Spring And Autumn Period

The Spring And Autumn Period (Chinese: s 春秋时代, t 春秋時代, p Chūn–Qiū Shídài) was a period in Chinese history that roughly corresponds to the first half of the eastern zhou dynasty, which is reckoned to have existed from 771 until 476 BC (or by some authorities until 403 BC ) in the alluvial plain of the Yellow River, the Shandong Peninsula and the river valleys of the Huai and Han. Its name comes from the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of Lu between 722 and 479 BC, which tradition associates with Confucius. The period can also be further divided into three sub-periods:

Age of regional cultures (Early): 771–643, up to the death of Duke Huan of Qi

Age of encroachments (Middle): 643–546, up to the peace conference between Jin and Chu

Age of reforms (Late): 546–403, up to the partition of Jin

During the Spring And Autumn Period, China's feudal system of fēngjiàn became largely irrelevant. The zhou dynasty kings held nominal power, but only had real control over a small royal demesne centered on their capital Luoyi near modern-day Luoyang. During the early part of the zhou dynasty period, royal relatives and generals had been given control over fiefdoms in an effort to maintain Zhou authority over vast territory, many of these broke up into smaller states when the dynasty weakened.

The most important feudal princes (known later as the twelve vassals), met during regular conferences where important matters, such as military expeditions against foreign groups or offending nobles, were decided. During these conferences, one vassal leader was sometimes declared hegemon (伯, bó; later, 霸, bà) and given leadership over the armies of all Zhou states.

As the era unfolded, larger and more powerful states annexed or claimed suzerainty over smaller ones. By the 6th century BC, most small states had disappeared and only a few large and powerful principalities dominated China. Some southern states, such as Chu and Wu, claimed independence from the Zhou. Wars were undertaken to oppose some of these states (Wu and Yue).

Amid the interstate power struggles, internal conflict was also rife: six elite landholding families waged war on each other in Jin; the Chen family was eliminating political enemies in Qi; and legitimacy of the rulers was often challenged in civil wars by various royal family members in Qin and Chu. Once all these powerful rulers had firmly established themselves within their respective dominions, the bloodshed focused more fully on interstate conflict in the warring states period, which began in 403 BC when the three remaining elite families in Jin – Zhao, Wei and Han – partitioned the state.

Beginning of the eastern zhou dynasty

After the Zhou capital was sacked by the Marquess of Shen and the Quanrong barbarians, the Zhou moved the capital east from the now desolated Zongzhou in Haojing near modern Xian to Chengzhou in the Yellow River Valley. The Zhou royalty was then closer to its main supporters, particularly Qin, Jin, and Zheng; the Zhou royal family had much weaker authority and relied on lords from these vassal states for protection, especially during their flight to the eastern capital. In Chengzhou, prince Ji Yijiu was crowned by his royal supporters as King Ping.

However, with the Zhou domain greatly reduced to Chengzhou and nearby areas, the court could no longer support six groups of standing troops as it had in the past; Zhou kings had to request help from neighbouring powerful states for protection from raids and for resolution of internal power struggles. The Zhou court would never regain its original authority; instead, it was relegated to being merely a figurehead of the feudal states. Though the king de jure retained the Mandate of Heaven, the title held little actual power.

With the decline of Zhou power, the Yellow River drainage basin was divided into hundreds of small, autonomous states, most of them consisting of a single city, though a handful of multi-city states, particularly those on the periphery, had power and opportunity to expand outward. A total of 148 states are mentioned in the chronicles for this period, 128 of which were absorbed by the four largest states by the end of the period.

While the Zheng rulers initially supported the Zhou royalty, relations soured enough that Duke Zhuang of Zheng (757–701 BC) raided Zhou territory in 707 BC, defeating King Huan's army in battle and injuring the king himself; the display of Zheng's martial strength was effective until succession problems after Zhuang's death weakened the state.

