(DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE – continued)
Zhou Dynasty rule had broken up into various political entities that can be called states – a state commonly defined as a civil government, a political institution, that maintains a monopoly over the use of force within its territory.
Historians have been interested in the balance of power dynamics between the states that for a while prevented one state from growing in its ability to dominate or conquer all the other states. The balance of power worked as states that felt threatened by the growing power of the strongest and most aggressive state united against that state. Their combined power controlled the expansion of the strongest state, as did the costs that always accompanied attempts at expansion and the possibility of strong states to weaken themselves.
The state called Chu began as the most powerful of the states and the state others had to reckon with. Of 148 or so powers, Chu was the largest in the size of its territory and the richest in natural resources, and it was strengthened by a freedom from Zhou Dynasty feudalism – in other words, there was respect for centralized authority that is commonly diminished by feudalism. Chu expanded territorially and was the first of the states to appoint dependent officials tied to central authority rather than to create hereditary nobles as fiefs.
The Period of Warring States had begun. Weapons were of iron and steel. By the end of the 400s the power of the Chu state was in decline. The Chu government had become corrupt and inefficient. Much of the state's treasury paid for a large official retinue (advisors and such), with many officials having no meaningful task other than receiving money. Chu's corrupt and awkward bureaucracy reduced the quality of its military.
There were more aggressions. Historian Victoria Tin-bor Hui writes of 160 wars "involving great powers" between 656 and 357 BCE note10 Some of the powers had been gobbled up by others, and of the 148 or so powers that had existed, the tendency of big powers to absorb smaller powers reduced that number to something like seventeen, at the beginning of the Warring States Period, considered as having begun around the mid-400s BCE.
Among the Chinese states were alliances that contributed to holding in check any one power from becoming so big and powerful as to overwhelm the others. But the tendency of one power to emerge dominant remained as it had elsewhere in the world: in ancient Sumer, in Egypt and eventually with Macedonia dominating the city states of Greece. The balance of power among the Chinese states failed, and the state that would conquer the others was Qin (pronounced chin) – the word from which the state today called China gets its name).
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