Spring and Autumn Period
The Spring and Autumn Period (ch 春秋時代 pinyin chun1 qiu1 shi2 dai4) represented an era between 722 BC and 481 BC and was coined after the Annals of Spring and Autumn that chronicles it. Power became decentralized; rigorous annexations, battles and assimilations of states were typical of this period. Slow crumbling of nobility encouraged widespread literacy as a result, which blossomed into freedom of thought and technological advancement. It is followed by Warring States Period.
The Annals of Spring and Autumn was the chronicle of the state of Lu beginning in 722 BC until 481 BC. It covers not only annual events of Lu itself but also of the major states of Qi, Jin, Qin and Chu that dominated the politics of these three centuries. The naming of this article reflected some characteristics of agricultural society, as only first three seasons were useful to the peasants - sowing in spring and harvest in autumn. Winter was basically a resting season, thus not counted into a year.
The period started as the crown prince Ji Yijiu escaped the fall of Hao, capital of Western Zhou Dynasty, from the sack of western barbarian tribes. During the flight from the western capital to the east, the Zhou king relied on nearby lords of Qin, Chang and Jin to bodyguard and fight off harassing attack from the barbarians and rebellious lords. He moved his capital from Zongzhou (Hao) to Chengzhou (today Loyang) in the Yellow River valley.
The fleeing Zhou elite had no strong foothold in the eastern territories; even the crown prince's coronation had to be supported by those states to be successful. With his domain greatly reduced, now only included Loyang and nearby area, the Zhou court can no longer support a standing six groups of troops (liu jun 六軍). Subsequent Zhou kings had to request help from neighboring or powerful states not only to protect themselves from raids but also to solve internal power struggles. The Zhou court would never revamp its original authority and were merely a figurehead of the feudal states. Though remained as mandate of heaven, the title had nothing more to do than to worship ancestors.
The first nobility to help the Zhou kings was the Duke Zhuang of Chang (r. 743 BC-701 BC). He was the first to establish the hegemonial system (ba 霸), which was intended to keep up the old proto-feudal system. Traditional historians claimed it as protection of the weaker civilized states and the Zhou royalty from the intruding "barbarian" tribes from the south, north, east and west, respectively (Man, Yi, Rong, Di). All so-called "civilized" people, however, lived along with the so-called "barbarians" and the states in fact comprised of substantial mix of multi-ethnicity -- 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).
Eagerness of stability for continuous aristocratic privileges was more fundamental than traditional ideology of supporting the weak ruling entity during times of unrest (匡扶社稷 kuang fu she ji), which had been widely propagated during imperial China to consolidate the ruling family.
Dukes Huan of Qi (r. 685 BC-643 BC) and Wen of Jin (r. 636 BC-628 BC) made a step further in installing the system of overlordship, which brought relatively stable but short period than before. Annexations, however, did not halt but only favored several most prominent states including Qin, Jin, Qi and Chu. The protecting task of the overlord gradually lost its original intention to become a system of hegemony of one major state over weak satellites of Chinese and "barbarian" origin.
The attitude to aiding small states during internal quarrels changed regular interventions into political affairs to the advantage of the great states. Later overlords were mostly from these states. They proclaimed 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 better control over the dominion and taxation facilitated commerce and agriculture more than proto-feudalism.
The three states of Qin, Jin and Qi not only perfected their own strength but repelled the southern state of Chu whose rulers had proclaimed king and armies gradually intruded into the Yellow River Basin. Framing her as the "southern barbarian" (Chu Man) was merely a pretext to warn Chu not to intervene their respective spheres of influence. Chu diffusion was checked several times in three major battles with increasing violence - Battle of Cheng Pu, Battle of Bi and Battle of Yanling - and restorations of the states of Chen and Cai. Weaker states always had to comply orders in the midst of conflicts despite numerous fruitless self-strengthening reforms. Qi, Qin, Jin and Chu finally met for a disarmament conference in 579 BC where the other states essentially became satelittes.
During the relatively peaceful 6th century BC, the two coastal states in today Zhejiang, Wu and Yue emerged to prominence after substantial civilization. After defeating and banishing King Fucha of Wu, king Gou Jian of Yue (r. 496 BC-465 BC) became the last recognized overlord.
This peacetime was only setting the stage for the maelstrom of Warring States Period. All the four powerful states were in the midst of power struggles. Six elite landholding families waged war on each others 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 Period. In fact it officially started in 403 BC when the three remaining elite families in Jin - Zhao, Wei and Han - partitioned the state; the Zhou court, not able to stop their act in any way, recognized their authorities.
The Five Overlords of Spring and Autumn Period (春秋五霸 Chunqu Wu Ba) include:
- Duke Huan of Qi
- Duke Wen of Jin
- Duke Mu of Qin
- King Zhuang of Chu
- Duke Xiang of Song
- King Fu Cha of Wu
- King Gou Jian of Yue
The name following the name of the state is the capital.
List of Prominent states
List of Important figures
Bureaucrats or Officers
Entrepreneurs and Commercial personnel
Generals, military leaders and authors
Women and Beauties
See also: Hundred Schools of Thought
The name following the name of the state is the capital.