China Warring States

The Warring States Period

The Warring States Period in Chinese history is a fascinating era. It lasted from 475 to 221 BC and was part of Ancient China’s time. After the peaceful times of the Spring and Autumn Period, wars among states began emerging. This was before the Qin state conquered all, thus, reunited China as the Qin Dynasty.

The leaders joined a series of annexations and conquests. They also had territorial consolidations & power, and shifted alliances. This resulted in the appearance of dominant states which continuously compete for power. This was during the interstate system until Qin Shihuangdi, Qin’s leader, prevailed as the ruler.

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History of the Warring States Period

The 5th century BCE was when the Eastern Zhou Dynasty crumbled. They were no longer the top in military terms, so they relied on armies of other allied states. This led the states to take the chance in territorial claims.

This caused the Zhou leader to make the military leader of another state, the Zhou alliance’s head. These commanders had the honorific title Hegemon or Ba, but still had to swear their loyalty to the Zhou.

Different States for the Land

By the early 4th century BCE, 100 small states were consolidated into seven primary states. These were the Han, Chu, Qin, Qi, Yan, Zhao, and the Wei. Tucked between these were other smaller states. The bigger states expanded, making them difficult to absorb one another.

Encouraging the territorial segregation was common in establishing long defensive walls. These could reach several hundred kilometers long. The walls were made from earth and stone, so some still continue to survive today.

This includes the Qi wall located in Shangdong province which is 4m high and 10m across places. Each of the states had a ruler who acted as a king independent of the Zhou. They later looked to expand the territories yet at their neighbor’s expense.

It was common to attack their rivals due to the policy of intermarriage between royal families. The rivalry turned into continuously shifting alliances, and incessant conflicts pursued. These are the elements that gave the period its name. 

Between 535 – 286 BCE, there occurred 358 wars between the states. Big armies were led by those who left the ancient chivalrous customs of the past. They ruthlessly aimed to destroy the enemy and the victor would seize a unified China.

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State of Qin

The Qin

The Qin was a classic Chinese state of the Zhou dynasty. It dated all the way back to 897 BC. It took to its creation in a re-conquest of lands lost to the Rong. Its position at the Western area of the Chinese civilization allowed the development that was not present to rivals of the North China Plains.

Following the legalist reform from the 3rd century BC, the state became a dominant powers of the Seven Warring States. It also unified the country in 221 BC under the rule of Shi Huang Di. The empire it created was short-lived yet was influential for the later Chinese history.

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State of Qi

The Qi

Qi was a state under the rule of the Zhou dynasty during the country’s ancient period. It reckoned as a duchy, march, and an independent kingdom. Its capital was Yingqiu which was located within the present day Zibo in the Shandong area.

Qi was established after Zhou’s overthrow of Shang in the 11th century BC. The Jiang Ziya, the minister of King Wen, was the first marquiss. Jiang was also claimed as a legendary individual in Chinese culture.

His clan ruled Qi for centuries before being changed by the Tian clan in 386 BC. In 221 BC, Qi was the last crucial state joined by Qin throughout China’s unification.

State of Chu

The Chu

Chu was a hegemonic state during the Zhou Dynasty. From King Wu from the Chu in the 8th century BCE, the Chu rulers claimed themselves as kings on equal levels with Zhou kings. Although inconsequential and shifted to the south of the Zhou heartland, Chu started a collection of administrative improvements.

This became a favorable expansionist state in the Autumn and Spring period. With its expansion, Chu became a Warring States-period power. This was until the state was overthrown by Qin in 223 BCE.

The power and size of Chu made it the main state in coalitions against Qin. As the Qin expanded into Chu’s area, they had to spread to the south and east. Chu absorbed local cultural significance in the process.

By the late 4th century BCE, their prominent status crumbled and decayed. Due to several invasions led by Qin and Zhao, Chu was eventually overpowered by Qin.

State of Yan

The Yan

Yan was a state in the Zhou Dynasty. It was a classic Chinese state in this era. Its capital was Ji. This place is known today as Yanjing; today, it is known as Beijing. Throughout the Warring States period, the court also shifted to another capital located at Xiadu.

The history of Yan started in West Zhou during the early 1st millennium BC. After the Zhou king’s authority declined in the Autumn and Spring period, the Yan state survived. It became one of the most powerful states in the country.

During the Warring States era from the 5th to 3rd centuries BC, the Yan was among the last to be defeated by the army of Qin Shi Huang. The Yan state crumbled in 222 BC which was before the declaration of the Qin Empire. It experienced a short time of independence after the Qin dynasty’s downfall in 207 BC. It was later absorbed by the successful Han.

“A path is made by walking on it.”

~ Chuang Tzu

The Han

Han was also a traditional Chinese state in the Warring States period of China. It is found in today’s Henan and Shanxi. Han’s territory directly obstructed the way of the Qin state to the Northern China Plain. So, it became a common target of Qin’s military movements.

The Han tried a plethora of self-strengthening reforms but they never overcame the Qin. Instead, they were the very first warring state to be conquered by it. The Qin’s assault of Han’s Shangdang Commandery led to the bloodiest struggle of the entire period.

