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Wu (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Old Chinese: *ŋʷˤa) was one of the states during the Western Zhou Dynasty and the Spring and Autumn period. It was also known as Gouwu (句吳 /*[k]ˁ(r)o.ŋʷˁa/) or Gongwu (工/攻吳 /*kˁoŋ.ŋʷˁa/) from the pronunciation of the local language.

State of Wu

11th century BC–473 BC
Chinese plain 5c. BC-en2.png
CapitalWu (modern-day Suzhou, Jiangsu province)
Historical eraZhou Dynasty
Spring and Autumn period
• Foundation by Taibo
11th century BC
• Defeated by Yue
473 BC
Succeeded by
Yue (state)
Wu (Chinese characters).svg
"Wu" in seal script (top), Traditional (middle), and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Wu was located at the mouth of the Yangtze River east of the State of Chu. Its first capital was at Meili (probably in modern Wuxi) and was later moved to Gusu (姑蘇, modern Suzhou) and then Helu City (the old town of present-day Suzhou).


The rulers of the State of Wu had the surname Ji (), the same as the Zhou royal family. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, the rulers of Wu are descended from Taibo, the oldest son of Gugong Danfu and the elder uncle of King Wen who started the Zhou Dynasty. Gugong Danfu had three sons named Taibo, Zhongyong, and Jili. Taibo was the oldest of three brothers, Jili being the youngest. Realizing that his youngest brother, Jili, was favored by his father to inherit the throne of Predynastic Zhou, the older brothers Taibo and Zhongyong left Zhou to avoid conflict and settled southeast to Wu with a group of followers loyal to him and his brother Zhongyong. They established their first capital at Meili (梅里), believed to be today's Meicun in Wuxi. Taibo's youngest brother Jili who was eventually the heir of the throne became the father of King Wen. King Wen is attributed to starting the Zhou dynasty.

The State of Jin aided Wu's rise to power as a useful ally against the State of Chu. In 584 BC, Wu rebelled against Chu upon the advice of Wuchen, a Jin minister, who defected from Chu. From then on, Wu would become a constant threat to the Chu Kingdom. Wu planted seeds of rebellion amongst Chu's vassals along the Yangtze valley. Wu Zixu, a highly influential Chu politician's mother and brother was murdered by King Ping of Chu and fled to Wu plotting revenge. Wu Zixu later became a trusted advisor of Prince Guang and helped him assassinate his cousin King Liao of Wu and usurp the throne. After the successful assassination of King Liao, Prince Guang ascended the throne and became known as King Helü of Wu.[1]

In 506 BCE, during the reign of King Zhao of Chu, King Helü decided to invade Chu. The king personally led the army, along with his younger brother Fugai, Wu Zixu, as well as Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War. Although Chu had a strong army led by Nang Wa and Shen Yinshu, it suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Boju. King Zhao of Chu fled to Sui and the Wu army captured Ying, Chu's capital. After entering Ying, Wu Zixu exhumed King Ping's corpse, and gave it 300 lashes to exact vengeance on for his mother and brother who were murdered by the Chu King.[1] The military victory led to Wu Zixu's elevation to Duke of Shen and his alias Shenxu. After these victories, Wu was briefly the most powerful nation and turned to other campaigns, defeating the State of Qi in 484 BC. King Helü of Wu is considered to be one of the Five Hegemons of China during the Spring and Autumn period due to his military successes at this time with the help of his famous commander/strategist Sun Tzu.

Ironically, Wu was later threatened by an upstart state to its own south, Yue; Chu then aided Yue's rise as a counter to Wu. Although Wu won majority of battles against the Yue and captured their King Goujian, Wu failed to completely subjugate Yue, in part because of Fuchai's willingness to let King Goujian live in Wu as his servant. King Goujian suffered for years as Fuchai's servant/slave and planned his revenge. Fuchai under the promise of peace, let Goujian return to Yue, his homeland which later proved to be a fatal mistake for Wu. While Wu was engaged in a military campaign in the north, Goujian enacted his revenge and launched a surprise attack on Wu in 482 BC and conquered the capital. Over the next decade, Wu was unable to recover and Yue absorbed the state in 473 BC.

Wu, Yue, and Chu all proclaimed themselves kings in the 6th century BC, showing the drastic weakening of the Zhou court's authority during the Spring and Autumn period.

