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Chinese History - Zhou Period Event History

Periods of Chinese History
The House of Zhou
The Western Zhou Period
The Spring and Autumn Period
The Warring States Period
The Victory of Qin and the Foundation of the Empire

The Zhou dynasty 周 was, in spite of its bad political performance from the 8th century on, the longest reigning dynasty of Chinese history. It was founded during the early 11th century BCE and found its end in the mid-3rd century BCE. It is also the dynasty that reigned longest world-wide. The kings of the Zhou bore the title of "Son of Heaven" (tianzi 天子), which was inherited by all Chinese dynasties. Although the term of the rulers of the Zhou, wang 王, is commonly translated into English as "king", some Western historians speak of the "emperors" of the Zhou, which is in fact not so strange, because in the late Zhou period, the feudal lords of the vassal states began adopting the title of wang, too. All the more, the rulers of the semi-"barbarian" states of Chu 楚, Wu 吳 and Yue 越 from the beginning called themselves wang. In order to discern between these "usurpatorious" wang and the proper "Son of Heaven", the term "emperor" might be used. I will nevertheless use the traditional translation of "king", yet, in the one or other place use the term "empire" instead of "kingdom", when referring to the whole area the Sons of Heaven had an influence on, in other words, China of the 1st millenium BCE, or, as the Chinese termed it, "All under Heaven" (tianxia 天下).
The long rule of the Zhou dynasty is politically divided into two parts, the first covering the time when the kings of Zhou were the undisputed political leaders of the empire, the second representing the time when the feudal lords (zhuhou 諸侯), descendants of the former vassal states of the Zhou, became so powerful that the kings of Zhou, although acting formally as the highest arbiters, were politicall wholly dependant of the activities of the larger feudal states. The first part of the Zhou period is called the "Western Zhou" Xizhou 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE) because the main royal seat was located in the west, near modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi), while it was shifted to the eastern capital near Luoyang 洛陽, Henan, during the second part of the Zhou period that is therefore also known as "Eastern Zhou" period Dongzhou 東周 (770-221 BCE). The Eastern Zhou period itself is crudely divided into the so-called "Spring and Autumn period" Chunqiu 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE) and the period of the "Warring States Zhanguo 戰國 (5th cent.-211 BCE). During the Spring and Autumn period a series of feudal lords were able to become protectors of the house of Zhou against "barbarian" tribes from the north and of the traditional order. These powerful lords were called the "five hegemons" (wuba 五霸). The ancient order of the kingdom finally disintegrated in the 5th century, when some vassals of the feudal lords usurped power. This was the family Tian 田 in Qi 齊, the Three Huan families 三桓 in Lu 魯, and the viscounts of Zhao 趙, Wei 魏 and Han 韓 in Jin 晉. While during the Spring and Autumn period the kings of Zhou were still respected as Sons of Heaven, they were nearly irrelevant during the Warring States period. The "Warring States" were powerful feudal lords that waged war against each other in changing coalitions, either "vertical" (zong 縱) or "horizontal" (heng 橫). Seven of them became dominant (the "seven strong" qixiong 七雄: Qin 秦, Qi 齊, Yan 燕, Chu 楚, Zhao 趙, Wei 魏, Han 韓), and of these six, the state of Qin prevailed, conquered all other states and founded the proper "empire of Qin" 秦 (221-206 BCE).

The mythical ancestor of the house of Zhou was Hou Ji 后稷, the "Lord of Millet", who was later deified as a patron of harvest. His personal name was Qi 弃 and he lived in the plain of Zhouyuan 周原, a place that gave the dynasty its name. The mother of Qi came from the family Tai 邰 (or You Tai 有邰, also written 斄) and was called Jiang Yuan 姜原. She was the main consort of Emperor Di Ku 帝嚳, yet the father of Qi (Hou Ji) is unknown because his mother was impregnated when the stepped on the footprints of a giant. As the fruit of inauspicious origin the baby was "discarded" (qi 弃, i.e. 棄), but it survived miraculously and was thereupon accepted and raised by his mother.
As a child Qi loved to do the work of the peasant population and later became a patron of agriculture. Emperor Yao 堯 made him his Minister of Agriculture (nongshi 農師), enfeoffed him with the territory of Tai and bestowed upon him the title of Hou Ji "Lord of Millet". He was also granted the family name Ji 姬. His descendants continued the work of Hou Ji and cultivated the western region. His descendant Qing Jie 慶節 lived in the small country of Bin 豳 (also written 邠). One of Qing Jie's descendants was Gu Gong Dan Fu 古公亶父 "Father Dan, the Ancient Duke" who revived the remembrance of Hou Ji and his efforts in promoting agriculture. Under his reign the western nomad tribes of the Rong 戎 and Di 狄 continuously attacked the territory of Bin. Dan Fu was of the opinion that it was better to move the whole people than to send the male population into the war, risking their death, and therefore migrated from Bin across the Rivers Qi 漆 and Ju 沮 and the Liangshan Range 梁山 to Qixia 岐下 (or Qishan 岐山), where he and his people settled down. In the new living place he had first constructed a fortified town to shelter the people in case of war. He also created a government with five ministers, namely that of education (situ 司徒), war (sima 司馬), works (sikong 司空), personnel (sishi 司士) and justice (sikou 司寇). Dan Fu is posthumously also called King Tai 周太王 "Great Ancestral King of Zhou".
King Tai had several sons, Tai Bo 太伯, the "Great Earl", Yu Zhong 虞仲 (or Zhong Yong 仲雍) and Ji Li 季歷. When Ji Li's wife Tai Ren 太任 gave birth to Chang 昌, there were auspicious omina, so that King Tai decided to make Ji Li his heir apparent, in the hope that his grandson Chang would become the ruler of Zhou. His older brothers Tai Bo and Yu Zhong were kind enough to accept their father's decision and went into exile among the southern barbarians. Tai Bo's descendants became kings of the state of Wu 吳. Ji Li became a benevolent and kindhearted ruler, reigning in the "way" (dao 道) of his fathers, venerating the old and supporting the young. He was therefore not only respected by his own people, but also by the other feudal lords, vassals of the reigning Shang dynasty 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE).
Myths of the transfer of the capital from Bin to Qishan or Hao 鎬 are proved archeologically. Around 1150 BCE, the Zhou moved from the Fen River 汾水 valley in modern Shanxi to the Wei River 渭水 valley in Shaanxi where they settled among the Rong and Di 狄 "barbarians". Although the Zhou people had to carry out permanent fights with their western neighbours, their power gradually grew and finally endangered the existence of the old royal line of the Shang dynasty at Yin 殷 (modern Anyang 安陽, Henan).
Ji Chang 姬昌 inherited the governing style of his father. He attracted a lot of followers like Bo Yi 伯夷, Shu Qi 叔齊, Tai Dian 太顛, Hong Yao 閎夭, Sanyi Sheng 散宜生, Master Yu 鬻子 or Xin Jia 辛甲 who came from far away and served Ji Chang as his ministers. Ji Chang is known as the Earl of the West (Xibo 西伯) or as King Wen 周文王 "the Cultivated", the actual founder of the Zhou dynasty.
The ruler of the Shang empire, King Zhou 紂, suspected the Earl of the West of rebellion and had him encarcerated at Youli 羑里. Hong Yao thereupon presented the king of Shang beautiful women, excellent horses and precious jewels to have his master released. Zhou period historiography praises the Earl of the West for his kindhearted style of rule, which made all vassals of the Shang believe that the Zhou would be the future dynasty that was given the Mandate of Heaven (tianming 天命). After he was set free, Ji Chang began waging war against the nomad tribes of the Rong and also conquered several smaller vassal states in his neighbourhood, like Mixu 密須, Qi 耆, Yu 邘 or Chong 崇. He adopted the title of king (wang) and founded a new capital seat, Fengyi 豐邑. Ji Chang was succeeded by his son Ji Fa 姬發, who is known as King Wu 周武王 "the Martial". During his imprisonement in Youli King Wen had created a method of divination by the sixty-four hexagrams (gua 卦), which is the base of the oracle book Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes".
