Warring States period
Warring States period (Chinese: 戰國時代; pinyin: Zhànguó
shídài) was an era in ancient Chinese history of intensive warfare
all around China with the goal of creating one Chinese Empire, as well
as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation, following the
Spring and Autumn period
Spring and Autumn period and concluding with the Qin wars of conquest
that saw the annexation of all other contender states, which
ultimately led to the Qin state's victory in 221 BC as the first
Chinese empire known as the Qin dynasty. Although different
scholars point toward different dates ranging from 481 BC to 403 BC as
the true beginning of the Warring States, Sima Qian's choice of 475 BC
is the most often cited. The Warring States era also overlaps with the
second half of the
Eastern Zhou dynasty, though the Chinese sovereign,
known as the king of Zhou, ruled merely as a figurehead and served as
a backdrop against the machinations of the warring states.
The "Warring States Period" derives its name from the Record of the
Warring States, a work compiled early in the Han dynasty.
Much later, Japanese historians—well versed in Chinese
culture—used the term
Warring States period
Warring States period for the Sengoku period
of their own history.
3 Background and formation
Partition of Jin (453–403 BC)
4 Early Warring States
4.1 The three Jins recognized (403–364 BC)
4.2 Qi resurgence under Tian (379–340 BC)
4.3 Wars of Wei
5 Dukes become kings
5.1 Qi and Wei become kings (344 BC)
Shang Yang reforms Qin (356–338 BC)
5.3 Wei defeated by Qin (341–340 BC)
5.4 Chu conquers Yue (334 BC)
5.5 Qin, Han and Yan become kings (325–323 BC)
5.6 Partition of Zhou (314 BC)
6 Horizontal and vertical alliances (334–249 BC)
Su Qin and the first vertical alliance (334–300 BC)
6.2 The first horizontal alliance (300–287 BC)
6.3 Su Dai and the second vertical alliance
6.4 The second horizontal alliance
6.5 Qin vs Zhao (278–260 BC)
6.6 End of
Zhou dynasty (256–249 BC)
7 Qin unites China (247–221 BC)
7.1 Conquest of Han
7.2 Conquest of Wei
7.3 Conquest of Chu
7.4 Conquest of Zhao and Yan
7.5 Conquest of Qi
8 Military theory and practice
8.1 Increasing scale of warfare
8.2 Military developments
8.3 Military thought
9 Culture and society
9.1 Nobles, bureaucrats and reformers
9.2 Sophisticated arithmetic
11 Economic developments
12 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
The political geography of the era was dominated by the Seven Warring
Qin located in the far west, with its core in the
Wei River Valley
Wei River Valley and
Guanzhong. This geographical position offered protection from the
other states but limited its initial influence.
The Three Jins Located in the center on the
Shanxi plateau were the
three successor states of Jin. These were:
Han south, along the Yellow River, controlling the approaches to Qin.
Wei located in the middle, roughly today's eastern Henan Province.
Zhao the northernmost of the three, roughly today's southern Hebei
Province as well as northern
Qi east, centred on the Shandong Peninsula
Chu south, with its core territory around the valleys of the Han River
and, later, the Yangtze River.
Yan northeast, centred on modern-day Beijing. Late in the period it
pushed northeast and began to occupy the Liaodong Peninsula
Besides these seven major states other smaller states survived into
the period. They include:
Royal territory of the Zhou king was near Luoyi in the Han area on the
Yue On the southeast coast near
Shanghai was the State of Yue, which
was highly active in the late Spring and Autumn era but was later
annexed by Chu.
Zhongshan Between the states of Zhao and Yan was the state of
Zhongshan, which was eventually annexed by Zhao in 296 BC.
Sichuan states: In the far southwest were the non-Zhou states of Ba
(east) and Shu (west). These ancient kingdoms were conquered by Qin
later in the period.
Other minor states: There were many minor states which were satellites
of the larger ones until they were absorbed. Many were in the Central
Plains between the three Jins (west) and Qi (east) and Chu to the
south. Some of the more important ones were Song, Lu, Zheng, Wey, Teng
The eastward flight of the Zhou court in 771 BC marks the start of the
Spring and Autumn period. No one single incident or starting point
inaugurated the Warring States era. The political situation of the
period represented a culmination of historical trends of conquest and
annexation which also characterised the Spring and Autumn period; as a
result there is some controversy as to the beginning of the era.
Proposed starting points include:
Proposed by Song-era historian Lü Zuqian, also known as Lü Bogong,
since this year marks the end of the Spring and Autumn Annals.
The author, Sima Qian, of Records of the Grand Historian, chose this
date as the inaugural year of King Yuan of Zhou.
Partition of Jin saw the dissolution/destruction of that key state
of the earlier period and the formation of three of the seven warring
states: Han, Zhao, and Wei.
The inaugural year of Zhou Kings starting with King Ai of Zhou.
The year when the Zhou court officially recognised Han, Zhao and Wei
as states. Author
Sima Guang of
Zizhi Tongjian (published 1084)
advocates this symbol of eroded Zhou authority as the start of the
Warring States era.
