Spring and Autumn period
|History of China|
|Neolithic c. 8500–c. 2100 BC|
|Xia dynasty c. 2100–c. 1600 BC|
|Shang dynasty c. 1600–c. 1046 BC|
|Zhou dynasty c. 1045–256 BC|
|Spring and Autumn|
|Qin dynasty 221–206 BC|
|Han dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD|
|Three Kingdoms 220–280|
|Wei, Shu and Wu|
|Jin dynasty 265–420|
|Eastern Jin||16 Kingdoms|
|Southern and Northern Dynasties
|Sui dynasty 581–618|
|Tang dynasty 618–907|
|(Second Zhou 690–705)|
|5 Dynasties and
|Northern Song||W. Xia|
|Yuan dynasty 1271–1368|
|Ming dynasty 1368–1644|
|Qing dynasty 1644–1911|
|Republic of China 1912–1949|
China on Taiwan
The Spring and Autumn period (simplified Chinese: 春秋时代; traditional Chinese: 春秋時代; pinyin: Chūnqiū Shídài) was a period in Chinese history that took place from approximately 771 until 476 BC (or by some authorities until 403 BC) in the alluvial plain of the Yellow River, the Shandong Peninsula and the river valleys of the Huai and Han. It roughly corresponds to the first half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Its name comes from the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of Lu between 722 and 479 BC, which tradition associates with Confucius. The period can also be further divided into three sub-periods:
- Age of regional cultures (Early): 771 BC–643 BC, up to the death of Duke Huan of Qi.
- Age of encroachments (Middle): 643 BC–546 BC, up to the peace conference between the states of Jin and Chu.
- Age of reforms (Late): 546 BC–403 BC, up to the partition of Jin.
During the Spring and Autumn period, China's feudal system of fēngjiàn became largely irrelevant. The Zhou dynasty kings held nominal power, but had real control over only a small royal demesne centered on their capital Luoyi near modern-day Luoyang. During the early part of the Zhou dynasty period, royal relatives and generals had been given control over fiefdoms in an effort to maintain Zhou authority over vast territory. As the power of the Zhou kings waned, these fiefdoms became increasingly independent states.
The most important feudal princes (known later as the twelve vassals) met during regular conferences where important matters, such as military expeditions against foreign groups or offending nobles, were decided. During these conferences, one vassal leader was sometimes declared hegemon (Chinese: 伯; pinyin: bó; later, Chinese: 霸; pinyin: bà) and given leadership over the armies of all Zhou states.
As the era unfolded, larger and more powerful states annexed or claimed suzerainty over smaller ones. By the 6th century BC, most small states had disappeared and only a few large and powerful principalities dominated China. Some southern states, such as Chu and Wu, claimed independence from the Zhou. Wars were undertaken to oppose some of these states (Wu and Yue).
Amid the interstate power struggles, internal conflict was also rife: six elite landholding families waged war on each other in Jin; the Chen family was eliminating political enemies in Qi; and legitimacy of the rulers was often challenged in civil wars by various royal family members in Qin and Chu. Once all these powerful rulers had firmly established themselves within their respective dominions, the bloodshed focused more fully on interstate conflict in the Warring States period, which began in 403 BC when the three remaining elite families in Jin – Zhao, Wei and Han – partitioned the state.
Beginning of the Eastern Zhou dynasty
After the Zhou capital was sacked by the Marquess of Shen and the Quanrong barbarians, the Zhou moved the capital east from the now desolated Zongzhou in Haojing near modern Xi'an to Chengzhou in the Yellow River Valley. The Zhou royalty was then closer to its main supporters, particularly Jin, and Zheng; the Zhou royal family had much weaker authority and relied on lords from these vassal states for protection, especially during their flight to the eastern capital. In Chengzhou, Prince Yijiu was crowned by his supporters as King Ping. However, with the Zhou domain greatly reduced to Chengzhou and nearby areas, the court could no longer support the six army groups it had in the past; Zhou kings had to request help from powerful vassal states for protection from raids and for resolution of internal power struggles. The Zhou court would never regain its original authority; instead, it was relegated to being merely a figurehead of the feudal states. Though the king de jure retained the Mandate of Heaven, the title held little actual power.
With the decline of Zhou power, the Yellow River drainage basin was divided into hundreds of small, autonomous states, most of them consisting of a single city, though a handful of multi-city states, particularly those on the periphery, had power and opportunity to expand outward. A total of 148 states are mentioned in the chronicles for this period, 128 of which were absorbed by the four largest states by the end of the period.