Shang period oracle bones and a careful examination of the historical texts show that the conquest of the Shang area was mere a result of the general eastern expansion of the Zhou people towards the east and not a the result of a campaign of a "virtuous ruler" against an "evil tyrant".

The Western Zhou period Xizhou 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE) was the first half of the reign of the Zhou dynasty 周 that ruled over China from the mid-11th century to 221 BCE, at least nominally. The Zhou kingdom (or empire) was established in the western region of China (modern province of Shaanxi) and expanded to the east, where the Zhou, in alliance with other polities, overthrew the kings of the Shang 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE). The Zhou dynasty established a network of vassal states throughout the Yellow River Plain to ensure its domination over all parts of their empire. Additionally, a secondary capital was founded in the east. The feudal lords (zhuhou 諸侯) of these vassal states were to a great part relatives to the house of Zhou. The consolidation of the Zhou dynasty was achieved not by the founder of the Zhou dynasty, King Wu 周武王, but by his brother, the Duke of Zhou 周公, who acted as regent for the young King Cheng 周成王. The enemies of the early Zhou were non-Chinese tribes in the Huai River 淮水 region, and then, from the 9th century on, the nomad tribes of the Rong 戎 from the west that in 770 forced the Zhou court to flee to the east.
In the eyes of later generations, the rule of the early Western Zhou kings was seen as a government of righteousness and benevolence, of proper conduct and utmost virtue. It was especially hailed by the Confucians who lamented the replacement of orally transmitted and therefore "natural" rituals and etiquette by written law and regulations.
King Wu, son of the Viscount of the West 西伯 (also known as King Wen 周文王), appointed Lü Shang 呂尚 (posthumously known as Qi Taigong 齊太公 or Taigong Wang 太公望) as chief commander, his brother Ji Dan 旦 (known as the Duke of Zhou 周公) as chief minister, and two other brothers, the Duke of Shao 召公 and the Duke of Bi 畢公 (Gao, Duke of Bi 畢公高, ancestor of the house of Wei 魏), as right and left aides. He then decided to overthrow the Shang dynasty and marched to the Ford of Mengjin 盟津 at the Yellow River, where a white fish was delivered to him as an auspicious omen. Although 800 former vassals of the Shang declared their allegiance to the Zhou, King Wu was aware that the time was not ripe yet, and returned to the west. Two years later, when King Zhou of the Shang had killed Prince Bi Gan 比干 and encarcerated Prince Ji Zi 箕子, and the grand and small preceptors of the king of Shang fled to the court of King Wu of Zhou, he estimated that the empire would fall to him. He assembled the vassals and feudal lords at the Ford of Mengjin and proclaimed the "Great Speech" (Taishi 太誓, today a chapter of the Classic Shangshu 尚書), in which he accused the king of Zhou of all his crimes. He marched on to the plain of Muye 牧野, where he prepared his army with the "Speech at Muye" 牧誓 (also included in the Shangshu). The army of the king of Shang was defeated, and a last contingent defending the capital was also unable to resist the attackers. King Zhou burnt himself on the Deer Terrace 鹿臺, and his two wives killed themselves. Zhou historiography blames King Zhou's consort Da Ji 妲己 of interfering into governmental affairs. The people of the Shang received King Wu of Zhou outside the capital. Archeological sources make evident that the overthrow of the Shang house must have occurred very suddenly and almost without any previous indications. The central region (jinei 畿內) was divided into three fiefs, Bei 邶 (given to King Zhou's surviving son Lu Fu 祿父, later to King Wu's brother Huo Shu 霍叔), Yong 鄘 (given to King Wu's brother Guan Shu Xian 管叔鮮), and Wei 衛 (given to King Wu's brother Cai Shu Du 蔡叔度).
He enfeoffed the descendants of Shen Nong 神農 with Jiao 焦, descendants of the Yellow Emperor 黃帝 with Zhu 祝, those of Emperor Yao 堯 with Ji 薊, those of Emperor Shun 舜 with Chen 陳, and the descendants of the Xia dynasty 夏 (17th-15th cent. BCE) with the fief of Qi 杞. King Wu then rewarded his followers with territories as vassals: Shang Fu 尚父 (Lü Shang) was made lord of Qi 齊, his own brother, the Duke of Zhou, was made lord of Lu 魯, the Duke of Shao 召公奭 was made lord of Yan 燕. His brother Xian 鮮 was made lord of Guan 管, for which reason he is known as Guan Shu Xian, and Du 度 (Cai Shu Du) was made lord of Cai 蔡. One surviving son of King Zhou, Prince Lu Fu, was granted the position of head of the house of Shang (Yin). In order to control him, Guan Shu Xian and Cai Shu Du were appointed Lu Fu's counsellors. The Zhou kingdom or empire covered the region from the modern province of Shaanxi to the Shandong peninsula and from the Beijing area southwards to a line from the Rivers Han 漢 and Huai 淮. The kingdom was divided into many fiefs that were bestowed to nobles belonging to the royal family of Ji 姬 (fiefs of Guo 虢, Guan, Cai 蔡, Cheng 郕, Huo 霍, Wei 衛, Mao 毛, Dan 聃, Gao 郜, Yong 雍, Cao 曹, Teng 滕, Bi 畢, Yuan 原, Feng 酆, Xun 郇, Yu 邘, Jin 晉, Ying 應, Han 韓, Lu 魯, Fan 凡, Jiang 蔣, Xing 邢, Mao 茅, Zuo 胙, Ji (Zhai) 祭, Yan 燕) but also of other meritorious families like the Jiang 姜 (Qi 齊) and Zi 子 (Song 宋; descendants of the Shang). Concerning the ethnology of Western Zhou China, it is important to note that the feudal territories were not much more than walled cities. Between these regions many non-Chinese peoples were roaming. The Western Zhou empire was not a territorial empire in the modern sense but was based on the political centres of the feudal states. The main difference between the feudal state of the Zhou empire and the European feudal states was that a large part of the vassals were relatives to the house of Zhou.
Two years after King Wu had conquered the Shang empire, Prince Jizi of Shang decided to leave the Zhou empire because his people had lost credibility under the last ruler. It is said that he left to Korea where he is known as Gija.
When King Wu fell ill, his brother, the Duke of Zhou, offered himself formally to the deities in order to take the disease away from the king. King Wu was succeeded by his young son Prince Song 誦 who is known as King Cheng 周成王 (r. 1116-1079 BCE). Chinese historiography generally assumed that King Cheng was still under age and therefore the Duke of Zhou took over regency for his nephew. The Duke's brothers Guan Shu and Cai Shu suspected him of usurpation and joined with Wu Geng 武庚 (i. e. Lu Fu), a prince of the house of Shang, in rebellion. The Duke of Zhou undertook a campaign of suppression, defeated the rebels and appointed Prince Weizi 微子 head of the house of Shang. The fief of Wei 衛 was given to Wei Kang Shu 衛康叔, a brother of the Duke of Zhou. The Duke of Zhou acted as regent for seven years and then withdrew to hand over regency to the king.
The wish of late King Wu had been to establish a secondary capital in the east, in order to have a better control over the empire, because the main capital of the Zhou dynasty was Feng 豐 (also called Zongzhou 宗周; near modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) in the far west. The Duke of Shao and the Duke of Zhou selected an appropriate place and founded the eastern capital Luoyi 洛邑 (also written 雒邑, also called Chengzhou 成周; modern Luoyang 洛陽, Henan). King Cheng conducted military campaigns against the wild Yi tribes of the Huai region 淮夷 and destroyed their state of Yan 奄 (near modern Yanzhou 兖州, Jiangsu).
King Cheng was succeeded by his son Prince Zhao 釗, who is posthumously known as King Kang 周康王 (r. 1079-1053 BCE). His reign was an age of peace and consolidation for the Zhou dynasty. His son Prince Xia 瑕, known as King Zhao 周昭王, died during a hunting tour (xunshou 巡狩) in the south. Some sources say that it was not a hunting tour but a military campaign against the native state of Chu 楚 whose chieftains at that time still controlled the Han River 漢 valley before they migrated more to the south. It is said that King Zhao drowned when crossing the River Han. His son, Prince Man 滿, mounted the throne. He is known as King Mu 周穆王.
