Shortly before he died in 1043 BC, King Wu of the Zhou (周武王 Zhou Wuwang) succeeded in overthrowing the Shang Dynasty and establishing a new dynasty under his family name – the Zhou. With his death, however, this newly established Zhou Dynasty faced an uncertain future.
Following the style of the Shang empire, King Wu had not attempted to govern over his domain directly, but instead, had placed princes and other powerful local leaders in charge of different parts of the realm.
The person who was given the task of overseeing and holding together this fragile domain was King Wu’s young heir, King Cheng (周成王 Zhou Chengwang).
King Cheng was too young to rule on his own, and therefore his uncle, the Duke of Zhou (周公 Zhou Gong), served as regent. As the Duke of Zhou’s power and influence grew, other Zhou princes who had been granted control of different parts of the realm became jealous. They allied with people who were still loyal to the Shang Dynasty and rebelled.
King Cheng then issued a document to the people who he felt still might support him. That document was called the “Great Pronouncement” (大誥 Dagao/Đại cáo).
The “Great Pronouncement” is contained in the ancient text, the Venerated Documents (尚書 Thượng Thư), also known as the Classic of Documents (書經 Thư Kinh/Kinh Thư). Given that King Cheng was still young, most scholars have assumed that this document was created by his regent, the Duke of Zhou.
In this document, King Cheng addresses “you, the princes of the many states, and you, the mangers of my affairs.” (猷大誥爾多邦越爾御事)
King Cheng sought the support of these people in his campaign against those who were rebelling against him. What is more, he cited two main sources of legitimacy that he felt his supporters should recognize: Heaven and his father.
The Zhou Dynasty created the idea of the “Mandate of Heaven” (天命 Thiên mệnh) – the idea that a cosmic force called Heaven grants its approval to certain, upright rulers – as a means to justify its overthrow of the Shang.
The “Great Pronouncement” is one of the first places that we can see this concept expressed. King Cheng explains that Heaven has granted its support to the Zhou. However, he also emphasizes the that the Zhou Dynasty is something that his father laid the foundation for, and that he was obligated to complete the work of his father, work that was approved by Heaven.
In other words, the original “Dagao/Đại cáo” (Great Pronouncement) was a document that was created just after a dynasty had been established by a very capable advisor (the Duke of Zhou) to a weak monarch (King Cheng) in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of that monarch to people who needed to be convinced of that monarch’s legitimacy.
Could it be that the “Bình Ngô đại cáo” was a document that was created just after a dynasty was established by a very capable advisor (Nguyễn Trãi) to a weak monarch (Lê Lợi) in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of that monarch to people who needed to be convinced of that monarch’s legitimacy?
That is the topic that we will examine in the next post.
For anyone who wishes to read the original “Great Pronouncement,” I have attached it below.