states in eastern China in the 8th century BC

Beginning in the 8th century B.C. the authority of the emperors degenerated and hundreds of warlords fought among themselves until seven major kingdoms prevailed. This led to the formulation of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-221 B.C.). The Spring and Autumn period (771-482 B.C.), the Warring States period (481-221 B.C.) and the Age of Philosophers and the China’s Classical Age (6th century to 3rd century B.C.) occurred within the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

The Spring and Autumn (722 to 476 B.C.) and Warring States (476 to 221 B.C.) periods though marked by disunity and civil strife, witnessed an unprecedented era of cultural prosperity--the "golden age" of China. The atmosphere of reform and new ideas was attributed to the struggle for survival among warring regional lords who competed in building strong and loyal armies and in increasing economic production to ensure a broader base for tax collection. To effect these economic, military, and cultural developments, the regional lords needed ever-increasing numbers of skilled, literate officials and teachers, the recruitment of whom was based on merit. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

Also during this time, commerce was stimulated through the introduction of coinage and technological improvements. Iron came into general use, making possible not only the forging of weapons of war but also the manufacture of farm implements. Public works on a grand scale--such as flood control, irrigation projects, and canal digging--were executed. Enormous walls were built around cities and along the broad stretches of the northern frontier. *

Historian Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins wrote: “As a result of the 500 years of intensive warfare that occurred during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period (the eastern Zhou dynasty, 711-211 B.C.), Chinese states formed and began to consolidate into a smaller number of larger polities. As a result of the desperate need to mobilize resources for war, they developed bureaucratic administrations that relied increasingly on impersonal administration rather than patrimonial recruitment that as typical of earlier periods of Chinese history."

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “China’s Classical age was a tumultuous era, filled with the dangers of constant civil war, political disruptions, and unpredictable social change. The intellectual elite of that period, who are the authors of all the textual records of that time, were anxious to search the past looking for political and ethical models that could help them extricate society from this era of crisis and chaos. The human past was for them as promising a field of study as the world of the natural sciences much later became for the West. At the same time, there was an urgent desire to make out a glimpse of the future, an almost millennial urge to see a new age of order emerge. These interests in history and the millennium were connected because the literate elite looked to the past as the key to their future. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Zhou Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ;

States, Hegemons and Rulers in the Spring and Autumn Period

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “At the beginning of the seventh century it became customary for the ruler to unite with the feudal lord who was most powerful at the time. This feudal lord became a dictator, and had the military power in his hands, like the shoguns in nineteenth-century Japan. If there was a disturbance of the peace, he settled the matter by military means. The first of these dictators was the feudal lord of the state of Qi (Ch'i), in the present province of Shandong. This feudal state had grown considerably through the conquest of the outer end of the peninsula of Shandong, which until then had been independent. Moreover, and this was of the utmost importance, the state of Qi was a trade centre. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

Dr. Eno wrote: “During the Spring and Autumn Period, which constitutes the early years of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771-221 B.C.), the region of the Chinese cultural sphere, which had been under the relatively strong control of the royal Zhou house during the Western Zhou period (1045-771 B.C.), was in the process of separating into distinct political units, joined by ties of language, history, and culture, but ruled independently by local patrician clans. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“These politically independent states continued to acknowledge the Zhou as the legitimate royal house, but in fact the Zhou rulers were merely the powerless princes of a small homeland, and the rulers of the largest of the patrician states competed to succeed to the actual power that had slipped from the hands of the Zhou. Later in the Eastern Zhou, these local patrician houses styled their leaders as “kings,” and openly aimed to succeed to the throne occupied by the Zhou and, in theory, bestowed by Heaven. But in the era from which this text is drawn, the great goal was for the ruler of a state to be acknowledged as “hegemon” of all the patrician states, an informal designation which signified an overlord whose force of personality, political organization, and military alliances made him the most powerful man among the states, and whose powers were nominally exercised on behalf of the figurehead ruler of the Zhou royal house. /+/

“The patrician states were the descendants of what are sometimes called “fiefs”: grants of land and people provided by the Zhou ruling house to its junior lineage branches and the clans of its loyal lieutenants. These grants were sometimes small, but in some cases they constituted huge regions with large numbers of indigenous peoples living on them. They were intended both as rewards and honors, and also as military outposts by means of which the central government could, through the loyalty of the families settled as rulers on these estates, maintain control over the vast area of China. This system is sometimes referred to as “Zhou feudalism,” but because the term feudalism is in many ways very misleading we will avoid it whenever possible, speaking of these lands not as “fiefs,” but as “estates” or, as they became increasingly independent, “states.” /+/

In late the Spring and Autumn Period, Jin and Chu were the most powerful states. Jin, a large state located in the north-central region of the Chinese cultural sphere as it then extended, was a powerful political force. From 632-628 B.C., the ruler of Jin had acted as the hegemon of the patrician lords. The power of Jin had continued to dominate China through the early sixth century B.C., but fell after that. In the middle of sixth century B.C., the massive state of Chu to the south, only partially “sinicized” (assimilated to Chinese culture), was the leading power.

Geographical and Economic Factors in the Summer and Autumn Period

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Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “In these disturbed times China also made changes in her outer frontiers. When we speak of frontiers in this connection, we must take little account of the European conception of a frontier. No frontier in that sense existed in China until her conflict with the European powers. In the dogma of the Chinese religion of Heaven, all the countries of the world were subject to the Chinese emperor, the Son of Heaven. Thus there could be no such thing as other independent states. In practice the dependence of various regions on the ruler naturally varied: near the centre, that is to say near the ruler's place of residence, it was most pronounced; then it gradually diminished in the direction of the periphery. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

“ The feudal lords of the inner territories were already rather less subordinated than at the centre, and those at a greater distance scarcely at all; at a still greater distance were territories whose chieftains regarded themselves as independent, subject only in certain respects to Chinese overlordship. In such a system it is difficult to speak of frontiers. In practice there was, of course, a sort of frontier, where the influence of the outer feudal lords ceased to exist. The development of the original feudal towns into feudal states with actual dominion over their territories proceeded, of course, not only in the interior of China but also on its borders, where the feudal territories had the advantage of more unrestricted opportunities of expansion; thus they became more and more powerful.

“In the south (that is to say, in the south of the Zhou empire, in the present central China) the garrisons that founded feudal states were relatively small and widely separated; consequently their cultural system was largely absorbed into that of the aboriginal population, so that they developed into feudal states with a character of their own. Three of these attained special importance—(1) Chu, in the neighborhood of the present Chungking and Hankow; (2) Wu, near the present Nanking; and (3) Yue, near the present Hangchow. In 704 B.C. the feudal prince of Wu proclaimed himself "Wang". "Wang", however was the title of the ruler of the Zhou dynasty. This meant that Wu broke away from the old Zhou religion of Heaven, according to which there could be only one ruler (wang) in the world.

