Spring and Autumn period

The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history from approximately 771 to 476 BC (or according to some authorities until 403 BC[lower-alpha 1])[2] which corresponds roughly to the first half of the Eastern Zhou period. The period's name derives from the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle of the state of Lu between 722 and 479 BC, which tradition associates with Confucius (551–479 BC).

Spring and Autumn period
Traditional Chinese春秋時代
Simplified Chinese春秋时代
Hanyu PinyinChūn-Qiū Shídài
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou c. 1046 – 256 BC
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn
   Warring States
Qin 221–207 BC
Han 202 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin 266–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui 581–618
Tang 618–907
  (Wu Zhou 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao 916–1125
Song 960–1279
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan 1271–1368
Ming 1368–1644
Qing 1636–1912
Republic of China on mainland 1912–1949
People's Republic of China 1949–present
Republic of China on Taiwan 1949–present

During this period, the Zhou royal authority over the various feudal states eroded, as more and more dukes and marquesses obtained de facto regional autonomy, defying the king's court in Luoyi, and waging wars amongst themselves. The gradual Partition of Jin, one of the most powerful states, marked the end of the Spring and Autumn period, and the beginning of the Warring States period.


In 771 BC, the Quanrong invasion destroyed the Western Zhou and its capital Haojing, forcing the Zhou king to flee to the eastern capital Luoyi (Chinese: 洛邑). The event ushered in the Eastern Zhou dynasty, which is divided into the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods. During the Spring and Autumn period, China's feudal system of fengjian (封建) became largely irrelevant. The Zhou court, having lost its homeland in the Guanzhong region, held nominal power, but had real control over only a small royal demesne centered on Luoyi. 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.[3] As the power of the Zhou kings waned, these fiefdoms became increasingly independent states.

The most important states (known later as the twelve vassals) came together in regular conferences where they decided important matters, such as military expeditions against foreign groups or against offending nobles. During these conferences one vassal ruler was sometimes declared hegemon (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; later, Chinese: ; pinyin: ).

As the era continued, larger and more powerful states annexed or claimed suzerainty over smaller ones. By the 6th century BC most small states had disappeared and just a few large and powerful principalities dominated China. Some southern states, such as Chu and Wu, claimed independence from the Zhou, who undertook wars against some of them (Wu and Yue).

Amid the interstate power struggles, internal conflict was also rife: six élite landholding families waged war on each other inside Jin, political enemies set about eliminating the Chen family in Qi, and the 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 élite families in Jin—Zhao, Wei and Han—partitioned the state.

Early Spring and Autumn (771–685 BC)

Court moves east (771 BC)

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 Xi'an to Wangcheng in the Yellow River Valley. The Zhou royalty was then closer to its main supporters,[4] particularly Jin, and Zheng;[5][6] 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 Yijiu was crowned by his supporters as King Ping.[6] However, with the Zhou domain greatly reduced to Chengzhou and nearby areas, the court could no longer support the six army groups it had in the past; Zhou kings had to request help from powerful vassal 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.[7] 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.[8]

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:[9][10] 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.[11] The king's prestige legitimized the military leaders of the states, and helped mobilize collective defense of Zhou territory against "barbarians".[12]

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,[13] interstate relations alternated between low-level warfare and complex diplomacy.[14]

Zheng falls out with the court (722–685 BC)

Duke Yin of Lu ascended the throne in 722 BC.[15] From this year on the state of Lu kept an official chronicle, the Spring and Autumn Annals, which along with its commentaries is the standard source for the Spring and Autumn period. Corresponding chronicles are known to have existed in other states as well, but all but the Lu chronicle have been lost.

In 717 BC, Duke Zhuang of Zheng went to the capital for an audience with King Huan. During the encounter the duke felt he was not treated with the respect and etiquette which would have been appropriate, given that Zheng was now the chief protector of the capital.[15] In 715 BC Zheng also became involved in a border dispute with Lu regarding the Fields of Xu. The fields had been put in the care of Lu by the king for the exclusive purpose of producing royal sacrifices for the sacred Mount Tai.[15] For Zheng to regard the fields as just any other piece of land was an insult to the court.