Background and formation
Warring States about early-4th century BC
Eastern Zhou Dynasty began to fall around 5th century BC. They had
to rely on other armies in other allied states because their military
rule no longer followed. Over 100 smaller states were made into 7
major states which included: Chu Han, Qin, Wei, Yan, and Zhao.
However, there eventually was a shift in alliances because each
state's ruler wanted to be independent in power. This caused over
hundreds of wars between the periods of 535-286 BCE. The victorious
state would have overall rule and control in China. 
The system of feudal states created by the
Western Zhou dynasty
underwent enormous changes after 771 BC with the flight of the Zhou
court to modern-day
Luoyang and the diminution of its relevance and
Spring and Autumn period
Spring and Autumn period led to a few states gaining power
at the expense of many others, the latter no longer able to depend on
central authority for legitimacy or protection. During the Warring
States period, many rulers claimed the
Mandate of Heaven
Mandate of Heaven to justify
their conquest of other states and spread their influence.
The struggle for hegemony eventually created a state system dominated
by several large states, such as Jin, Chu, Qin and Qi, while the
smaller states of the Central Plains tended to be their satellites and
tributaries. Other major states also existed, such as Wu and Yue in
the southeast. The last decades of the Spring and Autumn era were
marked by increased stability, as the result of peace negotiations
between Jin and Chu which established their respective spheres of
influence. This situation ended with the partition of Jin, whereby the
state was divided between the houses of Han, Zhao and Wei, and thus
enabled the creation of the seven major warring states.
Partition of Jin (453–403 BC)
Main article: Partition of Jin
The rulers of Jin had steadily lost political powers since the middle
of the 6th century BC to their nominally subordinate nobles and
military commanders, a situation arising from the traditions of the
Jin which forbade the enfeoffment of relatives of the ducal house.
This allowed other clans to gain fiefs and military authority, and
decades of internecine struggle led to the establishment of four major
families, the Han, Zhao, Wei and Zhi.
Battle of Jinyang saw the allied Han, Zhao and Wei destroy the Zhi
family (453 BC) and their lands were distributed among them. With
this, they became the "de facto" rulers of most of Jin's territory,
though this situation would not be officially recognised until half a
century later. The Jin division created a political vacuum that
enabled during the first 50 years expansion of Chu and Yue northward
and Qi southward. Qin increased its control of the local tribes and
began its expansion southwest to Sichuan.
Early Warring States
The three Jins recognized (403–364 BC)
Tomb Guardian (300 BC) held at Birmingham Museum of Art
In 403 BC, the Zhou court under King Weilie officially recognized
Zhao, Wei and Han as immediate vassals, thereby raising them to the
same rank as the other warring states.
From before 405 until 383 the three Jins were united under the
leadership of Wei and expanded in all directions. The most important
Marquess Wen of Wei
Marquess Wen of Wei (445–396). In 408–406 he conquered
the State of Zhongshan to the northeast on the other side of Zhao. At
the same time he pushed west across the
Yellow River to the Luo River
taking the area of Xihe (literally 'west of the [Yellow] river').
The growing power of Wei caused Zhao to back away from the alliance.
In 383 it moved its capital to
Handan and attacked the small state of
Wey. Wey appealed to Wei which attacked Zhao on the western side.
Being in danger, Zhao called in Chu. As usual, Chu used this as a
pretext to annex territory to its north, but the diversion allowed
Zhao to occupy a part of Wei. This conflict marked the end of the
power of the united Jins and the beginning a period of shifting
alliances and wars on several fronts.
In 376 BC, the states of Han, Wei and Zhao deposed Duke Jing of Jin
and divided the last remaining Jin territory between themselves, which
marked the final end of the Jin state.
In 370 BC,
Marquess Wu of Wei died without naming a successor, which
led to a war of succession. After three years of civil war, Zhao from
the north and Han from the south invaded Wei. On the verge of
conquering Wei, the leaders of Zhao and Han fell into disagreement
about what to do with Wei, and both armies abruptly retreated. As a
King Hui of Wei (still a Marquess at the time) was able to
ascend the throne of Wei.
By the end of the period Zhao extended from the
Shanxi plateau across
the plain to the borders of Qi. Wei reached east to Qi, Lu and Song.
To the south, the weaker state of Han held the east-west part of the
Yellow River valley, surrounded the Zhou royal domain at
held an area north of
Luoyang called Shangdang.
Qi resurgence under Tian (379–340 BC)
A carved-jade dragon garment ornament from the Warring States period
Duke Kang of Qi died in 379 BC with no heir from the house of Jiang,
which had ruled Qi since the state's founding. The throne instead
passed to the future King Wei, from the house of Tian. The Tian had
been very influential at court towards the end of Jiang rule, and now
openly assumed power.
The new ruler set about reclaiming territories that had been lost to
other states. He launched a successful campaign against Zhao, Wey and
Wei, once again extending Qi territory to the Great Wall. Sima Qian
writes that the other states were so awestruck that nobody dared
attack Qi for more than 20 years. The demonstrated military prowess
also had a calming effect on Qi's own population, which experienced
great domestic tranquility during Wei's reign.