Much of the bronze, and later all the iron, for use in northern China came from the south by road and in ships that went up the rivers to Qi, where it was distributed among the various regions of the north, north-east, and north-west. In addition to this, through its command of portions of the coast, Qi had the means of producing salt, with which it met the needs of great areas of eastern China. It was also in Qi that money was first used. Thus Qi soon became a place of great luxury, far surpassing the court of the Zhou, and Qi also became the centre of the most developed civilization.

“After the feudal lord of Qi, supported by the wealth and power of his feudal state, became dictator, he had to struggle not only against other feudal lords, but also many times against risings among the most various parts of the population, and especially against the nomad tribes in the southern part of the pre Shanxi. In the seventh century not only Qi but the other feudal states had expanded. The regions in which the nomad tribes were able to move had grown steadily smaller, and the feudal lords now set to work to bring the nomads of their country under their direct rule. The greatest conflict of this period was the attack in 660 B.C. against the feudal state of Wei, in northern Henan. The nomad tribes seem this time to have been proto-Mongols; they made a direct attack on the garrison town and actually conquered it. The remnant of the urban population, no more than 730 in number, had to flee southward. It is clear from this incident that nomads were still living in the middle of China, within the territory of the feudal states, and that they were still decidedly strong, though no longer in a position to get rid entirely of the feudal lords of the Zhou.

“The period of the dictators came to an end after about a century, because it was found that none of the feudal states was any longer strong enough to exercise control over all the others. These others formed alliances against which the dictator was powerless. Thus this period passed into the next, which the Chinese call the period of the Contending States.

Spring and Autumn China as a Narrative Story

Dr. Eno wrote: “The history of the Spring and Autumn period was traditionally pictured as a narrative in which the major actors were states, their rulers, and certain high ministers and colorful figures. The narrative generally was shaped by writers to convey ethical points. It was, on the largest scale, a “true” story, but its drama was guided by a moral rationale.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

There are four main stories, with each focusing “on a single individual (although the last and longest has a larger cast of characters). The first two stories, those of Duke Huan of Qi and Duke Wen of Jin, highlight certain central features of Spring and Autumn political structures. The third tale, concerning King Ling of Chu, illustrates the nature of many early historical accounts as cautionary tales. The last, the story of Wu Zixu, is one of the great “historical romances” of the traditional annals. /+/

“It is important to bear in mind that the tales recounted here are parts of a “master narrative” of early China, crafted by literary historians. The flow of the account makes overall sense as a story, and the moral drama of each episode is easy to detect. This is not the way life is lived, and in a time before newspapers and other information media, it took intellectual imagination and effort to represent events over such vast stretches of time and space coherently. We may be certain that at many points “facts” have been distorted to accomplish narrative and moral coherence, sometimes dramatically – the more closely academic historians examine historical evidence, the more problems emerge with this traditional narrative. But constructing the “story line” of early China was a project of the era itself, and regardless of the “accuracy” of the story, the voices who are telling it are voices from that time, recreating itself in narrative as it progressed. /+/

“This narration of events breaks the Spring and Autumn into six smaller periods, with some gaps between them (some dates in this list are approximate): I) Beginning of the Spring and Autumn (The Zhou schism and the dominance of Zheng, 770-700 B.C.); II) The hegemony of Duke Huan of Qi, 680-643 B.C.;III) The ascendance of Jin, 636-620 B.C.; IV. The period of the Jin-Wu alliance, 584-520 B.C.;V) The rise and fall of the state of Wu, 515-473 B.C.; VI)The dissolution of Jin, 497-4532 B.C.

“This reading reflects a traditional, rather than an academic approach to history, representing the narrative of an extended era in terms of well known anecdotal accounts focused on political protagonists whose actions convey the literary and moral values we look for in stories. Our major sources for the period adopt this approach and it is employed here because such master narratives are effective in helping us form an initial conceptual framework.”

Spring and Autumn Annals

The main sources of information about the Spring and Autumn Period here are the "Zuo zhuan"(“Zuo Tradition” or “Commentary of Zuo,” an ancient Chinese narrative history that is traditionally regarded as a commentary on the ancient Chinese chronicle “Spring and Autumn Annals”) and the “Shiji” (a monumental history of ancient China finished around 94 B.C. by Sima Qian).

Dr. Eno wrote: “The “Spring and Autumn Annals” is, basically, the court chronicle of the Zhou Dynasty state of Lu, from 722 B.C. to 481 B.C. It is brief, not very informative, and inconsistent in its choice of events to note. A typical entry might read, “Autumn; eighth month; locusts.” The chronicles recount happenings in the state of Lu, and in other states as reported to Lu. Years are arranged according to the reigns of the various dukes of Lu. The chronicle begins in the first year of the reign of Duke Yin, and ends abruptly in the fourteenth year of the reign of Duke Ai. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The “Annals” is one of the foremost classics of the Confucian tradition, and the most fundamental split in Confucian ideology, occurring during the second century A.D., focused on differing interpretations of the “Annals”. “Why? At a very early date, prior to the composition of the “Mencius”, c. 300 B.C., the tradition arose that the “Annals” had at some time fallen into the hands of Confucius who modestly edited them to bring out their “meaning.” An understanding of the editorial process, it was claimed, could reveal to readers the most profound wisdom pertaining to government and history. Mencius said that when Confucius edited the “Annals”, “corrupt ministers and lawless sons were in terror”: their iniquity had been revealed. /+/

“The likelihood of this being true is infinitesimally small. But an oral commentary tradition arose which made every effort to reveal the subtle editorial process which Confucius had used and extract from the chronicles the Sage’s message. Two major branches of the tradition had developed by the early Han: the commentary tradition of “Mr. Guliang” and that of “Mr. Gongyang.” The two are very much alike. /+/

“A third commentary, the commentary of Mr. Zuo, did not try to tease ethical meanings out of the text of the chronicle, but simply expanded, at great length, upon the history behind the “Annals”. This is the “Zuo zhuan”, a text we frequently encountered during our survey of Spring and Autumn China. Because the Zuo commentary did not become important as a classical tradition until the mid-Han, we will not discuss it here. The Guliang, while already a significant tradition in the early Han, did not receive state sponsorship until much later, and we know much less about it. In our discussion of Han Dynasty “Annals” classicism, we will consider only the Gongyang tradition. Dong Zhongshu was one of the principal masters of the Gongyang school. /+/

“The “Annals” is an “empty text”; there are not subtle meanings in the chronicle. But in the conviction that meaning did exist, Gongyang commentators during the Han developed arcane interpretive techniques which allowed them to read into the text a revolutionary doctrine. The essence of that doctrine was that kings and emperors ruled by no divine right of inheritance, but solely on the basis of their virtue. If their virtue were insufficient, they had no right of rule, regardless of whether or not they managed to hold onto power. This message is in sharp contrast to the notion that Han Confucians all celebrated unqualifiedly the rule of the Han kings. The New Text tradition was, in fact, anti-Imperial, endorsing only Sage Kings: it is no wonder it went underground. /+/

PERIOD I: Zhou Schism and the Dominance of Zheng (770-700 B.C.)