King Mu was aware that the lacking personal integrity of his father and grandfather had weakened the dynasty and therefore tried reviving the virtuous government of the kings Wen and Wu. Most famous is the western campaign of King Mu against the nomad tribes of the Quanrong 犬戎 that had been literally transformed into the story of his travel to Mt. Kunlun 崑崙 where he encountered the fabulous Queen Mother of the West 西王母. The story is told in the book Mu Tianzi zhuan 穆天子傳. The rule of King Mu is seen as the apogee of the Western Zhou dynasty. He introduced a penal law codex, the Fuxing 甫刑 or Lüxing 呂刑 "Punishments of Fu/Lü". King Mu also ordered to undertake a campaign against the native tribes of the River Huai area that had founded the state of Xu 徐. The troops were commanded by Zao Fu 造父. Zao Fu defeated King Yan of Xu 徐偃王 and was therefore enfeoffed with the state of Zhao 趙. He is the ancestor of the houses of Zhao and Qin 秦.
King Mu's successor was his son Prince Yihu 繄扈, who is known posthumously as King Gong 周共王. The histories narrate a quarrel with Duke Kang of Mi 密康公 who had married three women without conducting the proper rituals. The result was the destruction of the state of Mi by King Gong.
Under King Yi 周懿王, personal name Prince Jian 囏, the house of Zhou began to decline. King Li 周厲王 (r. 878-841 BCE), for instance, appreciated extravagant objects, albeit his forefathers had always warned against luxurious ease. He elevated Duke Yi of Rong 榮夷公 to a high position in government, a person that also indulged in pleasures. The King was therefore criticized by grand master (dafu 大夫) Rui Liangfu 芮良夫 (Rui Bo 芮伯). Even Duke Mu of Shao 召穆公 dared to admonish the King to keep austerity. In the end all critics were accused of high treason, and no one dared to raise his voice. This oppressive government finally led to a rebellion that forced King Li to flee. He was exiled to Yi 彘, a small place in the dukedom of Jin 晉. In order to appease the mob the Duke of Shao offered his own son to the masses, while he secretly helped the crown prince to escape.
The Duke of Shao and the Duke of Zhou (descendants of the brothers of King Wu) took over regency while there was no ruler on the throne. Their reign was later called Gonghe 共和 "Common peace", but this term is also interpreted as the reign of the usurper He, Earl of Gong 共伯和. A fragment of the book Lulianzi 魯連子 says that Earl He was a benevolent ruler, and not a usurper. After fourteen years of vacancy, King Li died in exile, and his heir apparent Prince Jing 靜 was enthroned. His posthumous title is King Xuan 周宣王 (r. 827-782 BCE).
King Xuan refused to undertake the ceremonial ploughing by the ruler at Qianmou 千畝. This inattentiveness was many decades later punished by a crushing defeat of the royal troops by the Rong tribes of Jiang 姜.The royal troops were also defeted by the southern state of Chu. In order to conscribe more troops the king ordered a census, a measure that was harshly criticized as inappropriate politics for a benevolent ruler. The military threat by the northwestern nomad tribes critically increased during the reign of King Xuan. When he died his son Prince Gongsheng 宮湦 (also called Gongnie 宮湼 or Gonghuang 宮湟) mounted the throne. He is known as King You 周幽王 (r. 781-771) and was the last ruler of the Western Zhou period. The end of the Zhou was announced by a severe earthquake in the region of Sanchuan 三川 that changed the courses of the rivers Luo 洛, Yi 伊 and Jian 澗 and caused a landslide at Mt. Qishan 岐山, the site of the former capital.
The downfall of King You is a very famous story that is peppered with a lot of phantastic and erotic taste. It is said that King You had a queen called Bao Si 褒姒 that was the fruit of a unison between a harem girl and a dragon during the Xia period 夏 (17th to 15th cent. BC). Historical fact is that King You discarded his proper queen, a daughter of the Marquis of Shen 申侯, and elevated Bao Si to his new queen, her son Bo Fu 伯服 replacing the heir apparent. In order to please Bao Si, King You ordered the drums of the watchtowers in the west to be beaten, so that the army assembled in defense of the capital. This joke pleased the queen so much that she had it repeated many times. The commanders therefore decided not to haste to the court again should the drums be beaten again. Another problem at the court was the influence of Guo Shi Fu 虢石父, a corrupt noble to was entrusted with important governmental affairs. When the proper queen and her son were discarded, the father of the queen, the Marquis of Shen, joined with some discontented feudal lords, among them the lord of Zeng 繒, and sought support of the western Rong tribes. They instigated the Quanrong (also called Xuanyuan 玁狁) to attack the royal seat. The generals did not respond to the alarm of the drum towers, so that the king had to lead his contingent alone. He was killed at Mt. Lishan 驪山 and the capital was plundered by the Rong warriors. The feudal lords, unable to help the king, enthroned Prince Yijiu 宜臼, who is known as King Ping 周平王 of Zhou. He was escorted by the lords of Qin and Jin to the eastern capital, where he took his royal seat. This was the beginning of the Eastern Zhou period. The fleeing Zhou elite had to dig their precious bronze vessels in hoards, which was a great luck for today's archeologists because the inscriptions of the vessels bear important historical information.

The Spring and Autumn period Chunqiu 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE) is the first part of the so-called Eastern Zhou period Dongzhou 東周 (770-221 BCE). It is characterized by a significant decrease of political power of the kings of Zhou which had to flee to the eastern capital Chengzhou 成周 (or Luoyi 雒邑, modern Luoyang 洛陽, Henan) after their western and main capital Zongzhou 宗周 (of Feng 豐, near modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) had been attacked by the nomad tribes of the Quanrong 犬戎. The name of the historical period is derived from the chronicle of the feudal state of Lu 魯 called Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals" because the seasons are always mentioned in the entries. The Annals cover the time from 722 to 481 BCE, yet the historical period is traditionally counted from the reign of King Ping of Zhou 周平王 (r. 770-720 BCE), who restored the Zhou dynasty in Luoyang, down to the division of the state of Jin 晉 by the feudal lords of Han 韓, Wei 魏 and Zhao 趙 in 376. Alternatively, the end of the Spring and Autumn period can be seen as 453, when the three viscounts (zi 子) of Han, Wei and Zhao extinguished all other lateral lines to the house of Jin, or 403, when King Weilie of Zhou 周威烈王 (r. 426-402) bestowed upon the viscounts of Han, Wei and Zhao the title of marquis (hou 侯). The second great historiographical writing of the Spring and Autumn period is the collection Guoyu 國語 "Discourses of the states" that includes anecdotes of the states of Zhou 周, Lu 魯, Qi 齊, Jin 晉, Zheng 鄭, Chu 楚, Wu 吳 and Yue 越. Said to be a composition of Zuo Qiuming 左丘明, its oldest parts must have been compiled at the end of the 5th century BCE.
The most important intellectual person of this historical period was the philosopher Confucius (Kongzi 孔子; ca. 551-479) who tried to revive the ideal of the human and righteous rulers of old. Although his ideas seemed lost in a time of political realism his thoughts about state and society ("Confucianism") were to become the fundamental doctrine of imperial China.
The eastern capital Chengzhou (Luoyang) did not provide the kings of Zhou with sufficient power. They were therefore dependent on the powerful feudal lords, especially those of Qin 秦, Jin, Qi and Chu. These are called the "local rulers" (fang bo 方伯) because they practically ruled independently from the king of Zhou, and not any more as his vassals. It became common that the feudal states acted on their own behalf regarding territory and military feuds, without asking the king of Zhou for formal permission. Duke Zhuang of Zheng 鄭莊公 (r. 743-701) even dared attacking King Huan 周桓王 (r. 720-697 BCE) who had not treated him properly according to the ritual regulations. Heijian 黑肩, the Duke of Zhou 周公, even planned to kill King Huan's successor, King Zhuang 周莊王 (r. 697-682), and to replace him with Prince Ke 克. Yet Xin Bo 辛伯 warned the king and saved his life.
