Spring and Autumn Period — Era of Great Philosophers and Intense Contention for Hegemony
The Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC) marked the first half of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC — 256 BC), during which the kings of the Zhou Empire gradually lost power and land, while lords of vassal states competed for hegemony.
This was also an era of great minds when many great philosophers formed their theories, such as Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism and writer of Tao Te Ching; Confucius, the founder of Confucianism; Mozi, the founder of Mohism; Sun Zi, the writer of The Art of War.
Silk Manuscript of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Chin), Unearthed From Tomb of Prime Minister Li Cang (? — 185 BC) — Mawangdui Museum of Hunan Province
Unearthed House Shaped Bronze Incense Burner of the Spring and Autumn Period — Sen-oku Hakuko Kan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Why Is It called Spring and Autumn?
This period is named after the historical book 'The Spring and Autumn Annals,' which was written by Confucius.
Spring was the season for planting and holding sacrifice ceremonies, while Autumn was associated with harvests and wars.
Therefore, the most important events in ancient China occurred in the spring and autumn.
Bronze Tableware Fu of the Spring and Autumn Period — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Spring and Autumn Period Facts
During this period, 109 states were documented in historical records.
Wars in this era were more about hegemony.
About 52 vassal states perished during this period, 36 monarchs were assassinated, and nearly 500 wars were initiated.
Bronze Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period — Hebei Provincial Institute of Archaeology (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Though many small states were annexed and perished, wars in this period still followed specific rules and etiquettes:
Delivery of the War Book in advance was important;
Wars usually lasted less than a day;
Winners wouldn't chase or bully the losers;
Injured soldiers wouldn't be hurt for the second time;
People shouldn't wound the enemy too hard;
Wars should not be combated in the farmland;
Captives could be repurchased.
Unearthed Bronze Weapon Ge with Inlaying Gold Patterns and Inscriptions (Wang Zi Yu Ge) — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Lords of each vassal state kept fighting against each other to occupy more land and people.
Private Schools appeared, which allowed commoners to get educated.
Since then, education was no longer a privilege of the nobles.
Brief History of the Spring and Autumn Period
Many vassal states fought against each other and nomadic tribes to occupy more land and people.
Lv Xiaobai, the Duke Huan of State Qi, flourished his realm and became the first mighty overlord in this period.
After his tragic death, Lord Ji Chonger, the Duke Wen of State Jin, gained hegemony over the nation.
Decades later, some other ambitious overlords gained supremacy, while large numbers of small states were annexed, and bigger ones started to declare independence from the Zhou Court.
Unearthed Jade Dragons (Yu Jue) of the Spring and Autumn Periods— Nanyang Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
In 473 BC, the Kingdom Yue perished the Kingdom Wu, with the assistance of the first honey trap Xi Shi.
The Lord of Kingdom Yue then became the last overlord in this period.
In 403 BC, the powerful State Jin was carved up by three nobles into three kingdoms, which ended the Spring and Autumn Period.
Spear of the King of Wu (Fu Chai) — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Political Structure and Social Systems of the Spring and Autumn Period
During the Spring and Autumn Period, the population varied, with an approximate peak ranging from 20 million to 25 million.
The King of Zhou retained the honorable title of monarch in name, and no matter how powerful other lords became, they refrained from declaring themselves as kings.
However, the majority of the lords had already ceased paying tributes to the Kings of Zhou, who had become political puppets of powerful overlords.
These lords ruled their vassal states independently.
Official Selection System
During the Spring and Autumn Periods, states operated under an aristocratic hereditary system, where political power and leadership were inherited within privileged and noble families.
Unearthed Crystal and Agate Accessory — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Civilians were required to pay a certain amount of product based on the size of their farmland and to perform military or labor services.
Every individual in the kingdom bore the obligation to enlist in the army, actively participating in the defense of their land and ensuring the safety of their own families.
Nobles and civilians were eligible to become warriors, whereas enslaved individuals were restricted to miscellaneous tasks.
During the Spring and Autumn Period, there was a transition in the land system, shifting from public to private ownership.
Unearthed Bronze Tiger with Inlaying Gold and Silver of the Spring and Autumn Period — British Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Spring and Autumn Period Achievements
Invention and application of the four ways of diagnosis (look, listen, question, and feel the pulse), which set the fundamental inquiry and diagnosis method of Chinese Medicine, by Qin Yueren (Bian Que).
Application of the Pig Iron Smelting.
Unearthed Iron Sword with Gold Hilt — Baoji Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Wide utilization of Grafting Technology in agriculture.
Extensive application of Fraction Numbers.
Suan Chou: a type of counting equipment which includes 270 rods of the same size.
Suan Chou of the Spring and Autumn Period — Hebei Museum