Dr. Eno wrote: In 771 B.C., “the homeland of the Zhou was invaded by nomads from the West. The capital was sacked, the king was killed, and the Zhou royal clan driven away. The last king of the Western Zhou was, according to traditional accounts, a typical “evil last ruler,” depraved and controlled by beautiful women. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The heir to the throne was taken eastward and installed in new capital precincts by a group of patrician lords. The new capital was located in Cheng-Zhou (later renamed Luoyang), which had been established on the banks of the Luo River, a tributary of the Yellow River, by the Duke of Zhou as a military garrison centuries earlier. The lords who had protected the new king either possessed patrimonial estates in the regions near the Luo River valley, or were given new estates there. These states in the middle reaches of the Yellow River valley, along with the area surrounding the capital (which was called the state of Zhou and was ruled directly by the king), may be called collectively the Central States. During these first years of the Eastern Zhou, the rulers of the major Central States also served as the chief ministers of the Zhou king, who was greatly in their debt, and they thereby possessed great power and prestige. The most prominent among them was the ruler of the state of Zheng; the rulers of Zheng were granted hereditary rights to the office of Chief Minister. /+/

“At the time of the fall of the Western capital, another son of the murdered king fled under the protection of great lords. This other son was installed as the new Zhou king in a city called Hui, west of the bend of the Yellow River. During the period 770-750 B.C., these two brothers competed for the allegiance of the patrician lords, each along with his backers hoping to become the sole legitimate ruler of China. The hopes of the pretender in Hui were much diminished by the actions of the rulers of the state of Qin. The Qin were a semi-nomadic people in the far west. After the old capital was sacked, it was the troops of Qin that drove the nomadic invaders away, restored order, and occupied the old clan territories of Zhou. The Qin were anxious to be recognized by the rulers of Zhou culture, and although they were located to the west of Hui, they gave their loyalty and lent their armies to the royal claimant in Luoyang. The behavior of Qin ultimately won it the recognition it sought, as a member of the Chinese cultural sphere.” /+/

In 750 B.C., “the ruler of the northernmost central state of Jin led an army against the pretender in Hui and succeeded in conquering him. China once again had only one king, but during these decades, his position had been reduced to that of a pawn of the Central States, and the Zhou ruling house never again achieved more than nominal suzerainty over the patrician lords. From this time to the close of the Eastern Zhou, China should be thought of not as a single state, but as a cultural sphere comprised of a great variety of politically independent states, much like Europe in the millennium after the fall of Rome.” /+/

Ascendance of Zheng

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “At the beginning of the seventh century it became customary for the ruler to unite with the feudal lord who was most powerful at the time. This feudal lord became a dictator, and had the military power in his hands, like the shoguns in nineteenth-century Japan. If there was a disturbance of the peace, he settled the matter by military means. The first of these dictators was the feudal lord of the state of Qi (Ch'i), in the present province of Shandong. This feudal state had grown considerably through the conquest of the outer end of the peninsula of Shandong, which until then had been independent. Moreover, and this was of the utmost importance, the state of Qi was a trade centre. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

Dr. Eno wrote: “The rulers of the state of Zheng possessed both the greatest political prestige and the strongest armies of the newly organized Eastern Zhou state. At this time, the numerous states of Central China were, with the exception of Jin, relatively small and powerless, and Jin was, as we shall see, divided by painful civil war. Zheng took advantage of this situation to begin a program of state expansion, seizing from its neighbors lands that bordered upon its own and openly attacking those states that resisted. In 707 an allied force of armies from among the Central States launched a campaign to suppress Zheng, and the Zhou king himself led the attack, giving it great legitimacy. However, the king’s conglomerate army was no match for the well coordinated forces of Zheng, which defeated the allies decisively, ending for good any possibility of the Zhou throne regaining its lost powers. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Over the next decade, a type of balance was achieved among the Central States. Zheng gobbled up many of its neighbors until its borders reached those of two quite different states, Wey* and Song. These were states of the old Shang homelands with moderately large territories. Their rulers had not been involved in the patrician cabal at the capital and they had not worn themselves out in the infighting of the previous decades. They were better able to resist Zheng. Towards the end of the eighth century, a balance of power emerged among the Central States, with Zheng, Song, and Wey evenly matched. [* There were two states named Wei in ancient China. We distinguish this earlier state from a later, more powerful one, by using the variant spelling “Wey.”]

Four Great Powers

Dr. Eno wrote: “In later times, Zheng, Wey, and especially Song would occasionally play major political and military roles in the contests for supremacy of China. However, generally speaking, after 700 B.C. the area of the smaller Central States becomes less and less important except as a region of contested influence among several much larger “Regional States.” Of these, the most important both initially and in the long run were the following four: Jin, Qin, Chu, and Qi. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

From 700 B.C. until the end of the Spring and Autumn period in 464 B.C., China may be geographically pictured as a central region of many states, surrounded by four great powers, one in each of the cardinal directions:1) Jin, 2) Qin (Central States), 3) Qi and 4) Chu. In the sixth and fifth centuries, we will need to add to this picture two short-lived states in the southeast, Wu and Yue. In addition, an old Zhou state of great size, Yan, existed in the northeast throughout this period, but remained passive and peripheral until Warring States times. /+/

“The four great powers were, in fact, regional cultures quite distinct from one another in background and culture. Before proceeding with this narrative account, we will characterize each one briefly, beginning with the eastern state of Qi. /+/


Dr. Eno wrote: “The state of Qi occupied a broad spit of land extending to the Pacific Ocean, known today as the Shandong Peninsula (Shandong, “East of the Mountains,” is an ancient name for this peninsula). The land is a mix of broad and fertile plains upon which appear in places low but precipitous mountains. The capital city of Qi lay in the northern portion of the peninsula, not far east from the lower reaches of the Yellow River. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Qi was the only one of the four great powers that was originally a patrimonial estate bestowed on a Zhou founder. It was awarded to the Grand Duke Wang, who was not a member of the Zhou royal lineage but who was the chief military advisor to King Wu. His descendants ruled as Dukes of Qi until the throne was usurped by another clan in the fourth century. /+/

“The estate of Qi was founded to help the Zhou “pacify” lands far to the east of its original homeland. The original occupants of these Shandong lands appear to have been a mix of Chinese and non-Chinese groups. After initially establishing the power of his presence through military means, the Grand Duke is said to have adopted a policy of accommodation with his non-Chinese neighbors. Perhaps as a result, the state of Qi ultimately yielded a rich and many-faceted cultural tradition. Throughout the late Warring States period it was home to the intellectual vanguard of China. During the Spring and Autumn period, Qi is principally distinguished by the enormous influence of the hegemony of its duke, Huan, over China during the years 680-643 B.C. /+/