Duke Zhuang of Zheng defeated intruding Rong 戎 tribes and swallowed the neighboring state of Xu 許. In 707 King Huanwang of Zhou 周桓王 (r. 719-697) started a punitive expedition but he was defeated by Duke Zhuang. From now on the kings of Zhou never tried to intervene into the politics of their own feudal lords. They stayed in their small royal domain around Luoyang and had to be content with the tributes of the feudal lords that were presented less and less regularly. Besides Zheng, the states of Song 宋 and Lu 魯 demonstrated their military and political power in the Central Plain.
King Li 周釐王 (r. 682-677) was so helpless against the new threats endangering the empire that he allowed Duke Huan of Qi 齊桓公 (r. 685-643) to adopt the title of hegemonial lord (ba 霸, or bo 伯). In this function the Duke defended the feudal states against raids of barbarian tribes and cared for law and order among the states of the Middle Kingdom. In the east, the state of Qi had rich natural ressources and became one of the mightiest feudal states of the Eastern Zhou period. Duke Huan of Qi employed the legalist statesman Guan Zhong 管仲 as his adviser who reorganized administration and the military and financial systems. Through these reforms Qi was able to subdue Song and Lu and even the hegemonial state of Zheng. At that time, the non-Chinese nomad tribes of the Rong and Di 狄 undertook raids on the soil of Chinese states and devastated the states of Xing 邢 and Wei 衛 (modern Shanxi and Hebei). Duke Huan of Qi rescued the dynastic houses of these states and settled them down more to the south. The system of the hegemon thus developed to a kind of lord protector of a strong state over weaker ones, and Qi promised to protect the states in the Central Plain against further intrusions of the northern nomad warriors.
In the south, the state of Chu on the middle Yangtze River had become politically stronger than before. King Cheng of Chu 楚成王 (r. 671-626) started to challenge the hegemony of Qi and swallowed smaller states in his neighbourhood. Nonetheless, subservient states like Jiang 江 and Huang 黃 changed side and declared their alliance with Qi. Chu thereupon attacked Zheng. Duke Huan assembled the feudal lords and created an alliance with Lu, Song, Chen and Wei to punish Chu in 656 by devastating the state of Cai 蔡, an ally of Chu. Chu gave in, and the ambassadors of the two mighty states met at Shaoling 召陵 (modern Yancheng 郾城, Henan) to conclude a peaceful alliance (meng 盟).
In 651 Qi organized a meeting at Kuiqiu 葵丘 (modern Lankao 蘭考, Henan) whith the representants of Lu, Song, Zheng and Wei, and in presence of a royal representant from Zhou. The members of the meeting decided that states creating a friendly alliance should never attack each other, and that they had to assist each other in case that one partner was attacked. The Duke of Qi thus became the overlord over the weaker states of Zhou China and replaced the king of Zhou as the highest judicial person.
When King Li died a succession crisis endangered the house of Zhou. His righteous heir was Prince Kan 閬, who is known as King Hui 周惠王 (r. 677-652), but his late grandfather, King Zhuang, had had a favourite son called Prince Tui 穨. King Hui was not a very intelligent ruler. He offended many of his highest ministers and caused a rebellion that forced him to flee to Wen 溫 (modern Wenxian 溫縣, Henan) and then to Li 櫟, a town in the state of Zheng. His uncle Prince Tui was made King of Zhou, but he did not prove a better ruler. He was therefore attacked and killed by the lords of Zheng and Guo 虢. King Hui returned to the throne.
When King Hui died he was succeeded by his son Prince Zheng 鄭, who is known as King Xiang 周襄王 (r. 652-619). King Xiang had a half-brother called Shudai 叔帶 (or Dai 帶), who had been the favourite son of King Hui. Prince Shudai planned to usurp the throne and joined forces with the Rong and Di 翟 tribes. The plot failed and Prince Shudai fled to Qi. It was a high minister of Qi, the reformer Guan Zhong, who managed the peace treaty between the house of Zhou and the Rong tribes. A decade later the king of Zhou even allowed Prince Shudai to return.
When the state of Zheng attacked in 639 the small fief of Hua 滑, whose lords were relatives to the house of Zhou, King Xiang sent You Sun 游孫 and Bo Fu 伯服 as diplomats to negotiate peace. Yet the Duke of Zheng arrested the diplomats. The King thereupon ordered the Di tribes to attack Zheng, inspite of the remonstances of minister Fu Chen 富辰. Fu Chen was also not content with the King's will to marry a Di princess in order to reward the Di chieftain for his support. His critics were justified because only a few years later King Xiang discarded the "barbarian" queen, which caused an attack of the Di on the royal capital, during which the Earl of Tan 譚 (or the earls of Yuan 原 and Mao 毛) was/were killed. Fu Chen thereupon threw himself into battle against the intruders and died. King Xiang fled to Zheng and was received by the duke of Zheng, in spite of all former discrepancies. In the meantime Prince Dai was enthroned as King of Zhou, yet he took residence in Wen, not in Luoyang. He invited the Di queen to return to the royal domain. Two years later King Xiang asked the duke of Jin for help, who willingly attacked the usurper and executed him. King Xiang, returning to the throne, rewarded Duke Wen of Jin 晉文公 (r. 636-628) with the title of hegemonial lord and presented him with some territory. Duke Wen was now the most powerful political leader of the Middle Kingdom and assembled the feudal lords, including his formal superior, the King of Zhou, at Heyang 河陽 and Jiantu 踐土. The kings of Zhou were now wholly dependent from support by other political actors. Histories nevertheless coveted this shameful situation with terms like "royal hunt at Heyang".
After the death of Duke Huan of Qi several feudal lords strove for overlordship. Duke Xiang of Song 宋襄公 (r. 650-637) was defeated by Chu, and the state of Song lost its last chance to rise to political and military significance. Instead, the state of Jin rose to supremacy in old China: Duke Xiang of Jin 晉獻公 (r. 676-651) had already extended the power of his state by swallowing the smaller fiefs of Geng 耿, Huo 霍, Wei 魏 (a state that was later one of the three destructors of Jin), Guo 虢 and Yu 虞. After a decade of inner struggles, the state of Qin supported Duke Wen of Jin in his ascension the throne of Jin. Similar to Duke Huan of Qi, Duke Wen of Jin employed political advisors, Zhao Shuai 趙衰 (Zhao Chengzi 趙成子) and Hu Yan 狐偃 who strengthened the "national" economy and so the military power of the state. In 635 the King Xiang of Zhou escaped from inner disturbances to the state of Zheng. Duke Wen of Jin saw his chance, rescued the king and accompanied him back to the royal domain, for which support he was highly rewarded by the King. The next step for the Duke was to challenge the power of the southern, semi-Chinese state of Chu that had dominated the Central Plain since the death of Duke Huan of Qi. In 632 the two states clashed at the battle of Chengpu 城濮 (modern Zhencheng 甄城, Shandong), and Chu was defeated. Duke Wen of Jin established a new friendly alliance during the meeting at Jiantu 踐土 (modern Yingze 滎澤, Henan) with the seven most important states. In the same year, at Wen, the King of Zhou sanctified the hegemony by Jin. Duke Wen's successor Duke Xiang 晉襄公 (r. 627-621) was able to prolong the hegemonial prevalence of the state of Jin.
But during his reign Duke Mu of Qin 秦穆公 (r. 659-621) opened a long period of military confrontation between Jin and Qin, but Qin seldomly won any battle. The powerful state of Jin blocked the gate to the Central Plain, and Qin could not but expand its territory to the west into the territory of the Western Rong tribes 西戎 and establish good relations with Chu in the south. Chu meanwhile further expanded its territory by conquering the statelets of Jiang 江, Liu 六, and Liao 蓼. After the death of Duke Xiang of Jin, the noble Zhao Dun 趙盾 (Zhao Xuanzi 趙宣子) dominated the throne succession of Jin, murdered Duke Ling 晉靈公 (r. 620-607) and enthroned Duke Cheng 晉成公 (r. 606-600). During this period Jin lost its initiative in "foreign" politics. The political advisor Fan Shan 范山 proposed to King Mu of Chu 楚穆王 (r. 625-614) to take the chance and to advance against north.