While the Zheng rulers initially supported the Zhou royalty, relations soured enough that Duke Zhuang of Zheng (757–701 BC) raided Zhou territory in 707 BC, defeating King Huan's army in battle and injuring the king himself; the display of Zheng's martial strength was effective until succession problems after Zhuang's death weakened the state.
Shortly after the royal family's move to Chengzhou, a hierarchical alliance system arose where the Zhou king would give the title of hegemon to the leader of the state with the most powerful military; the hegemon was obligated to protect both the weaker Zhou states and the Zhou royalty from the intruding non-Zhou peoples: the Northern Di, the Southern Man, the Eastern Yi, and the Western Rong. This political framework retained the fēngjiàn power structure, though interstate and intrastate conflict often led to disregard for feudal customs, respect for the Ji family, and solidarity with other Zhou peoples. The king's prestige legitimized the military leaders of the states, and helped mobilize collective defense of Zhou territory against "barbarians."
Over the next two centuries, the four most powerful states—Qin, Jin, Qi and Chu—struggled for power. These multi-city states often used the pretext of aid and protection to intervene and gain suzerainty over the smaller states. During this rapid expansion, interstate relations alternated between low-level warfare and complex diplomacy
Ancient sources such as the Zuo Zhuan and the eponymous Chunqiu record the various diplomatic activities, such as court visits paid by one ruler to another (Chinese: 朝; pinyin: cháo), meetings of officials or nobles of different states (simplified Chinese: 会; traditional Chinese: 會; pinyin: huì), missions of friendly inquiries sent by the ruler of one state to another (Chinese: 聘; pinyin: pìn), emissaries sent from one state to another (Chinese: 使; pinyin: shǐ), and hunting parties attended by representatives of different states (Chinese: 狩; pinyin: shou).
Because of Chu's non-Zhou origin, the state was considered semi-barbarian and its rulers – beginning with King Wu in 704 BC – proclaimed themselves kings in their own right. Chu intrusion into Zhou territory was checked several times by the other states, particularly in the major battles of Chengpu (632 BC), Bi (595 BC) and Yanling (575 BC), which restored the states of Chen and Cai.
The first hegemon was Duke Huan of Qi (r. 685-643 BC). With the help of his minister, Guan Zhong, Duke Huan reformed Qi to centralize its power structure. The state consisted of 15 "townships" with the duke and two senior ministers each in charge of five; military functions were also united with civil ones. These and related reforms provided the state, already powerful from control of trade crossroads, with a greater ability to mobilize resources than the more loosely organized states.
By 667 BC, Qi had clearly shown its economic and military predominance, and Duke Huan assembled the leaders of Lu, Song, Chen, and Zheng, who elected him as their leader. Soon after, King Hui of Zhou conferred the title of bà (hegemon), giving Duke Huan royal authority in military ventures. An important basis for justifying Qi's dominance over the other states was presented in the slogan 'supporting the king, and expelling the barbarians' (尊王攘夷 zun wang rang yi); the role of subsequent hegemons would also be framed in this way, as the primary defender and supporter of nominal Zhou authority and the existing order. Using this authority, Duke Huan intervened in a power struggle in Lu; protected Yan from encroaching Western Rong nomads (664 BC); drove off Northern Di nomads after they'd invaded Wey (660 BC) and Xing (659 BC), providing the people with provisions and protective garrison units; and led an alliance of eight states to conquer Cai and thereby block the northward expansion of Chu (656 BC).
At his death in 643 BC, five of Duke Huan's sons contended for the throne, badly weakening the state so that it was no longer regarded as the hegemon. For nearly ten years, no ruler held the title. However, when Duke Wen of Jin (r. 636–628 BC) came to power, he capitalized on the reforms of his father, Duke Xian (r. 676–651 BC), who had centralized the state, killed off relatives who might threaten his authority, conquered sixteen smaller states, and even absorbed some Rong and Di peoples to make Jin much more powerful than it had been previously. When he assisted King Xiang in a succession struggle in 635 BC, Xiang awarded Jin with strategically valuable territory near Chengzhou.
Duke Wen of Jin then used his growing power to coordinate a military response with Qi, Qin, and Song against Chu, which had begun encroaching northward after the death of Duke Huán of Qi. With a decisive Chu loss at the Battle of Chengpu (632 BC), Duke Wen's loyalty to the Zhou king was rewarded at an interstate conference when King Xīang awarded him the title of bà.