Interstate relations

Shortly after the royal family's move to Chengzhou, a hierarchical alliance system arose where the Zhou king would give the title of hegemon to the leader of the state with the most powerful military; the hegemon was obligated to protect both the weaker Zhou states and the Zhou royalty from the intruding non-Zhou peoples: the Northern Di, the Southern Man, the Eastern Yi, and the Western Rong. This political framework retained the fēngjiàn power structure, though interstate and intrastate conflict often led to disregard for feudal customs, respect for the Ji family, and solidarity with other Zhou peoples. The king's prestige legitimized the military leaders of the states, and helped mobilize collective defense of Zhou territory against "barbarians. "

Over the next two centuries, the four most powerful states—Qin, Jin, Qi and Chu—struggled for power. These multi-city states often used the pretext of aid and protection to intervene and gain suzerainty over the smaller states. During this rapid expansion, interstate relations alternated between low-level warfare and complex diplomacy

Ancient sources such as the Zuo Zhuan and the eponymous Chunqiu record the various diplomatic activities, such as court visits paid by one ruler to another (朝, cháo), meetings of officials or nobles of different states (會, huì), missions of friendly inquiries sent by the ruler of one state to another (聘, pìn), emissaries sent from one state to another (使, shǐ), and hunting parties attended by representatives of different states (狩, shou).

Because of Chu's non-Zhou origin, the state was considered semi-barbarian and its rulers – beginning with King Wu in 704 BC – proclaimed themselves kings in their own right. Chu intrusion into Zhou territory was checked several times by the other states, particularly in the major battles of Chengpu (632 BC), Bi (595 BC) and Yanling (575 BC), which restored the states of Chen and Cai.

The first hegemon was Duke Huan of Qi (r. 685-643 BC). With the help of his minister, Guan Zhong, Duke Huan reformed Qi to centralize its power structure. The state consisted of 15 "townships" with the duke and two senior ministers each in charge of five; military functions were also united with civil ones. These and related reforms provided the state, already powerful from control of trade crossroads, with a greater ability to mobilize resources than the more loosely organized states. By 667 BC, Qi had clearly shown its economic and military predominance, and Duke Huan assembled the leaders of Lu, Song, Chen, and Zheng, who elected him as their leader.

Soon after, King Hui of Zhou conferred the title of bà (marshall), giving Duke Huan royal authority in military ventures. Using this authority, Duke Huan intervened in a power struggle in Lu; protected Yan from encroaching Western Rong nomads (664 BC); drove off Northern Di nomads after they'd invaded Wey (660 BC) and Xing (659 BC), providing the people with provisions and protective garrison units; and led an alliance of eight states to conquer Cai and thereby block the northward expansion of Chu (656 BC).

At his death in 643 BC, five of Duke Huan's sons contended for the throne, causing enough state discord that the next Duke of Qi did not inherit the bà title. For nearly ten years, no ruler held the title. However, when Duke Wen of Jin (r. 636–628 BC) came to power, he capitalized on the reforms of his father, Duke Xian (r. 676–651 BC), who had centralized the state, killed off relatives who might threaten his authority, conquered sixteen smaller states, and even absorbed some Rong and Di peoples to make Jin much more powerful than it had been previously. When he assisted King Xiang in a succession struggle in 635 BC, Xiang awarded Jin with strategically valuable territory near Chengzhou.

Duke Wen of Jin then used his growing power to coordinate a military response with Qi, Qin, and Song against Chu, which had begun encroaching northward after the death of Duke Huán of Qi. With a decisive Chu loss at the Battle of Chengpu (632 BC), Duke Wen's loyalty to the Zhou king was rewarded at an interstate conference when King Xīang awarded him the title of bà.

Changing tempo of war

After the death of Duke Wen in 628 BC, a growing tension manifested in interstate violence that turned smaller states, particularly those at the border between Jin and Chu, into sites of constant warfare; Qi and Qin also engaged in numerous interstate skirmishes with Jin or its allies to boost their own power.