By the end of King Wei's reign, Qi had become the strongest of the
states and proclaimed itself "king"; establishing independence from
Zhou dynasty (see below).
Wars of Wei
A jade-carved huang with two dragon heads, Warring States, Shanghai
King Hui of Wei (370–319 BC) set about restoring the state. In
362–359 BC he exchanged territories with Han and Zhao in order to
make the boundaries of the three states more rational.
In 364 BC Wei was defeated by Qin at the Battle of Shimen and was only
saved by the intervention of Zhao. Qin won another victory in 362 BC.
In 361 BC the Wei capital was moved east to Daliang to be out of the
reach of Qin.
In 354 BC,
King Hui of Wei started a large-scale attack on Zhao. By
353 BC, Zhao was losing badly and its capital, Handan, was under
siege. The State of Qi intervened. The famous Qi strategist, Sun Bin
the great-great-great-grandson of
Sun Tzu (author of the Art of War),
proposed to attack the Wei capital while the Wei army was tied up
besieging Zhao. The strategy was a success; the Wei army hastily moved
south to protect its capital, was caught on the road and decisively
defeated at the Battle of Guiling. The battle is remembered in the
second of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, "besiege Wei, save Zhao" meaning
to attack a vulnerable spot to relieve pressure at another point.
Domestically, King Hui patronized philosophy and the arts, and is
perhaps best remembered for hosting the Confucian philosopher Meng Zi
at his court; their conversations form the first two chapters of the
book which bears Meng Zi's name.
Dukes become kings
Painting on silk depicting a man riding a dragon from Zidanku Tomb no.
1 in Changsha,
Hunan Province (5th-3rd century BC).
Qi and Wei become kings (344 BC)
The title of "king" (wang, 王) was held by figurehead rulers of the
Zhou dynasty, while the rulers of most states held the title of "duke"
(gong, 公) or "marquess" (hou, 侯). A major exception was Chu, whose
rulers were called kings since
King Wu of Chu
King Wu of Chu started using the title
c. 703 BC.
In 344 BC the rulers of Qi and Wei mutually recognized each other as
King Wei of Qi and King Hui of Wei, in effect declaring their
independence from the Zhou court. This marked a major turning point:
unlike those in the Spring and Autumn period, the new generation of
rulers ascending the thrones in the
Warring States period
Warring States period would not
entertain even the pretence of being vassals of the Zhou dynasty,
instead proclaiming themselves fully independent kingdoms.
Shang Yang reforms Qin (356–338 BC)
Bianzhong of Marquis Yi of Zeng, a set of bronze bianzhong
percussion instruments from the
Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng
Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in Hubei
province (433 BC).
During the early
Warring States period
Warring States period Qin generally avoided conflicts
with the other states. This changed during the reign of Duke Xiao,
when prime minister
Shang Yang made centralizing and authoritarian
reforms in accordance with his Legalist philosophy between the years
356 and 338 BC.
Shang introduced land reforms, privatized land, rewarded farmers who
exceeded harvest quotas, enslaved farmers who failed to meet quotas,
and used enslaved subjects as rewards for those who met government
policies. As manpower was short in Qin relative to the other states at
the time, Shang enacted policies to increase its manpower. As Qin
peasants were recruited into the military, he encouraged active
immigration of peasants from other states into Qin as a replacement
workforce; this policy simultaneously increased the manpower of Qin
and weakened the manpower of Qin's rivals.
Shang made laws forcing citizens to marry at a young age and passed
tax laws to encourage raising multiple children. He also enacted
policies to free convicts who worked in opening wastelands for
agriculture. Shang abolished primogeniture and created a double tax on
households that had more than one son living in the household, to
break up large clans into nuclear families. Shang also moved the
capital to reduce the influence of nobles on the administration.
The rise of Qin was recognized by the royal court, and in 343 BC the
king conferred the title of hegemon on Duke Xiao. As was customary for
the designated hegemon, the duke hosted a conference of all the feudal
lords, although it did not lead to any lasting peace.
After the reforms Qin became much more aggressive. In 340 Qin took
land from Wèi after it had been defeated by Qi. In 316 Qin conquered
Shu and Ba in
Sichuan to the southwest. Development of this area took
a long time but slowly added greatly to Qin's wealth and power.
Wei defeated by Qin (341–340 BC)
In 341 BC, Wei attacked Han. Qi allowed Han to be nearly defeated and
then intervened. The generals from the
Battle of Guiling
Battle of Guiling met again
Sun Bin and
Tian Ji versus Pang Juan), using the same tactic,
attacking Wei's capital.
Sun Bin feigned a retreat and then turned on
the overconfident Wei troops and decisively defeated them at the
Battle of Maling. After the battle all three of the Jin successor
states appeared before King Xuan of Qi, pledging their loyalty.
In the following year Qin attacked the weakened Wei. Wei was
devastatingly defeated and ceded a large part of its territory in
return for truce. With Wei severely weakened, Qi and Qin became the
dominant states in China.
