History Files


Far East Kingdoms





Qin Kingdom (Warring States China)
? - 256 BC

The 'Warring States' period of Chinese history was triggered in 481 BC by the first division of the Jin state in the central and northern area of the imperial domains. The Chinese emperors had long governed a great many tribes and smaller kingdoms, all vassals, but all struggling against one another for regional superiority and even against the ruling emperor for dynastic supremacy (in fact the word for 'king' was the same as the word for 'emperor'). By the beginning of the fifth century BC the authority of the Middle Zhou emperors had reached a nadir. They were rapidly becoming little more than figureheads while the real power lay with the rulers of the various states - effectively independent kingdoms in their own right - which were often at war with their peers for supremacy within the empire. The Eastern Zhou continued to rule a much-reduced territory during the Late Zhou period in the face of opposition between as many as seven other kingdoms, one of which was the Qin kingdom.

Qin (pronounced 'chin') was the westernmost of the seven warring kingdoms during the Warring States period. It formed a wide north-south barrier to the barbarian lands beyond, and bordered the kingdom of Zhao to the east. It had existed for some centuries already as a sub-state of the early Chinese kingdom, with Duke Huan of Qi leading the fight against barbarians during the early part of the Middle Zhou period.

(Additional information from Migration and Settlement of the Yuezhi-Kushan. Interaction and Interdependence of Nomadic and Sedentary Societies, Xinru Liu (Journal of World History 12, 2001), from the BBC series, The Story of China, by Michael Wood, first broadcast between 21 January and 25 February 2016, and from The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC, Michael Loewe, Edward L Shaughnessy (Eds).)

c.470 BC

Born around this date is Mo Di, popularly known as Mozi. He becomes a philosopher during the 'Hundred Schools of Thought period in 'Warring States' China later in the fifth century (he dies around 391 BC). Periods of deep instability in societies often result in a flourishing of monastic or philosophical thought (sixth century AD Britain is no different), and China's Hundred Schools of Thought period is seen as a golden age of philosophy for the country. The movement is built in no small part on the back of the work carried out by Confucius.

Map of Late Zhou China c.400 BC
The Late Zhou period also heralded the 'Warring States Era' which saw almost three centuries of bitter rivalry and warfare between a mass of fractured Chinese kingdoms (click on map to show full sized)

469 BC

Confucius dies having so far failed in his mission to bring virtuousness to the country's rulers and moral values to the method of their rule. It would be too early for him to see any sign of the growing philosophical movement that has been inspired by his work. The warring states continue to fight until well after the last of the Zhou have fallen, but the ideas that Confucius leaves behind are taken up by his disciples and eventually reach a much wider audience.

403 BC

The three Jin states which had triggered the 'Warring States' period in the first place - Han, Wei, and Zhao - are officially recognised by Zhou Emperor Weillie Wang. The act effectively provides a closing bookend to the long-running 'Partion of Jin'. He organises them into feudal states so that they can act as a buffer between the core Zhou lands and the increasingly belligerent and independent-minded Qin - although at the moment the Qin technically remain an imperial subject. Unfortunately, all of the states are given a push by this act towards establishing themselves as kingdoms in their own right.

300s BC

Towards the end of China's 'Warring States' period, by the third century BC, the Xiongnu become a real threat to the north-western Chinese border. By this time the Lesser Yuezhi, formerly reliable jade traders to the Chinese, are better known as reliable horse traders. Jade is still included in trade, however.

341 - 340 BC

The Wei kingdom is defeated by Qin.

325 - 323 BC

The Zhou imperial state has existed for some years as an increasingly meaningless concept, with the states that form the majority of its territory showing increasing levels of independence in thought and deed. During this short period several of their leaders - in Han, Qin, and Yang - declare themselves to be kings of their states, no longer recognising imperial authority even nominally.

316 BC

The Qin kingdom conquers the independent Shu state which is located in the modern Sichuan province. For the first time, this act draws the Sichuan Basin into a 'Warring States' China that has previously been centred on the Yellow River.

307 BC

In the first seven years of his reign, Zhou Emperor Nan Wang has moved his capital into the duchy of West Zhou. Now Qin attacks Han and Chu comes to Han's defence. Zhou is nominally on the side of Qin, but Nan Wang has to resort to ever more desperate diplomatic intrigues to avoid being attacked by any of these former vassals.

307 - 250 BC

Zhaoxiang / Zhao

King of Qin.

256 BC

The Zhou have long since lost any military power, but their political power has also faded sharply, leaving them as figureheads and bargaining tools. Even their surviving core territory at the heart of the old Chinese state has been divided, with the western section more recently providing the Qin with their capital at Wangcheng. Nan Wang has conducted a political game of survival, playing his opponents off against each other, and has survived for an astonishing fifty-nine years as the Eastern Zhou emperor. Now the Qin capture the city of Chengzhou, ending the Zhou dynasty. Nan Wang is deposed and executed.

250 BC

Hsiao-wên Wang / Xiaowen


249 BC

The city of Chengzhou has apparently not remained in Qin hands since 256 BC as it has since formed the capital of King Hui's East Zhou kingdom which claims the imperial title. Now the Qin capture the remaining Zhou territory of East Zhou and the so-called 'King Hui' is executed. The Zhou are no more and their lands are now controlled by the Qin.

249 BC

Chuang-hsing Wang

King of Qin.

247 BC

Chuang-hsing Wang is succeeded by Wang Chêng. In his time as the Wang dynasty's third ruler, he is the most feared leader, one who is regarded as a common threat by all the other kingdoms of the 'Warring States' period. His ruthless drive to unite China sees him conquer the others one by one (there are numerous tales of assassins sent to kill the king, one of which is depicted in the Chinese feature film, Hero / Ying Xiong.). He produces a contemporary super-army, a strongly regimented force with mass-produced bronze weapons that is expertly led. China has seen nothing like it.

247 - 221 BC

Wang Chêng

King of Qin. Reunified China under his Qin dynasty.

c.230 - 220 BC

Seemingly within the last century, during the 'Warring States' period, the Greater Yuezhi have appeared on the sweeping grasslands closer to the border of the Qin kingdom, somewhat to the south of the Eastern Steppe, and possibly encompassing at least part of the western section of the Yellow River. The hostile Xiongnu already occupy at least part of these lands even though, during this period, the Greater Yuezhi are the most powerful nomadic group on the north-western Chinese plains. The neighbouring Wusun have migrated with the Greater Yuezhi from the Dunhuang/Qilian region and now occupy lands to the north-west of them.

222 BC

The Qin conquer the Yen/Yan, who have also ruled the Korean kingdom of Chosen for the past eighty-odd years. The Korean state remains a possession of Wang Chêng's for the remainder of his lifetime.

221 BC

FeatureThe 'Warring States' period comes to an end as the Qin conquer the last remaining rival kingdoms and unify the Yellow Plain, and therefore ancient China. King Wang Chêng of Qin adopts the throne name of Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin dynasty and begins to create a very different China from the smaller unified kingdom of ancient times.