Episode 8: The Shang Vanquished

This episode we chronicle the decline and eventual fall of the once-glorious Shang Dynasty to the same vices and evils that spelled doom for the Xia centuries ago. In the West, a powerful new clan calling itself the Zhou has risen to power, eventually with any eye to make right what the final Shang Kings have twisted so horribly wrong. Along the way, we’ll colonize the Japanese islands and raise a minor Chinese prince to the King of Korea.

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11 thoughts on “Episode 8: The Shang Vanquished

  1. This may be the second time I posted this. The first one didn’t seem to stick.

    First, I’m really enjoying your podcast, and I have a question about a minor point in the latest episode.

    Japanese historians typically do not treat the Yamato as coming from anywhere specific, only as mounted warriors that appear from… somewhere… and conquer the kingdom of Queen Himiko. The usage of “Wa” also seems to predate the Yamato, originally written by the chinese with the character meaning “dwarf”, before being changed later by the Japanese to something more respectable.

    The idea that it was not only… for sure… colonized by people from the mainland China, but also by a specific individual is new to me. I also wonder at the use of the term “colonize.” At least, the relationship between Japan and China at that point in history doesn’t resemble the more familiar idea of the later European colonies.

    Could you give me the correct spelling for the character Tai Bo and any relevant sources for the story you describe here so I can look into it further?

    1. Hi Bryant,

      You comments all stuck, they just go to moderation first so the walls don’t get inundated with spam. 🙂

      I’m not surprised to learn that there’d be discrepancies between the Japanese and Chinese account of Japan’s origins mythos/telling.

      I’ve been pulling primarily from Sima Qian’s “Records of the Grand Historian” for this introduction to the Wu/Wo/Wa People. Sima calls the figure 泰伯, (phon. Tàibó) from the Ji (姬) Clan of the Zhou (周) State, the eldest son of its then-Duke, Ji Danfu (who is later posthumously renamed/retconned to King Tai of Zhou (周太王) to fit with the story that there’s always only ever one legitimate Dynasty.)

      It must be said that Ji Taibo is considered legendary, the dates of his birth and death are unknown to Sima Qian.

      It is very interesting that in your readings, it asserts that Himiko was conqered by the Wa, as the historian Wang Zhenping wrote a differing account:

      “When chieftains of various Wo tribes contacted authorities at Lelang, a Chinese commandery established in northern Korea in 108 B.C. by the Western Han court, they sought to benefit themselves by initiating contact. In A.D. 57, the first Wo ambassador arrived at the capital of the Eastern Han court (25-220); the second came in 107.

      Wo diplomats, however, never called on China on a regular basis. […] This irregularity clearly indicated that, in its diplomacy with China, Japan set its own agenda and acted on self-interest to satisfy its own needs.

      No Wo ambassador, for example, came to China during the second century. This interval continued well past the third century. Then within merely nine years, the female Wo ruler Himiko sent four ambassadors to the Wei court (220-265) in 238, 243, 245, and 247 respectively. After the death of Himiko, diplomatic contacts with China slowed. Iyo, the female successor to Himiko, contacted the Wei court only once.” (Wang, 2005, 221-222)

      Certainly the Chinese account seems to place the Wo/Wa people much earlier in the timeline than Himiko’s reign, since she ruled during the Han period, and Ji Taibo’s life is more than 1400 years prior to then.

      I’d be very interested to hear of any additional information or leads you find on this!

      Sima Qian, The Records of the Grand Historian (full text): http://ctext.org/shiji/ens
      Wang Zhenping. 2005. Ambassadors from the Islands of Immortals: China-Japan Relations in the Han-Tang Period. University of Hawai’i Press.

      1. I may have mistyped. As I understand it, Himiko is considered Wa, and her nation was conquered by the Yamato. The Yamato would be a different group (notably a horse riding culture) who then go on to establish what is considered the first Japanese state.

        The Wa seem to have lived all over the area covering Korea as well.

        Thanks for the references, the whole period is frustratingly murky.