Changing tempo of war
After the death of Duke Wen in 628 BC, a growing tension manifested in interstate violence that turned smaller states, particularly those at the border between Jin and Chu, into sites of constant warfare; Qi and Qin also engaged in numerous interstate skirmishes with Jin or its allies to boost their own power.
After a period of increasingly exhausting warfare, Qi, Qin, Jin and Chu met at a disarmament conference in 579 BC and agreed to declare a truce to limit their military strength. This peace didn't last very long and it soon became apparent that the bà role had become outdated; the four major states had each acquired their own spheres of control and the notion of protecting Zhou territory had become less cogent as the control over (and the resulting cultural assimilation of) non-Zhou peoples, as well as Chu's control of some Zhou areas, further blurred an already vague distinction between Zhou and non-Zhou. In addition, new aristocratic houses were founded with loyalties to powerful states, rather than directly to the Zhou kings, though this process slowed down by the end of the seventh century BC, possibly because territory available for expansion had been largely exhausted. The Zhou kings had also lost much of their prestige so that, when Duke Dao of Jin (r. 572–558 BC) was recognized as bà, it carried much less meaning than it had before.
At the same time, internal conflicts between state leaders and local aristocrats occurred throughout the region. Eventually the dukes of Lu, Jin, Zheng, Wey and Qi became figureheads to powerful aristocratic families.
Rise of Wu and Yue
While the conflict between Jin and Chu for the Central Plains gradually eased, two states in southeastern China with initially tenuous links to the Zhou realm - Wu in modern-day Jiangsu and Yue in modern-day Zhejiang - grew in power as they gained relevance in interstate affairs. Starting around 583 BC, Jin used aid to solidify an alliance with Wu, which then acted as a counterweight to Chu so that, while Jin and Chu agreed to a truce in 546 BC to address wars over smaller states, Wu maintained constant military pressure on Chu and even launched a devastating full-scale invasion in 506 BC.
After King Helü of Wu died during an invasion of Yue in 496 BC, his son, King Fuchai of Wu nearly destroyed the Yue state, imprisoning King Goujian of Yue. Subsequently, Fuchai defeated Qi and extended Wu influence into central China. In 482 BC, King Fuchai held an interstate conference to solidify his power base, but Yue captured the Wu capital. Fuchai rushed back but was besieged and died when the city fell in 473 BC. Yue then concentrated on weaker neighbouring states, rather than the great powers to the north.
Partition of Jin
After the great age of Jin power, the Jin dukes began to lose authority over their nobles. A full-scale civil war between 497 and 453 BC ended with the elimination of most noble lines; the remaining aristocratic families divided Jin into three successor states: Han, Wei, and Zhao.
With the absorption of most of the smaller states in the era, this partitioning left seven major states in the Zhou world: the three fragments of Jin, the three remaining great powers of Qin, Chu and Qi, and the weaker state of Yan near modern Beijing. The partition of Jin, along with the Usurpation of Qi by Tian, marks the beginning of the Warring States period.