King Zhuang of Chu 楚莊王 (r. 613-591) had to resolve internal quarrels and uprisings of aboriginal tribes before he was able to reform economic and military administration and to resume this expansion politics. In 606 the southern king sent out an envoy to the court of King Ding of Zhou 周定王 (r. 606-586) to express his will to swallow the royal domain of Zhou. In 598 King Zhuang of Chu crushed the small state of Chen 陳, one year later the state of Zheng. At the battle of Bi 邲 (near modern Zhengzhou 鄭州, Henan) the army of the former hegemonial state of Jin was defeated. A few years later, Chu defeated the state of Song and finally obained the overlordship over the Central Plain. The protecting task of the overlord had gradually lost its original intention and became a system of hegemony of one major state over weak satellites of Chinese and "barbarian" origin. The attitude to help small states during internal quarrels and against "barbarian" invaders changed to a regular intervention into political affairs to the advantage of the great states.
The state of Qi observed the growing power of Chu, declared a friendly relationship with the southern king of Chu, who was the only feudal lord who called himself king, except, of course, the King of Zhou. Qi permanently attacked the smaller states of Lu and Wei that sought support with the former hegemonial state of Jin. In 589 the army of Jin fought with Qi at the battle of An 鞍 (modern Jinan 濟南, Shandong) and again demonstrated its superior military power. Chu instantly declared war to Jin, but neither Chu nor Jin dared to initiate a concrete campaign. After long years of hesitation and negotiations (under the stipulation of Jin's political advisor Song Huayuan 宋華元) Chu attacked Zheng and Wei in 576. One year later the armies of the two hegemonial states fought at the battle of Yanling 鄢陵 (modern Yanling, Henan), and Jin took the victory by a narrow margin. Duke Li of Jin 晉厲公 (r. 580-573) saw his chance to resume hegemony, murdered his mightiest noblemen Xi Zhi 郤至, Xi Qi 郤錡 and Xi Chou 郤犨 (the "Three Xi" 三郤), but instead of strengthening his own position, Duke Li faced serious opposition by the Jin aristrocracy like Luan Shu 欒書 and Xun Yan 荀偃 who eventually killed their lord. Under the next ruler, Duke Dao 晉悼公 (r. 572-558), the internal situation calmed down, and the duke was able to strengthen the position of the state of Jin. His political advisor Wei Jiang 魏絳 proposed to appease the nomad warriors of the Rong with financial tributes instead of fighting them. In 571 Jin erected a fortification wall at Hulao 虎牢 (moder Fanshui 氾水, Henan) against the state of Zheng that was backed by Chu. After more than two decades of relative peace the political advisor Song Xiangxu 宋向戌 proposed to organize a peace conference to end military conflict. It was held in the capital of Jin in 546 and the participating fourteeen states decided to accept the overlordship of the two states of Jin and Chu. Their adherents had to declare their subjection under the respective overlordship and to present tributes to the two hegemons. Among the participating states, there would be ten years of peace, and for more than fourty years, Jin and Chu would not meet at the battle field again. Only two of the larger states did not participate in the general peace: Qi and Qin. The old kingdom of Zhou had totally lost its political role. The tributes once paid to the kings of Zhou were now offered to the dukes of Jin and the kings of Chu. If a small state did not pay tribute it had to expect military sanctions. Especially precarious was the role of the state of Lu that had to maintain good relationships to the three states of Jin, Chu and Qi, if it did not want to be swallowed by one of them. Very similar was the role of Zheng that was directly in the line of fire between Jin and Chu. But states like Lu also imitated the overlordship of their own masters and demanded tributes from even smaller states like Teng 滕, Qi 杞 or Ceng 鄫.
During the relatively peaceful sixth century, the two southern non-Chinese coastal states sof Wu 吳 and Yue 越 emerged as new powers. Jin saw its chance to open a second flank against Chu, and in 583 Duke Wuchen of Shen 申公巫臣 was sent to Wu in order to seek a military alliance. The semi-barbarian state of Wu was equipped with military tools and Wu soldiers were trained to attack Chu. But it was only more than half a century later that Wu became a serious threat to Chu after swallowing the small state of Xu 徐. Under King Helü 闔閭 (r. 514-496) the political advisor Wu Yuan 伍員 proposed to raise three armies that clockwise were to skirmish at the borders of Chu to weaken this state. In 506 finally the whole army of Wu attacked Chu and defeated Chu at Baiju or Boju 柏舉 (modern Macheng 麻城, Hubei). In pursuit of the escaping troops the army of Wu advanced to the capital of Chu, Yingdu 郢都 (modern Jiangling 江陵, Hebei). King Zhao of Chu 楚昭王 (r. 516-489) had to take his flight and sought for help in Qin. This western state sent out chariots that expelled the invaders from Wu.
Wu's neighbour Yue took the advantage of the prolonged campaigns of Wu against Chu and invaded Wu. In 496 Wu fielded its troops for a punitive expedition but King Helü died during the battle at Zuili 檇李 (modern Jiaxing 嘉興, Zhejiang). Two years later King Fucha 夫差 of Wu (r. 495-473) defeated Yue during the revenge battle at Fujiao 夫椒 (modern Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu). Goujian 句踐, king of Yue (r. 496-465), had to take his flight to Mount Guiji 會稽山 (south of modern Shaoxing 紹興, Zhejiang). Although Fucha's advisor Wu Yuan proposed to destroy the state of Yue, the king of Yue was content with his successful battle and the destruction of the capital of Yue. After the defeat of Chu and Yue, King Fucha turned his attention to the north. He had built a fortification wall at Han 邗 (near modern Yangzhou 揚州, Jiangsu) and dug out canals that should connect the Yangtze River with the Huai River 淮水 valley, creating a traffic line to the north. The small states of Lu and Zhu 邾 declared themselves subjects to Wu. In the years 485 and 484 Wu several times attacked the state of Qi by land and by sea and finally defeated Qi at the battle of Ailing 艾陵 (modern Laiwu 萊蕪, Shandong). Wu called the states of the Central Plain to a meeting at Huangchi 黃池 (modern Fengqiu 封丘, Henan), with the intention to openly declare its hegemony. Jin, weakened by internal struggles, did not dare to challenge the new powerful state of Wu, and King Fucha became the new hegemon.
Just during the conference of Huangchi, King Goujian of Yue took the chance and invaded the capital of Wu. The overstretched military power of the state of Wu was unable to withstand the southern opponent who had rebuilt its strength after the defeit of Guiji. In 473 Yue destroyed the state of Wu and replaced it as the dominating power of the southeast, King Goujian of Yue was the last of the so-called Five Hegemons (Wuba 五霸). The Five Hegemons are also called the "Five Earls" (Wubo 五伯). Different literary sources and commentaries identify them with different persons. The traditional definition by Zhao Qi 趙岐 defines them as Duke Huan of Qi, Duke Wen of Jin, Duke Mu of Qin, Duke Xiang of Song, and King Zhuang of Chu. The book Xunzi 荀子 identifies them with Duke Huan of Qi, Duke Wen of Jin, King Zhuang of Chu, King Helü of Wu and King Goujian of Yue.
At the beginning of the second third of the 5th century BCE it was four states that dominated old China: Chu in the south, Yue in the southwest, Jin in the north, and Qi in the east. Yet things were to change soon: Inner conflicts toppled two of the reigning houses (Jin and Qi), new powers emerged (Wei 魏, Zhao 趙 and Han 韓), and reforms in the administration of several states created a new type of "modernized" feudal state: the centralized state with a strengthened national economy and a professional army. The administration of the state by a nobles related to the ruling house was replaced by a bureaucratic officialdom.
The state Lu was the first to feel the power of the noble families of the Three Huan (Sanhuan 三桓, descendants of Duke Huan 魯桓公) the Jisun 季孫, Mengsun 孟孫 (Zhongsun 仲孫) and Shusun 叔孫. From the time of Duke Xi 魯僖公 (r. 659-627) on these three noble families dominated the state of Lu. Duke Zhao 魯昭公 (r. 541-510) even had to escape from their intrigues and died abroad. Only at the beginning of the fifth century minor nobles like Nan Kuai 南蒯, Yang Hu 陽虎 and Hou Fan 侯犯 rebelled against the mighty families and took over the rule of Lu.
