The Warring States Period (475-221 BC)
The Zhou Dynasty ended in 221 BC. The 250 years between 475 and 221 BC is called the Warring States Period because the region was divided among 8 warring states. Qin conquered them all by 221. The fighting was fierce. Some rulers were fighting to survive or retain power, and some wanted more power and territory. The dominant philosophy in Qin that controlled the westernmost territory was Legalism that justified harsh control, forced labor, and subservience to the emperor. They used their manpower for big construction projects that allowed them to field and supply big armies, and they were ruthless in war and in peacetime too. The Zhou Dynastic clan began with much power over a large empire with many fiefdoms at the beginning of their reign, and they were reduced to almost no power by 221. As the states warred, dominant philosophies and religions of Daoism, Legalism, Confucianism, and Moism emerged in the region and were spread by the surviving states. The dominant political philosophy in Qin was Legalism, and it was propagated when the Qin Empire began.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476), the dozens of big and small states coalesced into the eight that remained in 476. The eight warring states were Qin that had a stronghold in a valley in the west, Chu, Qi, Yan, Han, Wei, Yue and Zhao. During the first half of this era, the boundaries between the states remained about the same. Chu was the biggest state. It controlled the southern third of the entire region of the Warring States. Qin also controlled about a third of the territory in the west. The rest of the states filled in the northeastern third of the region of the Warring States.
Qin was the farthest west of the states. Initially, the rulers of Qin tried to keep out of the warfare to the east of them. There were hostile tribes around their territory. They couldn't send out large armies to conquer the states to the east lest the tribal people attacked. They first had to subdue the tribes to make sure their territory was safe.
Then Shang Yang came to power as a court official in 361. During the two decades that he ruled, he made big political changes that took hold. He espoused and ruled according to a defined set of strict rules and a clear political philosophy. He was eventually killed, but his philosophy that was called Legalism was adopted by the ruling court. Shang Yang introduced a lot of major governmental and political reforms that were revolutionary for his time, and set the course for Qin to become militarily more powerful and ruthless than the other states.
There was a generally known protocol for warfare in the whole Zhou region until he came to power that was somewhat similar to European ideas of chivalry in combat. Generals should allow the opposing generals to set up battle formations before beginning battle and other ideas like that. There were also generally accepted family ties and responsibilities such as those espoused by Confucians. Shang Yang did away with the protocols and morals. He wanted subservience to the ruling court to be the foremost responsibility and to destroy enemies ruthlessly. He also wanted everyone to be treated equally under a clearly fixed law. In a way, this legal system was actually fairer because it was less arbitrary. He thought that everyone should be ruled by the same laws whether from a ruling clan or a peasant clan. Under Legalism, political opposition can not be tolerated. So one of the strengths of Qin was the tight central control.
To encourage production, he privatized land, rewarded farmers who exceeded harvest quotas, enslaved farmers who failed to meet their quotas, and used slaves for his major construction projects to create better infrastructure. He wanted to improve the transportation system so that the armies could move more easily and to enhance internal trade. He also emphasized the creation of large armies for military offense. He emphasized the production of the best armaments. The technology advanced so that iron tools and weapons became common. Instead of chariots, organized mounted soldiers with masses of infantry became common. In the end, the Qin could muster armies of hundreds of thousands
In the year 269, a general of Zhao defeated two Qin armies. After this, Fan Sui became the chief adviser to the emperor. He instituted Legalism-type policies and advocated attacking the other states and killing off the people. They started preparing for major conquests. In 230, Han surrendered to Qin. They defeated Wei in 225. In 223, they succeeded in conquering Chu. In 222, Qin conquered Yan and Zhao. In 221 BC, Qin conquered the last state called Qi.
Innovations in Military Tactics and Technology
In the Warring States Period, the technology advanced so that iron tools and weapons became common. Instead of chariots, organized mounted soldiers with masses of infantry became common. In the end, the Qin could muster armies of hundreds of thousands.
The military strategist Sun Tzu is said to have written The Art of War. It was an influential book about warfare. Other influential books about warfare were written during the era as well.
Philosophical and Religious Literature
The great literary works of philosophy and religion that became the basis for Chinese religious and social belief stem from the Warring States Period (475-221). However, what we know about the philosophies and literature of those times is limited because the Qin Emperor decreed that all literature other than those about Legalism and a few scientific fields be destroyed. He wanted to stop all opposition and force everyone to agree with him. Taoism, Confucian literature, Legalism, Moism and other prominent religious and philosophical schools all emerged during this period as the philosophies of the dominant states.
