Duke Huan of Qi — Hegemony, and Declination of the State Qi of 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 that flourished the state and obtained hegemony, however, in his late 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, which was assigned to his ancestor Lv Shang, who made remarkable contributions in assisting Kings Wen and Wu of Zhou established 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 both were informed and tried their best to go back to Qi's capital to compete for the throne.  

The most important minister of his brother was named 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 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 the Duke Huan of Qi.

He then forced the lord of the state who had helped his brother before to assassinate his brother and to 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 to become the first hegemon of the Spring and Autumn Period.

Reforms of 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 system, and regulated economic activities scientifically. Guan Zhong also weakened other states through brilliant currency and trade wars, while largely 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 so loyal and supportive since so many others 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 the 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 hold by kings, which were representative of him being the most powerful hegemon.

In those important meetings, they set some 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 and many lords to maintain decency and order. 

Soon, he obtained most feudal lords' respect, as well as 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 the Duke Huan of Qi

Before brilliant prime minister Guan Zhong passed away, he persuaded Duke Huan of Qi that some people were dangerous and not trustworthy. He believed that behind their false loyalty, they were truly greedy, evil people that were only going for power.

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

Soon, the duke's five sons, together with 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. 

As a noble prince, Duke Wen of Jin's life had been quite torturous. Before his 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 strong 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 Adrift Trip

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, for having disobeyed his father’s will and was not able to be there when his father was sick and dead, which was considered a serious fault in ancient Chinese culture. 

But his brother, the one that 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 to 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, as quite a threat to his throne; so he sent many people to have Chong'er assassinated.

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

Enthronement of the 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 some 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, also 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, the 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)

Achieving of Hegemony

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, his 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 out of 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 behaviors and great 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 that had helped him during his drifting trips and punished those uncooperative ones.  

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 together 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)