List of states
|Before 1043 BC||447 BC|
|Cáo||曹||Táoqiū (陶丘)||Before 1043 BC||487 BC|
|Chén||陳 / 陈||Wǎnqiū (宛丘)||c. 1046 BC||479 BC|
|Chéng||郕||(Western Zhou Period 1066 – 770 BC) In the vicinity of the Zhou capital Haojing
郕 (Chéng), Shandong
|c. 1100 BC||unknown|
|Chǔ||楚||Dānyáng（丹陽/丹阳）c. 1030 – c. 680 BC
Yǐng (郢) c.680 – 278 BC
Chén (陳/陈) 278 – 241 BC
Shòuchūn (壽春/寿春) from 241 – 224 BC
|c. 1030 BC||223 BC|
|Dào||道||Dào (possibly north of modern day Quèshān County, Henan or south of Xī County, Henan)||unknown||unknown|
|Dèng||鄧 / 邓||Dèngzhōu, Henan Province or Xiāngyáng, Hubei Province||c. 1200 BC||678 BC|
|Dōng Guó (Eastern Guo)||東虢 / 东虢||unknown||1046 BC||767 BC|
|È||鄂||Xiangning County, Shanxi Province, Nanyang, Henan Province, Ezhou Hubei Province||c. 1200 BC||863 BC|
|Guăn||管||Guancheng Hui District, Zhengzhou||1046 BC||1040 BC|
|Huá||滑||Fèi (費 / 费)||unknown||627 BC|
|Jǐ||紀 / 纪||Ji (紀/纪), located south of Shouguang, Shandong Province||unknown||690 BC|
|Jìn||晉 / 晋||Táng (唐), renamed Jìnyáng (晉陽/晋阳)
Jiàng (絳/绛) also known as Yì (翼)
Xīntián (新田), renamed Xīnjiàng (新絳/新绛)
|11th century BC||376 BC|
|Jǔ||莒||Jiegen (介根), south west of modern day Jiaozhou, Shandong Province
Ju (莒), modern day Ju County, Shandong Province
|11th century BC||431 BC|
|Lái||莱 / 萊||Changle (昌乐), modern day Changle County, Shandong Province||11th century BC||567 BC|
|Liáng||梁||Hánchéng (韩城)||unknown||641 BC|
|Liǎo||蓼 or 廖 or 飂||Tanghe County (唐河县), Henan||unknown||unknown|
|Liǎo||蓼 or 繆蓼/缪蓼||Liao town, northeast of Gushi County, Henan Province||unknown||622 BC|
|Lǔ||魯 / 鲁||Lǔshān (魯山)
|11th century BC||256 BC|
|Lǚ||呂 / 吕||West of modern Nanyang, Henan||unknown||early Spring and Autumn period|
|Pī||邳||Xuecheng (薛城), 30 km south of Tengzhou, Shandong Province
Lower Pi (下邳), North east of Pizhou City, Shandong Province
Upper Pi (上邳), West of the Xuecheng District, Zaozhuang City, Shandong Province
|11th century BC||unknown|
|Qí||齊 / 齐||Yíngqiū (營丘 / 营丘)||1046 BC||221 BC|
|Qǐ||杞||Qǐ (杞)||16th century BC||445 BC|
Yōng (雍) ? – 350 BC
Xiányáng (咸阳) 350 – 206 BC
|9th century BC||206 BC|
|Quán||權 / 权||South east of Dangyang, Hubei Province||unknown||704 BC|
|Ruò||鄀||Shāngruò (上鄀)/Shāngmì (商密)
|Shēn||申||Nányáng (南陽/南阳)||unknown||between 688 and 680 BC|
|Shěn||沈||Shěn (沈)||unknown, early Western Zhou dynasty||c. 500 BC|
|Shǔ||蜀||possibly Sānxīngduī (三星堆)||Before 1046 BC||316 BC|
|Sòng||宋||Shāngqiū (商丘)||11th century BC||286 BC|
|Suí||隨 / 随||Suízhōu (隨州 / 随州)||Early Spring and Autumn period||unknown|
|Téng||滕||Téng (滕)||Before 1043 BC||mid 4th century BC|
|Wèi (Wei)||魏||Anyi (安邑), north west of modern day Xia County, Shanxi Province
Daliang (大梁), modern day Kaifeng City, Henan Province
|403 BC||225 BC|
|Wèi (Wey)||衛 / 卫||Zhāogē (朝歌)
|11th century BC||209 BC|
|Wú||吳 / 吴||Wú (吳/吴), sometimes referred to as Gūsū (姑蘇/姑苏)||11th century BC||473 BC|
|Xī||息||Xī Xiàn (息縣/息县)||1122 BC||Between 684 and 680 BC|
|Xī Guó (Western Guo)||西虢||Yōngdì (雍地)
|1046 BC||687 BC|
|Xíng||邢||Modern day Xingtai (邢臺/邢台) City||11th century BC||632 BC|
|Xú||徐||Tangcheng (郯城)||c. 20th century BC||512 BC|
|Xǔ||許 / 许 (or 鄦)||Xǔ (許/许 or 鄦)
|c. 11th century BC||c. 5th century BC|
|Yān||燕||Jì (薊/蓟)||11th century BC||222 BC|
|Yuè||越||Kuàjī (會稽/会稽) 489 – 468 BC
Lángyá (琅琊) 468 – 379 BC
Wú (吳/吴) 379 – 334 BC
Kuàjī (會稽/会稽) 333 – 306 BC
|c. 11th century BC (38 generations before King Goujian of Yue)||306 BC|
|Zhèng||鄭 / 郑||Zhèng (鄭/郑)
|806 BC||375 BC|
|Zhōngshān||中山||Lingshou County, Hebei Province||6th century BC||325 BC|
|Zōu or Zhū||鄒 / 邹 or 邾||Zhū (邾), south east of modern day Qufu, Shandong Province
Zōu (鄒/邹), south east of modern day Zoucheng City, Shandong Province
|11th century BC||4th century BC|
|Note: Capitals are shown in their historical sequence.|
The Five Hegemons (春秋五霸):
Traditional history lists five hegemons during the Spring and Autumn period:
An alternative list replaces the final two with:
Bureaucrats or Officers
- Guan Zhong, advisor of Duke Huan of Qi
- Baili Xi, prime minister of Qin.
