Spring and Autumn Period

History of China
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Spring and Autumn Period
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The Spring and Autumn Period (Template:Zh-cp) represented an era in Chinese history between 722 BC and 481 BC. The period takes its name from the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the period whose authorship was traditionally attributed to Confucius. During the Spring and Autumn Period, power became decentralized. This period was filled with battles and annexation of some 170 smaller states. The slow crumbling of nobility resulted in widespread literacy; increasing literacy encouraged freedom of thought and technological advancement. This era is followed by the Warring States Period.


Diminishing power of Zhou

The fall of the capital of the Western Zhou Dynasty, Hao, marks the beginning of the Spring and Autumn Period. After the capital was sacked by western barbarian tribes, crown prince Ji Yijiu fled to the east. During the flight from the western capital to the east, the Zhou king relied on the nearby lords of Qin, Zheng and Jin for protection from barbarians and rebellious lords. He moved the Zhou capital from Zongzhou (Hao) to Chengzhou (today Luoyang) in the Yellow River valley.

The fleeing Zhou elite did not have strong footholds in the eastern territories; even the crown prince's coronation had to be supported by those states to be successful. With the Zhou domain greatly reduced, limited to Luoyang and nearby areas, the Zhou court could no longer support six groups of standing troops (liu4 jun1 六軍). Subsequent Zhou kings had to request help from neighboring or powerful states for protection from raids and for resolution of internal power struggles. The Zhou court would never regain its original authority; the Zhou court was relegated to being merely a figurehead of the feudal states. Though Zhou nominally retained the Mandate of Heaven, the title held no power.

Rise of the hegemons

The first nobility to help the Zhou kings was the Duke Zhuang of Zheng (r. 743 BC-701 BC). He was the first to establish the hegemonical system (ba4 霸), which was intended to retain the old proto-feudal system. Traditional historians justified the new system as a means of protecting weaker civilized states and the Zhou royalty from the intruding "barbarian" tribes. Located in the south, north, east and west, the barbarian tribes were, respectively, the Man, Yi, Rong and Di.

All so-called "civilized" states, however, were actually composed of a substantial mix of ethnicities; hence, there was no fine line between a "civilized" state and a "barbarian" one. Nevertheless, these ethnically and culturally different tribes had their own unique civilizations in some areas. Some ethnic groups were so substantially civilized and powerful by traditional Chinese standards that their political entities, including Wu and Yue, are even included in some versions of the five overlords (see below).

Missing image
Urbanisation during the Spring and Autumn period.

The newly powerful states were more eager to maintain aristocratic privileges over the traditional ideology of supporting the weak ruling entity during times of unrest (匡扶社稷 kuang1 fu2 she4 ji4), which had been widely propagated during imperial China to consolidate power into the ruling family.

Dukes Huan of Qi (r. 685 BC-643 BC) and Wen of Jin (r. 636 BC-628 BC) made further steps in installing the overlordship system, which brought relative stability, but in shorter time periods than before. Annexations increased, favoring the several most powerful states, including Qin, Jin, Qi and Chu. The overlord role gradually drifted from its stated intention of protecting weaker states; the overlordship eventually became a system of hegemony of major states over weaker satellites of Chinese and "barbarian" origin.

The great states used the pretext of aid and protection to intervene and gain advantages over the smaller states during their internal quarrels. Later overlords were mostly derived from these great states. They proclaimed themselves master of their territories, without even recognizing the petty figurehead of Zhou. Establishment of the local administration system (Jun and Xian), with its officials appointed by the government, gave states better control over the dominion. Taxation facilitated commerce and agriculture more than proto-feudalism.

The three states of Qin, Jin and Qi not only optimized their own strength, but also repelled the southern state of Chu, whose rulers had proclaimed themselves kings. The Chu armies gradually intruded into the Yellow River Basin. Framing Chu as the "southern barbarian", Chu Man, was merely a pretext to warn Chu not to intervene into their respective spheres of influence. Chu intrusion was checked several times in three major battles with increasing violence - the Battle of Chengpu, the Battle of Bi and the Battle of Yanling; this resulted in the restorations of the states of Chen and Cai.