      2. Murky indeed!

        From the sounds of it, there may be some conflation with the Wa and the Dongyi… in that they both may be blanket terms describing the many unassociated tribes of northeast Asia… ancient Chinese sources aren’t well known for differentiating between “barbarians” very well.

    2. Hi Bryant,

      One further little wrinkle I found regarding the Wa/Yamato question…

      The ancient Chinese referred to the people of the Japanese islands as the 倭, which of course is not the nicest name meaning “short, or dwarf”… so they seem to have appropriated the word, but changed the character in the 8th century to the semi-homonym 和 which has the much nicer meaning of “harmony, balance.” When combined with the word for Great, “大“, what would be Da Wa in Chinese becomes Yamato in Japanese. Thus, the 大和 retroactively became the eponym for the Japanese people as a whole.

      I still don’t have much about the horse people you describe.

      1. Yes indeed, John! I actually touch on that tale – albeit rather briefly – in Episode 19: One Nation Under Qin. The funny thing, as it turns out though, is that recent genetic tests pretty strongly show that all of these “founding of Japan” stories are at the very least heavily exaggerated, if not outright mythical… the Yayoi or O people share much more in common genetically with Joseon Koreans, who then either intermixed with or outright replaced the aboriginal Jomon peoples.

        That said, there does seem to be significant similarity between Han Chinese and Japanese men called the Y-Alu polymorphic element, or YAP, which is not shared by Koreans or Taiwanese… so there does seem to have been a significant intermixing between the Yayoi and Han peoples at some point… and who knows? Maybe it was Xu Fu’s 10,000 lost boys and girls who are responsible for the intermixing 🙂

        Now certainly culturally and militarily China’s going to start dominating the island chain more and more as we continue forward… so much so that during the Heian Period of the 8th-11 c. CE, the Imperial Court in Kyoto will be speaking and writing Chinese – to say nothing of Korea, which at current (on the podcast’s timeline) is totally dominated already by Han, and is half a vassal state and outlying tribes.

  2. Thanks for this wonderful podcast! I’m really enjoying your story-telling and attention to historical reliability. I’ve wanted someone to produce a podcast exactly like this for a while now. 🙂

    I’m also really enjoying hearing the names pronounced; when I’ve read Chinese history, I’ve never heard the names in my head as I read, not speaking Chinese. Learning how they’re pronounced is a relief!

    (By the way, I think you might be mispronouncing “duchy”. I hear “ducky” — it might be me, though — but the ch should sound like China. Even if I’m right, I know it’s minor. Sorry.)

    1. Great to hear, John! I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

      I am very confident in my Chinese pronunciations (at least, as far as Mandarin is concerned)… unfortunately, yes, you’re right that my English pronunciation of “duchy” leaves much to be desired. I should have looked up the pronunciation before it went to air, but…alas… I’m stuck with my mangling of the word. Still, I will have the chance to redeem myself: there are plenty of other duchies to talk about, and I’ll be sure to get it right next time.

      Thanks for your appreciation and pronunciation tips!
      Happy 2014!

  3. I’ve discovered your podcast a week ago and am hooked already. Very enjoyable and a great topic. The end of Shang was pretty exciting stuff. Boy, it takes cruelty of supervillain proportions before the Mandate of Heaven decides enough is enough, huh?

    The rule of Gija is a hotly debated issue among Korean historians…or was. These days history books just ignore the story altogether. Before that references to “Dangun and Gija” by court scholars were almost as numerous as “The ways of Yao and Shun”.

    Looking forward to new podcasts!

    1. Great to hear you’re enjoying it!

      Oh yes, I take both the “establishment” of Korea and Japan by the Chinese with a fairly large grain of salt… I’m certainly not surprised that either or both have subsequently just decided to nix that particular creation fable, especially amid the 19th-20th centuries’ rising nationalism all over the world. Even the sources I was reading from describe Gija as “mythological,” but I decided heck, why not include him anyway?… it’s certainly not the first “not strictly historical character” in Chinese history… yes, translucent-skinned, ox-horned Sovereign Shennong, I’m looking at you…

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