Dr. Eno wrote: “Chu appears abruptly in the historical record as a rapidly expanding political force along the middle reaches of the Yangzi River, a region to which its people had migrated from an earlier base northwest, in the valley of the Han River. By conquering or coercing smaller states and tribes in the south of China, Chu came to dominate over an enormous area, characterized by an abundance of rivers, lakes, and marshes, fertile soil, and a temperate climate. The capital stood near the banks of the Yangzi, and was remote from the other states and well insulated against attack (ironically, it became the only great-power capital to be sacked during the Spring and Autumn years). [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The origins of the Chu people is a mystery. They appear to have emerged during the late ninth century as a distinctly non-Chinese people who represented a major threat to the Central States and the Zhou order. The earliest of the powerful Chu rulers, who reigned 740-690 B.C., adopted the title of “King,” rather than “Duke,” thus clearly indicating that he did not recognize himself as a subject of the Zhou. However, later in his rule, he adopted a conciliatory policy and sued for peace, submitting to Zhou suzerainty while nevertheless retaining the title of King for himself and his descendants. Nevertheless, the culture of Chu was sharply distinct from that of other Chinese states. It is clear that the Chu people did not initially speak Chinese and Chinese was probably only gradually adopted in Chu, from the top down, over the centuries. The religion, art, and eventually the Chinese-language literature of Chu were flamboyant and very different from more restrained “metropolitan” culture to the north. (The study of Chu culture is a very popular topic in modern scholarship.)” /+/

Further Reading: For issues concerning the state of Chu and its culture, a useful resource is Constance Cook and John Major, ed., "Defining Chu" (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999), especially Cook’s full translation (together with a leading Chinese scholar, Li Ling) of the “Chu Silk Manuscript” (pp. 173-76).


Dr. Eno wrote: “The state of Qin occupied the old Zhou homelands in the Wei River valley, west of the bend in the Yellow River. This region is relatively dry, but rivers and the rich loess soil deposited by winds coming from the western deserts make it a fertile area. The Qin territories formed a basin surrounded by mountain ranges of middling height, making the entire state a virtual fortress. Access to the North China Plain in the east was provided by the Hangu pass, just south of the bend in the Yellow River, and the region of Qin was called The Land Within the Pass. Qin’s geographical situation was of enormous military value. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The Qin people were initially a non-Chinese tribe at the western edge of the original Zhou polity. We have already seen how the eighth century rulers of Qin provided great service to the kings and lords who founded the Eastern Zhou in Luoyang. These actions earned the Qin rulers an official designation within the Chinese patrician system, and they were “adopted” as Chinese, although the patricians of the Central States actually viewed them as little more Chinese than the people of Chu or the various nomad tribes which harried the external and internal borders of the Zhou states. /+/

“The internal politics of Qin during the Spring and Autumn period are not known in great detail. However, it appears that the Qin engaged less in the division of their domestic territories into patrimonial estates than did most of the purely Chinese states and so developed a relatively centralized pattern of government. This political tradition may underlie the dramatic centralization of Qin that dates from the fourth century and led to its conquest of all China in 221 B.C.” /+/


Dr. Eno wrote: “Jin extended east and north from the bend of the Yellow River, covering the plateaus and gullies of the loess deposits in its western half onto the broad and fertile reaches of the North China Plain at its eastern edge. Its land was fertile, but crops were dependent on the weather as normal rainfall was low. The eroded topography of sharp hills and abrupt valleys cut the region of Jin into relatively isolated settlement pockets. Transportation and communications were consequently slow, which hindered political organization. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Jin was the only one of the great powers with a ruling family from the Zhou royal clan of the Ji. The histories tell us that about 1040 B.C. the original estate of Jin was playfully bestowed by the boy King Cheng to his younger brother as part of a make-believe game. The game was overheard by a scribe who insisted that such a royal act could not be taken as a jest; consequently, the grant was recorded in earnest. Jin relocated northward when the Zhou house fled east in order to cede its original territories, which were adjacent to Luoyang, to the Zhou ruler.The culture of Jin was the most “Zhou-like” of all the great powers. It exemplified the mainstream, or “metropolitan” culture of Zhou China. Its relatively insular sub-regions were ruled by powerful warlord clans, each in service to the duke of Jin, but also in good position to resist or threaten the duke’s power. /+/

“During the Spring and Autumn period, Jin was more often than not preeminent among the patrician states. Nevertheless, it was also most subject to internal strife. In the end, it was the only one of the four great powers to suffer dismemberment – not by “foreign” armies, but through civil war. /+/ The splitting of Jin into the three states of Zhao, Wei, and Han in 453 B.C. signals the close of the Spring and Autumn period.

PERIOD II: Hegemony of Duke Huan of Qi (680-643 B.C.)

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The eighth century was a chaotic period when the royal structure of the Western Zhou dissolved into a multi-state polity and no stable new structure emerged; the seventh century was a period when the states of China came to terms with the dissolution of Zhou unity and developed coherent patterns of interaction. It was the policies and actions of the ruler of the state of Qi, Duke Huan (r. 685-643 B.C.), which effected this new order, and the career of Duke Huan and his brilliant Prime Minister, Guan Zhong (also known as Guan Yiwu and Guanzi), became a focal point of the narrative history of ancient China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

The predecessor of Duke Huan,Duke Hsiang (r. 697-686 B.C.), was not an exemplary individual. As a youth, he had maintained an incestuous relationship with his sister. Later, this sister was given in marriage to the duke of the smaller neighboring state of Lu. In 693 B.C. she accompanied her husband on a state visit to Qi, and Duke Xiang welcomed her in the manner to which they had formerly been accustomed. The duke of Lu learned of this and impetuously confronted his wife while they were still in Qi. She sent word to her brother that their secret was discovered and Duke Xiang thereupon held a magnificent state banquet in honor of the delegation from Lu. He made sure that his brother-in-law was toasted until he was thoroughly drunk and defenseless, and then had him killed as he made his way back to his camp. When the members of the party from Lu objected to this form of diplomacy, Duke Xiang expressed his remorse by executing his own hired assassin, a man named Peng Sheng. /+/

“Several years after his execution, Peng Sheng took his revenge. In the form of a large boar, he attacked Duke Xiang while he was leading a royal hunting party. The duke’s followers realized that the boar was Peng Sheng and warned the duke. Furious, Duke Xiang shot an arrow at the boar, but the boar only reared upon its hind legs like a man and shouted. The terrified duke toppled his chariot, injuring his foot and losing a sandal. When he returned to his palace, he ordered that the sandal master, a man named Fu, be whipped. Fu left the palace nursing his wounds and a grudge, and joined with a pretender to the throne to plot against the duke’s life. Fu returned to his office as sandal master, but only as an agent for the plotters, who gathered an insurgent band and stormed the palace. The duke, true to character, faced this crisis by hiding behind an open door. But once again, he was tripped up by his feet; an insurgent spotted them under the door, and the duke met his end. The pretender proclaimed himself duke, but was himself assassinated shortly thereafter.

