What was the Warring States Period? The Warring States Period (475–221 BC) was an era of division in ancient China. This period is known for frequent warfare and annexations of various states in the lead up to a larger united China. See the following 15 Warring States Period facts.
1. The Warring States Period lasted 254 years.
The Warring States Period started from 475 BC and ended in 221 BC. It was the last period of the Zhou Dynasty (1046–221 BC). The Zhou Dynasty era consisted of three periods: Western Zhou (1046–771 BC), the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC), and the Warring States Period.
2. The Warring States Period began because…
…nobles stopped supporting the Zhou Dynasty, and Zhou's vassal states declared themselves independent from Zhou and fought for territory, becoming kingdoms or warring states.
The independence of vassal states was caused by the Zhou Dynasty’s system of enfeoffment: in order to strengthen the Zhou king’s power, nobles who contributed to the dynasty were awarded land.
Then vassal states formed. Vassal states could manage their own lands and raise their own armies. Once a vassal state became strong enough, its ambition went beyond being a small state.
3. The Warring States Period was dominated by 7 warring states.
Powerful vassal states constantly annexed smaller vassal states, and by the middle of the Warring States period, there were seven vassal states: Qin, Chu, Zhao, Wei, Han, Yan, and Qi.
- Qin was in the far west, occupying today's Shaanxi Guanzhong, Hanzhong, southeast Gansu, central and eastern Sichuan.
- Chu enjoyed the largest area. It dominated the south, with its core territory around the Yangtze River, controlling today’s Hubei, and part of Henan, Anhui, Hunan, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.
- Zhao was in the north, roughly most of today's Shanxi and Hebei and part of Inner Mongolia.
- Wei was located in the middle, roughly part of today's Henan.
- Han was situated in the middle too, occupying part of Henan and Shanxi.
- Yan, in the northeast, controlled today’s Beijing, Liaoning, and Jilin.
- Qi controlled the east, centered on the Shandong Peninsula.
4. Wei and Chu were the strongest at first.
Here are power rankings of the seven states during the Warring States Period:
- 403–386 BC: Wei, Chu, Zhao, Qi, Qin, Han, Yan
- 386–381 BC: Chu, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Han, Qin, Yan
- 381–341 BC: Wei, Chu, Qi, Qin and Zhao, Han, Yan
- 341–312 BC: Chu, Qi, Qin, Wei, Zhao, Han, Yan
- 312–284 BC: Qi, Qin, Chu, Zhao, Wei, Yan, Han
- 284–257 BC: Qin, Chu, Zhao, Wei, Yan, Han, Qi
- 257–241 BC: Chu, Qin, Wei, Zhao, Han, Yan, Qi
- 241–221 BC: Qin, Chu, Zhao, Wei, Qi, Yan, Han
5. The rise of Qin was due to legalism.
In 361 BC, a legalist called Shang Yang, who was born in the Wei state, went to Qin, and his legalist reform proposal was adopted by Duke Xiao of Qin (ruled 362–338 BC).
Shang Yang espoused rule according to a defined set of strict rules and a clear political philosophy. By 338 BC, although Shang Yang was eventually killed, his reforms made Qin the most powerful and ruthless state, both in military and economic terms.
6. The Warring States Period ended with Qin wins.
Thanks to Shang Yang's reforms, Qin had become the most powerful and ruthless state, and possessed the power to unify the Warring States.
Ying Zheng, later to become the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, started to "rule" the Qin state in 246 BC when he was 13. His ruling court mobilized Qin for conquests, and Ying Zheng was in full control by the time preparations were made in 230 BC.
In 221 BC, Qin had finally conquered and unified the six states, kicking off the first unified feudal dynasty in Chinese history.
7. Qin conquered all, Han first.
In 230 BC, King Zheng started his conquest of the Warring States. He adopted his chancellor Li Si's idea that the whole conquest should be carried out in order of difficulty.
- In 230 BC, Han, the nearest state to Qin, was conquered.
- In 228 BC, Qin occupied the territory of Zhao.
- In 226 BC, Qin occupied the Yan capital, Ji (now Beijing), and the King of Yan moved his capital to Liaodong.
- In 225 BC, Qin conquered Wei.