Descendants of the dukes of Song fought for the domination within the small state: the families Hua 華, Yue 樂, Lao 老, Huang 皇 (descendants of Duke Dai 宋戴公, r. 799-766), Yu 魚, Dang 蕩, Lin 鱗 and Xiang 向 (descendants of Duke Huan 宋桓公, r. 681-651). In the permanent power struggles only the families Yue and Huang survived the Spring and Autumn period.
The seven descendant clans of Duke Mu of Zheng 鄭穆公 (r. 627-606) also gradually lost their power in the course of the Spring and Autum period.
In Qi the government was led by the nobles of the families Guo 國, Gao 高, Cui 崔 and Qing 慶. In this state it was a family not related to the ducal house that took over power in Qi: the family Tian 田, descendants of a prince from Chen, Tian Jingzhong 田敬仲 who had come to Qi in 672 in order to escape internal disturbances. Under Duke Jing 齊景公 (r. 547-490) his descendant Tian Qi 田乞 was ennobled and from this position collected wealth and power enough to annihilate the families Guo and Gao. His son Tian Chang 田常 was already wealthier than the Duke himself and sent his ambassadors to the neighbouring states. His descendants would eventually replace the reigning house in Qi.
The most tremendous power challenge from within took place in the state of Jin where descendants of the ducal line were not enfeoffed as nobles. But this measure did not prevent other noble families from trying to dominate the court of Jin: Hu 狐, Zhao 趙, Xian 先, Xi 郤 and Xu 胥 were the dominating noble clans of the middle Spring and Autumn period, later replaced by the families Han 韓, Wei 魏, Luan 欒, Fan 范 and Xun 荀. At the beginning of the 5th century the noble families of Zhao, Wei, Han, Fan, Zhonghang 中行 and Zhi 智 survived the internal struggle. The three first could destroy the last three and dissolved the dukedom of Jin, dividing the territory among themselves.
During the reign of King Ding of Zhou 周定王 (r. 607-586) the southern ruler King Zhuang of Chu 楚莊王 (r. 613-591) advanced his armies as far as the valley of the River Luo in the pursuit of the Rong tribes of Luhun 陸渾. The king of Chu used this situation pay a visit the king of Zhou, but King Ding only sent Prince Man 滿 ("Royal Grandson Man" 王孫滿) to confer with the semi-barbarian king of Chu. They talked about the so-called "nine tripods" (jiuding 九鼎) erected in the capital that symbolized the nine regions of the kingdom of Zhou.
After the death of King Ling of Zhou 周靈王 (r. 572-545) and during the reign of King Jing 周景王 (r. 545-521) a succession crisis beset the house of Zhou. The heir apparent, Prince Sheng 聖, had died prematurely. King Jing preferred his oldest son Prince Chao 朝, yet when the king died, Prince Gai 丐 was supported by a strong party among the courtiers. The highest ministers enthroned Prince Meng 猛, who was immediately attacked and killed by the followers of Prince Chao. Prince Meng is posthumously known as King Dao 周悼王 (r. 521-520). Prince Chao proclaimed himself king of Zhou, yet Prince Gai on his side sought support with the duke of Jin and finally made it to the throne. He is known as King Jing 周敬王 (r. 520-476). Prince Chao, who had reigned for four years, fled to Chu. In 504 he had assembled a sufficient number of supporters, attacked King Jing and forced him to flee to Jin. A year later Duke Ding of Jin 晉定公 (r. 512-475) helped King Jing back on the throne.

The Warring States period Zhanguo 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) is the later part of the so-called Eastern Zhou period Dongzhou 東周 (770-221 BCE). It is characterized by an increased centralisation and bureaucratisation within the feudal states of the Zhou empire. The kings of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) had become politically - and also jurisdictionally - irrelevant. The feudal lords, former vassals of the Zhou, had transformed into independant rulers that one after the other adopted the title of "king" (wang 王) that was formerly reserved to the Zhou dynasty (and the rulers of the non-Chinese states of Chu 楚, Wu 吳 and Yue 越 in the south). The ancient system of employing relatives of the ruling houses as ministers in the feudal states was replaced by a system of appointing competent persons irrespective of their social background. The ancient nobility moved socially downwards, while commoners had the chance to raise to highest offices. The period has been given the name of "Warring States" because warfare increased in intensity. Armies now consisted or huge contingents of conscripts, were often commanded by professional generals, and served not only to defeat an enemy in punitive campaigns, but to destroy his country. New weapons like halberds (ji 戟) and crossbows (nu 弩) came up, chariots (zhanche 戰車), cavalry (qibing 騎兵) and archers supported the infantry that was protected by armour and iron helmets. States like Han 韓 and Chu were the first to produce high-quality iron and steel weapons. The Warring States erected garrisons and fortification walls (changcheng 長城 "long walls") along their frontiers. Military advisors like Su Qin 蘇秦 gave instructions how to defeat foreign armies, or much better, how to make territorial gains without fighting. The armies of the Warring States were much larger than before. The state of Zhao 趙 brought more than 40.000 men up against Qin 秦, whiel Qin itself recruited 60.000 soldiers for the war against Chu 楚. The objective was to destroy as much military force as possible, and some prolonged battles saw more than ten thousand casualties. The cost of war was correspondingly high and could only be met if the fighting states had prospering economies. Smaller feudal states that could not rely on the necessary funds to maintain such large armies were therefore gradually swallowed up by the larger states. In the end, seven states (the "seven strong" qixiong 七雄) dominated the Zhou empire, namely Qin 秦, Qi 齊, Yan 燕, Chu 楚, Zhao 趙, Wei 魏 and Han 韓. They fought against each other in changing coalitions of the "vertical" (zong 縱) type or the "horizontal" (heng 橫) type, the former concluded between states from the north and states of the south (for instance, Zhao, Han and Chu), the latter concluded between states of the west and such from the east (for instance, Qi and Qin). The Warring States period begins at least with the dissolution of the state of state of Jin 晉 by the feudal lords of Zhao, Wei and Han (the "Three Jin" Sanjin 三晉) in 376, and ends with the conquest of the state of Qi by Qin and the subsequent creation of the empire of Qin 秦 (221-206 BCE).
The Warring States period is also characterised as a period of flourishing philosophies, some of them centering on state and society (Confucians, legalists, Mohists), others on the practical art of coalitions (coalition advisors) or warfare (military strategists), others on the individual and its position in the cosm (Daoism, "hedonists", logicians), and some on the correlation between man and the phenomena of nature (Yin-Yang thought, Five Processes theory). These different currents of thought were called the "hundred schools" (baijia 百家).

The Warring States period began with the brutal extinguishing of the ruling house of Qi 齊 (the house of Jiang 姜) by the house of Tian 田. The Tian family took over the rulership of Qi in 481. In the small state of Lu 魯, already in 562 BCE the three Huan families (Sanhuan 三桓), lateral lines of the ducal house of Ji 姬, usurped power. At the beginning of the 5th century, five noble families in the state of Jin 晉 began to engage in a civil war for domination. Three of them, the houses of Wei 魏, Han 韓 and Zhao 趙, finally overcame their rivals and founded their own states, destroying and dividing Jin. In 424 BCE they mutually recognized their independence. The king of Zhou only recognized this partition in 403 BCE.
At the beginning of the Warring States period the house of Zhou saw a partition into two branches. King Jing's 周景王 (r. 545-521) great-grandson King Ai 周哀王 (r. 441) was killed by his brother Shuxi 叔襲 who usurped the throne and was himself killed five months later by a younger brother called Wei 嵬. Shuxi is known as King Si 周思王 (r. 441), Wei as King Kao 周考王 (r. 441-426).
Probably in order to forestall a further usurpation, King Kao enfeoffed a younger brother, Prince Jie 揭, with the territory of Henan 河南 and bestowed to him the title of duke (gong 公), with the intention to entrust him with the function of the former "Duke of Zhou" 周公 as a kind of Chief Counsellor. While the kings resided since the times of King Jing in the eastern part of the kingdom, in Gong 鞏 (modern Gongxian 鞏縣, Henan), Duke Jie resided in the west, in the ancient capital Luoyang 洛陽 (Chengzhou 成周). Duke Jie was therefore called the "Duke of West Zhou" 西周 (not to be confounded with the ancient Western Zhou!). His posthumous title is Duke Huan of West Zhou 西周桓公. His dynastic line was continued with Duke Wei 西周威公 and Duke Hui 西周惠公. In fact, King Kao had handed over the keys to power to his younger brother, while he himself retained the merely honorific title of king. A younger son of Duke Hui of West Zhou, Prince Ban 班, finally took over the eastern part of the royal domain and replaced the line of King Kao. Prince Ban is therefore posthumously known as Duke Hui of East Zhou 東周惠公.