After a period of increasingly exhaustive warfare, Qi, Qin, Jin and Chu met at a disarmament conference in 579 BC and agreed to declare a truce to limit their military strength. This peace didn't last very long and it soon became apparent that the bà role had become outdated; the four major states had each acquired their own spheres of control and the notion of protecting Zhou territory had become less cogent as the control over (and the resulting cultural assimilation of) non-Zhou peoples, as well as Chu's control of some Zhou areas, further blurred an already vague distinction between Zhou and non-Zhou.

In addition, new aristocratic houses were founded with loyalties to powerful states, rather than directly to the Zhou kings, though this process slowed down by the end of the seventh century BC, possibly because territory available for expansion had been largely exhausted. The Zhou kings had also lost much of their prestige so that, when Duke Dao of Jin (r. 572–558 BC) was recognized as bà, it carried much less meaning than it had before.

At the same time, internal conflicts between state leaders and local aristocrats occurred throughout the region. Eventually the dukes of Lu, Jin, Zheng, Wei, and Qi became figureheads to powerful aristocratic families.

Rise of Wu and Yue

Amid conflict between Jin and Chu, Wu in modern-day Jiangsu and Yue in modern-day Zhejiang – two coastal states with dubious Zhou ties – grew in power as they gained relevance in interstate affairs. Starting around 583 BC, Jin used aid to solidify an alliance with Wu, which then acted as a counterweight to Chu so that, while Jin and Chu agreed to a truce in 546 BC to address wars over smaller states, Wu maintained constant military pressure on Chu and even launched a devastating full-scale invasion in 506 BC.

After King Helü of Wu died during an invasion of Yue in 496 BC, his son, King Fuchai of Wu nearly destroyed the Yue state, defeated Qi, threatened Jin. In 482 BC, King Fuchai held an interstate conference to solidify his power base, but Yue captured the Wu capital. Fuchai rushed back but was besieged and died when the city fell in 473 BC. Yue then concentrated on weaker neighboring states, rather than the great powers to the north.

Partition of Jin

After the great age of Jin power, the Jin dukes began to lose authority over their nobles. A full-scale civil war between 497 and 453 BC ended with the elimination of most noble lines; the remaining aristocratic families divided Jin into three successor states: Han, Wei, and Zhao.

With the absorption of most smaller states in the era, this partitioning left seven major states in the Zhou world: the three fragments of Jin, the three remaining great powers of Qin, Chu and Qi, and the weaker state of Yan near modern Beijing . The partition of Jin marks the beginning of the warring states period.

List of states

A total of 148 states are mentioned in the chronicles for this period.



(Trad. /Simp. )

Capital (s)



Yíchéng (夷城)

Píngdū (平都)

Zhǐ (枳)

Jīangzhōu (江州)

Diànjīang (垫江)

Lánzhōng (阆中)


316 BC


Shàngcài (上蔡)

Xīncài (新蔡)

Xiàcài (下蔡)

Before 1043 BC

447 BC


Táoqiū (陶丘)

Before 1043 BC

487 BC


陳 / 陈

Wǎnqiū (宛丘)

c. 1046 BC

479 BC


(western zhou dynasty Period 1066 – 770 BC) In the vicinity of the Zhou capital Haojing

郕 (Chéng), Shandong

c. 1100 BC



Dānyáng(丹陽/丹阳)c. 1030 – c. 680 BC

Yǐng (郢) c. 680 – 278 BC

Chén (陳 / 陈) 278 – 241 BC

Shòuchūn (寿春) from 241 – 224 BC

c. 1030 BC

223 BC


Dào (possibly north of modern day Quèshān County, Henan or south of Xī County, Henan )




鄧 / 邓

Dèngzhōu, Henan Province orXiāngyáng, Hubei Province

c. 1200 BC

678 BC

Dōng Guó

東虢 / 东虢


1046 BC

767 BC


Xiangning County, Shanxi Province, Nanyang, Henan Province, Ezhou Hubei Province

c. 1200 BC

863 BC


Guancheng Hui District, Zhengzhou

1046 BC

1040 BC


Fèi (費 / 费)


