The King With a Lake of Wine (Or Three Crazy Stories About King Zhou)

Hayley Milliman - Content Lead

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I don’t think I would much fancy being queen. I mean, I’d like being incredibly rich, but I’d mostly say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to the pressures of royalty and fame. Basically, I’ve never really fantasized about being a princess, mainly just an anonymous author whose book hits the bestseller lists under a pseudonym and then gets to live in a giant mansion full of puppies.

I didn’t get the point of being a leader until I read the story of King Zhou. Also known as Di Xin or Zhou Xi, King Zhou was the last king of the infamous Shang Dynasty in China. In addition to being the last king of a dying house, Zhou was famous for a number of wild stories that made me think, “Hm. Maybe it would be good to be queen.”

Read on for yourself and decide if they’re fact or fiction.

Story #1: King Zhou Built the Alcohol Pool and Meat Forest

According to legend, Zhou was actually a pretty decent king for the early years of his rule. He did all the things kings are supposed to do, like beat other people in arguments and hunt beasts with his bare hands.

Later in this reign, though, Zhou kind of just gave up. He stopped giving a sh*t about the affairs of his country and started caring a whole lot more about what he would do with his one wild and precious life. And what he wanted to do with his life was have a lot of really crazy parties.1

According to legend, Zhou decided to use his country’s funds to build an “Alcohol Pool and Meat Forest.” Now, when I say pool, I mean a legit body of water wine that was big enough and deep enough for people to swim and canoes to float. Zhou would float with his friends and dip his head over the sides when he fancied a refreshment.

In the center of the pool as a small island, covered in trees. The trees all had branches, but they weren’t the normal, leaf-bearing kind. Instead, they were covered in skewers of roasted meat.

Truly, King Zhou lived the dream.

Story #2: He Was Possessed By His Wife

Remember when I said King Zhou was a great leader at the beginning of his reign?

Yeah. The difference between the beginning and end of his rule was marked. In addition to using government money to build a forest of meat trees (I’m definitely picturing something weird in my head right now), Zhou “gave himself over to women and abandoned morals.”2

According to legend, he began hosting festive orgies, to which I say, at least they weren’t depressing orgies. The orgy attendees would engage in “immoral behavior” and compose songs with “crude lyrics and poor rhythm.” Which, I mean, if you’re going to give up on governing your country to write poetry, at least write good poetry.

The change was so drastic that courtiers assumed there had to be a reason. And instead of saying, “Hey, Zhou’s probably just going through a midlife crisis,” the men and women of the court looked around, saw his wife Daji and thought, “Why blame him when we can blame a woman?”

And so Daji came to be known as Zhou’s “wicked wife,” who, along with the demon fox that possessed her, convinced Zhou to do terrible things to himself, his body, and his country.

Story #3: He Created a Terrible Punishment

Until now, most stories about Zhou have been relatively harmless. This last one? Not so much.

Stories say that, in order to please his demon bride, Zhou created something called the “Cannon Burning Punishment.” It was as bad as it sounds.3

For this form of torture, Zhou would heat up a large, hollow bronze cylinder with burning charcoal until it was red-hot. Then, he would force prisoners to hug the cylinder until the burned to death.

Which really, truly sounds like the worst way in the world to die.

Apparently, the “Cannon Burning Punishment” would often serve as foreplay to Zhou’s infamous orgies, but as with every one of these tales, there’s no telling what’s true and what’s merely a terrible, terrible legend.

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Notes & Gossip 📌

  1. Ball, Philip. (2018, August 14). King Zhou of Shang http://ctext.org/three-character-classic#n90610
  2. Ball, Philip. (2018, August 14). King Zhou of Shang http://ctext.org/three-character-classic#n90610
  3. Ball, Philip. (2018, August 14). King Zhou of Shang http://ctext.org/three-character-classic#n90610

Scholarly Shout-outs 🌟

  • Ball, Philip. (2018, August 14). King Zhou of Shang http://ctext.org/three-character-classic#n90610
  • Wu, K. C. (1982). The Chinese Heritage. New York: Crown Publishers

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