Wei came to rely on Qi for protection, with
King Hui of Wei meeting
King Xuan of Qi on two occasions. After Hui's death, his successor
King Xiang also established a good relationship with his Qi
counterpart, with both promising to recognize the other as "king".
Chu conquers Yue (334 BC)
Main article: Chu (state)
A Warring States bronze ding vessel with gold and silver inlay
A lacquerware painting from the
Jingmen Tomb (Chinese: 荊門楚墓;
Pinyin: Jīngmén chǔ mù) of the
State of Chu
State of Chu (704–223 BC),
depicting men wearing precursors to
Hanfu (i.e. traditional silk
dress) and riding in a two-horsed chariot
Early in the Warring States period, Chu was one of the strongest
states in China. The state rose to a new level of power around 389 BC
King Dao of Chu (楚悼王) named the famous reformer
Wu Qi as
Chu rose to its peak in 334 BC, when it conquered Yue to its east on
the Pacific coast. The series of events leading up to this began when
Yue prepared to attack Qi to its north. The King of Qi sent an
emissary who persuaded the King of Yue to attack Chu instead. Yue
initiated a large-scale attack at Chu but was defeated by Chu's
counter-attack. Chu then proceeded to conquer Yue.
Qin, Han and Yan become kings (325–323 BC)
King Xian of Zhou had attempted to use what little royal prerogrative
he had left by appointing the dukes Xian (384-362 BC), Xiao (361-338
BC) and Hui (338-311 BC) of Qin as hegemons, thereby in theory making
Qin the chief ally of the court.
However, in 325 the confidence of Duke Hui grew so great that he
proclaimed himself "king" of Qin; adopting the same title as the king
of Zhou and thereby effectively proclaiming independence from the Zhou
King Hui of Qin was guided by his prime minister Zhang Yi,
a prominent representative of the School of Diplomacy.
He was followed in 323 BC by
King Huanhui of Han and King Xi of Yan,
as well as King Cuo of the minor state Zhongshan. In 318 BC, even
the ruler of Song, a relatively minor state, declared himself king.
Partition of Zhou (314 BC)
King Kao of Zhou had enfeoffed his younger brother as Duke Huan of
Henan. Three generations later this cadet branch of the royal house
began calling themselves "Dukes of East Zhou".
Upon the ascension of King Nan in 314 BC, East Zhou became an
independent state. The king came to reside in what became known as
Horizontal and vertical alliances (334–249 BC)
Rectangular lacquered shield from the Warring States Period. Found in
Baoshan Tomb 2, Jingmen.
An iron sword and two bronze swords dated to the Warring States period
Towards the end of the Warring States period, the Qin state became
disproportionately powerful compared with 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. One school advocated a 'vertical' or north-south alliance
called hezong (合縱/合纵) in which the states would ally with each
other to repel Qin. The other advocated a 'horizontal' or east-west
alliance called lianheng (連橫/连横) in which a state would ally
with Qin to participate in its ascendancy.
There were some initial successes in hezong, though mutual suspicions
between allied states led to the breakdown of such alliances. Qin
repeatedly exploited the horizontal alliance strategy to defeat the
states one by one. During this period, many philosophers and
tacticians travelled around the states, recommending that the rulers
put their respective ideas into use. These "lobbyists," such as Su Qin
(who advocated vertical alliances) and Zhang Yi (who advocated
horizontal alliances), were famous for their tact and intellect, and
were collectively known as the School of Diplomacy, whose Chinese name
(縱橫家, literally 'the school of the vertical and horizontal') was
derived from the two opposing ideas.
Su Qin and the first vertical alliance (334–300 BC)
Beginning in 334 BC, the diplomat
Su Qin spent years visiting the
courts of Yan, Zhao, Han, Wei, Qi and Chu and persuaded them to form a
united front against Qin. In 318 BC all states except Qi launched a
joint attack on Qin, which however was not successful.
King Hui of Qin died in 311 BC, followed by prime minister Zhang Yi
one year later. The new monarch, King Wu, reigned only four years
before dying without legitimate heirs. Some damaging turbulence ensued
throughout 307 BC before a son of King Hui by a concubine (i.e. a
younger half-brother of King Wu) could be established as King Zhao,
who in stark contrast to his predecessor went on to rule for an
unprecedented 53 years.
After the failure of the first vertical alliance,
Su Qin eventually
came to live in Qi, where he was favored by King Xuan and drew the
envy of the ministers. An assassination attempt in 300 BC left Su
mortally wounded but not dead. Sensing death approaching, he advised
the newly crowned King Min have him publicly executed to draw out the
assassins. King Min complied with Su's request and killed him, putting
an end to the first generation of Vertical alliance thinkers.
The first horizontal alliance (300–287 BC)
A bronze statue of a seated man, from the State of Yue, Warring States
King Min of Qi came to be highly influenced by Lord Mengchang, a
grandson of the former King Wei of Qi. Lord Mengchang made a westward
alliance with the States of Wei and Han. In the far west, Qin, which
had been weakened by a succession struggle in 307, yielded to the new
coalition and appointed Lord Mengchang its chief minister. The
alliance between Qin and Qi was sealed by a Qin princess marrying King
Min. This "horizontal" or east-west alliance might have secured
peace except that it excluded the State of Zhao.