During the reign of King Lie 周烈王 (or Weilie 周威烈王, r. 426-402 BCE) the grand astrologer (taishi 太史) Dan 儋 travelled to the court of Duke Xian of Qin 秦獻公 (r. 385-362) and prognosticated that the states of Qin and Zhou would unite, and the strongest prince would appear as the ruler of China. Duke Xian indeed became the de facto hegemonial lord (ba 霸), although this institution was not any more officially made use of like during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770 - 5th cent. BCE). King Xian of Zhou 周顯王 (r. 369-321) honoured Duke Xiao of Qin 秦孝公 (r. 362-338) with sacrificial meat presented to the ancient Kings Wen and Wu of Zhou. The Duke of Qin, as highest leader of the feudal lords, in 344 assembled the feudal lords in the royal domain. In spite of all these favourable treatments by the king of Zhou, the ruler of Qin adopted the title of king in 325. In the consequence, the rulers of most of the larger states likewise called themselves king.
Rise and decline of the state of Wei
At a time when a lot of feudal states had already begun to undergo strucural reforms, the marquis of Wei was the first ruler who adopted the title of king (wang 王) that was actually reserved to the king of Zhou (and had been used since long by the rulers of the semi-barbarian states of Chu, Wu and Yue in the south). This was King Hui of Liang 梁惠王 (r. 379-335). During the reign of the marquesses Wen 魏文侯 (r. 424-387) and Wu 魏武侯 (r. 386-371) Wei had expanded to east and west, destroyed the shortlived state of Zhongshan 中山 in 408 and several times defeated Qin with the generals Li Kui 李悝 and Wu Qi 吳起. In the mid-4th century Wei had become the dominating state of the Central Plain, attacked Song 宋, Wei 衛, Han and Zhao. In 353 Wei sacked Handan 邯鄲 (modern Handan, Hebei), the capital of Zhao but was then defeated at Guiling 桂陵 (modern Caoxian 曹縣, Shandong) by Qi that supported his ally Zhao. In 344 Wei organized a state conference at Fengze 逢澤 (near modern Kaifeng 開封, Henan) and forced the feudal lords to assemble at the Mengjin Ford 孟津 to cherish the king of Zhou. But at the same time, the marquis of Wei (i. e. King Hui of Liang) declared himself king. The highlight of the new king's power did not last for long: In the battle of Maling 馬陵 (near modern Fanxian 范縣, Henan) in 341 the army of Qi (led by Tian Ji 田忌 and Sun Bin 孫臏) destroyed the army of Wei (led by Prince Shen 太子申 and Pang Juan 龐涓) and shortly after lost territories to Qin in the west. Again, Qin sent out Shang Yang 商鞅 and again defeated Wei that had to shift its capital to the east. In 334 King Hui of Liang met with King Wei of Qi 齊威王 (r. 378-343) and accepted this eastern lord as a king. Wei and Qi were now the to dominating states of the Central Plain. After the death of King Hui, Wei gradually lost its dominant position under the increasing attacks of Qin from the west.
The growing power of Qin
Strengthened by the reforms of Shang Yang under Duke Xiao 秦孝公 (r. 361-338) Qin had become a serious opponent for the states in the Central Plain. In 325 the duke of Qin declared himself king (posthumous King Huiwen of Qin 秦惠文王, r. 337-311). But Gongsun Yan 公孫衍 from Wei proposed to forge an alliance against the newcomer. Zhao, Han, Yan 燕 and Chu united with Wei but were defeated by Qin in 318. The "wolf" from the west year by year made attacks on the soils of Zhao, Han and Wei and proved its definitive military superiority. The next step was to defeat Chu, the powerful state of the south. Chu lost several battles and had to give up much territory. In the west, Qin successully fought against the Rong 戎 tribes of Yiqu 義渠 and opened the way to the Gansu corridor. In 316, internal quarrels had weakened the non-Chinese state of Shu 蜀 in the Sichuan Basin. Qin took its chance and occupied the fertile region that would prove to be an ideal base for the conquest of Chu.
The competition of Yan and Qi
The state of Yan in the northeast (around modern Beijing) was likewise weakened by interal succession struggles when Qi decided to send out Tian Zhang 田章 with an army to conquer some territory of Yan. After two months of campaigning in 314 Qi destroyed the army of Yan but withdrew because of further resistance. King Wuling of Zhao 趙武靈王 (r. 325-299) sent a relief army to support the Crown Prince of Yan and enthroned him (posthumous title King Zhao of Yan 燕昭王, r. 311-279). With the assistance of Yue Yi 樂毅 the state of Yan was able to gain back its economical and military strength.
Qi as the powerful state in the east created an alliance with Han, Wei and Qin to attack Chu in the south in 301, and Chu was defeated. Five years later Qi made an alliance with Han, Wei, Zhao and Song to punish Qin, and for the first time, Qin was defeated and had to give back formerly conquered territory. In the battle of Huanzhiqu 桓之曲 Qi again defeated the army of Yan. In 288 the rulers of Qi and Qin decided to proclaim themselves as emperors, the king of Qin being the Emperor of the West (Xidi 西帝), that of Qi the Emperor of the East (Dongdi 東帝), yet these designations were given up shortly after. Two years later, Qi destroyed the statelet of Song that had still been quite strong until then. Zou 鄒 and Lu immediately declared their loyalty to Qi.
In 284 Yan allied with the states Wei, Han, Zhao, Qin and Chu to attack Qi. Qi was defeated, the capital occupied, and the king was murdered. The remaining court withdrew to the small city of Ju 莒. General Tian Dan 田單 took revenge when the new ruler of Yan, King Hui 燕惠王 (r. 278-272) replaced Yue Yi by the less able general Qi Jie 騎劫. Tian Dan defeated Qi Jie, reconquered the capital and helped King Xiang of Qi 齊襄王 (r. 283-265) to the throne.
The downfall of Chu and the rise of Zhao
The "barbarian" state of Chu, populous and fertile, had become one of the most powerful states of the Warring States era and reached its apogee with the destruction of the state of Yue under King Huai 楚懷王 (r. 328-299). Chu, Qin and Qi competed for the domination in China. King Huai was allured to visit the court of Qin, was taken as hostage and died far from his homelands as prisoner in the west. His successor was unable to govern the paralyzed state of the south, and the Qin general Sima Cuo 司馬錯 attacked Chu from the Sichuan Basin that Qin had occupied some decades earlier. Two years later general Bai Qi 白起 took the capital of Chu, Ying 郢 (modern Jiangling 江陵, Hubei) and advanced further to the Dongting Lake 洞庭湖. King Qingxiang 楚頃襄王 (r. 298-263) fled to Chen 陳. The occupied territories were transformed into commanderies (jun 郡) as part of the state of Qin.
The last rulers of the Zhou dynasty
The last king of the Zhou dynasty was King Nan 周赧王 (r. 315-256), a grandson of King Xian. Nan is not his posthumous title but a kind of cognomen, like "the Timid" or "the Dishonourable". He is sometimes also referred to as "Lord of Zhou" 周君, or simply "the king". The "Bamboo Annals" Zhushu jinian 竹書紀年 call him King Yin 隱王 "the Beclouded". The son of Duke Hui of Western Zhou, Duke Wu 西周武公, was uncertain whom of his sons to name as heir apparent. His righteous son, Prince Gong 共, had died prematurely. Sima Jian 司馬翦, an advisor to the king of Chu, was able to persuade Duke Hui to nominate Prince Jiu 咎 heir apparent.