Duke Huan Creates the Hegemony

Dr. Eno wrote: “At the time that Duke Huan emerged, the state of Chu was making steady progress campaigning against minor lords on the southern periphery of the Central States, either removing them from their thrones and incorporating their territories into Chu or coercing them into alliance. The Central States were looking for a protector, and Qi seemed the most viable.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

In 680 B.C., “one year after the meeting at Ke, Duke Huan issued a call to the patrician lords to travel to the town of Juan in Lu and confer on the balance of power in China. At this meeting, which was attended by a great number of rulers and also by an envoy from the Zhou king at Luoyang, Duke Huan was acknowledged as occupying a foremost role as overlord, qualified to issue orders to other lords in the enterprise of stabilizing the political balance. Although the rulers of the other three great states were not present at the Juan convocation, the cooperation of so great a number of rulers was unprecedented, and the presence of a royal envoy, who confirmed Duke Huan’s role, gave legitimacy to the proceedings. Duke Huan’s position as hegemon, leader of the allied patrician lords, protector of the Zhou royal house and the entire territory of the Eastern Zhou “dynasty,” dates from the meeting at Juan. /+/

“The meeting at Juan initiated a new political practice, sometimes referred to as the “alliance system,” although it was something short of a system. Henceforth for the remainder of the Spring and Autumn centuries, the patrician lords of China ruled in the expectation that there should exist a hegemon who would periodically summon them all to meetings at which, ranked according to strict order of precedence, they would join in covenants aimed at maintaining a balance of power among the states of China. While rulers who were severely disaffected with the hegemon might decline to participate, they always did so at the risk that armies levied by the allies could be directed against them in consequence. /+/

“The alliance system not only granted to the hegemon the implicit right to coordinate efforts to curb states outside the alliance, it was also the case that the hegemon frequently became the arbiter of conflicts between alliance members. The precedent was set for this only two years after the meeting at Juan, when Zheng attacked the state of Song, both being alliance members. Duke Huan, judging Zheng the aggressor and assuming his role as protector of the peace, led troops in aid of Song and so forced Zheng to withdraw. /+/

Duke Huan’s Death and the Decline of Qi

Zuo zhuan

Dr. Eno wrote: “In all, Duke Huan convened the patrician lords in assembly seven times during the period of his hegemony. In time, even Chu submitted to his ascendancy, but grudgingly, and its continued provocations eventually led Duke Huan to lead an invasion force against it in 656 B.C. The outcome was a standoff – no battle was fought and Qi withdrew. Nevertheless, Duke Huan’s influence did not wane, and five years later, at a subsequent assembly of the lords, a messenger from the Zhou king signaled the high point of Huan’s prestige when he brought gifts from the king: dried sacrificial meats, a carriage, and a crimson bow with arrows. These were accompanied by a pointed message that Duke Huan need not bow when receiving them. This was an unsought honor of the highest order, one which implied that Duke Huan was now the equal rather than the subject of the Zhou king. The duke was delighted, but Guan Zhong, it is said, sharply cautioned him to decline the honor and to make the usual prostrations. The duke, long accustomed to disciplining himself with his minister’s admonitions, did as Guan Zhong counseled. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The historical accounts of Duke Huan’s reign agree in dating the effective end of his personal success to the death of Guan Zhong, which came in 645 B.C. Duke Huan, himself now an old man, visited Guan Zhong on his deathbed, and consulted with him about the future: whom should he appoint to succeed Guan Zhong as Prime Minister? Guan Zhong clearly understood well the state of the duke’s mind and the Qi court. He made three negative recommendations, cautioning the duke against relying on any of his favorites. Among these was one man who had abandoned his home state of Wey, where he was a prince, and come to Qi to link his fortunes to the hegemon’s; a second had castrated himself to please the duke by being able to serve him in the harem; a third had, according to legend, had hisrebellious son boiled in order to please the duke. Guan Zhong warned the duke against the flattery of these sycophants, but after he was dead, the duke’s will failed him and he appointed the last of these to succeed Guan Zhong. /+/

“The decay of the duke’s final years is symbolized by the end of his story. In 643 B.C. he died, the most celebrated political leader since the Zhou founders. Yet upon the instant of his death, his sons and ministers burst into a furious battle over the ducal succession, with the toadies against whom Guan Zhong had warned leading factions to the dispute. So intense was the infighting that no one gave a thought to the ritual embalming of the late duke’s corpse. He lay in the open of a palace room for 67 days, until it was reported that the maggots had crawled from his body and were streaming out beneath the chamber door. Only once a new ruler was installed were the remains prepared for burial – and then at night – but before the interment could occur, fighting broke out again and the new duke was murdered by his own followers. A permanent successor was not installed until forces from the state of Song entered Qi to place their favorite upon the vacant throne. An ironic end to the reign of the first hegemon! Eight months after his death, after the troops from Song had gone home, Duke Huan was buried. /+/

PERIOD III: Ascendance of Jin (636-620 B.C.)

Dr. Eno wrote: “Our attention has been fixed on the state of Qi. But when we examine the Spring and Autumn period as a whole, it is only during the reign of Duke Huan that Qi was preeminent among the four great powers. Afterwards, it is generally the case that the state of Jin was the foremost of the powers, though occasionally the rulers of Chu dominated for short periods, and in one instance the upstart state of Wu overwhelmed the more established states for a decade or two. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“After the death of Duke Huan of Qi, there was immediate competition to see who might succeed him as hegemon. So compelling was the experience of the preceding four decades, that never again were the great powers content to allow a vacuum of authority to remain unattended. Although the major rulers might dream of somehow exerting their will unchecked, the idea of greatest influence continued to picture the order appropriate to those troubled times as an alliance of lords, led by a hegemon, coordinating an acceptable balance of powers owing symbolic allegiance to a figurehead Zhou king. /+/

“With the sudden collapse of Qi into a succession war, the first ruler to attempt to succeed him was the duke of Song, a powerful central state whose ruling clan members were the direct descendants of the Shang royal house. He was unable to establish stable authority, and during the decade that ensued, the state of Chu, returning to its former practice of threatening the smaller south-central rulers, made considerable headway towards coercing an acknowledgment of its hegemony. However, the rise of a charismatic ruler in the state of Jin put a stop to Chu’s adventures and established a true second hegemony, though a brief one lasting only four years (632-628). This was the rule of Duke Wen of Jin, whose story is one of the great historical romances of ancient China. His story also allows us to illustrate the distinctive character of the political dynamic of Jin, which, among the four powers, was probably most representative of the patterns of Eastern Zhou patrician states. /+/

“In the retelling below, the dry facts of Jin politics are intermixed with a literary atmosphere of romance. There is some justification for this. When we explore the literary history of ancient China, we generally find that the most developed form of literature was historical narrative; it was around a factual core that early Chinese authors seemed most able to express their imaginative powers. If the history of the legendary past was an interweaving of myths with a touch of fact, the written history of the more recent past combined facts and romance to make history a stage for the examination of human character, near supernatural coincidence, and the evaluation of right and wrong.” /+/

PERIOD IV: Jin-Wu Alliance (584-520 B.C.)