Around 299 BC, the ruler of Zhao became the last of the seven major
states to proclaim himself "king".
In 298 BC Zhao offered Qin an alliance and Lord Mengchang was driven
out of Qin. The remaining three allies, Qi, Wei and Han, attacked Qin,
driving up the
Yellow River below
Shanxi to the Hangu Pass. After 3
years of fighting they took the pass and forced Qin to return
territory to Han and Wei. They next inflicted major defeats on Yan and
Chu. During the 5-year administration of Lord Mengchang, Qi was the
major power in China.
In 294 BC Lord Mengchang was implicated in a coup d'etat and fled to
Wei. His alliance system collapsed. Qi and Qin made a truce and
pursued their own interests. Qi moved south against the State of Song
whilst the Qin General
Bai Qi pushed back eastward against a Han/Wei
alliance, gaining victory at the Battle of Yique.
In 288 BC
King Zhao of Qin and
King Min of Qi took the title "Di",
(帝 literally emperor), of the west and east respectively. They swore
a covenant and started planning an attack on Zhao.
Su Dai and the second vertical alliance
In 287 BC Su Dai, the younger brother of Su Qin and possibly an
agent of Yan, persuaded King Min that the Zhao war would only benefit
Qin. King Min agreed and formed a 'vertical' alliance with the other
states against Qin. Qin backed off, abandoned the presumptuous title
of "Di", and restored territory to Wei and Zhao. In 286 Qi annexed the
state of Song.
The second horizontal alliance
In 285 BC the success of Qi had frightened the other states. Under the
leadership of Lord Mengchang, who was exiled in Wei, Qin, Zhao, Wei
and Yan formed an alliance. Yan had normally been a relatively weak
ally of Qi and Qi feared little from this quarter. Yan's onslaught
Yue Yi came as a devastating surprise. Simultaneously,
the other allies attacked from the west. Chu declared itself an ally
of Qi but contented itself with annexing some territory to its north.
Qi's armies were destroyed while the territory of Qi was reduced to
the two cities of Ju and Jimo. King Min himself was later captured and
executed by his own followers.
King Min was succeeded by King Xiang in 283 BC. His general Tian Dan
was eventually able to restore much of Qi's territory, but it never
regained the influence it had under King Min.
Qin vs Zhao (278–260 BC)
Seven Warring States
Seven Warring States late in the period
Qin has expanded southwest, Chu north and Zhao northwest
Bai Qi of Qin attacked from Qin's new (from 316) territory in
Sichuan to the west of Chu. The capital of Ying was captured and Chu's
western lands on the Han River were lost. The effect was to shift Chu
significantly to the east.
After Chu was defeated in 278, the remaining great powers were Qin in
the west and Zhao in the north-center. There was little room for
diplomatic maneuver and matters were decided by war in 265–260. Zhao
had been much strengthened by
King Wuling of Zhao
King Wuling of Zhao (325–299). In 307
he enlarged his cavalry by copying the northern nomads. In 306 he took
more land in the northern
Shanxi plateau. In 305 he defeated the
northeastern border state of Zhongshan. In 304 he pushed far to the
northwest and occupied the east-west section of the
Yellow River in
the north of the Ordos Loop. King Huiwen of Zhao (298–266) chose
able servants and expanded against the weakened Qi and Wei. In 296 his
Lian Po defeated two Qin armies.
In 269 BC Fan Sui became chief advisor to Qin. He advocated
authoritarian reforms, irrevocable expansion and an alliance with
distant states to attack nearby states (the twenty-third of the
Thirty-Six Stratagems). His maxim "attack not only the territory, but
also the people" enunciated a policy of mass slaughter that became
increasingly frequent.
King Zhaoxiang of Qin made the first move by attacking the weak
state of Han which held the
Yellow River gateway into Qin. He moved
northeast across Wei territory to cut off the Han exclave of Shangdang
Luoyang and south of Zhao. The Han king agreed to surrender
Shangdang, but the local governor refused and presented it to King
Xiaocheng of Zhao. Zhao sent out
Lian Po who based his armies at
Changping and Qin sent out general Wang He.
Lian Po was too wise to
risk a decisive battle with the Qin army and remained inside his
fortifications. Qin could not break through and the armies were locked
in stalemate for three years. The Zhao king decided that
Lian Po was
not aggressive enough and sent out
Zhao Kuo who promised a decisive
battle. At the same time Qin secretly replaced Wang He with the
notoriously violent Bai Qi. When
Zhao Kuo left his fortifications, Bai
Qi used a Cannae maneuver, falling back in the center and surrounding
the Zhao army from the sides. After being surrounded for 46 days, the
starving Zhao troops surrendered in September 260 BC. It is said that
Bai Qi had all the prisoners killed and that Zhao lost 400,000 men.
