The name of the Zhou period was taken from the Spring and Autumn Annals or the Chunqiu, the chronicles of the state of Lu. This can be found on the Bible Timeline with World History between 722 – 481 BC.
The Spring and Autumn period started after the Western Zhou king was forced to flee to Luoyang following the invasion of the Quanrong tribe from northwest China. The move east was to ensure the royal family’s safety from future invasions and for them to be nearer to their allied states. Now called Eastern Zhou, this dynasty would last at least two and a half centuries more. However, its power and influence would be severely diminished as the years pass.
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From the Western Zhou capital Haojing, power shifted to the city of Luoyang located in the central plains between the Luo and Yellow Rivers. The territory spanned from the Yellow River in the west to the Shandong peninsula in the east, and as much as 148 states occupied this vast territory. 15 major states rose during the Spring and Autumn Period while the smaller states were absorbed by, the more powerful ones.
There was a constant struggle for power between states as well as internal strife. The king held the title of the Son of Heaven and retained the Mandate of Heaven, but his influence was diminished and became nothing more than just a figurehead. The real power, however, was held by the hegemons (leaders of the state) who had the strongest army. They were tasked to protect the States from the invasion of barbarian tribes.
Five of them would rise to prominence during the time of the Eastern Zhou dynasty including the:
* Duke Huan of Qi
* King Zhuang of Chu
* Duke Wen of Jin
* Duke Xiang of Song
* Duke Mu of Qin
King Helü of Wu, King Fuchai of Wu, and King Goujian of Yue were also included as some of the most important kings of that period. Helu and Goujian were sometimes incorporated into the list of five hegemons.
The Spring and Autumn Period was a time of conflicts between state leaders and rulers. One of the most well known was between Duke Zhuang of Zheng and King Hui of Zhou. It exploded into a war between two powers and ended with the Duke killing King Hui after defeating his army. This illustrates the breakdown of the king’s power and the dynasty was unable to secure the loyalty of the states.
The series of wars between the states of Wu, Chu, and Yue was a symptom of a fragmented kingdom. The state of Wu attacked the states of Chu and Yue but was overpowered and conquered by Yue later on.
If there was something positive about the Spring and Autumn, it is the rise of China’s famous scholars including Confucius, Lao-tse, Mo-tse, and Sun Tzu. They left behind some of China’s enduring contribution to literature including The Four Books and Five Classics, Tao Te Ching, Mozi, and The Art of War.
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