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Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The dominating role of Jin through the greater part of the sixth century was not uniform and required frequent maintenance. Chu, in particular, was periodically able to challenge the hegemonic position of the Jin dukes. In 597 B.C. Qi crippled the forces of Jin in one of the greatest battles of the Spring and Autumn period, and for several years thereafter, the king of Chu was acknowledged as hegemon. However, Jin revived, and by 589 B.C. its duke once again occupied pride of place among the assembly of patrician lords. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“In 584 B.C., a patrician refugee from Chu named Qu Wuchen, who had become a court advisor in Jin, suggested a bold plan to the duke of Jin. Over the preceding century, a new political force had gradually become significant in the area surrounding the delta of the Yangzi River in the southeast. This state was known as Wu. The rulers of Wu traced their lineage to the pre-dynastic clan of the Zhou. They considered themselves the descendants of Taibo, the eldest son of the Old Duke, ruler of the Zhou tribe. Taibo, the legend went, had abdicated in order to ensure that the Zhou throne would pass to his nephew, the future King Wen, and by this act he ensured the greatness of the Zhou and the conquest of the Shang. The rulers of Wu, who by virtue of this claim of descent shared with the state of Jin the surname of Ji, thus pictured themselves as a distant colony of the Zhou people who had been engaged for centuries in civilizing the wild coastal regions of the southeast. /+/

“The people of these regions were, indeed, very different from those of the central plains of China. They were closely related to a group of advanced hunter-gatherers known as the “Yi” tribes, which occupied large regions of the Huai River valley and coastal plains. Their culture was sharply distinct from others in China. Unlike Chinese men, who wore long hair elaborately dressed, the people of Wu cut their hair short. They also tattooed their bodies, a custom unknown to the Chinese. /+/

“Whether Wu was in fact a Chinese state ruling over a non-Chinese population, or instead a non-Chinese people which had laid claim to Chinese descent in order to gain political respect, Wu had become a significant player in the multi-state structure of China during the late seventh century by launching raids on the eastern lands of its neighbor, the state of Chu. Chu itself was considered a newcomer to the Chinese cultural sphere, and it is likely that its military might was more sharply feared and resented by the Central States than was that of Jin, simply because its armies appeared as forces of cultural as well as military invasion. In any event, the actions of Wu were not unwelcome to the states of central China. /+/

“In 584 B.C., Qu Wuchen proposed to the duke of Jin that his state extend the offer of an alliance to Wu and coordinate further efforts to harry Chu and keep it from focusing its strength upon the Central states.The alliance of Jin and Wu was a great success. After two years, Chu sued for peace, and even agreed to a formal alliance with Jin and Wu. Wu’s territorial domains had now expanded, reaching northward all the way to the lower coast of Shandong, and Qi, seeing that it, like Chu, could be subjected to a war on two fronts, prudently requested to join the alliance. Jin was now clearly supreme once again. In 578 B.C., it defeated armies from Qin, and three years later inflicted a decisive defeat on Chu when the latter disturbed the tranquility of the alliance. The hegemony of Jin appeared stable for generations to come. /+/

Decline of the Ducal House in Jin

Dr. Eno wrote: “Paradoxically, however, this rise in the power of the dukes of Jin in interstate relations was paralleled by a decline in their domestic standing. The system of marshaling the centrifugal warlord clans that had been devised by Duke Wen required a skilled man on the throne. The Jin ducal house was itself weak, and the duke needed to co-opt the interests of his hereditary generals and play them off against one another. In 573 B.C., the ruling duke was unable to display the ruthlessness required to be successful in such a delicate game. He spared the lives of the leaders of certain rebellious clans, who predictably responded by assassinating him and seizing effective power. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Over the next century, although the dukes continued to represent Jin effectively at the assemblies of patrician lords, the actual power in the state rested with shifting coalitions of warlord clans, each dominating certain local territories and a portion of the state army of Jin. Within a few years of the warlord insurgency in Jin, the battles among the military clans reached the high pitch of a civil war. It became obvious to all who knew of these events that the hegemony of Jin was likely to deteriorate, which would surely lead to the renewed threat of Chu upon its neighbor to the north. /+/

“(As a courtesy to all the traditional narratives of ancient Chinese history, this account must note here, in its proper sequence, that in 551 B.C., Confucius was born in the state of Lu. Although in terms of ultimate influence on Chinese society, it may be that no event of the Spring and Autumn period was of more importance, in his own day Confucius was known to few outside the northeastern quadrant of the Zhou cultural sphere and was generally perceived as a frustrated political failure.)

PERIOD V: Rise and Fall of the State of Wu (515-473 B.C.)

Dr. Eno wrote: “After the death of King Ling of Chu, the Jin-Wu alliance was in full control of the balance of power and the dukes of Jin returned to the role of hegemon which they had played so regularly for a century. However, the state of Jin remained internally unstable, and the fact that the dukes were hegemons did not enhance their power. Rather, the duke served as a figurehead for the warlords of Jin, whose combined might exceeded any other state, but whose domestic squabbles brought into question how that military power could be applied in a sustained campaign, if one were called for. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Consequently, Jin’s hegemony, which in appearance lasted from 520-482 B.C., was a weak form of leadership, and the rhythm of scattered warfare gradually regained the steady beat that had prevailed prior to the Peace of Xiang Xu. During the first decade of this period, the state of Chu seemed to be recovering from the disruptions of King Ling’s reign. Its armies grew along the middle reaches of the Yangzi River in the vicinity of Ying, the capital city of Chu. The Jin hegemons were not strong enough to form stable alliances to counter the growing threat of Chu, and under the leadership of its new ruler, King Ping, it appeared that Chu would soon be able to resume its campaign to destroy Jin’s ally in the Yangzi delta, the state of Wu. /+/

“The rise and fall of the state of Wu is one of the most dramatic tales in the Spring and Autumn histories. Its central characters include successive rulers of Wu, who called themselves kings, in the style of the Chu lords. But the most poignant player in this story was a refugee from Chu, named Wu Zixu, who served both kings. (It is an accident of transcription that Wu Zixu’s surname appears in English as identical to the name of the state of Wu. The Chinese characters are different, and Wu Zixu’s ancestors were all from Chu. To avoid confusion, he is generally referred to here as Zixu, rather than by his surname.)” /+/

Wu Zixu and the Rise and Fall of Wu

Dr. Eno wrote: “The story of Wu Zixu begins in Chu, his family homeland, where his father was appointed tutor to the crown prince by King Ping. The young prince received an estate from the king, and when he went to live there, his tutor accompanied him along with his two sons, Zixu and his elder brother. In 527 B.C., King Ping sent his prime minister to the state of Qin to procure from that ducal house a wife for the prince. However, when the prime minister saw the woman whom the Qin were to promise in marriage, he galloped back to Chu. “This woman of Qin,” he told his king, “is the most beautiful in the world. Marry her yourself! You can get another woman for the prince.” King Ping, being a man of the world, saw no purpose in wasting such a woman on his son. He followed his minister’s advice and, finding his new bride as stunning as he had been told, he took his minister even closer into his counsels, which had, of course, been the minister’s goal from the start. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“What the prince thought of all this we do not know, but thereafter the prime minister became watchful of the prince, anticipating that ultimately he would seek revenge against the man who had denied him so beautiful a wife. He came to view the day that King Ping died and the prince succeeded to the throne as his own doom, and began to plant in the king’s mind suspicions about his son, hoping that the king would designate a different successor. “It’s all because of that woman of Qin,” he told the king. “He hates you for it. Your majesty had best defend yourself! The prince is raising troops in his estate and contacting lords outside of Chu. He means to stage a coup d’état.” In time, the king became convinced by these slanders and he summoned to his court the prince’s tutor, Zixu’s father. Zixu’s father maintained the innocence of the prince, which enraged the king. He threw Zixu’s father in prison. When courtiers loyal to the prince rushed to the prince’s estates to warn him what had transpired at court, the prince recognized the hopelessness of his case and fled to the state of Song. /+/

