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Duke Huan of Qi — Hegemony and Decline of the State Qi in the Spring and Autumn Period

Duke Huan of Qi (? — 643 BC), named Xiaobai, or Lv Xiaobai, was the first hegemon of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC).


He was an accomplished monarch who flourished the state and obtained hegemony; however, in his later years, he lost everything, ended up tragically, and had his empire fall apart.

Unearthed Jade Dragons (Yu Jue) of the Spring and Autumn Period

Unearthed Jade Dragons (Yu Jue) of the Spring and Autumn Period— Nanyang Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Honorable State Qi and Intense Contention Over the Throne

Xiaobai was a prince of a vassal state named Qi who was assigned to his ancestor Lv Shang, who made remarkable contributions in assisting Kings Wen and Wu of Zhou to establish the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC).

When Prince Xiaobai was young, he and his brother escaped to different states to avoid political chaos in the State Qi.

A few years later, his oldest brother, the current Lord of Qi, was assassinated; Xiaobai and his second-oldest brother were informed and tried their best to return to Qi's capital to compete for the throne. 

The most important minister of his brother was Guan Zhong. He shot an arrow at Prince Xiaobai, who fell to the ground and pretended to be dead. 

Unearthed Bronze Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period

Unearthed Bronze Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period — Hebei Provincial Institute of Archaeology (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Enthronement of Duke Huan of Qi and the Flourishing Empire

When his brother thought Prince Xiaobai was dead and slowed down, he and his followers hurried to the capital and ascended the throne as Duke Huan of Qi.

He then forced the lord of the state, who had helped his brother before, to assassinate his brother and send Guan Zhong back to State Qi.

Guan Zhong (about 723 BC — 645 BC), named Guan Yiwu, was a descendant of King Mu of Zhou and a successful businessman. 

Duke Huan of Qi forgave Guan Zhong, who had shot him before and respected him as the prime minister of State Qi. 

It turned out to be a wise decision. Guan Zhong, a brilliant politician, economist, and militarist, assisted Duke Huan of Qi in becoming the first hegemon of the Spring and Autumn Period.

Reforms in the State Qi

Under Guan Zhong's suggestions, Duke Huan of Qi implemented a series of reforms, after which Qi became the wealthiest and most powerful state in that period.

They refined administration, land, population, tax, and military systems and regulated economic activities scientifically.


Guan Zhong also weakened other states through brilliant currency and trade wars while vastly increasing State Qi's exchequer. 

Then Duke Huan of Qi paid a visit to the king of his Suzerain Zhou and showed great respect. The king was quite happy about a powerful lord being loyal and supportive since so many others had already stopped tributing to him for a long time. 

So the king awarded Duke Huan of Qi and his state many privileges.

The Currency of Qi State

The Currency of State Qi — Shandong Museum (Photo by AlexHe34)

The Hegemony of Duke Huan of Qi

Under the name of King of Zhou, Duke Huan of Qi and his army defeated or even perished some states that didn't respect him or the king. 

Then, he held many large-scale alliance meetings (Huimeng) that were only entitled to be held by kings, representing him as the most powerful hegemon.

In those grand meetings, they set rules, such as respecting the King of Zhou, no unreasonable invasions, the legality of queens and heirs, freedom of trading food and people, respecting elders and intelligent people, etc. 

As a responsible overlord, Duke Huan of Qi implemented those rules well and assisted the king in ensuring other lords maintained decency and order. 

Soon, he obtained most feudal lords' respect and the king's.

Bronze Tableware Fu of the Spring and Autumn Period

Bronze Tableware Fu of the Spring and Autumn Period — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Unexpected Tragic Ending of Duke Huan of Qi

Before brilliant prime minister Guan Zhong passed away, he persuaded Duke Huan of Qi that some people were dangerous and untrustworthy.


He believed that behind their false loyalty, they were genuinely greedy, evil people who were only going for power.

However, the lord nominated and empowered them after Guan's death.

Soon, the duke's five sons and these treacherous people kept fighting each other over the throne and power.

During that time, Duke Huan was old and sick in bed and was locked in the palace by his sons, with no food and water.

Only a former maid risked her life to provide the duke with some water by crossing a secret small hole in the wall. 

Unearthed Crystal and Agate Accessory of the Spring and Autumn Period

Crystal and Agate Accessory of the Spring and Autumn Period — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

This brave and remarkable hegemon Duke Huan of Qi was starved to death in his palace, alone and desperate, by his sons and trusted ministers that he promoted.

What’s even sadder was that his body was found two months after his death, decomposed, smelly, and covered with disgusting bugs.

The State Qi was severely damaged during this chaos; they lost not only hegemony, but also prosperity and many cities.

Bronze Weapon Ji of the Spring and Autumn Period

Bronze Weapon Ji of the Spring and Autumn Period — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Duke Wen of Jin — Adrift and Ambitious Overlord

Duke Wen of Jin (about 697 BC — 628 BC), named Ji Chong'er, was the second hegemon of the Spring and Autumn period. 

Duke Wen of Jin's life had been quite torturous as a noble prince. Before ascending to the throne, he had been drifting in other states for 19 years, when he experienced countless life-and-death encounters. 