By 707 BC, relations had soured enough that the king launched a punitive expedition against Zheng. The duke counterattacked and raided Zhou territory, defeating the royal forces in the Battle of Xuge and injuring the king himself.[8][15][16] Zheng was the first vassal to openly defy the king, kicking off the centuries of warfare without respect for titles which would characterize the period.

The display of Zheng's martial strength was effective until succession problems after Zhuang's death in 701 weakened the state.[5]

In 692 BC, there was a failed assassination attempt against King Zhuang, orchestrated by elements at court.[15]

The Five Hegemons (685–591 BC)

Hegemony of Qi (685–643 BC)

The first hegemon was Duke Huan of Qi (r. 685–643 BC). With the help of his prime 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.[17]

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 (hegemon), giving Duke Huan royal authority in military ventures.[18][19] An important basis for justifying Qi's dominance over the other states was presented in the slogan 'supporting the king, and expelling the barbarians' (尊王攘夷 zun wang rang yi); the role of subsequent hegemons would also be framed in this way, as the primary defender and supporter of nominal Zhou authority and the existing order. 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).[20]

At his death in 643 BC, five of Duke Huan's sons contended for the throne, badly weakening the state so that it was no longer regarded as the hegemon. For nearly ten years, no ruler held the title.[21]

Hegemony of Song (643–637 BC)

Duke Xiang of Song attempted to claim the hegemony in the wake of Qi's decline, perhaps driven by a desire to restore the Shang Dynasty from which Song had descended. He hosted peace conferences in the same style as Qi had done, and conducted aggressive military campaigns against his rivals. Duke Xiang however met his end when, against the advice of his staff, he attacked the much larger state of Chu. The Song forces were defeated at the battle of Hong in 638 BC, and the duke himself died in the following year from an injury sustained in the battle. After Xiang's death his successors adopted a more modest foreign policy, better suited to the country's small size.[22]

As Duke Xiang was never officially recognized as hegemon by the King of Zhou, not all sources list him as one of the Five Hegemons.

Hegemony of Jin (636–628 BC)

When Duke Wen of Jin came to power in 636 BC, 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.[23] 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 .[21]

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.[24]

Hegemony of Qin (628–621 BC)

Duke Mu of Qin had ascended the throne in 659 BC and forged an alliance with Jin by marrying his daughter to Duke Wen. In 624 BC, he established hegemony over the western Rong barbarians and became the most powerful lord of the time. However he did not chair any alliance with other states nor was he officially recognized as hegemon by the king. Therefore, not all sources accept him as one of the Five Hegemons.

Hegemony of Chu (613–591 BC)

King Zhuang of Chu expanded the borders of Chu well north of the Yangtze River, threatening the Central States in modern Henan. At one point the Chu forces advanced to just outside the royal capital of Zhou, upon which King Zhuang sent a messenger to ask how heavy and bulky the Nine Cauldrons were; implying he might soon arrange to have them moved to his own capital. In the end the Zhou capital was spared, and Chu shifted focus to harassing the nearby state of Zheng. The once-hegemon state of Jin intervened to rescue Zheng from the Chu invaders but were resolutely defeated, which marks the ascension of Chu as the dominant state of the time.[25]

Despite his de facto hegemony, King Zhuang's self-proclaimed title of "king" was never recognized by the Zhou states. In the Spring and Autumn Annals he is defiantly referred to by the Chu ruler's original title "viscount" (the second-lowest noble rank), even at a time when he dominated most of south China. Later historians however always include him as one of the Five Hegemons.

