong:


Jie was infamous for his orgies:




The Lord of Shang, Tang would rise against Jie and ultimately drive the Xia Emperors to extinction.  He will become the first of the succeeding Shang Dynasty:




In the final years of Jie’s reign, nature itself fell out of balance because of Heaven withdrawing its favor from the Xia Emperor.  Unseasonable weather, dimmed sun, heavy rains, yellow fog, and crop failure followed.

This was likely attributable to the contemporaneous Minoan Eruption event on the Greek island of Thera (Santorini)… The Minoan Eruption is the most power volcanic event in recorded human history – more than 5x as powerful as the Krakatoa Eruption of the late 19th century.  Volcanic winter would have been on a near-global scale, with weather affected for as much as 3 years following the event.

Location of Thera and dispersal of volcanic ash:




The blast and destruction of the then-powerful Minoan culture is likely the origin of the story of Atlantis.  

A view of Thera today:



Finally, a rough idea of Lord Tang’s campaign against Jie, as well as the extent of Xia/Shang power compared to the modern Chinese state:




Close-up of the region and campaign:



2 thoughts on “Episode 5 Companion: Emperor Jie, Tang of Shang, the Thera Volcano, and Shang’s campaign against Xia

  1. Great series! I’m catching up and got to this episode. Do you have a scientific reference for the link between Santorini and the volcanic winter? I’m particularly curious to know how the yellow fog is explained.

    1. All we can really say for certain, is that the Minoan eruption occurred at roughly the same time period as the alleged gear-shift from Xia to Shang (which is in and of itself a questionable affair… there’s more than a little evidence that both civilizations may have existed concurrently, at least in part, and that the official Chinese telling of this period is a political construct to give themselves 5k years of uninterrupted civilization… but I digress…)

      In terms of scientific evidence, I’m afraid I’m going off of very little. We do know that Santorini erupted and wiped out one of the most powerful civilizations of the age, and we can be pretty certain that the wind patterns kicked the ash cloud toward East Asia. The fact that the stories of the Xia’s downfall include such bizarre weather and climate patterns – ones that are uncannily similar to what you’d expect from a volcanic disruption event, is fairly strong correlative evidence. But correlation and conjecture are as close as we’re likely to get… still quite a few miles away from scientific proof positive that a Greek volcano overthrew the Chinese dynasty.

      I defend the possibly-not-exactly-accurate storytelling of this era (both mine and others) as such: it’s all a fairy tale, this early. It’s writers from a thousand years after the fact more or less making stuff up based on the ruins of a preliterate civilization, and weaving it into a cohesive narrative that involves themselves. In terms of hard evidence, all we really know of the people who came to be known as the Xia is thtat sombody lived in that river delta at the time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s