Spring and Autumn Period

Spring and Autumn Period
History of China
History of China
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2100–1600 BC
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BC
Zhou Dynasty 1045–256 BC
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn Period
   Warring States Period
Qin Dynasty 221 BC–206 BC
Han Dynasty 206 BC–220 AD
  Western Han
  Xin Dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin Dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin 16 Kingdoms
  Eastern Jin
Southern and Northern Dynasties
Sui Dynasty 581–618
Tang Dynasty 618–907
  (Second Zhou 690–705)
5 Dynasties and
10 Kingdoms

Liao Dynasty
Song Dynasty
  Northern Song W. Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan Dynasty 1271–1368
Ming Dynasty 1368–1644
Qing Dynasty 1644–1911
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

Republic of
China (Taiwan)

This box: view · talk · edit

The Spring and Autumn Period (simplified Chinese: 春秋时代; traditional Chinese: 春秋時代; pinyin: Chūn qiū shí dài) was a period in Chinese history that roughly corresponds to the first half of the Eastern Zhōu Dynasty (from 771 to 476 BC, although 403 BC is sometimes also considered the end of the period.[1]) in the alluvial plain of the Yellow River, the Shandong Peninsula and the river valleys of the Huái and Hàn.[2] ). Its name comes from the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of between 722 and 479 BC, which tradition associates with Confucius. The period can also be further divided into three sub-periods:[3][4]

  • Age of regional cultures (Early): 771–643, up to the death of Duke Huán of Qí
  • Age of encroachments (Middle): 643–546, up to the peace conference between Jìn and Chǔ
  • Age of reforms (Late): 546–403, up to the partition of Jìn

During the Spring and Autumn period, China's feudal system of fēngjiàn became largely irrelevant. The Zhōu Dynasty kings held nominal power, but only had real control over a small royal demesne centered on their capital Luò yì.[5] During the early part of the Zhōu Dynasty period, royal relatives and generals had been given control over fiefdoms in an effort to maintain Zhōu authority over vast territory,[6] 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[7] and given leadership over the armies of all Zhōu 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 Chǔ and , claimed independence from the Zhōu. Wars were undertaken to oppose some of these states (Wú and Yuè).

Amid the interstate power struggles, internal conflict was also rife: six elite landholding families waged war on each other in Jìn; the Chen family was eliminating political enemies in Qí; and legitimacy of the rulers was often challenged in civil wars by various royal family members in Qín and Chǔ. 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 Jìn – Zhào, Wèi and Hán – partitioned the state.


Beginning of the Eastern Zhōu Dynasty

After the Zhōu capital was sacked by the Marquess of Shēn and Quǎnróng barbarians, the Zhōu moved the capital east from the now desolated Zōngzhōu,[8] to Chéngzhōu, in the Yellow River Valley. The Zhōu royalty was then closer to its main supporters,[9] particularly Qín, Jìn, and Zhèng;[10][11] the Zhōu 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 Chéngzhōu, prince Jī Yíjìu was crowned by his royal supporters as King Píng of Zhōu.[12] However, with the Zhōu domain greatly reduced to Chéngzhōu and nearby areas, the court could no longer support six groups of standing troops as it had in the past; Zhōu kings had to request help from neighbouring powerful states for protection from raids and for resolution of internal power struggles. The Zhōu 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 no actual power.

With the decline of Zhōu 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 the four that surrounded the others, had power and opportunity to expand outward.[13] 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.[14]

While the Zhèng rulers initially supported the Zhōu royalty, relations soured enough that Duke Zhuāng of Zhèng (757–701 BC) raided Zhōu territory in 707 BC, defeating King Húan's army in battle and injuring the king himself;[15][16] the display of Zhèng's martial strength was effective until succession problems after Zhuāng's death weakened the state.[17]

Interstate relations

Late Spring and Autumn Period, 5th centry BC, before the breakup of Jin and the Qin move into Sichuan. The Wei on this map is Wey, not the other Wei that arose from the Partition of Jin

