The Warring States Period: A Time of Disunity
The Warring States Period was a time of conflict and as well as growth throughout ancient China. Various states and schools of thought fought for supremacy.
Near the end of the Spring and Autumn Period, the state of Jin was destabilized by a group of ministers that fought one another for power. In 475 BCE, Jin fractured into the kingdoms of Han, Wu and Zhao. These three, along with the states of Chu, Qi, Yan and Qin began to fight one another for dominance over China.
Through most of the Warring States Period, the Zhou Dynasty still claimed formal dominance over China. However, the Zhou Emperor held little control over any territory. In 256 BCE the king of Zhou died and, facing revolt from ministers and generals, heirs to the throne did not claim ascendancy over China.
The Era of Warring States lasted for over 200 years. The power of various kingdoms rose and fell throughout the Warring States Period. Towards the latter part of the period, the Kingdom of Qin gained more and more territory until it eventually conquered its last opponent in 221 BCE. This marked the end of the Warring States Period and the beginning of the Qin Dynasty.
The Warring States Period marked a change in the technology of Chinese warfare. Casting of metal weapons made mass production possible. This meant that numerous foot soldiers, instead of highly trained aristocrats, could take part in warfare.
The result was that the kingdoms with the larger populations tended to be more powerful, since they could muster more soldiers than smaller kingdoms. Smaller states were bound to seek alliances with larger ones, or be themselves conquered by large kingdoms.
The Era of Warring States was not simply an era of violence and warfare. Great philosophical thinkers worked to spread their ideas throughout China. The Hundred Schools of Thought refers to the period that coexisted with the earlier Spring and Autumn Period as well as the Warring States Period.
The Hundred Schools of Thought includes some of China (and Asia’s) most influential philosophical thinkers. Confucius and his student, Mencius, both spread their ideas during this period. Confucianism is a system of thought that seeks to maintain social harmony through correct social rituals and virtuous, cultivated behavior.
Legalism, another part of the Hundred Schools of Thought period, advocated strict laws and harsh punishments. This later became the dominant philosophy of the Qin Dynasty.
Taoism also flourished as a system of thought that advocated individuals adjusting to the natural world. Taoists sought to live in harmony with the universe rather than to fight against nature.
Mohism was another school of thought. Its founder, Mozi, taught that human beings are equal and should love one another. Mohism advocated pacifism, frugality and fought against wasteful extravagance such as rituals and even music.