This was in Chang Ping in 260 BC. The highest point of the Han was under the rule of Xi. He named Shen Buhai as chancellor before enforcing his legalist policies. These bolstered the state while the realm became a Xiao Kang society.

Under Xuanhui, the Han announced itself as an independent kingdom. Yet it was disadvantaged during the battle of the Warring States. This was due to Jin’s partition which left it enveloped on each side by the other strong states.

These includes the Chu to the south, Qin to the west, Qi to the east, and Wei to the north. This was the smallest of the seven states. The Han did not have any means of better expanding its territory and resources. Because of this, it was militarily bullied by their more powerful neighbors.

The Zhao

Another of the seven main states of the Warring States period was the Zhao of ancient China. It was established via the three way Partition of Jin, along with the Wei and Han of the 5th century BC. Zhao acquired adequate strength from their military improvements that were initiated during King Wuling’s rule.

Yet they suffered a great defeat at the hands of the Qin during the Battle of Chang Ping. Its territory included areas known today as Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Hebei, and Shaanxi provinces. It bordered the Xiongnu, the states of Wei, Qin, and Yan.

Its capital was Handan, located in today’s Hebei Province. Zhao was also the home to Shen Dao, Xun Kuang, and Gongsun Long. During the onset of the Warring States era, the Zhao state was one of the weaker ones around.

Despite its far reaching territory, the northern border was usually subject to harassment. It was often targeted by the Xiongnu and the other nomadic people from the north. At the same time, the area was surrounded by powerful states and lacked the military prowess of Wei or the affluence of Qi.

Zhao acted as a pawn during the struggle between the states of Wi and Wei. This struggle came to its climax in the year 354 BC when the Wei attacked Zhao who sought aid from the Qi. Then, the Battle of Guiling was a huge victory for Qi, and it lessened the threat to Zhao’s southern border.

The Wei

Wei was an ancient and powerful Chinese state of the Warring States period. Its territory can be located between the Qin and Qi then included parts of this day’s Henan, Hebei, Shandong, and Shanxi. After, its capital was moved from Anyi to Daliang which is today’s Kaifeng.

During the rule of King Hui, the state of Wei was also called Liang. Wei reached its pinnacle during the regime of its first two rulers, Marquess Wen and Wu of Wei. The third ruler was the King of Wei, King Hui, who declared himself as a self-reliant sovereign. He focused on economic improvements like irrigation tasks at the Yellow River.

King Hui thought that the Qin in the west was feeble. He even considered their land as a desolate waste. Because of this, he focused on dominating the well settled lands of the east. This was due to them being abundant in known resources.

Yet a lot of battles, which include the Battle of Maling in the year 341 BCE, showed Wei’s ambitions. As for Qin’s expansion, it became unimpeded, increasing its military and economic strength. The earlier improvement of the state was because of Li Kui’s proposed legalist reforms.

Wei soon lost the western Hexi area. It was a strategic region of pastoral land located on the west banks of the Yellow River. It was between the borders of today’s Shaan Xi & Shan Xi, to Qin. After, it remained constantly at war with the Qin, they needed the capital to transfer from Anyi to Daliang.

Wei yielded to Qin in 225 BCE. This was after Wang Ben, Qin’s general, diverted the Yellow River to Daliang, ruining the capital via flood.

Vertical and Horizontal Alliances

Fight for a Kingdom

When the Warring States Period was nearing its end, the Qin state’s outmatched the other six states. As a result, the policies of the six states became oriented towards dealing with the Qin threat. Despite the states forming an alliance, there were conflicting schools of thought.

One of these supported Hezong, the vertical or north-south alliance. In Hezong, the states would join forces with each other to battle against Qin. The Lianheng, on the other hand, was the east-west or horizontal alliance. This school encouraged that a state would join the Qin to engage in ascendancy.

Initially, Hezong was successful but the allied states had mutual suspicions. This caused the alliances to fall apart. Qin repeatedly made use of the Hezong or the horizontal alliance. This effectively defeated the states one at a time. During this era, a lot of tacticians and philosophers went to the states. They recommended that the rulers made use of their respective ideas.

Su Qin, an advocate of the vertical alliances, and Zhang Yi, an advocate of the horizontal alliances, were popular for their intellect. Collectively, they were referred to as the School of Diplomacy.

Warfare and Victory of Qin

The warfare that the states had used became more advanced yet crueller. During the earlier times, infantries commonly had ten thousand men only. During this period, each state gathered around 200,000 men for every battle.

The soldiers were armed with new iron weapons including swords and daggers. Archers had Mongolian horses. Throughout the Warring States Period, around 400 battles occurred.

By 278 BCE, the capital of Chu had fallen to the Qin state. Since the greatest rival of Qin had been defeated, dominating the nation became easier. The adoption of legalist policy was one of the reasons why Qin was successful.

Legalism and Machiavellianism were comparable philosophies. Legalism favors security, order, and stability. Then Qin adopted this policy which led to all warring states being under their control. This declared a united dynasty in 221 BCE.

Today, the Qin Dynasty is considered as the first dynasty. It is also the empire that gave China its name.