Shortly after the royal family's move to Chéngzhōu, a hierarchical alliance system arose where the Zhōu king would give the title of hegemon or to the leader of the state with the most powerful military; the was obligated to protect both the weaker Zhōu states and the Zhōu royalty from the intruding non-Zhōu peoples:[18][19] Northern Dí, Southern Mán, Eastern Yí and Western Róng. This political framework retained the fēngjiàn power structure, though interstate and intrastate conflict was characterized by a disregard for feudal customs, respect of the Jī family, or solidarity with other Zhōu peoples;[20] because it was given through the king, military leadership garnered legitimacy useful in mobilizing interstate military ventures designed to protect Zhōu territory, including smaller states that would be otherwise taken over by "barbarians."[21]

Over the next two centuries, the four most powerful states—Qín, Jìn, and Chǔ—competed with each other for power. Amid rapid expansion[22] and low-level warfare, interstate diplomacy was also commonly used to solidify alliances not based on kinship and to sanction legal agreements made between states.[23] These multi-city states also used the pretext of aid and protection to intervene and gain suzerainty over the smaller states.

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

Because of Chǔ's non-Zhōu origin, its rulers, beginning with Mǐ Xióng Tōng in 704 BC, proclaimed themselves kings and the state was considered Mán or barbarian. Chǔ intrusion into Zhōu territory was checked several times by the other states, particularly in three major battles: the Battle of Chéngpū (632 BC), the Battle of Bì (595 BC) and the Battle of Yānlíng (575 BC); this resulted in the restorations of the states of Chén and Cài.

The first was Duke Huán of Qí (r. 685-643 BC). With the help of his minister, Guǎn Zhòng, Duke Huán reformed Qí to centralize its power structure. The state consisted of 15 xiāng with the duke and two senior ministers each in charge of five xiāng; military functions were also united with civil ones. These and other related reforms provided the state, already powerful from control of locations important to interstate trade, with a greater ability to mobilize resources than other, more loosely organized states.[24] By 667 BC, Qí had clearly shown its economic and military dominance over other states and Duke Huán assembled the leaders of , Sòng, Chén, and Zhèng, who elected him leader over them. Soon after, King Hùi of Zhōu gave him the official title of , giving Duke Huán royal authority in military ventures.[25][26]

Using this authority, Duke Huán:[27]

  • intervened in a power struggle in Lu;
  • protected Yān from encroaching Róng nomads (664 BC);
  • drove off nomads after they'd invaded Wèy (660 BC) and Xíng (659 BC), providing the people with provisions and protective garrison units;
  • led an alliance of eight states to conquer Cài and thereby block the northward expansion of Chǔ (656 BC);
Urbanisation during the Spring and Autumn period.

At his death in 643 BC, five of Duke Huán's sons contended for the throne, causing enough state discord that the next Duke of Qí did not inherit the title. For nearly ten years, no ruler held the title.[28] However, when Duke Wén of Jìn (r. 636–628 BC) came to power, he capitalized on the reforms of his father, Duke Xiàn of Jìn (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 Róng and Dí peoples to make Jìn much more powerful than it had been previously.[29] When he assisted King Xīang of Zhōu in a succession struggle in 635 BC, the King awarded Jìn with strategically valuable territory near Chéngzhōu.

Duke Wén of Jìn then used his growing power to coordinate a military response with Qí, Qín, and Sòng against Chǔ, which had begun encroaching northward after the death of Duke Huán of Qí. With a decisive Chǔ loss at the Battle of Chéngpū (632 BC), Duke Wén's loyalty to the Zhōu king was soon rewarded at an interstate conference when King Xīang awarded him the title of .[30]

Changing tempo of war

Chinese pu vessel with interlaced dragon design, Spring and Autumn Period.

