Chinese Characters Wén and Wǔ
Chinese Characters Wén and Wǔ

Chinese Characters: Wen and wu

The first emperor of the Zhou Dynasty, King Wu (周武王), and his father, King Wen (周文王), derived their imperial name from the characters 文 (pronounced wén) and 武 (pronounced wǔ).

These two characters together represent the perfect combination of skills a man can have: 文 refers to academia and civil matters, while 武 refers to military affairs and martial arts.

Someone in possession of both qualities, called 文武雙全 (wén wǔ shuāng quán) in Chinese, would be a fine scholar as well as a strong soldier, a master of both the pen and the sword. 

The character 文 is used in combination with other characters to form phrases such as 文化 (wén huà), culture, and 中文 (zhōng wén), the Chinese language. 

武, on the other hand, is used in combination with other characters to create terms associated with combat and warfare, such as 武器 (wǔ qì), weapons, or 武術 (wǔ shù), martial arts.

King Wen is also known for his contributions to the Yi Jing (易經), a manual of divination and one of the oldest Chinese classic texts, also called the I Ching, Book of Changes, or Zhou Yi (周易).

The Yi Jing presents 64 hexagrams that are formed by creating different permutations of the eight basic trigrams passed down from the legendary Fu Xi (伏羲), symbols that the Chinese people interpreted to help them understand changes in their world and in the Heavens.

King Wen is attributed with having formed the 64 hexagrams and writing the meanings associated with each one.

Combine leniency and strictness to live a well-balanced life.


His son, King Wu, or “the martial king” in Chinese, received his name because of his skills as a commander in battle.

Though his father, King Wen, is credited as the founder of the Zhou Dynasty, it was not until after King Wen’s death that the previous dynasty, the Shang Dynasty, was defeated.

It was King Wu who united the neighboring dukes under his command and led them into battle, defeating the Shang Dynasty and establishing himself as Emperor Wu of Zhou.

These two kings, associated with the founding of China’s longest-lasting dynasty, are famous in Chinese history due to their outstanding virtue and benevolent rule.

There is a Chinese idiom that pays tribute to the way these two kings approached governance.

文武之道,一張一弛 (pronounced wén wǔ zhī dào, yī zhāng yī chí) gives this advice: Live life as King Wen and King Wu ruled the country; combine leniency and strictness to live a well-balanced life.

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