Late Spring and Autumn (591–453 BC)

The Six Ministers (588 BC)

In addition to interstate conflict, internal conflicts between state leaders and local aristocrats also occurred. Eventually the dukes of Lu, Jin, Zheng, Wey and Qi would all become figureheads to powerful aristocratic families.[26]

In the case of Jin, the shift happened in 588 BC when the army was split into six independent divisions, each dominated by a separate noble family: the Zhao, Wei, Han, Fan, Zhi and Zhongxing. The heads of the six families were conferred the titles of viscounts and made ministers,[27] each heading one of the six departments of Zhou Dynasty government.[28] From this point on, historians refer to "The Six Ministers" as the true power brokers of Jin.

The same happened to Lu in 562 BC, when the Three Huan divided the army into three parts and established their own separate spheres of influence. The heads of the three families were always among the department heads of Lu.

Rise of Wu (584 BC)

Wu was a "barbarian" state in modern Jiangsu, where the inhabitants sported short hair and tattoos. Although legend ascribed a Chinese origin to the ruling dynasty, Wu did not participate in the politics and wars of China until the last third of the Spring and Autumn period.

Their first documented interaction with the Spring and Autumn states was in 584 BC, when a Wu force attacked the small border state of Tan, causing some alarm in the various Chinese courts. Jin was quick to dispatch an ambassador to the court of the Wu king, Shoumeng. Jin promised to supply Wu with modern military technology and training in exchange for an alliance against Chu, a neighbour of Wu and Jin's nemesis in the struggle for hegemony. King Shoumeng accepted the offer, and Wu would continue to harass Chu for years to come.[29]

Attempts at peace (579 BC)

After a period of increasingly exhausting 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.[30] This peace didn't last very long and 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 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.[31]

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.[31] The Zhou kings had also lost much of their prestige[26] so that, when Duke Dao of Jin (r. 572–558 BC) was recognized as , it carried much less meaning than it had before.

Hegemony of Wu (506–496 BC)

In 506 BC King Helü ascended the throne of Wu. With the help of Wu Zixu and Sun Zi, the author of The Art of War, he launched major offensives against the state of Chu. They prevailed in five battles, one of which was the Battle of Boju, and conquered the capital Ying. However, Chu managed to ask the state of Qin for help, and after being defeated by Qin, the vanguard general of Wu troops, Fugai, a younger brother of Helü, led a rebellion. After beating Fugai, Helü was forced to leave Chu. Fugai later retired to Chu and settled there. King Helü died during an invasion of Yue in 496 BC. Some sources list him as one of the Five Hegemons.

He was succeeded by his son King Fuchai of Wu, who nearly destroyed the Yue state, imprisoning King Goujian of Yue. Subsequently, Fuchai defeated Qi and extended Wu influence into central China.

In 499 BC, the philosopher Confucius was made acting prime minister of Lu. He is traditionally (if improbably) considered the author or editor of the Spring and Autumn annals, from which much of the information for this period is drawn. After only two years he was forced to resign and spent many years wandering between different states before returning to Lu. After returning to Lu he did not resume a political career, preferring to teach. Tradition holds that it was in this time he edited or wrote the Five Classics, including the Spring and Autumn.

Hegemony of Yue (496–465 BC)

In 482 BC, King Fuchai of Wu 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 neighbouring states, rather than the great powers to the north.[32] With help from Wu's enemy Chu, Yue was able to be victorious after several decades of conflict. King Goujian destroyed and annexed Wu in 473 BC, after which he was recognized as hegemon.

The Zuo Commentary, Guoyu and Shiji provide almost no information about Goujian's subsequent reign or policies. What little is said is told from the perspective of other states, such as Duke Ai of Lu trying to enlist Yue's help in a coup against the Three Huan. Sima Qian notes that Goujian reigned on until his death, and that afterwards his descendants—for whom no biographical information is given—continued to rule for six generations before the state was finally absorbed into Chu during the Warring States period.

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.[32] This is the last event recorded in the Zuo Commentary.

With the absorption of most of the 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, along with the Usurpation of Qi by Tian, marks the beginning of the Warring States period.