In 307 the state of Qin attacked the town of Yiyang 宜陽, part of the territory of West Zhou. As a protective power, Chu supported the small kingdom of Zhou, yet planned to encroach on royal territory itself because Zhou had formerly been very generous towards Qin. The coalition advisor Su Dai 蘇代, brother of the famous Su Qin, convinced the king of Chu that it was of no use to punish the weak king of Zhou for the ancient alliance of Zhou and Qin and that it would be more profitable to become the political partner of the king of Zhou.
On another occasion the king of Qin planned attacking the state of Han by marching just through the passage between Eastern and Western Zhou. Clerk Yan 史厭 explained to the king of Zhou that it would be of advantage if Han would cede some territory to Zhou and Zhou send some hostages to Chu. Qin would then suspect the state of Chu to plan an attack on Qin during its campaign against Han. At the same time King Nan should, as Yan suggested, explain to the king of Qin that Han suspected Zhou of conspiring with Qin because of the present of land made to Zhou. With this method the king of Zhou would increase his territory and avoid Qin troops marching through his land. The king of Qin, powerful as he was, summoned King Nan to his court to debate the question of attacking the city of Nanyang 南陽 in the territory of Han. A conspiration helped the two states to avoid a military conflict with Qin, by impeding the king to leave his home state.
Yet war broke out between East and West Zhou. Han this time supported West Zhou. The king of Han could be convinced not to support West Zhou, but instead to loot the ancient treasuries of the royal capital, where the Duke of West Zhou resided. At the same time Han came not into conflict with the problem of attacking the Son of Heaven, King Nan.
A few years later the state of Chu besieged the town of Yongshi 雍氏. Su Dai was able to involve the state of Qin into the conflict, so that the troops of Chu withdrew in fear of an attack by Qin.
In 281 the states of Han and Wei were already severaly endangered by the military machine of the state of Qin. Su Li 蘇厲, another brother of Su Qin, suggested to the king of Zhou to negotiate directly with the infamous Qin general Bai Qi 白起. With the parable of the archer Yang Youji 養由基, who hit his target each time he shot, it was suggested to Bai Qi that one single failure would ruin all his fame. Instead of attacking the state of Wei or the territory of Zhou, he was consulted to offer retirement because of illness. The chronicles do not say whether Bai Qi was really convinced by this arguments or not.
In 273 Ma Fan 馬犯 developed a plan to protect the famous nine tripods representing royal authority with the help of the king of Wei, who was also persuaded to construct a fortification wall for Zhou. A last time the king of Qin was convinced not to conquer the territory of Zhou. Prince Xu (sic!) 聚 (also written 最) explained that the annihilation of the land of the Son of Heaven would damage the name of Qin. Zhou even used to function as a spy for Qin in explaining the military changes in the state of Han, Wei and Zhao.
Only when Qin occupied the town of Fushu 負黍, belonging to Han, but in the vicinity of the ancient royal capital, King Nan decided to join an alliance against Qin. The Qin general (Prince?) Jiu 摎 charged the royal seat and forced the Duke of West Zhou to travel to the court of Qin, where he officially submitted and presented his whole territory to the king of Qin. The Duke was allowed to return. With the death of the Duke of West Zhou and King Nan in 256, ruler of East Zhou, the people of Zhou became "orphaned". Qin invaded the territory of West Zhou, seized the nine tripods and exiled the heir of West Zhou, Duke Wen 西周文公, in Danhu {單/心}狐. Seven years later the territory of East Zhou was occupied, and the house of Zhou was extinguished. The title of "Son of Heaven" was adopted by the king of Qin in 221, when he proclaimed himself the First Emperor 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE).

The state of Zhao was the northernmost of the feudal states. While the main battles between the particular states were fought in the south of Zhao, King Wuling 趙武靈王 (r. 325-299) tried to enlarge the wealth of his state by expanding to the north that was roamed by nomadic tribes of the Linhu 林胡 and Loufan 樓煩 (see Hu 胡). He established commanderies in the north of the Yellow River bend and protected his new domains by erecting a fortification wall. After the fall of Chu the state of Zhao became one of the most powerful states in the Zhou empire, only third after Qin and Qi. General Zhao She 趙奢 even defeated the army of Qin in the battle of Eyu 閼與 (modern Heshun 和順, Shanxi) in 270. Ten years later the two states competed for the territory of Shangdang 上黨 (modern Qinyang 沁陽, Henan). The army of Zhao was trapped at Changping 長平 (near modern Gaoping 高平. Shanxi), Zhao surrendered, but the Qin general Bai Qi buried alive more than 40.000 surrendering troops. Yet Zhao was not yet finally defeated - for two more years the army of Qin beleaguered the capital of Zhao, Handan 邯鄲 (modern Handan, Hebei). Lord Xinling 信陵君 of Wei organized a relief army and rescued the state of Zhao, but Zhao could never recover from the terrible defeat at Changping.
Over a long period, the dukes and kings of Qin had employed able advisors, beginning with the legalist politician Shang Yang 商鞅, counsellor Wei Ran 魏冉 (Marquis Rang 穰侯) and Fan Ju 范雎 who proposed that Qin should create alliances with distant states against close enemies, and who stressed that the ruler had to get rid of powerful nobles. Following these strategies, King Zhaoxiang 秦昭襄王 (r. 306-251) occupied large territories of Zhao, Wei and Han and conquered the Sichuan Basin with the non-Chinese states of Shu 蜀 and Ba 巴. Under King Zhuangxiang 秦莊襄王 (r. 249-247) and his Counsellor-in-chief Lü Buwei 呂不韋 Qin had already advanced far into the territories of the states of the Central Plain and finished the house of Zhou. The last ruler of Zhou was the Lord of East Zhou 東周君 (r. 255-249). In 246 the young Ying Zheng 嬴政 succeeded to the throne of Qin, in 237 he took over regency by himself, aided by Counsellor Li Si 李斯 who helped Ying Zheng with his plans to conquer the remaining states. In 230 Qin destroyed Han, two years later Zhao was finally defeated after general Li Mu 李牧 had been assassinated. In 226 Qin advanced to the northeast and conquered Yan, one year later Qin beleaguered the capital of Wei, Daliang 大梁 (near modern Kaifeng 開封, Henan). The city was destroyed by branching off a canal from the Yellow River. General Wang Jian 王翦 led 60.000 soldiers to conquer Chu in 223. In the following year Qin finished the conquest of the northeast, destroying Yan and Dai 代, the successor state of Zhao. The last state to tumble was Qi in 221.
Only deep changes within the states had made possible such prolonged phases of military campaigning during the last century before the unification of China by Qin. All rulers of the particular states had an entourage of political advisors that did not only propose actual tactics but also advocated profound reforms in the administrative structures. Among the most famous persuaders were Su Qin and Zhang Yi 張儀. Some important aristocrats still participated in the politics like Lord Mengchang 孟嘗君 of Qi, Lord Pingyuan 平原君 of Zhao, Lord Xinling 信陵君 of Wei, and Lord Chunshen 春申君 of Chu, but in general the noble families (qing dafu 卿大夫), relatives of the rulers or meritorious families, had lost their political influence and were replaceds by state officials (li 吏). Traditional fiefs were replaced by an organization in directly administered commanderies (jun 郡), especially in the newly conquered territories, as can be seen in the northwest of the state of Yan (commanderies Yunzhong 雲中, Jiuyuan 九原) and in the south and east of Qin (commanderies Shu 蜀, Ba 巴, Qianzhong 黔中, Hanzhong 漢中, Nanjun 南郡, Shangjun 上郡, Shangdang 上黨, etc.). Of all reforming states Qin was the quickest to adapt reforms in administration (government, standardization of weights and measures, codification of law), taxation and military (conscripts from among the peasantry). Furthermore, its location in the region "within" (west of) the Hanguan Pass 函關 (guannei 關內) provided protection from the armies of the states "east of the Pass" (guandong 關東). Last but not least, the state of Qin was governed by a line of strong rulers (Duke Xiao 秦孝公, King Zhaoxiang 秦昭襄王 and Ying Zheng 嬴政, the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝) with able and ambitious political advisors as Shang Yang 商鞅, Lü Buwei 呂不韋 and Li Si 李斯, and excellent generals as Bai Qi 白起, Wang Jian 王翦 and Meng Tian 蒙恬.

2000ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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