The simultaneous emergence of religions and philosophies in the latter Zhou Dynasty era is called the "One Hundred Schools of Thought." There were hundreds of philosophers and writers who wrote conflicting documents, and there was discussion and communication. Perhaps so many philosophers could write and propagate their ideas simultaneously because they lived in small kingdoms that supported them. In Chinese history, the dominant rulers generally squelch or discourage philosophical expression that contradict their own, so when there were several small powers, different schools of thought could survive in the land at the same time.
The notable teachers included Confucius, Mencius, Xun Zi, Lao Zi or whoever wrote the Dao De Jing, Zhuang Zi, Mo Zi, and Shang Yang. Li Si who was a Qin ruler in the Qin Empire's high court contributed Legalism texts and propagated the older Legalism literature he agreed with. The major philosophical schools of the Warring States Period are described below.
Confucius was one of the early teachers who lived at the end of the Spring and Autumn period or maybe at the beginning of the Warring States Period (475-221). Scholars are not sure about when he was born, but it is said that he lived between 551 and 479. He taught a philosophy that wasn't very deistic, but emphasized how various types of people should treat each other.
The Analects of Confucius is a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples. For foreigners who want a taste of this Confucian philosophy, reading the Analects of Confucius is a good introduction since the statements are usually simple and like common sense.
Two philosophers that came after Confucius were Mencius (371–289) and Xun Zi. Mencius is said to be the writer of the Confucian text called Mencius that is an important collection of philosophical dialogues. He may have been a disciple of Confucius' own grandson. One of his basic teachings was that human nature is basically good but needs training, and he bases a lot of his philosophical theory on this axiom. This variety of Confucian philosophy was most widely accepted after the Qin era. Xun Zi (c. 300–237 BC) taught that human nature is evil, and it is the antithesis. Read more on Confucius
A major school that became a basis for post-Qin religion is called Daoism. But it is said that Daoism wasn't thought of as a systematic school of philosophy and religion until the Han era. In the Han era, the Dao De Jing (道德經) and a secondary text called the Zhuangzi (莊子) were considered to be the main Taoist scripture. Dao De Jing means the Way of Virtue Scripture. It is said that a man named Laozi wrote the Dao De Jing. But historians debate about whether he wrote the text, when Laozi lived, and whether he was a real historical person. Most people place him as a contemporary of the philosopher Confucius. They say he lived around 450 or 600 BC. Others say that he lived about 380 BC. It is thought that Zhuangzi wrote Zhuangzi.
Legalism philosophy was the dominant political philosophy of Qin at the end of the Warring States Period. It was the only legal philosophy in the Qin Empire (221-206 BC) that was the first big empire in the region. Shang Yang who was a high official in the Qin court in 361 espoused this philosophy and made a lot of far-reaching reforms. This philosophy justified subservience to a strong emperor since people were said to be inherently selfish.
A major philosopher of this school and an imperial ruler of the Qin court was named Li Si. He taught that human nature was naturally selfish and that a strong imperial government with strict laws was needed for social order. Li Si's writings on politics and law and other texts of this school much influenced the political thinking in the Han Dynasty and later eras. The Neo-Confucian philosophy of the Song Dynasty was a mixture of Confucianism and Legalism, and dictated that people must fulfill the roles assigned to them by tradition, by birth, and by their rulers.
Mo Zi (470-391) and the Moist school was said to be popular before the Qin Empire era, but it was severely persecuted by the Qin rulers so not much is known about them or their literature. It is said that he believed that "everyone is equal before heaven" and that people should imitate heaven by engaging in practicing collective love. It is known that some of the scientific concepts of the Moist school were advanced for their time.
- Chinese Dynasties
- The Xia Dynasty
- The Shang Dynasty
- The Zhou Dynasty
- Spring and Autumn Period
- Warring States Period
- The Qin Dynasty
- The Han Dynasty
- Three Kingdoms
- The Jin Dynasty
- The Sui Dynasty
- The Tang Dynasty
- The Western Xia Dynasty
- The Song Dynasty
- The Yuan Dynasty
- The Ming Dynasty
- The Qing Dynasty
- The Kingdom of Dali