Zhou dynasty declines | Warring States Period begins | Warring states | Shihuangdi's rule and beginning of
the Han dynasty | Emperor Wen, Confucianism and a new order | Emperor Wu, expansion and decline | Failed reform and chaos |
Return of Han rule and properity | Yellow Turbin Rebellion | End of Han rule | Three Kingdoms Period | Xiongnu in the north and Jin dynasty in the south | Genetic diffusions and religious rivalries in the 5th Century
Warring States, 245 to 235 BCE
In the 700s BCE the Zhou Dynasty began to decline in power. According to legend, a Zhou emperor named You Wang appointed the son of his concubine as his heir, rather than the son of his wife. This angered the queen, and she and her father allied themselves with a nearby nomadic tribe called the Chuanrong. You Wang is described as having wasted his energies on pleasures and as having neglected the defense of his realm. In 771 BCE, Chuanrong tribesmen overran the Zhou capital (in the Wei Valley near what in the coming centuries would be the city of Xianyang). They killed the emperor, and then with friendly wishes they sent the queen, her father and the queen's son away to a new capital, Luoyang, and the queen's son become the next Zhou emperor.
Local lords across the Zhou empire responded to the Chuanrong victory over You Wang by making themselves powers in their own right, and the new Zhou emperor and his successors were unable to recover their power over these local lords. The new Zhou emperors lost the revenues that previous Zhou emperors had received from the provinces, and they survived on the taxes they received from those who worked their personal, nearby lands. The Zhou emperors continued to issue edicts and to conduct religious ceremonies that according to custom they alone were allowed to perform. They also maintained at their court numerous officials and many priests, but they now ruled the Zhou empire in name only.
With the decline in power of Zhou emperors came wars between the local lords. Each local lord had his own army. Each jealously adhered to the formalities that symbolized his status, and each created his own court of law. Some local lords pursued vendettas against a neighboring lord, or one raided another lord's land in search of loot. Lords entered into alliances with each other, sometimes through marriage. They made treaties and exchanged goods. But for some lords war was a sport – better than a good hunt. Often wars were fought as a gentleman's activity, with battlefield courtesy such as letting an opponent cross a river and form ranks before attacking. They believed that heaven disapproved of extreme measures and that a ruthless victor might suffer from the displeasure of the gods.
Exercising what they believed was their religious authority, the Zhou emperors maintained a collection of scholarly specialists on morality, festivals and sacrifices. And local lords imitated the Zhou emperors and attracted scholars to their courts to conduct their sacrifices and funerals and to teach their children. A new age of scholarship had appeared, and among the scholars was a man named Kongfuzi, to be Latinized to Confucius.
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