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The Fascinating Story of the Craziest Emperor of China

Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.

The Story of the Crazy Chinese Emperor Zhao Xin Who Created the Lake of Wine

The Story of the Crazy Chinese Emperor Zhao Xin Who Created the Lake of Wine

The Wine Pool and Meat Forest

The Chinese phrase 'Jiǔchí Ròulín' that roughly translates to "Wine Pool and Meat Forest" is a common Chinese idiom for excessive extravagance and debauchery. And this isn't just a cute phase. Zhou Xin, a cruel and despotic ruler of the Shang dynasty actually created a lake of wine and forest of meat to please his favourite concubine Daji.

King Zhou Xin’s lake of wine, it’s said, stretched more than two kilometres across in each direction. And in the centre of the pool was a man-made island containing a forest of meat. Its trees were made up of meat skewers, thick chunks of roast chicken, beef, and pork hung off the branches.

The king and his consort Daji would pass the time paddling around the sea of liquor, plucking meat from the branches that hung overhead, and indulging in wild orgies that went all day and night. It was a pleasure palace unlike the world had ever seen.

And at times when the king used to host parties to indulge his concubine Daji who was a hard-core party animal, more than 3000 people used to crowd the wine lake, dancing, singing, and indulging in sexual acts publicly. At the King’s orders, the people (mostly court officials, chancellors, and scholars) would be made to drink from the wine lake like animals, or dive in it and swim, or else chase each other naked in obscene orgies.

And whenever someone refused, grew tired, or displeased ‘Daji’ in some way, he would have him/her executed and drowned in the very lake of wine. It was a scale of tyranny and debauchery that crossed all limits of humanity.

King Zhou was a crazy king

King Zhou was a crazy king

The Story of King Zhou Xin

It is said that behind every successful man is a woman and behind every unsuccessful man is also a woman. And Daji seems to fit the bill perfectly.

It’s said that King Zhou Xin was actually a good king – at least, in his early years. He had the reputation of being an intelligent king and his reign was actually one of the most prosperous years in Imperial China. But his Achilles heel was his weakness for women. And once Daji came into his life, things began to change for the worse.

According to historical records, Daji was the beautiful daughter of a noble family named Su in the state of You Su. In 1047 B.C, Zhou conquered the state of Su and took Daji as his concubine. By then, the king was in his sixties and had been in his throne for forty years. Daji is beautiful, brilliant, and cunning and it did not take her long to control the ageing Zhou under her influence.

Zhou was infatuated by her so much that he wanted to do everything and anything to make her happy. He built a zoo for her in his palace bringing in rare animals and birds from faraway lands. She liked dancing and singing, so he ordered artists to compose lewd music and choreograph bawdy dances.

Daji was a party animal and loved sex and drinking and at her whim, he spent most of his kingdom’s budget on a massive lake of wine. The massive lake was complemented by a ‘forest’ of meat that had cooked meats of various kinds hanging from trees. The king and Daji would then order the ‘guests’ to amuse them by running naked, playing ‘cat and mouse’ games with each other, and indulge in sex orgies until they dropped dead exhausted.

And nobody could utter a word against Daji. It is said that when Zhou’s uncle once complained about Daji’s influence at the lake of wine, the king had him subjected to a slow death by a thousand cuts. He then pulled out his still-beating heart from his body to check how many chambers his heart had. As per a Chinese proverb, great men had 7 chambers in their hearts and Zhou wanted to ‘confirm’ if his uncle was really great.

And Daji was no less in her cruelty. She created a torture device called Paolao, a bronze cylinder heated like a furnace with charcoal until the sides were extremely hot. There the victim would be bound on the cylinder and baked to death. Da Ji would take great sadistic delight in hearing the painful cries of the condemned.

The first to die on the Paolao was a counsellor named Mei Bo who was executed for the crime of warning the king against Daji. The whole court was forced to watch him die as the kind said.

“Anyone who dares to say anything unforgivable will be treated like Mei Bo. So, hear you all!”

Mei Bo’s death proved to be the catalyst that triggered nationwide displeasure against the king and Daji. The Shang dynasty was already fighting a guerrilla battle with a nearby rebel state Zhou State and the rulers of Zhou instigated the internal revolt further and then finally attacked the Shang capital Yin while the King was away for one of his pleasure trips.

The Downfall of the Tyrant

The battle of Muye as it was called was a disaster for Zhou whose forces were routed by the Zhou state rebels. The Zhou established authority by forging alliances with regional nobles and founded their new dynasty with its capital at Fenghao (near present-day Xi’an, in western China).

King Zhou Xin, seeing imminent defeat, fled from the capital, and set his palace on fire, killing himself before the rebels took the city. We don’t know what happened to Daji but it is believed that she was put to death along with all the other concubines of Zhou Xin.

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The Shang dynasty came to a disastrous end due to its king’s excessive drinking, indulgent lifestyle, and immoral behavior. This downfall remains one of the most famous examples of decadence and corruption of any ruler in Chinese history.



Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 18, 2021:

Thanks Misbah for your wonderful comments

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on April 18, 2021:

Ravi, This is a very fascinating story. I enjoyed reading it. I have heard about King Zhou Xin before but I didn’t know much about him. Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece- much appreciated


Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 18, 2021:

Thanks Vanita for your comments.

Vanita Thakkar on April 18, 2021:

Such cruelty and excessive indulgence !! Never heard about it before. Such a shame that it could go so far and so long !!

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 18, 2021:

All please feel free to comment

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 17, 2021:

Thanks Flourish for your comments. It required a mammoth expenses of people and wealth to maintain this lake of wine and forest of meat.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 17, 2021:

I can just think about the practical side of a forest of meat skewers: meat rots pretty quickly and that is really gross-smelling! I hope he received his comeuppance.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

Thanks Chrish

Chrish Canosa from Manila Philippines on April 16, 2021:

I love reading histories of great leaders in China. And I so love this one! Thank you so much for sharing it with us!!!!! Blessings Sir Ravi!

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

Thanks Peggy for your comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 16, 2021:

What an almost unbelievable story of excesses and cruelty. It is good that King Zhou Xin's reign ended.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

All please feel free to comment on this article.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

Thanks Linda for your comments.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 16, 2021:

This is a fascinating story! Thank you for sharing the information. I had never heard of King Zhou Xin before I read your article.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

Thanks a lot DEvika

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

Thanks Devika

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 16, 2021:

I Tweeted this hub

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 16, 2021:

You share with us interesting hubs and with your creative mind you put together information in detail. I enjoyed reading about the Emperor in China. Makes me wonder about his character.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

All please feel free to comment on this article.

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