Later, The prince across Chu towards Wu, disguised as a commoner. But he was a wanted man in Chu, and as he neared the Yangzi River crossing to Wu, he was recognized and pursued. Rushing to elude the Chu search party, he came to the river and saw a ferryman waiting by the bank. Although he had no money, he told the ferryman to take him across. The ferryman observed the hurried manner of his passenger and calmly rowed him over to Wu. As he stepped off, Zixu handed his sword to the ferryman. “This sword is worth its weight in gold. It is my payment.” The ferryman replied, “According to the orders of the king of Chu, the man who captures Wu Zixu will receive lands worth 50,000 piculs of grain and a jade insignia of patrician rank. What is your sword compared to that?” And he rowed back without the sword. /+/

“When Zixu finally made his way to the capital of Wu, he sought an audience with the king. At the time, the king’s cousin, Prince Guang, was the general-in-chief of the forces of Wu, and Zixu initially presented himself at the prince’s compound, offering to serve as his retainer and requesting that the prince arrange a royal audience for him. The king received Zixu with honors, and instructed him to remain in the service of Prince Guang.” /+/

Wu Zixu Engineers a Coup in Wu

Dr. Eno wrote: “Some time later, a border dispute arose between Wu and Chu. Zixu again appeared in court. “Chu can be destroyed,” he advised the king. “I request that you appoint Prince Guang to attack.” But Prince Guang spoke in opposition. “This Wu Zixu had both his father and brother murdered by the king of Chu. He only advises attacking Chu in order to achieve his personal vengeance. In fact, it is not yet possible to defeat Chu.” The king followed Prince Guang’s advice. But Zixu had observed Prince Guang closely and now understood that the prince’s real purpose was to seize the throne of Wu for himself. Shortly before, Zixu had encountered a brash and matchless swordsman who was wandering in Wu, picking fights with any man who crossed him. Now, he introduced this man to Prince Guang and recommended that the prince take him into his service. Then Zixu excused himself from the prince’s court and retired to farm in an obscure corner of Wu, awaiting events. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“As Zixu had suspected, it did not take long before the prince made use of his new retainer. In 516 B.C., King Ping of Chu died, and the king of Wu calculated that an attack on Chu while funeral arrangements were proceeding would take the state by surprise. He sent an army under two of his younger brothers to invade Chu, but the attack was unsuccessful. The Chu army flanked the forces from Wu and cut off their route of escape. /+/

“With the king’s two brothers trapped in Wu, Prince Guang saw a chance to realize his secret ambition and seize the throne from his cousin’s branch of the lineage. He called his new retainer to him. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!” he said. “I am, in fact, the rightful ruler of this state, and I want to take what belongs to me.” “With the king’s brothers stuck in Chu,” replied the swordsman, “there is no one to fear at court. Killing the king would be nothing to a man like me!”

“The two staged an elaborate dinner for the king, and the prince concealed a group of armed men in a chamber near the banquet hall. At the proper moment, the prince limped away from the hall complaining that his foot was sore and needed attention. As he went to the chamber where his troops were hiding, his retainer approached the king’s table carrying the pièce de resistance of the banquet: an enormous steamed fish. As he passed the king’s bodyguard, he pulled a sword from the fish’s mouth and while he was slicing the king into pieces, the prince’s men fell upon the company. Prince Guang was in possession of the state of Wu in time for the dessert course, and took the title of King Helü.” /+/

Dr. Eno wrote: “Having seized the throne, King Helü recalled Zixu to his service and made him his chief advisor. Zixu, along with a second refugee from Chu laid plans with the king for a campaign against Chu. In 506 B.C., the armies of Wu struck. The force of their attack was overwhelming and after overrunning the eastern border regions of Chu, they so routed the Chu forces that the way was clear for them to sweep 250 miles up the Yangzi to the capital city of Ying. The ruler of Chu was King Zhao, the son of King Ping. As the Chu troops approached the capital, he concluded that the only hope for the survival of the state and his clan’s royal office was to abandon the city and flee to another state. Once free of immediate danger to himself, he could go begging for troops from other patrician lords afraid of Wu. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The sack of Ying was the first time during the entire Spring and Autumn period that any great power had seen alien troops in its capital city. Not only did the army of Wu occupy the city and the king set up his personal quarters there, but Wu Zixu finally gained his revenge in the most public way possible. The fact that his great enemy, King Ping, had been dead for ten years did not stop him. Zixu ordered the troops of Wu to burst into the burial chambers of the king and drag his coffin into the sun. Then, spilling the king’s embalmed corpse out, he ordered that it be whipped with 300 lashes as payment for the death of Zixu’s father and brother. Only then was his vengeance against Chu complete and his father’s prophecy truly fulfilled.” /+/

“With the sack of Ying in 506 B.C., Wu, which only fifty years before had been a half-barbarian minor power, significant only as a regional ally of Jin, now possessed greater power than had any state since the fall of the Western Zhou. King Helü sat in the capital of Chu, luxuriating in the tyrannical powers of a conquering lord over a people not his own, forgetful of his tasks back in Wu. Throughout China, patrician lords were astounded that the ruling house of a major power could be routed from its homeland, that the great state of Chu could, seemingly, have dissolved overnight. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“However, one state saw in this situation only opportunity. The state of Yue on Wu’s southern border took advantage of King Helü’s absence from his state to send a raiding party into Wu. Yue was a coastal state located south of the Yangzi. Its rulers claimed to be the descendants of the legendary Emperor Yu, who was said to have lived well over a thousand years before. In fact, its history prior to this time is virtually unknown. Its people were almost surely ethnically distinct from heartland Chinese, and no Chinese lord had ever acknowledged Yue to be a state in the Chinese sense. /+/

“When King Helü learned of the raiders from Yue, he was not greatly concerned. Unwilling to leave the pleasures of Ying, he sent a detachment of troops back to deal with Yue. The Wu soldiers seem to have had little trouble driving the invaders back south. However, the king’s younger brother, observing that the king did not seem anxious to occupy his throne in Wu, determined to seat himself upon it. He issued orders for the troops under his command to steal away from the areas around Ying and slip back into Wu. Once there, he announced to the people of Wu, who may have been wondering what had become of their absentee king, that he had now been replaced. /+/

“King Helü was aroused at last. He quit Ying and rushed his army back to Wu. His frightened brother fled and order was quickly restored. The exiled king of Chu, seeing that his capital was at last free of Wu troops, marched back in just in time to receive Helü’s brother as a refugee and make him a lord of Chu. But before he could stabilize his restoration, King Helü ordered a new invasion of Chu, this time under the charge of his son Fuchai. Fuchai once again drove the king of Chu from his capital, and confirmed that the entire south of China remained under the suzerainty of Wu. /+/