List of states

A total of 148 states are mentioned in the chronicles for this period.[8]

Name Chinese Capital Location[33] Established Dissolved
Ba Yicheng (夷城) Changyang County, Hubei King Wu's reign 316 BC: to Qin
Pingdu (平都) Fengdu County, Chongqing
Zhi (枳) Fuling District, Chongqing
Jiangzhou (江州) Chongqing
Dianjiang (垫江) Hechuan District, Chongqing
Langzhong (閬中) Langzhong, Sichuan
Bi Bi unknown King Wu's reign unknown
Biyang, Fuyang , Biyang Yicheng District, Zaozhuang, Shandong unknown 563 BC: to Song
Cai Shangcai (上蔡) Shangcai County, Henan King Wu's reign 447 BC: to Chu
Xincai (新蔡) Xincai County, Henan
Xiacai (下蔡) Fengtai County, Anhui
Cao Taoqiu (陶丘) Dingtao District, Heze, Shandong King Wu's reign 487 BC: to Song
Chao Chao Chaohu, Anhui unknown c. 518 BC: to Wu
Chen Wanqiu (宛丘) Huaiyang District, Zhoukou, Henan King Wu's reign 479 BC: to Chu
Cheng , Cheng Ningyang County, Shandong King Wu's reign 408 BC: to Qi
Chu Danyang (丹陽) Xichuan County, Henan King Cheng's reign 223 BC: to Qin
Ying (郢) Jingzhou, Hubei
Chen (陳) Huaiyang District, Zhoukou, Henan
Shouchun (壽春) Shou County, Anhui
Chunyu, Zhou 淳于, Zhou (州) Anqiu, Shandong King Wu's reign 706 BC: to Qi (杞)
Dai Dai Minquan County, Henan unknown 713 BC: to Zheng
Dao Dao unknown unknown unknown
Deng Deng Dengzhou, Henan before Western Zhou 678 BC: to Chu
E E Nanyang, Henan before Western Zhou 863 BC: to Chu
Fan Fan Gushi County, Henan unknown 504 BC: to Wu
Fan Fan Huixian, Henan unknown unknown
Fan Fan Chang'an District, Xi'an, Shaanxi King Xuan's reign 635 BC: to Jin
Yang (陽) Jiyuan, Henan
Gan Gan Yuanyang County, Henan King Xiang's reign unknown
Gao Gao Chengwu County, Shandong King Wu's reign 8th century BC: to Song
Ge Ge Ningling County, Henan before Western Zhou unknown
Gong Gong Xiaoyi, Henan unknown 516 BC: to Jin
Gong Gong Huixian, Henan unknown mid-7th century BC: to Wey
Guang Guang Guangshan County, Henan before Western Zhou 650 BC: to Chu
Guo Guo Liaocheng, Shandong unknown 670 BC: to Qi
Eastern Guo Zhi (制) Xingyang, Henan King Wu's reign 767 BC: to Zheng
Western Guo 西 Yongdi (雍地) Baoji, Shaanxi King Wu's reign 687 BC: to Jin
Shangyang (上陽) Shan County, Henan
Hu Hu Wuyang County, Henan unknown 763 BC: to Zheng
Hua Hua Minquan County, Henan unknown 627 BC: to Qin
Fei (費) Yanshi, Henan
Huang Huang Huangchuan County, Henan unknown 648 BC: to Chu
Hui Hui Xinzheng, Henan unknown 769 BC: to Zheng
Ji Ji Shouguang, Shandong unknown 690 BC: to Qi
Ji Ji Shan County, Shandong unknown 721 BC: to Lu
Ji Ji Changyuan, Henan King Wu's reign 750 BC: to Zheng
Guan (管) Zhengzhou, Henan
