The Warring States Period--战(zhàn) 国(guó) 时(shí) 期(qī) (475-221 BC)
The Zhou Dynasty ended in 221 BC. The 250 years between 475 and 221 BC is called the Warring States Period because the region was divided among 8 warring states. Qin conquered them all by 221. The fighting was fierce. Some rulers were fighting to survive or retain power, and some wanted more power and territory. The dominant philosophy in Qin that controlled the westernmost territory was Legalism that justified harsh control, forced labor, and subservience to the emperor. They used their manpower for big construction projects that allowed them to field and supply big armies, and they were ruthless in war and in peacetime too. The Zhou Dynastic clan began with much power over a large empire with many fiefdoms at the beginning of their reign, and they were reduced to almost no power by 221. As the states warred, dominant philosophies and religions of Daoism, Legalism, Confucianism, and Moism emerged in the region and were spread by the surviving states. The dominant political philosophy in Qin was Legalism, and it was propagated when the Qin Empire began.
Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan has the largest collection of artifacts from the Warring States. A visit to the museu can be easily combined with a Yangtze Cruise.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476), the dozens of big and small states coalesced into the eight that remained in 476. The eight warring states were Qin that had a stronghold in a valley in the west, Chu, Qi, Yan, Han, Wei, Yue and Zhao. During the first half of this era, the boundaries between the states remained about the same. Chu was the biggest state. It controlled the southern third of the entire region of the Warring States. Qin also controlled about a third of the territory in the west. The rest of the states filled in the northeastern third of the region of the Warring States.
Qin was the farthest west of the states. Initially, the rulers of Qin tried to keep out of the warfare to the east of them. There were hostile tribes around their territory. They couldn't send out large armies to conquer the states to the east lest the tribal people attacked. They first had to subdue the tribes to make sure their territory was safe.
Then Shang Yang came to power as a court official in 361. During the two decades that he ruled, he made big political changes that took hold. He espoused and ruled according to a defined set of strict rules and a clear political philosophy. He was eventually killed, but his philosophy that was called Legalism was adopted by the ruling court. Shang Yang introduced a lot of major governmental and political reforms that were revolutionary for his time, and set the course for Qin to become militarily more powerful and ruthless than the other states.
There was a generally known protocol for warfare in the whole Zhou region until he came to power that was somewhat similar to European ideas of chivalry in combat. Generals should allow the opposing generals to set up battle formations before beginning battle and other ideas like that. There were also generally accepted family ties and responsibilities such as those espoused by Confucians. Shang Yang did away with the protocols and morals. He wanted subservience to the ruling court to be the foremost responsibility and to destroy enemies ruthlessly. He also wanted everyone to be treated equally under a clearly fixed law. In a way, this legal system was actually fairer because it was less arbitrary. He thought that everyone should be ruled by the same laws whether from a ruling clan or a peasant clan. Under Legalism, political opposition can not be tolerated. So one of the strengths of Qin was the tight central control.
To encourage production, he privatized land, rewarded farmers who exceeded harvest quotas, enslaved farmers who failed to meet their quotas, and used slaves for his major construction projects to create better infrastructure. He wanted to improve the transportation system so that the armies could move more easily and to enhance internal trade. He also emphasized the creation of large armies for military offense. He emphasized the production of the best armaments. The technology advanced so that iron tools and weapons became common. Instead of chariots, organized mounted soldiers with masses of infantry became common. In the end, the Qin could muster armies of hundreds of thousands
In the year 269, a general of Zhao defeated two Qin armies. After this, Fan Sui became the chief adviser to the emperor. He instituted Legalism-type policies and advocated attacking the other states and killing off the people. They started preparing for major conquests. In 230, Han surrendered to Qin. They defeated Wei in 225. In 223, they succeeded in conquering Chu. In 222, Qin conquered Yan and Zhao. In 221 BC, Qin conquered the last state called Qi.