After the death of Duke Wén in 628 BC, a growing tension manifested in interstate violence that turned smaller states, particularly those at the border between Jìn and Chǔ, into sites of constant warfare; Qí and Qín also engaged in numerous interstate skirmishes with Jìn or its allies to boost their own power.[31]

After a period of increasingly exhaustive warfare, Qí, Qín, Jìn and Chǔ met at a disarmament conference in 579 BC and agreed to declare a truce to limit their military strength.[32] While this peace didn't last very long, it soon became apparent that the role had become outdated; the four major states had each acquired their own spheres of control and the notion of protecting Zhōu territory had become less cogent as the control over (and the resulting cultural assimilation of) non-Zhōu peoples, as well as Chǔ's control of some Zhōu areas, further blurred an already blurry distinction between Zhōu and non-Zhōu.[33] 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.[34] The Zhōu kings had also lost much of their prestige[35] so that, when Duke Dào of Jìn (r. 572–558 BC) was recognized as , 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 Lǔ, Jìn, Zhèng, Wèi, and Qí became figureheads to powerful aristocratic families.[36]

Rise of Wú and Yuè

Amid conflict between Jìn and Chǔ, two coastal states with dubious Zhōu ties, [37] and Yuè,[38] grew in power as they gained relevance in interstate affairs.[39][40] Starting around 583 BC, Jìn used aid to solidify an alliance with Wú, which then acted as a counterweight to Chǔ so that, while Jìn and Chǔ agreed to a truce in 546 BC to address wars over smaller states, Wú maintained constant military pressure on Chǔ and even launched a devastating full-scale invasion in 506 BC.[41]

When the king of Wú died during an invasion of Yuè (496 BC), his son, King Fuchāi of Wú nearly destroyed the Yuè state, defeated Qí, threatened Jìn. In 482 BC, King Fuchāi held an interstate conference to solidify his power base, but Yuè captured the Wú capital. Fuchāi rushed back but was besieged and died when the city fell (473 BC). Yuè then concentrated on weaker neighboring states, rather than the great powers to the north.[42]

Partition of Jin

After the great age of Jìn power, the Jìn 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 Jìn into three successor states: Hán, Wèi, and Zhào.[43]

With the absorption of most smaller states in the era, this partitioning left seven major states in the Zhōu world: the three fragments of Jìn, the three remaining great powers of Qín, Chǔ and Qí, and the weaker state of Yān near modern Beijing. The partition of Jìn marks the beginning of the Warring States Period.

List of States

A total of 148 states are mentioned in the chronicles for this period.[44]

