Pan Geng was a king of the ancient Chinese Shang Dynasty whose reign was traditionally dated (but with a large margin of error) to between 1401 and 1374 BCE. During his reign, Pan Geng decided to move his realm’s seat of power from the then capital of Yan (approximately modern Qufu, Shandong) to a new location at Yin (around modern Anyang, Henan). Although the Shang Dynasty had successfully moved its capital a few times before in its long history, Pan Geng soon found out that his people were not eager to move again. As the story goes, so few people wanted to follow the king to Yin that it put Pan Geng’s ambition of building and populating the new capital city into jeopardy. The sluggish and resistant public attitude to moving the capital to Yin was so great that Pan Geng reportedly had to resort to dramatic measures to get his way. First, the king used the classic tried-and-true persuasive measure of proclaiming that the move to Yin was the will of Heaven. The tale was preserved in the Shang Shu, a text variously translated as The Book of Documents or The Most Venerable Book, which has its origins in the days before Confucius (c. 551-479 BCE). Claiming to quote Pan Geng, the Shang Shu stated, “I asked diviners for a divination. The reply has come and it says that this new place is a good place to settle” (Shang Shu, chapter 18). To the annoyance of the king, this timely claim of Heaven’s support was not as convincing he had hoped. Therefore, the king ultimately resorted to the threat of violence in order to get people to move. The Shang Shu recorded Pan Geng as menacingly addressing his people with the following words: “Indeed, you need to understand clearly that I will not be diverted from my plans. Do not be so foolish as to stand in the way of this Great Plan…if anyone continues to be stubborn or to rebel, disregarding my orders without fear—indeed using every opportunity to plan treason—then I will cut off their noses. I will utterly destroy them. I will wipe out their lineage and none will be allowed into the new city” (Shang Shu, chapter 19). Through such means, King Pan Geng had his way and successfully moved to Yin. As a result of the relocation, Pan Geng’s descendants were alternatively known as the Yin Dynasty.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scene of a procession, by an unidentified artist from the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The Most Venerable Book (Shang Shu), translated by Martin Palmer, Jay Ramsay and Victoria Finlay. London: Penguin Classic, 2014.