Princes Being Framed by A Beautiful Concubine 

Chong'er was a prince of the State Jin, a vassal state that was subinfeuded to a descendant of King Wu of Zhou.

He lived a happy life as a noble prince of a vital state. 

Bronze Bottles of the Spring and Autumn Period

Bronze Bottles of the Spring and Autumn Period — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Until his father took back a beautiful woman after having conquered another state.

This woman named Li was a princess of this conquered state. She was beautiful, ambitious, and obtained the lord's love.

After Li gave birth to a baby boy, she started to plan to make her son the next Lord of Jin. 

Hence, she framed the crown prince, who was forced to commit suicide afterward.


Then, she planned schemes to get rid of Prince Chong'er and his other brother, the only two princes that may threaten Li's son's enthronement.

Iron and Gold Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period

Iron and Gold Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period — Baoji Antique Archaeology Institute  (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Prince Chong'er and His Journey of Exile

Chong'er and his brother were informed about Li's conspiracies, so they had to escape separately to different places. 

Their father was angry about their fleeing; he nominated Li's son as the new crown prince and sent people to hunt for them.

Prince Chong'er escaped this assassination successfully and went to his birth mother's state.

After their father passed away, some powerful officials allied together, disobeyed their dead lord's will, and assassinated the new lord and his mother, Li.

Some people wanted to welcome Chong'er back to ascend the throne, but he refused because he disobeyed his father's will and wasn't around when his father was sick and dead, which was considered a severe fault in ancient Chinese culture.  

But his brother, who escaped with Chong'er, ascended to the throne and became the new lord.

Assassinations by His Brother

However, his brother was not an honest monarch; he broke up many promises that he had made in exchange for other lords' support.

Then, more people believed that Chong'er was a much better monarch with great morality and exceptional talent. 

This made the new lord consider Chong'er, his dear brother, a threat to his throne, so he sent many people to assassinate Chong'er.

Escorted by his loyal followers, Prince Chong'er escaped again. After countless life-and-death moments and suffering from fear and starvation, he arrived at State Qi.

Lord of Qi or Duke Huan highly respected Prince Chong'er and provided him well. Later, Duke Huan also married a noble girl to Chong'er. 

Part of Painting "Jin Wen Gong Fu Guo Tu", Described Duke Wen of Jin's Recovering of His Empire, by Artist Li Tang (1066 - 1150)

Part of Painting "Jin Wen Gong Fu Guo Tu", Described Duke Wen of Jin's Recovering of His Empire, by Artist Li Tang (1066 - 1150) — The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Ascension of Duke Wen of Jin

After Duke Huan departed, the State Qi fell into huge chaos. Hence, Chong'er had to leave again. He stayed in many different states; some lords were very rude to him, while others, on the contrary, respected him well.  

Finally, Chong'er arrived at State Qin, whose lord agreed to support him.

At that time, the brother of Chong'er had passed away and given the throne to his young son.


Many people of State Jin still missed Chong'er and wanted him back; the State Qin also sent an army to escort him to go back to win back the throne.

In the end, the nephew of Chong'er, the new lord of Jin, lost the throne and was assassinated soon. 

After 19 years of fleeing from home and suffering, Chong'er finally arrived at his state and became the next lord, Duke Wen of Jin. 

Unearthed Exquisite Jade Decoration (Yu Yuan) of Eastern Zhou Dynasty

Tiger Shaped Jade Decoration (Yu Yuan) of the Spring and Autumn Period — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

The Attainment of Hegemony by Duke Wen of Jin

Finally, Duke Wen of Jin started his reign as an excellent monarch. He nominated the most qualified and intelligent officials and applied a series of policies to encourage agriculture, the economy, and the construction of transportation. His state kept flourishing under his rule.

Later, Suzerain Zhou's current king's brother had an affair with the queen; the king was furious and abolished his unfaithful queen.

Then the king's brother allied with a nomadic regime and attacked Zhou. The king escaped from the Zhou's capital city after his army failed.

Duke Wen of Jin welcomed the fleeing king, led his army to defeat and kill the king's brother, expelled the nomadic army, and welcomed the king back to the capital.

Zhou's king was satisfied with Duke Wen of Jin's loyal behavior and significant contribution and rewarded him with more cities.

Unearthed House Shaped Bronze Incense Burner of the Spring and Autumn Period

House Shaped Bronze Incense Burner of the Spring and Autumn Period — Sen-oku Hakuko Kan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

In the next few years, Duke Wen of Jin repaid the lords who had helped him during his drifting trips and punished those who were uncooperative.  

Soon, other states were either complied or defeated by the Duke Wen of Jin.    

Afterward, Duke Wen of Jin held a big alliance meeting when the king of Zhou awarded him as the most powerful and loyal overlord.

Military achievements and the king's support confirmed the hegemony of Duke Wen of Jin.

Years later, he passed away decently in the palace when he was old; his beloved son, another talented monarch, inherited the title and further developed their state. 

Inlaying Gold Belt Hook of the Spring and Autumn Period

Inlaying Gold Belt Hook of the Spring and Autumn Period — Shanxi Museum  (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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