Warring States Period

History of China
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Alternative meaning: Warring States Period (Japan)

The Warring States Period (traditional Chinese: 戰國時代, simplified Chinese: 战国时代 pinyin Zhngu Shdi) takes place from sometime in the 5th century BC to the unification of China by Qin in 221 BC. It is nominally considered to be the second part of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, following the Spring and Autumn Period. Like the Spring and Autumn Period, the king of Zhou acted merely as a figurehead. The name Warring States Period was named after Record of the Warring States compiled in early Han Dynasty. The date for the beginning of the Warring States Period is somewhat in dispute. While it is frequently cited as 475 BC, following the Spring and Autumn Period, 403 BC, the date of the tripartition of the State of Jin, is also sometimes considered as the beginning of the period.

Missing image
Warring States period.
The Warring States Period, in contrast to the Spring and Autumn Period, was a period when regional warlords annexed smaller states around them and consolidated their rule. The process began in the Spring and Autumn Period, and by the 3rd century BC, seven major states had risen to prominence. These Seven Warring States (戰國七雄/战国七雄 Zhngu Qīxing, literally "Seven Heroes among the Warring States"), were the Qi (齊), the Chu (楚), the Yan (燕), the Han (韓), the Zhao (趙), the Wei (魏) and the Qin (秦). Another sign of this shift in power was a change in title: warlords still considered themselves dukes (公 pinyin: gōng) of the Zhou Dynasty king; but now the warlords began to call themselves kings (王 pinyin: wng), meaning they were equal to the Zhou king.

The Warring States Period saw the proliferation of iron working in China, replacing bronze as the dominant metal used in warfare. Areas such as Shu (modern Sichuan) and Yue (modern Zhejiang) were also brought into the Chinese cultural sphere during this time. Walls built by the states to keep out northern nomadic tribes and each other were the precursors of the Great Wall of China. Different philosophies developed into the Hundred Schools of Thought, including Confucianism (elaborated by Mencius), Taoism (elaborated by Zhuang Zi), Legalism (formulated by Han Feizi) and Mohism (formulated by Mozi). Trade also became important, and some merchants had considerable power in politics. Military tactics also changed. Unlike the Spring and Autumn Period, most armies in the Warring States Period made combined use of infantry and cavalry, and the use of chariots gradually fell into disfavor.


Partition of Jin

In the Spring and Autumn Period, the State of Jin (晉) is arguably the most powerful state in China. However, near the end of the Spring and Autumn Period, the power of the ruling family weakened, and Jin gradually come under the control of six large families (六卿). By the beginning of the Warring States Period, after numerous power struggles, there were four families left: the Zhi (智) family, the Wei (魏) family, the Zhao (趙) family, and the Han (韓) family, with the Zhi family being the dominant power in Jin. Zhi Yao (智瑶), the last head of the Zhi familiy, attempted a coalition with the Wei family and the Han family to destroy the Zhao family. However, because of the Zhi Yao's arrogance and disrespect towards the other families, the Wei family and Han family secretly allied with the Zhao family, and the three families launched a surprise attack that anniliated the Zhi family.

In 403 BC, the three major families of Jin, with the approval of the Zhou king, partition Jin into three states (三家分晉): the State of Han, the State of Zhao, and the State of Wei. The three family heads were given the title of Marquess (侯), and because the three states were originally part of Jin, they are also referred to as the Three Jins (三晉). The State of Jin continue to exist with a tiny piece of territory until 376 BC when the rest of the territory was partitioned by the Three Jins.

Change of Government in Qi

In 389 BC, the Tian (田) family seize control of the State of Qi and was given the title of Duke. The old Jiang (姜) family's State of Qi continued to exist with a small piece of territory until 379 BC, when it was finally absorbed into Tian family's State of Qi.

Early strife in the Three Jins, Qi, and Qin

In 371 BC, Marquess Wu of Wei passed away without specifying a successor, causing Wei to fall into an internal war of succession. After three years of civil war, Zhao and Han, sensing an opportunity, invaded Wei. On the verge of conquering Wei, the leaders of Zhao and Han fell into disagreement on what to do with Wei and both armies mysteriously retreated. As a result, King Hui of Wei (he's still a Marquess at the time) was able to ascend onto the throne of Wei.

In 354 BC, King Hui of Wei initiated a large scale attack at Zhao, which some historians believe was to avenge the earlier near destruction of Wei. By 353 BC, Zhao was losing badly, and one of their major cities--Handan (邯鄲), a city that will eventually become Zhao's capital--was being besieged. As a result, the neighbouring State of Qi decided to help Zhao. The strategy Qi used, suggested by the famous tactician Sun Bin (孫臏), who at the time was the Qi army advisor, was to attack Wei's territory while the main Wei army is busy sieging Zhao, forcing Wei to retreat. The strategy was a success; the Wei army hastily retreated, and encountered the Qi midway, culminating into the Battle of Guiling (pinyin: gu lng) (桂陵之戰) where Wei was decisively defeated. The event spawned the famous phrase "圍魏救趙", meaning attacking Wei to save Zhao.