States of the Spring and Autumn Period

Name Chinese
Capital (s) Established Dissolved
Yíchéng (夷城)
Píngdū (平都)
Zhǐ (枳)
Jīangzhōu (江州)
Diànjīang (垫江)
Lánzhōng (阆中)
unknown 316 BC
Cài Shàngcài (上蔡)
Xīncài (新蔡)
Xiàcài (下蔡)
Before 1043 BC 447 BC
Cáo Táoqiū (陶丘) Before 1043 BC 487 BC
Chén 陳/陈 Wǎnqiū (宛丘) c. 1046 BC 479 BC
Chéng (Western Zhōu Period 1066 – 770 BC) In the vicinity of the Zhōu capital Haojing
郕 (Chéng), Shandong
c. 1100 BC unknown
Chǔ 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 Dào (possibly north of modern day Quèshān County, Henan or south of Xī County, Henan) unknown unknown
Dèng 鄧/邓 Dèngzhōu, Henan Province or Xiāngyáng, Hubei Province c. 1200 BC 678 BC
Dōng Guó 東虢/东虢 unknown 1046 BC 767 BC
È Xiangning County, Shanxi Province, Nanyang, Henan Province, Ezhou Hubei Province c. 1200 BC 863 BC
Huá Fèi 費/费 unknown 627 BC
Jìn 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 (新絳新绛)
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
Lái 莱/萊 Changle (昌乐), modern day Changle County, Shandong Province 11th century BC 567 BC
Liáng Hánchéng (韩城) unknown 641 BC
Liǎo 蓼/廖国/飂 Tanghe County (唐河县), Henan unknown unknown
Liǎo 蓼国/缪蓼 Liao town, northeast of Gushi County, Henan Province unknown 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 unknown 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 unknown
齊/齐 Yíngqiū (營丘/营丘) 1046 BC 221 BC
(杞) 16th century BC 445 BC
Qín Xīchuí (西垂)
Yōng (雍) ? – 350 BC
Xiányáng (咸阳) 350 – 206 BC
9th century BC 206 BC
Quán 权/權 South east of Dangyang, Hubei Province unknown 704 BC
Ruò Shāngruò (上鄀)/Shāngmì (商密)
Xìaruò (下鄀)
unknown unknown
Shēn Nányáng (南阳) unknown between 688 and 680 BC
Shǔ possibly Sānxīngduī (三星堆) Before 1046 BC 316 BC
Sòng Shāngqiū (商丘) 11th century BC 286 BC
Suí 随/隨 Suízhōu (随州) Early Spring and Autumn Period unknown
Téng Téng (滕) Before 1043 BC mid 4th century BC
Wèi Anyi (安邑), north west of modern day Xia County, Shanxi Province
Daliang (大梁), modern day Kaifeng City, Henan Province
403 BC 225 BC
Wèy 卫/衛 Zhāogē.(朝歌)
Cáo (曹)
Chǔqiū (楚丘)
Dìqiū (帝丘)
Yěwáng (野王)
11th century BC 209 BC
吴/吳 (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
Xíng Xingtai City, (邢台市) 11th century BC 632 BC
Tangcheng (郯城) c. 20th century BC 512 BC
許/许 (or 鄦) (鄦)
Báiyǔ (白羽)
Róngchéng (容城)
c. 11th century BC c. 5th century BC
Yān (薊) 11th century BC 222 BC
Yuè Kuàjī (會稽/会稽) 489 – 468 BC
Lángyá (琅琊) 468 – 379 BC
(吴/吳) 379 – 334 BC
Kuàjī (會稽/会稽) 333 – 306 BC
c. 11th century BC (38 generations before King Gōujiàn of Yuè) 306 BC
Zhèng 鄭/郑 Zhèng (鄭/郑)
Xìnzhèng (新郑)
806 BC 375 BC
Zhōngshān 中山 Lingshou County, Hebei Province 6th century BC 325 BC
Zōu or 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: Capitals are shown in their historical sequence.

Important figures

A large bronze tripod vessel from the Spring and Autumn Period, now located at the Henan Museum

The five hegemons (春秋五霸):

Traditional history lists five hegemons during the Spring and Autumn Period:[45]

An alternative list replaces the final two with:

Bureaucrats or Officers

Influential scholars

Other people

  • Lǔ Bān (鲁班)
  • Yào Lí (要离) sent by King Hélǘ to kill Qìng Jì(庆忌).
  • Zhuān Zhū (专渚) sent by Hélǘ to kill his cousin King Liao