Jiang Jiang Xi County, Henan unknown 623 BC: to Chu
Jiang Jiang Gushi County, Henan King Cheng's reign 617 BC: to Chu
Jie Jie Jiaozhou, Shandong unknown unknown: to Qi
Jin Tang (唐), or Jin Yicheng County, Shanxi King Cheng's reign 376 BC: to Han and Zhao
Quwo (曲沃) Wenxi County, Shanxi
Jiang (絳), or Yi (翼) Yicheng County, Shanxi
Xintian (新田), or Xinjiang (新絳) Houma, Shanxi
Ju Jiegen (介根) Jiaozhou, Shandong King Wu's reign 431 BC: to Chu
Ju Ju County, Shandong
Lai Changle (昌樂) Changle County, Shandong before Western Zhou 567 BC: to Qi
Lan Lan Tengzhou, Shandong 781 BC 521 BC: to Lu
Liang Liang Hancheng, Shaanxi unknown 641 BC: to Qin
Liao, Miu , Liao Gushi County, Henan unknown 622 BC: to Chu
Liu Liu Yanshi, Henan 592 BC c. 5th century BC: to Zhou dynasty
Lu Lu Lushan County, Henan King Cheng's reign 256 BC: to Chu
Yancheng (奄城) Qufu, Shandong
Qufu (曲阜) Qufu, Shandong
Nanyang, Henan unknown' 688 BC: to Chu
Mao Mao Qishan County, Shaanxi King Wu's reign 516 BC: to Qin
Mao Mao Jinxiang County, Shandong King Cheng's reign 6th century BC: to Zou
Ni, Xiaozhu , Ni Shanting District, Zaozhuang, Shandong King Cheng's reign 335 BC: to Chu
Qi Yingqiu (營丘), or Linzi (臨淄) Linzi District, Zibo, Shandong King Wu's reign 221 BC: to Qin
Qi Qi Qi County, Henan before Western Zhou 445 BC: to Chu
Pingyang (平陽) Xintai, Shandong
Yuanling (緣陵) Changle County, Shandong
Chunyu (淳于) Anqiu, Shandong
Qin Qin Qingshui County, Gansu King Xiao's reign 206 BC: to Western Chu
Qian (汧) Long County, Shaanxi
Pingyang (平陽) Mei County, Shaanxi
Yong (雍) Fengxiang County, Shaanxi
Yueyang (櫟陽) Yanliang District, Xi'an, Shaanxi
Xianyang (咸阳) Xianyang, Shaanxi
Quan Quan Jingmen, Hubei unknown 704 BC: to Chu
Ren Ren Weishan County, Shandong unknown Warring States period
Ruo Shangruo (上鄀) or Shangmi (商密) Xichuan County, Henan unknown unknown
Xiaruo (下鄀) Yicheng, Hubei
Shao , Shao Qishan County, Shaanxi King Wu's reign 513 BC: to Zhou dynasty
Shan, Tan , Shan Mengjin County, Henan King Cheng's reign unknown
Shen Shen Nanyang, Henan King Xuan's reign 688 – 680 BC: to Chu
Shen Shen Linquan County, Anhui King Cheng's reign 506 BC: to Cai
Shu unknown unknown unknown 316 BC: to Qin
Song Shangqiu (商丘) Shangqiu, Henan King Cheng's reign 286 BC: to Qi
Su 宿 Su Dongping County, Shandong unknown 7th century BC: to Song
Sui Sui Ningyang County, Shandong before Western Zhou 681 BC: to Qi
Tan Tan Tancheng County, Shandong unknown 414 BC: to Yue
Tan Tan Zhangqiu, Shandong c. 1046 BC 684 BC: to Qi
Teng Teng Teng County, Shandong King Wu's reign 297 BC: to Song
Wangshu 王叔 Wangshu Mengjin County, Henan King Xiang of Zhou 563 BC: to Zhou dynasty
