Key figures and events: After the end of Spring and Autumn Period because of mentioned events even more dynamic period of wars and competition comes. Large scale wars for unification of China were fought. Most of evidence dates from Han dynasty from “Record of Warring States”.
In first phase of period major 9 opponent states existed: Qin, Chu, Qi, Wei, Yue, Han, Yan, Zhao and Zhongshan.. There were two other minor and less important states that were conquered by Qin King and later Emperor. Ba and Shu were these states that existed in todays Sichuan province. Sima Quan and other historians of Han dynasty differentiate it from Spring and Autumn Period because of mentioned reasons such as dissolution of Jin( creation of 3 new states) decline of influence of Zhou, rise of Wu and Yue and end of Annals of Spring and Autumn Period( with death of Confucius). Probably main difference is that interest of states was focused now on gaining full influence and supremacy not on gaining recognition and support from Zhou. States didn’t balance anymore around house of Zhou to get credits but they balanced only for their own behalf and aimed on being primary and dominant actor. After this it goes without saying that Zhou influence was minor and its reputation wasnt in epicenter in fight for dominance anymore. Main proofs of that are that dukes of Wei, Qin, Qi, Yan and Han proclaimed themselves as kings and also partition of East Zhou what proves total decline of Zhou.
First years of Warring States Period are mostly related to rise of Wei, Han and Zhao and their conquering of smaller states. Despite separation and dissolution of Jin 3 states acted often as allies especially in dividing new territories that were conquered from other states. Their final division of territories lasted until 403BC. Dissolution of Jin created chance for strengthening of other states such as Chu, Qin and Qi. Qin expanded to areas of Sichuan but couldn’t go further. It was like that because many barbaric tribes often attacked their lands so they needed army to protect territory. Primary aim of Qin during 5th century was defeating barbarians and than attacking other states and conquest of their territories.
During 4th century Qi was state that experienced reforms and fast increase of power. House of Qi was dominated by Tian clan which had monopoly on almost all state affairs and through usurpation tried to seize control of state. When in 380BC last duke of Qi died without children Tian clan was recognized by house of Zhou as legitimate ruler of Qi. Main reason was that many capable intellectuals Tian clan had in state. Qi didn’t experience civil war and partition thanks to dominance of Tian clan and stability in army. After 42 years Qi state declared Kingdom and first King was King Wei of Qi. This was sign that they don’t respect supremacy of Zhou anymore. In same year of 344BC King Hui of Wei also declared Wei state as kingdom. Wei and Qi recognized these changes to each other. Authority of Zhou drastically fell as two large states didn’t want to be vassals anymore. Military and their technologies were improved during this period. These military reforms could be afforded only by strong states smaller states such as Lu ceased to exist. Lu was occupied by Chu state which was strongest state during large part of Warring States period.
Important and crucial point in Warring States Period are Shang Yang reforms in Qin state that were conducted between 356BC and 338BC. During governance of Duke Xiao of Qin his prime minister Shang Yang had primary role in internal affairs. He centralized power very much in hands of Duke and did many social reforms about which we will speak in part about society and culture.. Increase of taxes was imposed by force. Privatization was introduced. Shang Yang pointed on dictatorship of law and considered law above everything even morality what was in favor of Legalist doctrine and against Confucian. Thanks to reforms he created large and strong army Military technologies were developed and more soldiers were recruited mostly from enslaved peasant men who appeared to be unproductive in rural affairs. Shang Yang reforms installed very powerful Qin state. In 2nd half of 4th century Qin state started to act under ideas of unification . Shang Yang created predispositions to future unification of China under Qin, strict order and law. Shang Yang created idea of one stable country in which law and order govern. This ideas were followed by Qin rulers and motivated them to unify China.
Meanwhile relationship between Wei and Qi deteriorated. Wei attacked Han and Qi intervened and defeated Wei. Qin intervened as well and defeated Wei and took large parts of its territory. Therefore Han, Zhao and Wei acknowledged supremacy of Qi Kingdom. Qin state used chance of weakened Wei and attacked its western territories. King of Wei gave up both banks of Yellow river to Qin. It strengthened position of Qin drastically. Wei became ally of Qin now as King Hui of Wei gave up territories peacefully and Qin appointed his minister to be nominal advisor of Wei. But generally it meant full power of Qin. Therefore Qin and Qi became most powerful states of this period.
