An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Regional State of Chen 陳

Nov 1, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald
Don't confound this regional state of the Zhou period with the Chen dynasty 陳 (557-589) of the Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420~589).

The state of Chen 陳 was a regional state of the Zhou period 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE). As a small state of the Central Plain, it had always to cope with the ambitions of the larger states of the south.

Map 1. The regional state of Chen 陳 (11th cent. - 469 BCE)
Map according to Tan Qixiang 谭其骧 (1987), Zhongguo lishi ditu ji 中国历史地图集. Chen was located in the southern parts of Yellow River Plain. It was weakened by internal quarrels and was conquered by the southern state of Chu. Click to enlarge.

The dynastic founder, Duke Hu of Chen 陳胡公, also called Man, Duke of Chen 陳公滿, is said to have been a descendant of the mythical emperor Shun 舜. His surname was Gui 嬀, and his family had been for generations regional rulers of the territory, a custom that was perpetuated by King Wu of Zhou 周武王 (11th cent. BCE), the founder of the Zhou dynasty.

After the death of Duke Huan of Chen 陳桓公 (r. 744-707), a succession crisis arose. The late duke's brother, Prince Tuo 佗 (or 他), had a mother from the state of Cai 蔡. In order to ensure Tuo's succession, Prince Wufu 五父, and Prince Wan 免, the actual heir apparent, were killed by nobles from Cai. Prince Tuo mounted the throne as Duke Li of Chen 陳厲公 (r. 706-700). Duke Li himself was also married to a princess from Cai that had an illicit relationship with someone from Cai. The Duke himself is likewise depicted as a licentious person.

In 699 the surviving brothers of Prince Wan took revenge, lured the duke by giving him a beautiful girl and had him killed by some nobles from Cai that felt insulted by the Duke. Prince Yao 躍 was proclaimed the new ruler, known as Duke Li 陳利公 (r. 700). He was, after a short reign, succeeded by his brother Lin 林, Duke Zhuang 陳莊公 (r. 699-693), and the latter was succeeded by his brother Prince Wujiu 杵臼, Duke Xuan 陳宣公 (r. 692-648).

Duke Xuan had a secondary consort giving birth to a son, Prince Kuan 款. In order to make him successor (the eventual Duke Mu 陳穆公, r. 647-632), the Duke had the heir apparent, Prince Yukou 御寇, killed. The Prince's intimate friend, Prince Wan 完, a son of late Duke Li 陳厲公, fled to the state of Qi 齊, where he refused to take an office. Duke Huan of Qi 齊桓公 (r. 685-643) married him to one of his daughters and gave him the territory of Tian 田. Chen Wan 陳完, as he was called, was the ancestor of the second dynasty of the state of Qi (see Tian Jingzhong 田敬仲).

The rule of Duke Ling 陳靈公 (r. 613-599) initiated the downfall of the house of Chen. Chen was attacked by the powerful state of Chu 楚 in the south. At the court, the Duke played licentious games with Madame Xia 夏姬, the wife of Lord Yushu 御叔, and the nobles Kong Ning 孔寧 and Yi Xingfu 儀行父. Xie Ye 泄冶, a remonstrating minister, was assassinated by the two nobles. During a banquet, the Duke insulted Xia Zhengshu 夏徵舒, Lady Xia's son, by asking whom of the nobles he resembled (suggesting that Zhengshu's father was not Lord Yushu, but the Duke, Kong or Yi). Zhengshu thereupon laid down in ambush and shot the Duke with a crossbow.

The heir apparent, Prince Wu 午, fled to Jin 晉, accompanied by the two nobles to Chu, and Zhengshu made himself duke of Chen. He is traditionally called Marquis of Chen 陳侯, not Duke, because he was killed in a battle with Chu and was not venerated in the ancestral temple. Although the king of Chu had promised the nobles of Chen to punish Zhengshu only, he tried to occupy Chen and to integrate it into the territory of Chu, but he was stopped by one of his ministers, Shen Shu 申叔. Prince Wu was thereupon received and mounted the throne as Duke Cheng 陳成公 (r. 598-569).