Wei (Wey) Zhaoge (朝歌) Qi County, Henan King Cheng's reign 209 BC: to Qin
Cao (曹) Hua County, Henan
Chuqiu (楚丘) Hua County, Henan
Diqiu (帝丘) Puyang County, Henan
Yewang (野王) Qinyang, Henan
Wen Wen Wen County, Henan King Wu's reign 650 BC: to Beidi
Wu Wu, or Gusu (姑蘇) Suzhou, Jiangsu unknown 473 BC: to Yue
Xi Xi Xi County, Henan unknown 684 – 680 BC: to Chu
Xian Xian Huanggang, Hubei unknown 655 BC: to Chu
Xiang Xiang Ju County, Shandong unknown 721 BC: to Ju
Xing Xing Xingtai, Hebei King Cheng's reign 632 BC: to Wey
Yiyi (夷儀) Liaocheng, Shandong
Xu Xu Tancheng County, Shandong before Western Zhou 512 BC: to Wu
Xu , Xu Xuchang, Henan King Wu's reign c. 5th century BC: to Chu
Ye (葉) Ye County, Henan
Yi (夷) or Chengfu (城父) Bozhou, Anhui
Xi (析) Xixia County, Henan
Rongcheng (容城) Lushan County, Henan
Xue, Pi , Xue Tengzhou, Shandong before Western Zhou 418 BC: to Qi
Xiapi (下邳) Pi County, Jiangsu
Shangpi (上邳) Pi County, Jiangsu
Xuqu 須句 Xuqu Dongping County, Shandong unknown 620 BC: to Lu
Yan Bo (亳), or Shengju (聖聚) Fangshan District, Beijing King Wu's reign 222 BC: to Qin
Ji (薊) Beijing
(Southern) Yan , Yan Yanjin County, Henan unknown unknown
Yan Yan Yanling County, Henan King Wu's reign 769 BC: to Zheng
Yang Yang Yinan County, Shandong unknown 660 BC: to Qi
Yin Yin Xin'an County, Henan King Xuan's reign unknown
Ying Ying Pingdingshan, Henan King Cheng's reign 646 BC: to Chu
Yu Yu Qinyang, Henan King Wu's reign unknown
Yu Yu Linyi, Shandong unknown 524 BC: to Lu
Yuan Yuan Jiyuan, Henan King Wu's reign 635 BC: to Jin
Yue Kuaiji (會稽) Shaoxing, Zhejiang unknown 306 BC: to Chu
Langya (琅邪) Jiaonan, Shandong
Wu (吳) Suzhou, Jiangsu
Zeng, Sui , Sui Suizhou, Hubei unknown unknown: to Chu
Zeng Zeng Fangcheng County, Henan before Western Zhou 567 BC: to Ju
Zhan unknown unknown 827 BC unknown
Zhang Zhang Dongping County, Shandong early Western Zhou 664 BC: to Qi
Zheng Zheng Hua County, Shaanxi 806 BC 375 BC: to Han
Xinzheng (新鄭) Xinzheng, Henan
Zhongshan 中山 Gu (顧) Dingzhou, Hebei 506 BC 296 BC: to Zhao
Lingshou (靈壽) Lingshou County, Hebei
Zhou Zhou Fengxiang County, Shaanxi King Wu's reign unknown
Zhoulai 州來 Zhoulai Fengtai County, Anhui 8th century BC 528 BC: to Chu
Zhu Zhu Changqing District, Jinan, Shandong King Wu's reign 768 BC: to Qi
Zhu Zhu Feicheng, Shandong King Wu's reign unknown: to Qi
Zhuan Zhuan Tancheng, Shandong unknown 585 BC: to Lu
Zhuanyu Zhuanyu Pingyi County, Shandong King Wu's reign unknown
Zou, Zhu , Zhu (邾) Qufu, Shandong King Wu's reign 4th century BC: to Chu
Zou (鄒) Zoucheng, Shandong
Note: Capitals are listed in chronological order.