Another important point happened. State of Yue on Pacific coast wanted to attack Qi state. However representatives of Qi persuaded armies of Yue to attack state of Chu which was very powerful. Trick worked and Yue attacked Chu in 334BC what caused not only defeat of Yue but large revenge of Chu and Yue lost almost all of its territories and Chu got more coastal territories.
King Xian of Zhou did one of last efforts to save Zhou dynasty and its reputation. He tried to increase friendship with powerful Qin state in order to avoid possibility of Qin to challenge supremacy of Zhou. So he gave status of hegemon to Qin state during governance of Dukes Xiao, Xian and Hui. But in year of 325BC Duke Hui of Qin proclaimed himself as king. It showed real ambitions of rising power of Qin and idea of unification. This was beginning of burial of Zhou dynasty. Zhang Yi prime minister of King Hui and scholar of School of Diplomacy had important impact on King Huis foreign policy in relations with Wei, Qi and guided him to declare Kingdom of Qin. Declaration of Kingdom of Qin had domino effect on failure of Zhou reputation. In following years rulers of Han, Yan, Song and Zhongshan states declared their own kingdoms. Qin was more and more ambitious and it conquered smaller states of Ba and Shu in todays Sichuan. They became closer to borders of Chu what increased tensions between two strong states.
With disappearance of small states or accepting their vassal status towards 3 major powers Qin, Chu and Qi there were no buffer zones between 3 states. End of 4th century was beginning of an final struggle between 3 ambitious powers. Real struggle for successor for mandate of Heaven started. This is still one of most epic events in all Chinese history. Qin state with conquering lands northwestern from Yangtze that didn’t belong to any territory strengthened its position. Qin state became strongest state in Chinese history since Xia until that period.
Qin thanks to its diplomatic arts and military strength unified China. All other states perceived Qin as a threat. Qin had perfect geographical position and remoteness of its capital from other states which was advantage for its defense. However it was a bit harder for them to launch long term conquest missions because of supplying army on distance. This was reason why Qin Kingdom had to use both diplomatic tricks and force too in order to achieve aims and become dominant power. Because of awareness of Qi, Chu and other minor states of Qin aims they wanted to create alliance. Diplomacy develops among enemies of Qin. When Qin after death of King Hui of Wei wanted to put Wei under its protectorate Qin, Chu, Yan , Zhao, Han and Wei created first vertical alliance against Qin in 319BC. Vertical alliance under terms of School of Diplomacy meant alliance of states from north to south. Horizontal one was from west to east states. Qi and Chu couldn’t agree on who will lead campaign against Qin and Qi decided not to enter war. In 318BC Vertical Alliance attacked Qin but their attack was stopped by Qin armies in battle at Hangu pass. It didn’t only restore supremacy of Qin over Wei but also Qin took some territories of Han. In 302BC year allliance dissolved with death of Su Qin a diplomat who organized First Vertical Alliance. Soon there was formed First Horizontal Alliance between Qin and Chu. It was step of Qin in order to gain neighbors while they solve internal crisis among clans. Qin promised Chu to return its former territories if Chu agrees to form horizontal alliance. Than Qi realized that it cannt on its own with a bit weaker states struggle against Qin and Chu and joined their alliance in 302BC. They made agreement on creating alliance of 3 great powers in order to maintain balance. As a gesture of strengthening alliance Qi sent to Qin Lord Mengchang a talented politician who became minister of Qin. Alliance was strengthened also by marriage of Qin princess with Qi King Min. After few years Lord Mengchang escaped from Qin after attempt of murder and run away to Wei and this led to end of alliance. Suddenly occurred second vertical alliance of Qi with former allies. It was formed because of influence of Cu Dai an agent from Yan as he persuaded King Min of Qi that in planned allied offensive of Qin and Qi on Zhao state only Qin will benefit. So in 286BC alliance defeated Qin and Qin had to return some territories to Wei and Zhao. Qi occupied Song state. Second horizontal alliance was formed soon. This time it was against Qi. Because of previous success Wei, Han and Yan got afraid of Qi. Under leadership of Qin Qi was defeated severely and its territory was reduced to only two towns. King Xiang of Qi restored some of its territories but Kingdom of Qi was never so strong and influential like before. In next chapter we will speak about final battles and unification of China.
