Spring and Autumn Period
Duration: 771/770~403 BC
The Period marks a time when the former orderly feudal system of fengjian 封建 became largely irrelevant. Power became decentralized and local military leaders, formerly vassals to the Zhou kings, began to assert their own strengths and compete for hegemony, while continuing their subservience to the kings (in name only). The Zhou kings saw their effective influence over the vassals irrevocably dwindling, only held nominal power and had real control over a small royal domain. Interstate wars and annexations reduced the number of states from over a hundred to around a score. A few larger and more powerful states (atop the list were Jin, Qi, Chu, Qin, Wu, Yue, etc.) dominated China, claimed suzerainty over smaller states and vied for hegemony against each other.
The Spring and Autumn Period started with the relocation of the Zhou capital in 771/770 BC, and ended with the partitioning of the state of Jin in 403 BC by its three major aristocratic families of Han, Wei and Zhao, which also marks the beginning of the next phase of Chinese history – the Warring States Period.
Remarkable Figures of Spring and Autumn Period
Five Hegemons of Spring and Autumn Period
As the Zhou kings found it impossible to exert effective influence and control over the territory, a hierarchical alliance system arose among the vassals. The title of hegemon (known as ba 霸 according to the Spring and Autumn Annals) was awarded to the leader of the state which is recognized as having the most powerful military strength. The hegemon was obligated to protect the Zhou monarchy and had the authority to lead allied resistance against invasions by non-Zhou nomads, intervene in internal affairs of other states, and enforce interstate order.
春秋五霸 chun qiu wu ba (Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period)
Five lords are popularly remembered as the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period:
Qi Huan Gong 齐桓公, Marquis of Qi
Jin Wen Gong 晋文公, Marquis of Jin
Chu Zhuang Wang 楚庄王, Viscount of Chu (or King of Chu as Chu claimed independence from the Zhou Dynasty)
Qin Mu Gong 秦穆公, Earl of Qin
Song Xiang Gong 宋襄公, Duke of Song
In an alternative version, the last two of the above list are replaced by:
Fuchai, Viscount of Wu (or King of Wu as it claimed independence like Chu)
Goujian, Viscount of Yue (or King of Yue)
Influential Scholars of the Spring and Autumn Period
German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term “Axial Age” to describe the period from 800 to 200 BC, during which thinkers of profound significance to humanity appeared simultaneously and independently in India, China, and Greece. In China, the Spring and Autumn Period, along with the later Warring States Period, falls into this “Axial Age”, and saw the emergence of a multitude of thinkers whose influence in Chinese culture can never be overstated. These two periods are often collectively called the period of Hundred Schools of Thought.
Confucius (551~479 BC), leading thinker in Confucianism
Laozi (or Laotse, living around one generation earlier than Confucius), founder of Daoism
Mozi (or Mo-tzu, 468~376 BC), founder of the school of Mohism
Sunzi (or Sun-tzu, 535~470 BC), author of The Art of War
Other Remarkable Fugures
Guan Zhong (716~654 BC), senior advisor to Qi Huan Gong, Marques of Qi, the first hegemon
Wu Zixu (?~484 BC), advisor to Fuchai, Viscount (or King) of Wu
Lu Ban (c. 507~444 BC), master craftsman of carpentry
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