“For almost ten years, Wu retained its power over the south while its ally, Jin continued to dominate the rest of China and hold the title of hegemon. Then in 496 B.C., King Helü learned that the leader of the Yue people had died, and he decided it would be a good time to repay Yue for its troublesome raid nine years earlier. He and his son Fuchai led an army into the wilds of Yue to teach the barbarians a lesson. /+/

Death of Wu Zixu

Dr. Eno wrote: “In 489 B.C., King Fuchai learned that the duke of Qi, his powerful neighbor to the north, had died and civil war broken out among the patrician families of the state. He ordered his armies to prepare for a northern expedition. Zixu had kept his eye steadily upon the conduct of Yue, and he approached Fuchai at court. “King Goujian of Yue no longer eats sumptuous dishes, but instead travels about offering condolences to those in mourning and comfort to the sick. He is planning something. If we cannot manage his death Wu will face troubled times. Our possession of Yue is like a man with a tumor in his belly. Yet you foolishly make plots about Qi and ignore Yue!” But the campaign against Qi turned out to be a complete military success, and the king began to treat Zixu with increasing coldness, favoring instead his prime minister, whose words were far more congenial to his ear. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“In 485 B.C., Fuchai renewed his pressure to the north. He wanted to achieve in Qi what his father had in Chu – the sacking of the capital – and he planned a great naval campaign that would send the ships of Wu around the Shandong peninsula to land on its northern shore, near the ducal city. Once again Zixu warned the king to attend to Yue instead. “If you conquer Qi,” he said, “it will yield as many riches for you as a field of rocks.” Again the king ignored him, and sent him instead on a mission to Qi in preparation for war. /+/

“Zixu took his son to Qi with him. “I have remonstrated with the king over and over,” he told his son, “but he will not listen to me. I see now that Wu is to be destroyed. What use is there in you being destroyed along with it?”While in Qi, Zixu visited a patrician who was a personal friend, and entrusted his son to his care. /+/

“In the meantime, King Goujian of Yue had not been idle. While he had become an exemplary ruler at home, in line with the preachings of his minister of war, his diplomatic methods were more traditional. He sent weighty bribes to the Wu prime minister, who looked upon Yue with increasing favor. Now that he was effectively in Yue’s pay, he grew concerned that Zixu’s incessant warnings would finally influence the king. When a member of his entourage informed him that Zixu had left his son in Qi he rushed to the king with the news. “Your majesty has had the sense to ignore Zixu’s prattlings and he has turned against your majesty. He has entrusted his son to Qi; where do his true loyalties lie?”

“What you imply I have long suspected,” replied the king. And he ordered that a runner be sent to Zixu bearing a sword with the message, “Take this and die.” Zixu grasped the sword and turned to his followers. “When I am dead, pull my eyes from my head and hang them from the eastern tower of the capital wall. Then I will be able to see the bandits from Yue pour in and extinguish the state of Wu.” Then he cut his throat and died. /+/

“When King Fuchai was told of Zixu’s last words he flew into a rage. He seized Zixu’s corpse and had it thrown in a bag. Then he ordered that the bag be flung into the Yangzi, where it could float out into the sea. Later, Zixu’s admirers built a shrine on the banks of the river so that his spirit would have a place to receive sustenance. /+/

PERIOD VI: Dissolution of Jin (497-453 B.C. )

Dr. Eno wrote: “There is no consensus among historians concerning the date at which the Spring and Autumn period ends. The actual chronicle after which the period is named, The Spring and Autumn Annals, which was a court record of the state of Lu, closes with the year 481 B.C. That date is sometimes taken to mark the end of the period; others are Confucius’s death (479 B.C.) and the end of the Zuo zhuan commentary to the “Annals” (464 B.C.). The date that makes the most historical sense, however, is 453 B.C., the year that the state of Jin finally fell apart. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The state of Jin had long represented both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Zhou system of clan rule. Since Duke Wen of Jin had reorganized Jin into a type of corporate militarism, with the great warlord clans sharing control of the state armies, the warrior traditions of those clans had ensured that Jin would be fierce in war and a terror to its neighbors, but their internal wrangles also meant that civil disruptions frequently weakened the state’s ability to act with resolve in multi-state affairs. /+/

“Throughout the sixth century, the more powerful warlord families gradually extinguished the weaker clans. The dukes, increasingly figurehead rulers, lost power every time a consolidation reduced the opportunities to play the clans off of one another. By the beginning of the fifth century, only six major clans remained. Four of these united against the remaining two in a civil war that stretched from 497 to 490 B.C., at which time the smaller group perished, leaving only the four allied clans in the field. /+/

“The four clans bore the surnames Zhao, Han, Wei, and Zhi. By 458 B.C., the leader of the Zhi clan had emerged as the most powerful man in Jin, and he set out to seize the throne for himself, and move the ducal line of succession from the founding Ji clan to his own. /+/

“The most powerful of the remaining three clans was the Zhao, which controlled the northeast section of Jin, relatively far removed from the capital area. Seeing the imminent rise of the leader of the Zhi, he fortified Zhao into a stronghold, fearing attack. The leader of the Zhi did indeed organize an army against the Zhao. He coerced the other two great families, Han and Wei, into alliance with him, and the combined forces stormed the clan city of Zhao in 455 B.C.. /+/

“But the defenses of Zhao had been well planned and the city well provisioned. The attack degenerated into a prolonged siege. As they waited for over a year before the Zhao city walls, the leaders of the Han and Wei clan armies became increasingly restive. Their exhausting efforts were, after all, being made on behalf of a man who planned to usurp the throne, and whose gratitude towards their families could not be relied on. In time they initiated contact with the defenders inside the walls and concluded a secret compact. /+/

“In 453 B.C., the armies of Han and Wei turned on the Zhi clan. In one stroke, they eliminated the clan entirely. Once the leaders of the Zhao emerged, the three clans put into effect the pact they had agreed on during the siege. They divided the state of Jin into three separate states. The Zhao family lands in the northeast became the state of Zhao. The lands of the Han family in the south, in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, became the state of Han. The Fen River valley north of the bend of the Yellow River belonged to the new state of Wei, and its lands stretched awkwardly across the midsection of the region of Jin, flanking Han on the east. /+/

“The state of Jin, the most powerful state of the Spring and Autumn period, was no more. It had long been a conglomerate polity rather than a unified ruling house, and now its dukes and the name of Jin itself disappeared. In its place were three very well balanced states of considerable stature. All three would become major actors in the succeeding centuries of the Warring States period. /+/

“With the dissolution of Jin, the only remaining powerful branch of the Zhou ruling clan was gone. Throughout the chaos of the Spring and Autumn centuries, Jin had, at least, provided a psychological anchor of semi-legitimacy. No other state had better claim to be protector of the Zhou. Furthermore, its patrician warrior nature had represented better than any other state the cultural character of the Zhou. Its extinction did indeed signal the end of an era. The Warring States years which followed represent a period of transition to an entirely new political culture.” /+/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021

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