Important figures

The Five Hegemons (春秋五霸):

Traditional history lists five hegemons during the Spring and Autumn period:[34]


Bureaucrats or Officers

Influential scholars

Other people

Interstate relations

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 (Chinese: ; pinyin: cháo), meetings of officials or nobles of different states (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: huì), missions of friendly inquiries sent by the ruler of one state to another (Chinese: ; pinyin: pìn), emissaries sent from one state to another (Chinese: 使; pinyin: shǐ), and hunting parties attended by representatives of different states (Chinese: ; pinyin: 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.


King Wu abolished the Shang dynasty title "emperor" (di), making the king the highest office of the Zhou dynasty.

Below the king were five ranks of vassals, which from top to bottom rank were:

  1. dukegōng 公(爵)
  2. marquis or marquesshóu 侯(爵)
  3. count or earl 伯(爵)
  4. viscount 子(爵)
  5. baronnán 男(爵)

The ranks had been assigned by King Wu upon the foundation of the dynasty and were usually not revised to reflect changing levels of military strength. In the Spring and Autumn Period this led to contradictory situations such as the relatively insignificant state of Song being a duchy while a great power like Chu was only a viscounty.


Some version of the Five Classics existed in Spring and Autumn period, as characters in the Zuo Commentary and Analects frequently quote the Book of Poetry and Book of Documents. On the other hand, the Zuo Commentary depicts some characters actually composing poems that would later be included in the received text of the Book of Poetry. In the Analects there are frequent references to "The Rites",[35] but as Classical Chinese does not distinguish book titles from regular nouns it is not possible to know if what is meant is the Etiquette and Ceremonial (known then as the Book of Rites) or just the concept of ritual in general. The existence of the Book of Changes on the other hand is well-attested in the Zuo Commentary, as multiple characters use it for divination and correctly quote the received text.

Sima Qian claims that it was Confucius who, towards the close of the Spring and Autumn period, edited the received versions of the Book of Poetry, Book of Documents and Book of Rites, wrote the "Ten Wings" commentary on the Book of Changes and wrote the entirety of the Spring and Autumn Annals.[36] This was long the predominant opinion in China, but modern scholarship considers it unlikely that all five classics could be the product of one man.

While many philosophers such as Lao Zi and Sun Zi were active in the Spring and Autumn period, their ideas were probably not put into writing until the following Warring States period.


While sources such as the Book of Poetry contain passing references to "The Emperor Above" (Shang Di), there is no proper mythology around supernatural entities preserved in the Confucian Classics. The mythology is instead focused around the founders of the dynasty, kings Wen and Wu, who were worshipped as gods.

The various states also worshipped their respective founders as local patron deities. As such the rulers of Qi worshipped Yu the Great and Song worshipped Tang long after the Xia and Shang dynasties had ceased to exist on a national level.


  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. 481 BC, 475 BC, and 468 BC are other common dates selected by historians.[1]



  1. Kiser & Cai 2003.
  2. Hsu 1990, p. 547.
  3. Chinn 2007, p. 43.
  4. Hsu (1990:546)
  5. Higham (2004:412)
  6. Shaughnessy (1990:350)
  7. Lewis (2000:359, 363)
  8. Hsu (1999:567)
  9. Lewis 2000, p. 365.
  10. Hsu 1990, pp. 549–50.
  11. Hsu 1999, pp. 568, 570.
  12. Lewis 2000, p. 366.
  13. Hsu 1990, p. 567.
  14. Lewis 2000, p. 367.
  15. Shi Ji, chapter 4
  16. Pines (2002:3)
  17. Hsu 1999, pp. 553–54.
  18. Hsu 1999, p. 555.
  19. Lewis 2000, pp. 366, 369.
  20. Hsu 1999, pp. 555–56.
  21. Hsu 1990, p. 560.
  22. Zuo Zhuan; Duke Xi years 18–23.
  23. Hsu 1990, p. 559.
  24. Hsu 1990, pp. 560–61.
  25. Zuo Zhuan, Duke Xuan
  26. Pines 2002, p. 4.
  27. Shi Ji chapter 39
  28. Zhou Li
  29. Zuo Commentary, Duke Cheng year 8
  30. Hsu 1999, p. 561.
  31. Hsu 1999, p. 562.
  32. Hui 2004, p. 186.
  33. Tan, Qixiang (1996). The Historical Atlas of China, Volume I. Beijing: China Cartographic Publishing House. pp. 22–30. ISBN 9787503118401.
  34. Ye (2007:34–35)
  35. E.g. Analects 17:10
  36. Shi Ji, chapter 17


Further reading

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