Changing tempo of war

After a period of increasingly exhaustive warfare, Qi, Qin, Jin and Chu finally met for a disarmament conference in 579 BC, where the other states essentially became satellites. In 546 BC, Jin and Chu agreed to yet another truce.

During the relatively peaceful 6th century BC, the two coastal states in today's Zhejiang, Wu and Yue, gradually grew in power. After defeating and banishing King Fu Chai of Wu, King Gou Jian of Yue (r. 496 BC-465 BC) became the last recognized overlord.

This era of peace was only a prelude to the maelstrom of the Warring States Period. The four powerful states were all in the midst of power struggles. Six elite landholding families waged war on each other in Jin. The Chen family was eliminating political enemies in Qi. Legitimacy of the rulers was often challenged in civil wars by various royal family members in Qin and Chu. Once all these power strugglers firmly established themselves in their dominions, the bloodshed among states would continue in the Warring State Period. The Warring States Period officially started in 403 BC when the three remaining elite families in Jin - Zhao, Wei and Han - partitioned the state; the impotent Zhou court was forced to recognized their authority.

List of overlords

The Five Overlords of Spring and Autumn Period (春秋五霸 Chun1 qiu1 Wu3 Ba4) include:

Any of the following rulers can be considered as the fifth overlord:

Order is not important.

List of prominent states

The name following the name of the state is the capital(En., TC. and SC.).

Qi (state)齊 - Linzi 臨淄 临淄
Chu (state)楚 - Ying 郢 郢
Qin (state)秦 - Xianyang 咸陽 咸阳
Jin (state)
Lu (state) - Qufu 曲阜 曲阜
Chen (state)陳 - Chenqiu 陳丘 陈丘
Cai (state) - Shangcai 上蔡 上蔡
Cao (state)
Song (state) - Shangqiu 商丘 商丘
Wei (state)
Wu (state) - Suzhou 姑蘇 姑苏
Yue (state) - Kuaiji 會稽 会稽
Zheng (state) - Xinzheng 新鄭 新郑

List of important figures


Duke Huan of Qi
Duke Xian of Jin and his son:
Duke Wen of Jin
King Zhuang of Chu
Duke Mu of Qin
Duke Xiang of Song
King Liao of Wu, assassinated by his cousin:
King He Lu of Wu
King Fu Chai of Wu
King Gou Jian of Yue, mortal rival of He Lu and Fu Cha


Prince Qing Ji of Wu, the son of King Liao and major opponent and pretender against He Lu.

Bureaucrats or Officers

Guan Zhong, statesman and advisor of Duke Huan of Qi and regarded by some modern scholars as the first Legalist.
Bo Pi, the corrupted bureaucrat under King He Lu and played important diplomatic role of Wu-Yue relations.
Wen Zhong and Fan Li, the two advisors and partisans of King Gou Jian of his rally against Wu.
Zi Chan, leader of self-strengthening movements in Zheng

Influential scholars

Lao zi or Lao tse, founder of Daoism
Mozi, known as Motse (墨子 Mo4 Zi5) or "Mocius" (also "Micius") to Western scholars, founder of Mohism




Lu Ban


O Ye Zi, literally means O the wielder and mentor of the couple Gan Jiang and Mo Xie

Entrepreneurs and Commercial personnel

Fan Li

Generals, military leaders and authors

Rang Ju, elder contemporary and possibly mentor of
Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War


Yao Li, sent by He Lu to kill Qing Ji.
Zhuan Zhu, sent by He Lu to kill his cousin King Liao

Women and Beauties

Lady of Li, concubine of Duke Xian of Jin and stepmother of Duke Wen of Jin
Xi Shi, wife of Fan Li according to legend
Mo Xie

See also: Hundred Schools of Thoughtde:Zeit der Frhlings- und Herbstannalen he:תקופת האביב והסתיו fi:Kevtt ja syksy fr:Priode des printemps et des automnes ja:春秋時代 no:Vr- og hstannalenes tid zh:春秋时期


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