Emperor Jing’s Massacre Of The Xian And Zhou Families

During his time in power, Emperor Jing of Han Dynasty China (r. 157-141 BCE) became increasingly worried about the strength and influence of the Xian clan in Ji’nan and the Zhou clan of the Chen region. The emperor’s fears were understandable, as his reign had been challenged by a large (but unsuccessful) rebellion of seven kings in 154 BCE, and such an experience would have naturally made the emperor more wary of potential threats. Despite the emperor’s fears, the Xian and Zhou clans did not have enough quickly-accessible might to put up any resistance whatsoever against Emperor Wen when he decided to launch a ruthless campaign against them to preemptively prune their clans from the political landscape. Grand Historian Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE) described the emperor’s brutal oppression, stating, “the Xian family of Ji’nan and Zhou Yong of Chen were both noted for their great power and influence. When Emperor Jing heard of this, he sent an envoy to execute all the members of their group” (Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, Shi Ji 124). Perhaps this purge was controversial, for Sima Qian (who precariously lived during the reign of Emperor Jing’s son), decided to not mention the incident in his official annals of Emperor Jing’s reign (Shi Ji 11). He instead snuck the tale into later chapters such as the one quoted above (Shi Ji 124), which was devoted to wandering knight figures in ancient China.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Admonishing in Chains, traditionally attributed to Yan Liben (ca. 600-674), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian Institute).



  • The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.


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