History Files

Far East Kingdoms



Late (Eastern) Zhou Kingdom (Warring States China)
476 - 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. The pretence of there being a single Chinese kingdom had ended. The Zhou king was still regarded as the emperor, at least in official records, but in all senses other than name alone he was the king of Zhou only, and nothing more than a figurehead in any other respect. The Late Zhou are often labelled emperors, if only as a way of ensuring that there is no break in the line of imperial rulers, but there was no empire to rule anyway.

The Zhou capital remained at Luoyang at first, but Ka'o Wang provided a division of Zhou lands which would solidify into two separate states - East Zhou and West Zhou. Neither territory was very big, reflecting the massive diminution of Zhou power during this period, but both had capitals, with Wengchang in the west and Chengzhou and Kung in the east. In the end the Zhou lost the west to the Qin and were bottled up in the east until, in 249 BC, that too fell, ending the dynasty and leaving the imperial title vacant for almost three decades.

Warring States

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Tsinghua University, 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, from The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC, Michael Loewe, Edward L Shaughnessy (Eds), and from External Link: Zhou Genealogy (Warring States Period).)

476 - 469 BC

Yüan Wang

Son of Ching Wang / Jing Wang of the Middle Zhou period.

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 or tap on map to view 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.

468 - 441 BC

Chêng-ting Wang / Zhending Wang


441 BC

Ai Wang

Son. Killed by Si after 3 months on the throne.

441 BC

Si Wang

Brother. Killed by K'ao after 5 months on the throne.

440 - 426 BC

K'ao Wang


During his reign K'ao Wang gives his younger brother, Xīzhōu Jī Huán-gōng, the town of Henan in the western section of the remaining imperial territory. With the title 'Duke of West Zhou', the territory is governed as a feudal fief, but the creation of a recognised division of Zhou lands has lain the seeds of further Zhou disintegration. It is the duke's great-grandson who becomes the first duke of East Zhou, removing the remaining Zhou territory from the emperor's control other than the capital itself.

425 - 402 BC

Wei-lieh Wang / Weillie Wang


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 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.

A 'Warring States' siege
The frequent fighting by the kingdoms of the 'Warring States' period could be contrasted with contemporary Rome's emergence as a republic and its conquest of the Etruscans and then the Carthaginians

401 - 376 BC

An Wang


c.400 BC

The core Eastern Zhou lands are divided into two states - East Zhou and West Zhou - and are largely under the control of rival warlords with the Zhou themselves being protected due to their status but effectively powerless in terms of playing any real role in how events unfold. The West Zhou capital is established at Wangcheng, while the East Zhou capital is at Chengzhou with another important centre at Kung. An Wang himself is largely an unknown figure, as is his son, Lie Wang.

375 - 369 BC

Lieh Wang / Lie Wang


368 - 321 BC

Hsien Wang / Xian Wang


325 - 323 BC

The 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.

320 - 315 BC

Shên-ching Wang / Shenjing Wang


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 China that has previously been centred along the Yellow River.

314 - 256 BC

Nan Wang

Son. 'King of Chou/Zhou'. Deposed & executed. Last Zhou.

307 BC

In the first seven years of his reign, 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.

Eastern Zhou figures
A modern artist's recreation of Eastern Zhou figures shows the bodyguard of a lord in the blue and yellow, while next to him in rather more lowly clothing is an ordinary infantry archer

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. 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 in 256 BC the Qin capture the city of Chengzhou, ending the Zhou dynasty. Nan Wang is deposed and executed.

256 - 249 BC

Hui of Zhou / Duke Wen

Duke of East Zhou. Claimant as King Hui, but not recognised.

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. A descendant of his or the immediate Zhao family can be found as a general in the armies of the Later Han in the first century AD.

Following Hui's death, the imperial title remains vacant for almost three decades as the Qin pursue their war of conquest against the other kingdoms, but it is a Qin king who will go on to reunify China in 221 BC as Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin dynasty.

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