- In 223 BC, Qin conquered Chu.
- In 222 BC, Qin conquered the rest of Yan and Zhao.
- In 221 BC, Qin conquered Qi, and the Qin Dynasty ruled over a united China.
8. The name ‘Warring States’ came from an ancient work — Zhanguoce.
“Zhanguoce” (‘Strategies of the Warring States’) recorded the history and stories of states during the Warring States Period. Because of the frequent wars between states in that period, it got the Warring States name.
9. The Battle of Changping resulted in 650,000 casualties.
The Battle of Changping was fought between the states of Qin and Zhao.
Qin adopted the strategy of retreating by feigning defeat, luring Zhao out of its position, and then dividing and encircling the Zhao army, cutting off its supply route and finally annihilating it, winning that war.
In this war, the Zhao army (450,000 men) was almost completely wiped out, and the Qin army suffered casualties of more than half of its men (200,000).
The Battle of Changping was the earliest, largest, and most thorough large-scale annihilation battle in ancient Chinese military history. This battle accelerated the process of unifying the six states of Qin.
10. A new way of fighting emerged — cavalry
This was a military reform carried out by King Wuling of Zhao (reigned 325–299 BC) to strengthen his military power.
The borders of Zhao were often invaded by nomadic people from the north on horseback. Mounted warriors could move quickly and were more flexible than the chariots and spears used in the Central Plains.
King Wuling of Zhao also adopted the characteristic military clothing of nomads — short clothes with narrow sleeves, which were more convenient for fighting compared to the wide sleeves and long clothes of the Central Plains people.
So, he established a cavalry and required his soldiers to wear short coats, belts, and boots. After the military reform, Zhao became the most powerful state except for Qin at that time.
11. The Warring States produced some of China’s great philosophers.
In order to gain a dominant position in the struggle, the various vassal states recruited talents and carried out reforms. The free social environment produced a number of philosophers, such as Mencius, Xunzi, Mozi, and Han Feizi, with their different ideas and thoughts, which had an important influence on Chinese culture.
12. The philosophy of rule of law was highly valued.
The philosophy of rule of law first emerged in the Spring and Autumn Period. Later, in the Warring States Period, it was developed and supported and became a strong school of thought.
The states of Wei, Chu, and Qin all adopted legalist ideas and carried out reforms. Qin's unification of the six states owes a great deal to legalism and later it became the philosophy for governing state affairs in the Qin Dynasty.
13. Four diagnostic methods of Chinese medicine were invented.
These methods were invented by Bian Que, a highly skilled doctor. His four principles of diagnosis — look, listen, question, and feel the pulse — are still widely used today. They are the basis for traditional Chinese medicine.
14. The prototype Great Wall was built in the Warring States Period.
The northern borders of Qin, Zhao and Yan were constantly harassed by Mongols and other tribes in the north, so long walls were built. Later when Qin unified the six states, these long walls were connected. That was the prototype Great Wall.
15. A Warring States Period Timeline
The timeline of the Warring States Period could be divided into seven stages:
- Stage 1 (475–404 BC): Jin and Chu became stronger.
- Stage 2 (403–370): Han, Wei, and Zhao were independent from Jin; Wei dominated the Central Plains.
- Stage 3 (369–341): Chu, Qi, Qin and Han rose up in succession and jointly suppressed Wei.
- Stage 4 (340–311): Wei declined. Qi, Chu, and Qin became the three powerful states. A confrontation formed: Qi and Chu vs Qin, Han, and Wei.
- Stage 5 (310–284): Chu declined; Qin fought Qi; Zhao and Yan rose.
- Stage 6 (283–260): Qi declined, and Qin and Zhao were in confrontation.
- Stage 7 (259–221): Qin conquered the six states, established the Qin Dynasty, and unified the Central Plains.
Tours of the Warring States Period Sites
- The Terracotta Warriors and other sites in Xi'an are the best places to learn about the Qin State and Qin Dynasty.
- The Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan has the largest collection of artifacts from the Warring States era.
- At the Museum of the Zhou Imperial Carriages in Luoyang, Zhou Dynasty capital in the Warring States Period, you can tour archaeological excavations and see artifacts.