Qin was too exhausted to follow up its victory. Some time later it
sent an army to besiege the Zhao capital but the army was destroyed
when it was attacked from the rear. Zhao survived, but there was no
longer a state that could resist Qin on its own. The other states
could have survived if they remained united against Qin, but they did
Zhou dynasty (256–249 BC)
The forces of
King Zhao of Qin defeated
King Nan of Zhou and conquered
West Zhou in 256 BC, claiming the Nine Cauldrons and thereby
symbolically becoming The Son of Heaven.
King Zhao's exceptionally long reign ended in 251 BC. His son King
Xiaowen, already an old man, died just three days after his coronation
and was succeeded by his son King Zhuangxiang of Qin. The new Qin king
proceeded to conquer East Zhou, seven years after the fall of West
Zhou. Thus the 800-year Zhou dynasty, nominally China's longest-ruling
regime, finally came to an end.
Sima Qian contradicts himself regarding the ultimate fate of the East
Zhou court. Chapter 4 (The Annals of Zhou) concludes with the sentence
"thus the sacrifices of Zhou ended", but in the following chapter 5
(The Annals of Qin) we learn that "Qin did not prohibit their
sacrifices; the Lord of Zhou was allotted a patch of land in Yangren
where he could continue his ancestral sacrifices".
Qin unites China (247–221 BC)
Animated map of the Warring States period
Unification of Qin from 230 BC to 211 BC
Main article: Qin's wars of unification
King Zhuangxiang of Qin ruled for only three years. He was succeeded
by his son Zheng, who unlike the two elderly kings that preceded him
was only 13 years old at his coronation. As an adult Zheng would turn
out to be a brilliant commander who, in the span of just nine years,
Conquest of Han
In 230 BC, Qin conquered Han. Han, the weakest of the Seven
Warring States, was adjacent to the much stronger Qin, and had
suffered continuous assaults by Qin in earlier years of the Warring
States period. This went on until Emperor
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang sent general
Wang Jian to attack Zhao. King An of Han, frightened by the thought
that Han would be the next target of the Qin state, immediately sent
diplomats to surrender the entire kingdom without a fight, saving the
Han populace from the terrible potential consequences of an
Conquest of Wei
In 225 BC, Qin conquered Wei. The Qin army led a direct invasion into
Wei by besieging its capital Daliang but soon realized that the city
walls were too tough to break into. They devised a new strategy in
which they utilized the power of a local river that was linked to the
Yellow River. The river was used to flood the city's walls, causing
massive devastation to the city. Upon realizing the situation, King
Jia of Wei hurriedly came out of the capital and surrendered it to the
Qin army in order to avoid further bloodshed of his people.
Conquest of Chu
A drinking cup carved from crystal, unearthed at Banshan, Hangzhou,
Warring States period,
In 223 BC, Qin conquered Chu. The first invasion was however an utter
disaster when 200,000 Qin troops, led by the inexperienced general, Li
Xin, were defeated by 500,000 Chu troops in the unfamiliar territory
of Huaiyang, modern-day northern
Anhui provinces. Xiang
Yan, the Chu commander, had lured Qin by allowing a few initial
victories, but then counterattacked and burnt two large Qin camps.
The following year, Wang Jian was recalled to lead a second invasion
with 600,000 men. High in morale after their victory in the previous
year, the Chu forces were content to sit back and defend against what
they expected to be a siege of Chu. However, Wang Jian decided to
weaken Chu's resolve and tricked the Chu army by appearing to be idle
in his fortifications whilst secretly training his troops to fight in
Chu territory. After a year, the Chu defenders decided to disband due
to apparent lack of action from the Qin. Wang Jian invaded at that
point, with full force, and overran Huaiyang and the remaining Chu
forces. Chu lost the initiative and could only sustain local
guerrilla-style resistance until it too was fully conquered with the
destruction of Shouchun and the death of its last leader, Lord
Changping, in 223 BC. At their peak, the combined armies of Chu and
Qin are estimated to have ranged from hundreds of thousands to a
million soldiers, more than those involved in the campaign of
Changping between Qin and Zhao 35 years earlier.
Conquest of Zhao and Yan
In 222 BC, Qin conquered Zhao and Yan. After the conquest of Zhao, the
Qin army turned its attention towards Yan. Realizing the danger and
gravity of this situation,
Crown Prince Dan of Yan had sent
Jing Ke to
assassinate King Zheng of Qin, but this failure only helped to fuel
the rage and determination of the Qin king, and he increased the
number of troops to conquer the Yan state.
Conquest of Qi
In 221 BC, Qin conquered Qi. Qi was the final unconquered warring
state. It had not previously contributed or helped other states when
Qin was conquering them. As soon as Qin's intention to invade it
became clear, Qi swiftly surrendered all its cities, completing the
unification of China and ushering in the Qin dynasty. The last Qi king
lived out his days in exile in Gong and was not given a posthumous
name after death, therefore he is known to posterity by his personal
The Qin king Zheng declared himself Qin Shi Huangdi, “The first
Sovereign Emperor of Qin".
