Warring States Period — Wars Among Seven Kingdoms
Ritual Jade (Yu Bi) of State Lu During the Warring States Period — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
What Is the Warring States Period?
Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC) was also the second half of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC — 256 BC) when seven strong kingdoms engaged in merger wars and strengthened through reforms and expansion, while the suzerain Zhou kept shrinking.
The intense contention and wars among these kingdoms led to the flourishing of technology, literature, philosophy, reform, agriculture, politics, and military, and left a series of epic stories.
The seven warring states were Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei, and Qin.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Certificate (Hu Fu) to Deploy Forces Garrisoned in Yangling — National Museum of China
Facts About the Warring States Period
The seven great kingdoms in this period, Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei, and Qin, all had their languages, characters, currencies, etc.
Seven Kingdoms and their Different Scripts for "Horse" and "Peace"
The former feudal lords all announced themselves as the king during this period.
Many kingdoms implemented significant reforms to improve their strength and win over others.
The most successful reform was implemented in the State of Qin by Great Strategist Shang Yang.
Civilians could get noble titles based on their military achievements.
Unearthed Bronze Carriage of the Warring States — Nanjing Museum
Wars of this era were aimed at perishing other countries and were full of death and conspiracies.
Wars in this period usually lasted for months or years, in which tens of thousands of people were involved.
The earliest versions of the Great Wall of China were built during this era as important military defense systems.
About two million people lost their lives because of war during this era, and the General Bai Qi of the State Qin was responsible for one million.
Jade Mythical Animal of the Warring States — The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)
History of the Rise and Fall of the Warring States Period
Contention Over Seven Kingdoms and Hundred Schools of Thought
After hundreds of years of intense contentions over hegemony during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC), many smaller states perished, and seven powerful kingdoms left, plus a small central government of the Zhou Empire.
During this period, whoever was stronger could get more power and land; all the former lords claimed themselves kings, who were aimed at perishing other kingdoms and unifying the whole nation.
Because of fewer hierarchical constraints and more communications among the kingdoms, more ideas were exchanged and developed during this era, which was defined as the “Hundred Schools of Thought”.
Unearthed Exquisite Decorative Accessories of the Warring States (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Implementation of Reforms and the Broken Balance
The intense wars and competition required every kingdom to try to attract talented people and implement reforms to take advantage of the constant competition.
Great general and reformist Wu Qi was a remarkable example who promoted all the kingdoms he had served.
The seven kingdoms were all well developed when everyone had both won and failed a few times.
The balance was broken from 356 BC to 350 BC when Shang Yang implemented his significant reform, which provided the State Qin with the most advanced system and aggressive troops.
Seeing that State Qin was getting stronger, the other six kingdoms allied together to fight against the Qin. But later, an excellent strategist named Fan Ju broke up the ally of these Six Kingdoms.
Measuring Vessel Implemented in the Reform of Shang Yang — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Defeating of Six Kingdoms and Ending of the Warring States Period
Then, General Bai Qi led Qin’s army and severely weakened the other six countries’ forces, making Qin the strongest empire after winning the Battle of Changping, the earliest and largest annihilation war in ancient history.
Afterward, the State Qin became the most substantial empire. Even though the other six kingdoms allied again, they could never win over the Qin.
After King Ying Zheng ascended to the throne, he stepped up the pace of reunification.
Led by General Wang Jian and his son Wang Ben, the powerful troop of the Kingdom Qin conquested the other six kingdoms within a decade:
230 BC: The State Han was defeated by the State Qin.
228 BC: The State Zhao perished by Wang Jian.
225 BC: The State Wei was conquested by Wang Ben.
223 BC: The State Chu perished by Wang Jian.
222 BC: The State Yan was conquested by Wang Ben.
221 BC: The State Qi was perished by Wang Ben.
Gold Currency (Ying Yuan) of the Chu State — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Those six major states that perished had extraordinary generals like Qin; however, none of them had a great monarch like King Ying Zheng, one of the most extraordinary emperors in the history of China.
Consequently, they gradually disappeared.
Bronze Water and Wine Container Decorated with Hundreds of Dragons, the most Exquisite Bronze Wares in the Warring States Era (Unearthed from Tomb of Zeng Hou Yi) — Hubei Museum
Political Structure and Social Systems of the Warring States
Around 30 million.
The County System was widely applied; governors of the counties were assigned and assessed by kings. Those incapable ones would be dismissed.
Official Selection System:
Aristocrats hereditary, recruitment and recommendation of talented people, military achievements, etc.
1/10 of farmland products;
Military or labor services.
Different Currencies of the Seven Kingdoms
Everyone in the kingdom was obliged to fight in their army and protect their family.
More rewards were given to soldiers with military achievements, including noble titles, money, exemption from duty, etc.
Shang Yang’s Reform privatized land, after which civilians could own and sell their farmland while paying a certain amount of taxes.
Unearthed Lacquerware, Bronze Food Containers and Colander of the Warring States Period — Hubei, Jingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Scientific Achievements and Artifacts of the Warring States
Gan Shi Xing Jing: the earliest sidereal table, the first astronomical masterpiece in the world, which documented the movement laws of the Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn, recorded the names of over 800 fixed stars and accurately located 121 of them.
Great philosopher Mohist, and the inventions of Mohism, which include the earliest demonstration of Pinhole Imaging, Specular Imaging principles, etc.
Bronze Pliers and Gear of the Warring States Period (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine): The first masterpiece about traditional Chinese medicine theory.
Many advanced medical technologies, including anatomy knowledge, were demonstrated too.
The invention of the Crossbow.
Unearthed Weapons of the Warring States (Photo by Dongmaiying)