King Gong of Chu

King Gong of Chu (Chinese: 楚共王 or 楚龔王; pinyin: Chǔ Gòng Wáng, 600–560 BC) was from 590 to 560 BC the king of Chu, a major power during the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. He was born Xiong Shen (Chinese: 熊審), and at the age of 10 succeeded his father King Zhuang of Chu, who was the Hegemon of China. However, in 575 BC King Gong was defeated by Chu's archrival Jin in the Battle of Yanling and Chu's power declined. He ruled for 31 years and was succeeded by his eldest son, King Kang of Chu.[1] Three of King Gong's younger sons also ascended the throne, all by treacherous means.[2]

Xiong Shen
King of Chu
Reign590–560 BC
Full name
Posthumous name
King Gong of Chu

Battle of YanlingEdit

When King Gong ascended the throne in 590 BC Chu was the strongest power in China. In 597 BC his father King Zhuang defeated Chu's archrival Jin in the Battle of Bi and was recognized as the Hegemon by other states. However, King Gong's reign was marked by Chu's decisive defeat by the resurgent Jin in the 575 BC Battle of Yanling.[2]

The battle was triggered by a series of minor events. In 577 BC, the Jin vassal state Zheng attacked the Chu vassal state Xu (). The next year Chu attacked Zheng in revenge, and forced Zheng to switch its loyalty to Chu. Zheng then attacked Song, another Jin vassal state. In 575 BC, Duke Li of Jin raised an army to attack Zheng, while King Gong led the Chu army north to defend his new ally.[3]

The two forces met at Yanling, and Jin defeated Chu by attacking its weaker flanks manned by the poorly trained Zheng and Dongyi soldiers. During the battle King Gong was shot in the eye by an arrow. Despite his wound, at the end of the day King Gong summoned the chief military commander Zifan to discuss the battle plan for the next day, but caught Zifan drunk. King Gong decided to retreat and Zifan later committed suicide.[3][4][5]

Conflicts with WuEdit

While Chu was preoccupied with its rivalry with Jin, the formerly insignificant state of Wu began to rise to its east. In 598 BC, during King Zhuang's reign, Chu minister Wuchen (Duke of Shen) defected to Jin after a personal dispute with general Zifan. In 584 BC Wuchen went on a mission to Wu on behalf of Jin to establish an alliance between the two states. He brought along 100 charioteers who taught the Wu army to use chariots, and successfully incited Wu to revolt against Chu. The Wu king Shoumeng invaded Chu, annexed the Chu city of Zhoulai, and took over many tribes that had been loyal to Chu.[5]

In 570 BC Chu general Zichong attacked Wu, reaching Mount Heng (in present-day Dangtu County) in Wu territory. However, Wu counterattacked and took the important Chu city of Jia. Zichong was blamed for the loss and died from an illness.[6] For the ensuing seven decades Chu would be consumed by a series of at least ten wars or battles with Wu, culminating in the 506 BC Battle of Boju, when the Wu army would capture and destroy the Chu capital Ying.[7]

Posthumous titleEdit

In 560 BC, when King Gong was dying from illness, he summoned his ministers and requested to be given the pejorative posthumous title of Ling () or Li (), expressing shame for losing the Battle of Yanling and causing disgrace to the nation. The ministers agreed at his insistence, but after his death they instead gave him the title Gong, meaning "humbly reverent".[6] The pejorative title King Ling was later given to King Gong's second son Xiong Wei, who would in 541 BC murder his nephew Jia'ao and usurp the throne.[2]


King Gong had at least five sons, four of whom became king. When King Gong died in 560 BC, he was succeeded by his eldest son King Kang of Chu, who died in 545 BC after 15 years of reign and was succeeded by his son Xiong Yuan (posthumous title Jia'ao). Four years later King Gong's second son Prince Wei murdered Jia'ao and his two sons when he was ill, and usurped the throne. Prince Wei was later given the pejorative posthumous title King Ling of Chu.[2]

In 529 BC when King Ling was on an expedition against the State of Xu, his three younger brothers staged a coup d'etat and killed his son Crown Prince Lu. Prince Bi, the third brother, ascended the throne (posthumous title Zi'ao), and the fourth brother Prince Zixi became the prime minister. When news of the coup reached King Ling's troops they abandoned him en masse, and in desperation King Ling killed himself.[2]

However, Prince Qiji, the fifth brother, concealed the truth about King Ling's death from Zi'ao and Zixi. Instead, he pretended to be defeated by King Ling and said the king would soon return to the capital. Zi'ao and Zixi were so fearful that they both committed suicide; Zi'ao had been king for less than twenty days. Prince Qiji then ascended the throne and would come to be known as King Ping of Chu.[2]

Family treeEdit

King Gong
(r. 590–560 BC)
King Kang
(r. 559–545 BC)
King Ling
(r. 540–529 BC)
(r. 529 BC)
ZixiKing Ping
(r. 528–516 BC)
(r. 544–541 BC)
Crown Prince LuKing Zhao
(r. 515–489 BC)


  1. ^ Major, John S. (2004). Defining Chu: image and reality in ancient China. University of Hawaii Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-824829-056.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Sima Qian. "楚世家 (House of Chu)". Records of the Grand Historian (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 10 March 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Battle of Yanling" (in Chinese). Henan Museum. 21 April 2006. Archived from the original on 1 January 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  4. ^ "Battle of Yanling" (in Chinese). 13 June 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  5. ^ a b Zuo Qiuming. "Book VIII. Duke Cheng". Zuo Zhuan (in Chinese and English). Retrieved 22 February 2012. Chapter XVI.
  6. ^ a b Zuo Qiuming. "Book IX. Duke Xiang". Zuo Zhuan (in Chinese and English). Retrieved 22 February 2012. Chapter XIII.
  7. ^ "柏舉之戰 (Battle of Boju)" (in Chinese). China Ministry of Defense. 22 July 2009. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
King Gong of Chu
Born: 600 BC Died: 560 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Chu
590–560 BC
Succeeded by