627 BC

紀 / 纪

Ji (纪国), located south
of Shouguang, Shandong Province


690 BC


晉 / 晋

Táng (唐), renamed Jìnyáng (晉陽/晋陽)

Qǔwò (曲沃)

Jiàng (絳/绛) also known as Yì (翼)

Xīntián (新田), renamed Xīnjiàng

11th century BC

376 BC

Jiegen (介根), south west of
modern day Jiaozhou, Shandong Province

Ju (莒), modern day Ju County,
Shandong Province

11th century BC

431 BC


莱 / 萊

Changle (昌乐), modern day
Changle County, Shandong Province

11th century BC

567 BC


Hánchéng (韩城)


641 BC


蓼 / 廖国 / 飂

Tanghe County (唐河县),Henan




蓼国 / 缪蓼

Liao town, northeast of
Gushi County, Henan Province


622 BC

魯 / 鲁

Lǔshān (魯山)

Yǎnchéng (奄城)

Qǔfù (曲阜)

11th century BC

256 BC

吕 / 呂

West of modern Nanyang, Henan


early Spring And Autumn Period

Xuecheng (薛城), 30 km south
of Tengzhou, Shandong Province

Lower Pi (下邳), North east of
Pizhou City, Shandong Province

Upper Pi (上邳), West of the
Xuecheng District, Zaozhuang City, Shandong Province

11th century BC


齊 / 齐

Yíngqiū (營丘 / 营丘)

1046 BC

221 BC

Qǐ (杞)

16th century BC

445 BC


Xīchuí (西垂)

Yōng (雍) ? – 350 BC

Xiányáng (咸阳) 350 – 206 BC

9th century BC

206 BC


权 / 權

South east of Dangyang, Hubei Province


704 BC


Shāngruò (上鄀)/ Shāngmì (商密)

Xìaruò (下鄀)




Nányáng (南阳)


between 688 and 680 BC


possibly Sānxīngduī (三星堆)

Before 1046 BC

316 BC


Shāngqiū (商丘)

11th century BC

286 BC


随 / 隨

Suízhōu (随州)

Early Spring And Autumn Period



Téng (滕)

Before 1043 BC

mid 4th century BC


Anyi (安邑), north west of
modern dayXia County, Shanxi Province

Daliang (大梁), modern day
Kaifeng City, Henan Province

403 BC

225 BC


卫 / 衛

Zhāogē. (朝歌)

Cáo (曹)

Chǔqiū (楚丘)

Dìqiū (帝丘)

Yěwáng (野王)

11th century BC

209 BC

吴 / 吳

Wú (吳/吴), sometimes referred
to as Gūsū(姑蘇/姑苏)

11th century BC

473 BC

Xī Xiàn (息县)

1122 BC

Between 684 and 680 BC

Xī Guó

西虢 / 西虢

Yōngdì (雍地)

Shàngyáng (上阳)

Xiàyáng (下阳)

1046 BC

687 BC


Xingtai City, (邢台市)

11th century BC

632 BC

Tangcheng (郯城)

c. 20th century BC

512 BC

許 / 许 (or 鄦)

Xǔ (鄦)

Yè (叶)

Báiyǔ (白羽)

Róngchéng (容城)

c. 11th century BC

c. 5th century BC


Jì (薊)

11th century BC

222 BC


Kuàjī (會稽/会稽) 489 – 468 BC

Lángyá (琅琊) 468 – 379 BC

Wú (吴/吳) 379 – 334 BC

Kuàjī (會稽/会稽) 333 – 306 BC

c. 11th century BC (38 generations before King Goujian of Yue)

306 BC


鄭 / 郑

Zhèng (鄭/郑)

Xìnzhèng (新郑)

806 BC

375 BC



Lingshou County, Hebei Province

6th century BC

325 BC

Zōuor Zhū

鄒 / 邹 or 邾

Zhū (邾) South east of Qufu,
Shandong Province

鄒/邹 South east of Zoucheng City,
Shandong Province

11th century BC

4th century BC

Note This list is incomplete

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