In the rule of the Qin state, the union was based solely on military
power. The feudal holdings were abolished, and noble families were
forced to live in the capital of China, Xianyang in order to be
supervised. A national road as well as greater use of canals was used
in order for deployment and supply of the army to be done with ease
and speed. The peasants were given a wider range of rights in regards
of land, although they were subject to taxation, creating a large
amount of revenue to the state.
Military theory and practice
Iron sword of the Period of Warring States.
A Chinese soldier's bronze helmet, from the State of Yan, dated to the
Model of a
Warring States period
Warring States period traction trebuchet.
Increasing scale of warfare
The chariot remained a major factor in Chinese warfare long after it
went out of fashion in the Middle East. Near the beginning of the
Warring States period
Warring States period there is a shift from chariots to massed
infantry, possibly associated with the invention of the crossbow. This
had two major effects. First it led the dukes to weaken their
chariot-riding nobility so they could get direct access to the
peasantry who could be drafted as infantry. This change was associated
with the shift from aristocratic to bureaucratic government. Second,
it led to a massive increase in the scale of warfare. When the Zhou
overthrew the Shang at the
Battle of Muye
Battle of Muye they used 45,000 troops and
300 chariots. For the
Warring States period
Warring States period the following figures for
the military strengths of various states are reported:
1,000,000 infantry, 1,000 chariots, 10,000 horses;
200–360,000 infantry, 200,000 spearmen, 100,000 servants, 600
chariots, 5,000 cavalry;
several hundred thousand;
For major battles, the following figures are reported:
Battle of Maling
Battle of Yique
Bai Qi is said to have been responsible for 890,000 enemy
deaths over his career.
Many scholars think these numbers are exaggerated (records are
inadequate, they are much larger than those from similar societies,
soldiers were paid by the number of enemies they killed and the Han
dynasty had an interest in exaggerating the bloodiness of the age
before China was unified). Regardless of exaggeration, it seems clear
that warfare had become excessive during this period. The bloodshed
and misery of the
Warring States period
Warring States period goes a long way in explaining
China's traditional preference for a united throne.
Warring States period
Warring States period saw the introduction of many innovations to
the art of warfare in China, such as the use of iron and of cavalry.
Warfare in the
Warring States period
Warring States period evolved considerably from the
Spring and Autumn period, as most armies made use of infantry and
cavalry in battles, and the use of chariots became less widespread.
The use of massed infantry made warfare bloodier and reduced the
importance of the aristocracy, which in turn made the kings more
despotic. From this period onward, as the various states competed with
each other by mobilizing their armies to war, nobles in China belonged
to the literate class, rather than to the warrior class as had
previously been the case.
The various states fielded massive armies of infantry, cavalry, and
chariots. Complex logistical systems maintained by efficient
government bureaucracies were needed to supply, train, and control
such large forces. The size of the armies ranged from tens of
thousands to several hundred thousand men. Iron became more
widespread and began to replace bronze. Most armour and weapons of
this period were made from iron.
The first official native Chinese cavalry unit was formed in 307 BC
during the military reforms of King Wuling of Zhao, who advocated
'Nomadic dress and horse archery'. But the war chariot still
retained its prestige and importance, despite the tactical superiority
The crossbow was the preferred long-range weapon of this period, due
to several reasons. The crossbow could be mass-produced easily, and
mass training of crossbowmen was possible. These qualities made it a
powerful weapon against the enemy.
Infantrymen deployed a variety of weapons, but the most popular was
the dagger-axe. The dagger-axe came in various lengths, from 9 to 18
feet; the weapon consisted of a thrusting spear with a slashing blade
appended to it. Dagger-axes were an extremely popular weapon in
various kingdoms, especially for the Qin, who produced 18-foot-long
The Warring States was a great period for military strategy; of the
Seven Military Classics of China, four were written during this
The Art of War
It is attributed to Sun Tzu, a highly influential study of strategy
It is attributed to Wu Qi, a statesman and commander who served the
states of Wei and then Chu.
of uncertain authorship.
The Methods of the Sima
It is attributed to Sima Rangju, a commander serving the state of Qi.
Culture and society
A Chinese lacquerware drinking vessel (over wood), Warring States
period, Honolulu Museum of Art
A nephrite pendant in the shape of a man wearing silk robes, 5th-3rd
centuries BC, Warring States period, Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Warring States period
Warring States period was an era of intensive warfare all around
China, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation;
the major states, ruling over large territories, quickly sought to
consolidate their powers, leading to the final erosion of the Zhou
court's prestige. As a sign of this shift, the rulers of all the major
states (except for Chu, which had claimed kingly title much earlier)
abandoned their former feudal titles for the title of 王, or King,
claiming equality with the rulers of the Zhou.
At the same time, the constant conflict and need for innovative social
and political models led to the development of many philosophical
doctrines, later known as the Hundred Schools of Thought. The most
notable schools of thought include Mohism, expounded by Mozi;
Confucianism, represented by
Mencius and Xunzi, and Legalism,
represented by Shang Yang, Shen Buhai,
Shen Dao and Han Fei, and
Taoism, represented by Zhuangzhi and Lao Tzu.
