King Wu of Zhou (r. 1046-1042 BCE), backed by reportedly nine brothers, completed his late father’s unfinished era-changing war that toppled the Shang/Yin Dynasty in China. After the previous dynasty was dethroned, King Wu placed his own family, the Zhou Dynasty, at the top of the conquered realm. Peoples in and adjacent to the new hegemon state took notice of the regime change and began sending gifts as congratulations to King Wu for his victory. Naturally, as the event took place thousands of years ago, details are vague about exactly what was sent to the king. Some legends and records, however, did survive the erosion of time. An intriguing text from the days before Confucius (c. 551-479 BCE), called the Shang Shu (variously translated as The Book of Documents or The Most Venerable Book), was one such record that documented some of the purported events that occurred in the reign of King Wu of Zhou. It included brief mentions of incidents involving the aforementioned gifts sent to King Wu after his victory over the preceding Shang Dynasty. Of the gift-givers, one group in particular stood out—this was a coalition of tribes that pooled their resources to present King Wu with an abnormally huge dog. As told by the Shang Shu, “it was also feasible for the nine barbarian peoples and the eight wild peoples from the Western tribe of Lü to send a huge hound as tribute” (Shang Shu, chapter 33). Although the massive dog was accompanied by other gifts, such as foods, garments, containers, and even other exotic animals, the huge hound remained the star of the show. King Wu was evidently delighted by the gifts, but other ministers had their doubts, and they went so far as to express their displeasure. A figure known only as the Grand Guardian was said to have written a criticism-laden poem titled “The Hound of Lü” that stated:
“Strange dogs and horses shouldn’t be prioritized
likewise strange birds and creatures
shouldn’t be encouraged here.
Disdain alien things…
if you give them no value
then strangers will be impressed!”
(Stanzas 12-13 from “The Hound of Lü,” attributed to the Grand Guardian and cited in chapter 33 of the Shang Shu)
Despite the protests of ministers or advisors who may have shared these beliefs, King Wu of Zhou evidently relished the unique and exotic gifts that were coming into his possession. A generous ruler, King Wu made sure to distribute some of the presents to his favorite vassals. On the king’s handing out of some of his treasures to friends, as well as more general information about the gifts received by the king, the author of the “Hound of Lü” poem stated:
“The rough barbarians on every side
come to acknowledge his rule.
They come from near and far
proffering their wares—
clothes, food, vessels.
The king displays them as signs of his virtue,
and as long as they’re true to their duties
he awards them to local governors.”
(Stanzas 1-3 from “The Hound of Lü,” cited in chapter 33 of the Shang Shu)
Of course, King Wu of Zhou would have likely kept the best of the items for himself. The best horses, the finest garments, the choicest foods, the most exquisite pieces of craftsmanship and, especially, the famous huge hound, these best gifts probably remained with the king and were proudly displayed as cherished possessions. Unfortunately, although the Hound of Lü was famous and inspired a poem, very little is actually known about the creature other than that it was huge. What it looked like and what happened to it after it came into King Wu’s possession were not recorded in the Shang Shu.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Cropped and modified Horsemen with Dog, by an unknown artist from the Ming dynasty, [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.