In the next generation, Chen again became the target of military campaigns from Chu. Duke Ai 陳哀公 (r. 568-534) had several sons from different mothers. His most beloved son was Prince Liu 留, who was given into custody with Prince Zhao 招 (also called Situ Zhao 司徒招 because he was Minister of Education, situ 司徒), the Duke's brother. When the Duke fell seriously ill, Situ Zhao killed Prince Dao 悼 and had the Duke arrested. In this precarious situation, Duke Ai hanged himself. Situ Zhao enthroned Prince Liu and sent an envoy to the state of Chu to announce the mourning for the late Duke Ai. King Ling of Chu 楚靈王 (r. 540-529) took the chance to attack Chen. Prince Liu fled to Zheng 鄭, and Chen was conquered by Chu.

A surviving member of the house of Chu, Prince Wu 吳, a son of Prince Dao, stayed in exile in Jin. King Ping of Chu wanted to restore the house of Chen and made Prince Wu the new ruler of Chen, Duke Hui 陳惠公 (r. 533-506). In the annals, his rule was projected back to bridge the five years of interregnum.

Under the rule of Duke Huai 陳懷公 (r. 505-502), the state of Wu 吳 conquered Chu. King Fucha 夫差 (r. 495-473) invited all lords of the smaller states to congratulate, but Duke Huai refused for fear that Chu might recover later and punish him. Shortly after, King Fucha cited him again to his court, and this time Duke Huai did not decline and traveled to Wu, where he was arrested. He died in confinement in Wu.

Confucius 孔子 dwelled in Chen during that sad period, and was a witness to the downfall of the house of Chen. Duke Min 陳湣公 (r. 501-469) asked for help with the king of Chu against the ever stronger state of Wu. In 469, King Hui of Chu 楚惠王 (r. 488-432) led his troops to the north, defeated the troops of Chen, killed Duke Min and occupied his territory. In the same year, Confucius died.

Table 1. Rulers of the regional state of Chen 陳
Capital: Chen 陳 (modern Huaiyang 淮陽, Anhui)
dynastic title personal name time
Duke Hu of Chen
(Chen Hugong 陳胡公)
Gui Man 嬀滿, descendant of Emperor Shun
Duke Shen of Chen
(Chen Shengong 陳申公)
Gui Xihou 嬀犀侯
Duke Xiang of Chen
(Chen Xianggong 陳相公)
Gui Gaoyang 嬀皐羊
Duke Xiao of Chen
(Chen Xiaogong 陳孝公)
Gui Tu 嬀突
Duke Shen of Chen
(Chen Shengong 陳慎公)
Gui Yurong 嬀圉戎
Duke You of Chen
(Chen Yougong 陳幽公)
Gui Ning 嬀寧 855-832
Duke Xi of Chen
(Chen Xigong 陳釐公, 陳僖公)
Gui Xiao 嬀孝 832-795
Duke Wu of Chen
(Chen Wugong 陳武公)
Gui Ling 嬀靈 795-781
Duke Yi of Chen
(Chen Yigong 陳夷公)
Gui Yue 嬀說 781-778
Duke Ping of Chen
(Chen Pinggong 陳平公)
Gui Xie 嬀燮 778-755
Duke Wen of Chen
(Chen Wengong 陳文公)
Gui Yu 嬀圉 755-745
Duke Huan of Chen
(Chen Huangong 陳桓公)
Gui Bao 嬀鮑 745-707
Duke Li of Chen
(Chen Ligong 陳厲公)
Gui Yao 嬀躍 707-700
Duke Zhuang of Chen
(Chen Zhuanggong 陳莊公)
Gui Lin 嬀林 700-693
Duke Xuan of Chen
(Chen Xuangong 陳宣公)
Gui Chujiu 嬀杵臼 693-648
Duke Mu of Chen
(Chen Mugong 陳穆公)
Gui Kuan 嬀款 648-632
Duke Gong of Chen
(Chen Gonggong 陳共公)
Gui Shuo 嬀朔 632-614
Duke Ling of Chen
(Chen Linggong 陳靈公)
Gui Pingguo 嬀平國 614-599
Duke Cheng of Chen
(Chen Chenggong 陳成公)
Gui Wu 嬀午 599-569
Duke Ai of Chen
(Chen Aigong 陳哀公)
Gui Ni 嬀溺 569-534
Duke Hui of Chen
(Chen Huigong 陳惠公)
Gui Wu 嬀吳 534-506
Duke Huai of Chen
(Chen Huaigong 陳懷公)
Gui Liu 嬀柳 506-502
Duke Min of Chen
(Chen Mingong 陳湣公)
Gui Yue 嬀越 502-469
469 Chen destroyed by Chu 楚.
Shiji 史記, 36, Chen Qi shijia 陳杞世家.