Wu and Yue were masters of metallurgy, fabricating excellent swords with incised messages, geometric patterns, and inlaid gold or silver. Wu and Yue swords tend to use much more tin than copper compared to those of other states. Wu often sent swords as gifts to northern states, such as Qi and Cai. Examples include the spearhead of King Fuchai and the sword of Prince Guang.

Kings of Wu family treeEdit

The kings of Wu claimed descent from Taibo, the uncle of King Wen of Zhou. Their ancestral name was Ji and their clan name was Gufa.[2] The last king of Wu, King Fuchai had at least four sons, three of whom were named You, Hong and Hui. You was his heir but was killed in one of the battles leading to the defeat of Wu, and Hong became the new heir. After the collapse of the state, the other three sons of Fuchai were exiled. Themselves, their blood relatives and descendants took Wu as their clan name in honor of their fallen kingdom.


The Records of the Grand Historian states that the people in Wu wore their hair short and sported tattoos. This observation is likely meant to illustrate their supposed barbarism, as in Sima Qian's time neither men nor women were allowed to cut their hair or otherwise modify their body - doing so was considered an offence against the ancestors from which one had inherited one's physical features.

Wu rulers did not receive Chinese-language posthumous names after death.


Since the famed military strategist Sun Tzu served as a general under King Helü of Wu, his famous military treatise Art of War was probably written in Wu. The military prowess of Wu before their defeat by opportunistic Yue can be partly attributed to this famous commander and his literary work which is still studied around the world.


"Wu" continues to be used as a name for the region around Suzhou and Shanghai and their regional speech, Wu Chinese. It was employed by other states and princes holding power in the region, most notably Eastern Wu of the Three Kingdoms, and Wu and Wuyue of the Ten Kingdoms.

Connections with ancient JapanEdit

Ambassadorial visits to Japan by the later Chinese dynasties Wei and Jin recorded that the Wajin of Japan claimed to be descendants of Taibo of Wu, traditionally believed to be the founder of Wu.[3] Several scholars suggest that the Yamato people and the Imperial House of Japan are descendants of the Wu and possibly Taibo.[4][5] Many Japanese historians also link the early Japanese Yayoi people to the Baiyue tribes that also include the Wu people.[6][7][8]

Linguists including Vovin (2014) state that the Japonic languages have an origin in southern China.[9]

Wu in astronomyEdit

Wu, together with Yue, is represented with the star Zeta Aquilae in asterism Left Wall, Heavenly Market enclosure (see Chinese constellations).[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Sima Qian. "伍子胥列传 (Biography of Wu Zixu)". Records of the Grand Historian (in Chinese). Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  2. ^ 曹锦炎 [Cao Jinyan]. 吴王寿梦之子剑铭文考释 ["Textual Research on King Shou Meng of Wu's Son's Sword Inscription"]. 文物 [Wénwù, Cultural Relics]. Feb 2005. (in Chinese)
  3. ^ Encounters of the Eastern Barbarians, Wei Chronicles
  4. ^ Ng, Wai-ming (2019-02-26). Imagining China in Tokugawa Japan: Legends, Classics, and Historical Terms. SUNY Press. ISBN 9781438473086.
  5. ^ Brownlee, John S. (2011-11-01). Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu. UBC Press. ISBN 9780774842549.
  6. ^ 諏訪春雄編『倭族と古代日本』(雄山閣出版、1993)また諏訪春雄通信100
  7. ^ "Yayoi linked to Yangtze area". Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  8. ^ 崎谷満『DNA・考古・言語の学際研究が示す新・日本列島史』(勉誠出版 2009年)
  9. ^ Vovin, Alexander. "Out of Southern China?". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ AEEA (Activities of Exhibition and Education in Astronomy) 天文教育資訊網 2006 年 6 月 23 日 (in Chinese)

Further readingEdit

  • Wagner, Donald B. 1990. The language of the ancient Chinese state of Wu. East Asian institute Occasional paper 6. University of Copenhagen.
  • Zhengzhang Shangfang 1990. "Some Kam-Tai Words in Place Names of the Ancient Wu and Yue States" [古吴越地名中的侗台语成份]. In Minzu Yuwen 6. (in Chinese)
  • Zhengzhang Shangfang 鄭張尚芳. “Gu Yueyu” 古越語 [The old Yue language]. In Dong Chuping 董楚平 et al. Wu Yue wenhua zhi 吳越文化誌 [Record of the cultures of Wu and Yue]. Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1998, vol. 1, pp. 253–281. (in Chinese)