The many states that were competing between each other attempted to
display their power not only militarily but in their courts and state
philosophy. Many differing rulers adopted the differing philosophies
in their own advantage or that of their kingdom.
Mencius attempted to instate
Confucianism as a state philosophy
through proposing that through the governing of moral principles like
benevolence and righteousness, the state would win popular support
from one state and those neighboring, eliminating the need of a war
Mencius had attempted to convince King Hui of Liang,
although was unsuccessful since the king saw no advantage in the
period of wars.
Mohism was developed by
Mozi (468–376 BC) and it provided a unified
moral and political philosophy based on impartiality and
benevolence. Mohists had the belief that people change depending
on environments around. The same was applied to rulers, which is why
one must be cautious of foreign influences.
Mozi was very much against
warfare, although he was a great tactician in defense. He defended the
small state of Song from many attempts of the Chu state.
Taoism was advocated by Laozi, and believed that human nature was good
and can achieve perfection by returning to original state. It believed
that like a baby, humans are simple and innocent although with
development of civilizations it lost its innocence only to be replaced
by fraud and greed. Contrarily to other schools, it did not want to
gain influence in the offices of states and Laozi even refused to be
in the minister of the state of Chu.
Legalism created by
Shang Yang in 338 BC, rejected all notions of
religion and practices, and believed a nation should be governed by
strict law. Not only were severe punishments applied, but they would
be grouped with the families and made mutually responsible for
criminal act. It proposed radical reforms, and established a society
based on solid ranks. Peasants were encouraged to practice agriculture
as occupation, and military performance was rewarded. Laws were also
applied to all ranks with no exception; even the king was not above
punishment. The philosophy was adapted by the Qin state and it created
it into a well-organized, centralized state with a bureaucracy chosen
on the basis of merit. This period is most famous for the
establishment of complex bureaucracies and centralized governments, as
well as a clearly established legal system. The developments in
political and military organization were the basis of the power of the
Qin state, which conquered the other states and unified them under the
Qin Empire in 221 BC.
Nobles, bureaucrats and reformers
The phenomenon of intensive warfare, based on mass formations of
infantry rather than the traditional chariots, was one major trend
which led to the creation of strong central bureaucracies in each of
the major states. At the same time, the process of secondary feudalism
which permeated the Spring and Autumn period, and led to such events
as the partition of Jin and the usurpation of Qi by the Tian clan, was
eventually reversed by the same process of bureaucratisation.
The reforms of
Shang Yang in Qin, and of
Wu Qi in Chu, both centred on
increased centralisation, the suppression of the nobility, and a
vastly increased scope of government based on Legalist ideals, which
were necessary to mobilise the large armies of the period.
The Tsinghua Bamboo Slips, containing the world's earliest decimal
multiplication table, dated 305 BC
A bundle of 21 bamboo slips from the Tsinghua collection dated to
305 BC are the worlds' earliest example of a two digit decimal
multiplication table, indicating that sophisticated commercial
arithmetic was already established during this period.
Rod numerals were used to represent both negative and positive
integers, and rational numbers, a true positional number system, with
a blank for zero dating back to the Warring States period.
An important literary achievement of the
Warring States period
Warring States period is the
Zuo Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, which summarizes the
preceding Spring and Autumn period. The less famous work Guoyu is
thought to be by the same author.
Many sayings of Spring and Autumn philosophers, which had previously
been circulated orally, were put into writing in the Warring States.
These include the
Analects and The Art of War.
Warring States period
Warring States period saw the proliferation of iron working in
China, replacing bronze as the dominant type of metal used in warfare.
Areas such as Shu (present-day Sichuan) and Yue (present-day Zhejiang)
were also brought into the Chinese cultural sphere during this time.
Trade also became important, and some merchants had considerable power
in politics, the most prominent of which was Lü Buwei, who rose to
become Chancellor of Qin and was a key supporter of the eventual Qin
At the same time, the increased resources of consolidated,
bureaucratic states, coupled with the logistical needs of mass levies
and large-scale warfare, led to the proliferation of economic projects
such as large-scale waterworks. Major examples of such waterworks
include the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, which controlled the Min
Sichuan and turned the former backwater region into a major
Qin logistical base, and the
Zhengguo Canal which irrigated large
areas of land in the
Guanzhong Plain, again increasing Qin's
Sengoku period - A period in Japanese history named after this period
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^ a b c Shi Ji, chapter 46
^ Shi Ji, chapter 16
^ a b c d e Shi Ji, chapter 4
^ a b Shi Ji, chapter 5
^ a b Shi Ji, chapter 69
^ ”MDBG”, Sökord: 战国策
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^ Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy, The Cambridge History of
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^ Ebrey, Walthall & Palais (2006), p. ?[page needed]
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^ Tzu & Griffith (1963), p. v.
^ a b Stephen G. Haw. “A traveller’s history of China. Interlink
Books”. (Canada 2008) Library of Congress. pp. 64–71
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of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
Retrieved 17 March 2017.
^ a b Lu & Ke (2012).
^ Nature The 2,300-year-old matrix is the world's oldest decimal
^ Unicodes 1D360—1D37F : Counting Rod Numerals
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