Spring and Autumn Period — Era of Great Philosophers and Intense Contention over Hegemony

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

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

 

What Is Spring and Autumn Period?

Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC) was also the first half of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC — 256 BC) when kings of the Zhou Empire gradually lost power and land, and lords of vassal states kept competing 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, and 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)

Silk Manuscript of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Chin), Unearthed From Tomb of Prime Minister Li Cang (? — 185 BC) — Mawangdui Museum of Hunan Province

 

Why Is It called Spring and Autumn?

This period is named after a historical book, the Spring and Autumn Annals, that was written by Confucius

 

Spring was the season of planting and holding sacrifice ceremonies, Autumn was about harvest and wars. 

 

Therefore, the most important events in ancient China happened in the spring and autumn. 

Bronze Tableware Fu of the Spring and Autumn Period

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

 

Facts about the Spring and Autumn Period

 

  • During this period, 109 states were documented in historical records. 

  • Wars in this era were more about hegemony.

 

During this period, about 52 vassal states perished, 36 monarchs were assassinated, and nearly 500 wars were initiated. 

Unearthed Bronze Sword of the Spring and Autumn Period

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 certain rules and etiquettes:

 

Delivery of 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 bought back.

Unearthed Bronze Weapon Ge with Inlaying Gold Patterns and Inscriptions (Wang Zi Yu Ge)

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.

 

They still cared about their reputation and respected the kings of the Zhou Kingdom who reigned in the central Yellow River area, as their monarch. 

  • Private Schools appeared, which allowed commoners to get educated.

 

Since then, education was no longer a privilege of the nobles. 

Private Schools of the Spring and Autumn Period
 

Brief History of the Spring and Autumn Period

 

After Ji Gongsheng lost the origin Zhou capital and departed, the Western Zhou Empire stepped into another stage when many vassal states kept fighting 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 powerful overlord in this period. After his tragic death, Lord Ji Chonger, the Duke Wen of State Jin gained hegemony over the whole 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 Period

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

In the year 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 the year 403 BC, the powerful State Jin was carved up by three nobles into three kingdoms, which put an end to the Spring and Autumn Period.

Unearthed Spear of the King of Wu (Fu Chai)

Spear of the King of Wu (Fu Chai) — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Political Structure and Social Systems of the Spring and Autumn Period

Population:

 

Around 10 million. 

 

Political System:

 

  • King of Zhou was still the honorable monarch in the name; other lords, no matter how strong and powerful, wouldn’t announce themselves as kings. 

 

  • But most of the lords already stopped paying tributes to the kings of Zhou, who now were political puppets for powerful overlords. 

 

  • Those lords reign their vassal states independently. 

 

Official Selection System:

 

Hereditary Aristocrats.

Unearthed Crystal and Agate Accessory of the Spring and Autumn Period

Unearthed Crystal and Agate Accessory — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Tax:

 

Civilians needed to pay a certain amount of products, based on the area of their farmland; military, or labor services.

 

Military Service:

 

  • Everyone in the kingdom had the obligation to fight in their army and protect their family.

  • The nobles and civilians could serve as warriors, while slaves were only allowed to do miscellaneous affairs. 

 

Land System:

 

Changing from public to private ownership.

Unearthed Bronze Tiger with Inlaying Gold and Silver of the Spring and Autumn Period

Unearthed Bronze Tiger with Inlaying Gold and Silver of the Spring and Autumn Period — British Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Scientific Achievements and Artifacts of the Spring and Autumn Period

 

  • 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 of the Spring and Autumn Period

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. 

Unearthed Suan Chou in the Spring and Autumn Period

Suan Chou of the Spring and Autumn Period — Hebei Museum