Warring States Period — Wars Among Seven Kingdoms 

Ritual Jade (Yu Bi) of State Lu During the Warring States Period

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, and 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.

 

The State Qin was the final winner, which was led by Qin Shi Huang defeated other kingdoms and established the unified Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC). 

Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Certificate (Hu Fu) to Deploy Forces Garrisoned in Yangling

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, the Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei, and Qin, all had their own languages, characters, currencies, etc. 

Seven Kingdoms and their Different Scripts for "Horse" and "Peace"

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 influential reforms, trying 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 Period

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. 

 

  • There were about two million people who had lost their lives because of war during this era, and the General Bai Qi of the State Qin was responsible for one million. 

Unearthed Jade Mythical Animal of the Warring States Period

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 got perished and there were 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 of the 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 competitions required every kingdom to try its best 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 that 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 the year 356 BC to 350 BC when Shang Yang implemented his great reform, which provided the State Qin with the most advanced system and aggressive troops. 

Seeing 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 Shangyang

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, and made Qin the strongest empire after having won the Battle of Changping, the earliest and largest annihilation war in ancient history. 

Afterward, the State Qin became the strongest 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 strong 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 was perished by Wang Jian.

225 BC: The State Wei was conquested by Wang Ben.

223 BC: The State Chu was 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 State Chu

Gold Currency (Ying Yuan) of the Chu State — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Those six major states that perished had extraordinary generals like Qin’s, however, none of them had a great monarch like King Ying Zheng, one of the greatest emperors in the history of China.

 

Consequently, they gradually disappeared. 

In the year 221 BC, King Ying Zheng, also honored as Qin Shi Huang, built the first unified Chinese empire, the Qin Dynasty, and brought an end to the Warring States.

Bronze Water and Wine Container Decorated with Hundreds of Dragons, the most Exquisite Bronze Wares in the Warring States Period(Unearthed from Tomb of Zeng Hou Yi)

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

 

Population:

 

Around 30 million. 

 

Political System:

 

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, as well as recruitment and recommendation of talented people, military achievements, etc. 

 

Tax:

 

  • 1/10 of farmland products;

 

  • capitation tax;

 

  • military or labor services.

Different Currencies of the Seven Kingdoms

Different Currencies of the Seven Kingdoms

Military Service:

 

  • Everyone in the kingdom had the obligation 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. 

 

Land System:

 

Shang Yang’s Reform privatized land, after which civilians can own and sell their farmland while paying a certain amount of taxes. 

Colorful Lacquerware Used to Place Food — Hubei Museum
Bronze Food Container with Dragon and Phoenix Relief — Jingzhou Museum
Bronze Inlaying Silver Colander — Jingzhou Museum

 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 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 the Pinhole Imaging, Specular Imaging principles, etc. ​

Bronze Pliers of the State Qin — National Museum of China
Bronze Gear of the Warring States Period — Luoyang Museum

Bronze Pliers and Gear of the Warring States Period  (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine): First masterpiece about the theory of traditional Chinese Medicine.

 

It connected the Yin Yang and Five Elements theory to the human body and explained the basic philosophy and cosmology of Chinese Medicine.

 

Many advanced medical technologies, including anatomy knowledge, were demonstrated too. 

 

  • The invention of the Crossbow.