An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Wu Ding 武丁

Dec 29, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Wu Ding 武丁 (trad. r. 1324-1266 BCE, rather probably 1238-1180), personal name Zhao 昭, was a ruler of the Shang dynasty 商 (17th to 11th cent. BC). He was a son of King Pan Geng's 盤庚 younger brother Xiao Yi 小乙 and succeeded the latter to the throne.

Wu Ding's reign was the longest of all Shang kings. He was raised up among the common people and therefore knew the hardship of the peasant's life. According to historiography, he could not find a competent advisor at the beginning of his reign, so that he refused to talk for three years, while all political matters were decided by his counsellors. Once he saw a wise man in his dream called Fu Yue 傅說 and sent out envoys to seek for him throughout the empire. They found his as a humble slave labourer, and King Wu Ding made him his highest minister. The king was in need for a competent counsellor because the Shang dynasty suffered a decline, and its old virtue had to be restrengthened. Another important minister of King Wu Ding was Gan Pan 甘盤. The reign of Wu Ding is seen as the climax of the Shang dynasty before it fell into decline.

Wu Ding was a great warrior and was able to defeat the Guifang 鬼方 (or Gongfang {工/口}方) in the north, the Qiangfang 羌方 in the west in the west, and the Jingman 荆蠻 (or Hufang 虎方) in the south. These campaigns enlarged the territory of the Shang considerably and helped transforming the Shang kingdom from a city state to a territorial state.

His consort Fu Hao 婦好 is also said to have commanded an army against the Qiangfang. According to oracle bone inscriptions, the average size of the Shang armies was 3,000 or 5,000 troops. During these campaigns, the Shang caputres inimical troops and used them as slaves or for human sacrifice.

Wu Ding's dynastic temple name is Gaozong 高宗.

In 1976, the richly furnished tomb of Wu Ding and Fu Hao was opened, and archaeologists brought to light an enormous treasure of cultural objects from the Shang period. The period of Wu Ding was a very productive time in the field or archiving oracle inscriptions. He was succeeded by Zu Geng 祖庚 (trad. r. 1265-1259, historically 1179-1173 BCE).

Chen Quanli 陳全力, Hou Xinyi 侯欣一, ed. (1988). Diwang cidian 帝王辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe), 10.
Hu Houxuan 胡厚宣 (1992). "Wu Ding 武丁", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1256.
Xue Hong 薛虹 et al., ed. (1998). Zhongguo huangshi gongting cidian 中國皇室宫廷辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 698.