In 341 BC, Wei attacked Han, and Qi interfered again. The two generals from the previous Battle of Guiling met again, and due to the brilliant strategy of Sun Bun, Wei was again decisively defeated at the Battle of Maling (馬陵之戰).

The situation for Wei took an even worse turn when Qin, taking advantage of Wei series of defeats by Qi, attacked Wei in 340 BC under the advise of famous Qin reformer Shang Yang (商鞅). Wei was devastatingly defeated and was forced to cede a large portion of its territory to achieve a truce. This left their capital Anyi vulnerable, so Wei was also forced to move their capital to Daliang.

After these series of events, Wei became severely weakened, and the Qi and Qin became two of the dominant states in China.

Shang Yang's reforms in Qin

Around 359 BC, Shang Yang (商鞅), a minister of the State of Qin, initiated a series of reforms that transformed Qin from a backward state into one that surpasses the other six states. It is generally regarded that this is the point where Qin started to become the most dominant state in China.

See Shang Yang's page for a summary of the reforms and policies that was instituted.

Ascension of the Kingdoms

In 334 BC, the rulers of Wei and Qi agreed to recognize each other as Kings (王), formalizing the independence of the states and the powerlessness of the Zhou throne since the beginning of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. The King of Wei and the King of Qi joins the ranks of the King of Chu, whose predecessors had been Kings since the Spring and Autumn Period. From this point on, all the other states eventually declare their Kingship, signifying the beginning of the end of the Zhou Dynasty.

In 325 BC, the ruler of Qin declared himself as King.

In 323 BC, the rulers of Han and Yan declared themselves as King.

In 318 BC, the ruler of Song declared himself as King.

The ruler of Zhao held out until around 299 BC, and was the last to declare himself as King.

Chu expansion and defeats

Early in the Warring States Period, Chu was one of the strongest states in China. The state rose to a new level around 389 BC when the King of Chu named the famous reformer Wu Qi (吳起) to be his prime minister.

Chu rose to its peak in 334 BC when it gained vast amounts of territory. The series of events leading up to this began when Yue prepared to attack Qi. The King of Qi sent a emissary who persuaded the King of Yue to attack Chu instead. Yue initiated a large scale attack at Chu, but was devastatingly defeated by Chu's counterattack. Chu then proceeded to conquer the State of Yue (越).

(in progress)

The Domination of Qin and the resulting Grand Strategies

Towards the end of the Warring States Period, the State of Qin became disproportionately powerful compared to the other six states. As a result, the policies of the six states became overwhelmingly oriented towards dealing with the Qin threat, with two opposing schools of thought: Hezong (合縱/合纵 pinyin: hzng, "vertically linked"), or alliance with each other to repel Qin expansionism; and Lianheng (連橫/连横 pinyin: linhng, "horizontally linked"), or alliance with Qin to participate in its ascendancy. There were some initial successes in Hezong, though it eventually broke down. Qin repeatedly exploited the Lianheng strategy to defeat the states one by one. During this period, many philosophers and tacticians travelled around the states recommending the rulers to put their respective ideas into use. These "lobbyists" were famous for their tact and intellect, and were collectively known as Zonghengjia (縱橫家), taking its name from the two main schools of thought.

In 316 BC, Qin conquers the Shu area.

(in progress)

Zhao's military reforms

307 BC. Adoption of superior non-Chinese clothing and cavalry (胡服騎射).

(in progress)

Qin's conquest of China

In 230 BC, Qin conquers Han.

In 225 BC, Qin conquers Wei.

In 223 BC, Qin conquers Chu.

In 222 BC, Qin conquers Yan and Zhao.

In 221 BC, Qin conquers Qi, completing the unification of China, and ushering in the Qin Dynasty.

Films set in the Warring States Period

The 2002 movie Hero, one of mainland China's highest grossing films domestically, is set during this period. Other, older, movies that take place in this era and deal with events relating to it: The Emperor and the Assassin (1999) (Starring: Gong Li, Zhang Fengyi, and directed by Chen Kaige) dealing with the first Qin Emperor, and The Emperor's Shadow (1996) (Starring Jiang Wen, Ge You, and directed by Zhou Xiaowen).de:Zeit der Streitenden Reiche fr:Priode des royaumes combattants ja:戦国時代 (中国) no:De stridende staters tid fi:Taistelevat lnitysvaltiot zh:战国 (中国)


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