- Bo Pi, bureaucrat under King Helü who played an important diplomatic role in Wu-Yue relations.
- Wen Zhong and Fan Li, the two advisors of King Goujian of Yue in his war against Wu
- Zi Chan, leader of self-strengthening movements in Zheng
- Confucius or Kongzi, leading figure in Confucianism
- Lao-tse or Laozi, teacher of Daoism
- Mo-tse, Mozi, or Micius, founder of Mohism
- Sun Tzu or Sunzi, author of The Art of War
- Lu Ban
- Yao Li, sent by King Helü to kill Qing Ji
- Zhuan Zhu, sent by Helü to kill his cousin King Liao
- Bo Ya
- The Partition of Jin, the watershed between the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods took several decades, thus there is some debate between scholars as to the exact date. Kiser & Cai (2003) give 481 BC, 475 BC, and 468 BC as three other common dates selected by historians.
- Hsu (1990:547)
- Pines (2002:2)
- Blakeley (1977:212)
- Chinese: 洛邑.
- Chinn (2007:43)
- Hsu (1990:546)
- Higham (2004:412)
- Shaughnessy (1990:350)
- Lewis (2000:359, 363)
- Hsu (1999:567)
- Pines (2002:3)
- Lewis (2000:365)
- Hsu (1990:549–550)
- Hsu (1999:568, 570)
- Lewis (2000:366)
- Lewis (2000:367)
- Hsu (1999:553–554)
- Hsu (1999:555)
- Lewis (2000:366, 369)
- Hsu (1999:555–556)
- Hsu (1990:560)
- Hsu (1990:559)
- Hsu (1990:560–561)
- Hsu (1999:561)
- Hsu (1999:562)
- Pines (2002:4)
- Hsu (1999:562–563)
- Hui (2004:186)
- Ye (2007:34–35)
- Blakeley, Barry B. (1977), "Functional disparities in the socio-political traditions of Spring and Autumn China: Part I: Lu and Ch'i", Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20 (2): 208–243, doi:10.2307/3631778
- Chinn, Ann-ping (2007), The Authentic Confucius, Scribner, ISBN 0-7432-4618-7
- Higham, Charles (2004), Encyclopedia of Ancient Asian Civilizations, Infobase Publishing
- Hui, Victoria Tin-bor (2004), "Toward a dynamic theory of international politics: Insights from comparing ancient China and early modern Europe", International Organization 58 (1): 175–205, doi:10.1017/s0020818304581067
- Hsu, Cho-yun (1990), "The Spring and Autumn Period", in Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward L., The Cambridge history of ancient China: from the origins of civilization to 221 B.C., Cambridge University Press, pp. 545–586
- Kiser, Young; Cai (2003), "War and bureaucratization in Qin China: Exploring an anomalous case", American Sociological Review 68 (4): 511–539, doi:10.2307/1519737
- Lewis, Mark Edward (2000), "The City-State in Spring-and-Autumn China", in Hansen, Mogens Herman, A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures: An Investigation 21, Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Society of Arts and Letters, pp. 359–374
- Pines, Yuri (2002), Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period (722-453 B.C.E.), University of Hawaii Press
- Shaughnessy, Edward L. (1990), "Western Zhou History", in Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward L., The Cambridge history of ancient China: from the origins of civilization to 221 B.C., Cambridge University Press, pp. 292–351
- Ye, L. (2007), China: five thousand years of history and civilization, Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press
- Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (1999). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-66991-X (paperback).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Spring and Autumn Period.
- Rulers of the states of Zhou — linked to their occurrences in classical Chinese texts.
- Media related to Art of the Spring and Autumn Period at Wikimedia Commons