  1. ^ The Partition of Jin, the watershed between the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods took several decades, thus there is some debate between scholars as to the exact date. Kiser & Cai (2003) give 481 BC, 475 BC, and 468 BC as three other common dates selected by historians.
  2. ^ Hsu (1990:547)
  3. ^ Pines (2002:2)
  4. ^ Blakeley (1977:212)
  5. ^ Chinese: 洛邑. Near modern-day Luòyáng
  6. ^ Chinn (2007:43)
  7. ^, later 霸 .
  8. ^ in Hàojīng, near modern day Xī'ān
  9. ^ Hsu (1990:546)
  10. ^ Higham (2004:412)
  11. ^ Shaughnessy (1990:350)
  12. ^ Shaughnessy (1990:350)
  13. ^ Lewis (2000:359, 363)
  14. ^ Hsu (1999:567)
  15. ^ Hsu (1999:567)
  16. ^ Pines (2002:3)
  17. ^ Higham (2004:412)
  18. ^ Lewis (2000:365)
  19. ^ Hsu (1990:549–550)
  20. ^ Hsu (1999:568, 570)
  21. ^ Lewis (2000:366)
  22. ^ Hsu (1999:567)
  23. ^ Lewis (2000:367)
  24. ^ Hsu (1999:553–554)
  25. ^ Hsu (1999:555)
  26. ^ Lewis (2000:366, 369)
  27. ^ Hsu (1999:555–556)
  28. ^ Hsu (1990:560)
  29. ^ Hsu (1990:559)
  30. ^ Hsu (1990:560)
  31. ^ Hsu (1990:560–561)
  32. ^ Hsu (1999:561)
  33. ^ Hsu (1999:562)
  34. ^ Hsu (1999:562)
  35. ^ Pines (2002:4)
  36. ^ Pines (2002:4)
  37. ^ in modern-day Jiāngsū
  38. ^ in modern-day Zhèjiāng
  39. ^ Lewis (2000:366)
  40. ^ Hsu (1999:562–563)
  41. ^ Hsu (1999:562–563)
  42. ^ Hui (2004:186)
  43. ^ Hui (2004:186)
  44. ^ Hsu (1999:567)
  45. ^ Ye (2007:34–35)


Further reading

  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (1999). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-66991-X (paperback).

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Spring and Autumn period — (770–476 BC) Period of the Chinese Zhou dynasty named for one of the Confucian Classics, the Chunqiu ( Spring and Autumn Annals ). During the period the imperial house s authority diminished as local nobles struggled for power in states that… …   Universalium

  • Interstate relations during the Spring and Autumn period — Certain patterns emerged to govern the conduct of relations among the states of the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. These patterns constituted a rudimentary system of interstate or international law based on the model of feudalism… …   Wikipedia

  • Wei (Spring and Autumn Period) — This article is about the State of Wei founded during the Spring and Autumn Period. For the Warring States Period state whose name is pronounced identically, see Wei (state). Wei (Simplified: 卫; Traditional: 衞; Pinyin: Wèi) was a state, founded… …   Wikipedia

  • Dai (Spring and Autumn Period) — For other uses, see Dai (state). Dai (Chinese: 代; pinyin: Dài) was a state which existed during the Spring and Autumn Period. It was located to the north east of present day Yu County, Hebei about 100 miles west of Beijing. It was conquered by… …   Wikipedia

  • Spring and Autumn Annals — Chunqiu redirects here. For the period in Eastern Zhou, see Spring and Autumn Period. Spring and Autumn Annals Chinese 春 秋 …   Wikipedia

  • Wen Zhong (Spring and Autumn) — Wen Zhong (Chinese: 文种; Pinyin: Wén Zhǒng) was an advisor in the state of Yue in the Spring and Autumn Period. He was a native of Ying (today Jingzhou, Hubei Province). After Yue was defeated in 494 BC, he corrupted Bo Pi in order to make peace… …   Wikipedia

  • spring — springlike, adj. /spring/, v., sprang or, often, sprung; sprung; springing; n., adj. v.i. 1. to rise, leap, move, or act suddenly and swiftly, as by a sudden dart or thrust forward or outward, or being suddenly released from a coiled or… …   Universalium

  • period — /pear ee euhd/, n. 1. a rather large interval of time that is meaningful in the life of a person, in history, etc., because of its particular characteristics: a period of illness; a period of great profitability for a company; a period of social… …   Universalium

  • Autumn leaf color — Japanese Maple leaves (November 22, 2006) …   Wikipedia

  • Autumn — Fall redirects here. For other uses, see Fall (disambiguation). This article is about the temperate season. For other uses, see Autumn (disambiguation). An autumn vineyard in Napa Valley, California …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.