Society and culture during Warring States Period
Despite wars many achievements in trade, economy and science were accomplished. Irrigation was developing even further. It was expanded to rivers of todays Sichuan province. Iron production increased drastically. Mostly iron was produced because of need of military. Unstable situation and war demanded more iron for production of weapons. Trade was also expanding to western areas of todays China. Chinese culture expanded westwards.
When it comes to social structure it started to change slightly. Noblemen lose so much power as feudal masters. They were usually blamed for usurpations during war. So in order to better control them rulers of major states centralized more power and installed bureaucratization.
Literature was developing also. Since it was war period many books on war techniques appeared. One of most famous is “Art of War” based on teachings and ideas of Sun Tzu who lived in previous period. His followers collected his ideas into one book. Except that most significant literal work was Analects. It is one of first written evidences of life of Confucius. His main ideas were gathered in this book by his followers. First part of Analects was finished during this period and another part during Han dynasty. Part of Analects was written by Confucius follower Mencius known as Meng Ke in China. Bamboo slips started to be used in writing and painting too. Calligraphy develops too.
Philosophy was blooming. Among best proofs of development of philosophy was Mencius work. Mencius lived between 372BC and 289BC. Mencius and other Confucians were speaking about morality, hierarchy, respect, worshiping ancestors and praying for mandate of Heaven. They preached around against wars and need of harmonious society. Mencius suggested focus on morality, self-discipline and family.
Taoism was still not developed as wide-spread and organized movement. Followers of Lao Tzu functioned on individual base or on base of smaller sects. They promoted mysticism focus on nature, spiritualism focus on natural phenomena and harmony with nature and between people. Taoism didn’t want to interfere in state affairs as they saw it unnecessary for them and not of their business. Thus they don’t have clear concept about state they just wanted peace and they believed that state is for statesmen. Focus was on nature, longevity, morality, family, love, balance and happiness. Taoists operated as individual shamans, fortune tellers and astrologists focused on balance between elements and its relation to lives of people. Also they practiced retreats to nature. Meditation and other breathing techniques became common among Taoists. However one important book appeared during this period that became one of core texts of Taoist literature. It was Zhuangzu written by Master Zhuang( Zhuangzi). Master Zhuang lived between 369BC and 286BC. His work is collection of anecdotes and stories but there are some speculations that he didn’t write this but his disciples. One of most famous stories from this book is about Zhuangzis dream that he is a butterfly and when he woke up he was thinking if he was Zhuangzi dreaming butterfly or if he is butterfly dreaming that he is Zhuangtzi. Zhuangtzi is most important Taoist book after Tao Te Qing.
Other two important schools appeared in Warring States Period. They are Moism and Legalism. These two schools can be seen as response in two different ways to massive wars. Moism was founded by Mo Tzu( 470BC-390BC) He and his followers promoted love, equality among all humans and breaching barriers between classes of people that is based on strict hierarchy. Moists considered importance of charity and compassion and were against wars except if it was defensive war. They believed that emperors mandate of Heaven is nonsense and believed that emperor should serve people. Moists believed that despite you pray or not everything depends on your actions and if you are good and moral you will be rewarded by Heaven if not you will be punished. This school had little followers and was assimilated with Taoism later at end of 3rd century BC. Legalism is school that taught rule of law. Founders of legal philosophy were mentioned Shang Yang and Han Feizi. They considered that there is no place for morality, traditions and rituals in the state. Legalists strictly divided state from religion, worship and family affairs. This philosophy widely focused on state same as Confucius but unlike him they didn’t support worships and ceremonies as part of state. Also legalists considered that ruler must be very talented in order to succeed. They promoted unification of China and considered that it will bring order, peace and stability. Legalists considered importance of ranks rather than on inheriting position or land. Loyalty to ruler and strict rule were promoted. Legalists teaching considers reward for loyalty and punishment for crimes in society. Legalists saw supreme ruler as capable and one who should use even force for higher purpose of stability, prosperity and rule of law. They said that law must be above even the ruler. Ruler can write law but must obey it this was their principle. Thanks to this school China was unified and this school together with Confucianism played important role in creating concept of Chinese statehood. Various philosophies and teachings were recorded in a book Hundred Schools of Thought.