The 800-year period of the Zhou Dynasty (1045–221) is divided into three periods of time called the Western Zhou Period (1045–770), the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476), and the Warring States Period (475–221).
The Spring and Autumn Period was a fertile time for the emergence of key philosophies, schools of thought, and religious ideas as small states expanded, peacefully coexisted, and fought wars.
History of the Spring and Autumn Period
In 771 BC, after King You of Zhou replaced his wife with a concubine, the capital was attacked by his wife’s father who ruled a region called Shen and by a nomadic tribe called the Quanrong.
The rulers of several of the regions in the empire proclaimed the queen’s son, who was named Ji Yijiu, to be the new king.
The capital was moved eastward in 770 BC from Haojing in Xi’an to Luoyang in present-day Henan Province (marking the start of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty of 770–221 BC). The sack of the king and the change of capital marked the end of the rule of the Ji clan over the whole region.
After 771, the Zhou Dynasty became the nominal leading clan.
Early Spring and Autumn Period
The Spring and Autumn Period was the beginning of the Eastern Zhou era.
During this period, the Zhou empire reached the Yangtze River, and it was basically centered on the eastern part of the Yellow River . The first king to rule in the eastern capital, Luoyang, was said to be King Ping.
The Zhou kings ruled as figureheads. Although the dynastic clan did have a small territory of their own at Luoyang, their territory was too small to raise an army. They depended on the surrounding regions fortheir defense. They performed religious ceremonies.
The whole Zhou empire was basically centered on the eastern part of the Yellow River. The territory was divided into many fiefdoms and kingdoms.
The political structure of the dozens of states at the beginning of the era was fairly loose. Representatives of the most powerful states and the weaker states held a council to discuss common treaties or other problems.
Sometimes, the leader of a powerful state would be recognized as the hegemon during a time of crisis or war. During this time, the states on the frontier, such as Qin, grew stronger since they had more room for expansion. There was a lot of rivalry and wars.
Major Events of the Spring and Autumn Period
The Zhou emperors were ceremonial figureheads although they did have a small amount of territory of their own at Luoyang.
Their territory was too small to raise an army of their own that was big enough to defend them. They depended on the surrounding regions, and they performed religious ceremonies.
They were perhaps like the modern British royalty except that the populace believed they had real powers as representatives of heaven as gods.
During the approximately 300 years of the Spring and Autumn Period, many small fiefdoms and states slowly coalesced through conquest.
There was a lot of rivalry and wars. In about 550 BC, there were four major powers:Qin in the west, Jin in the center, Chu in the south, and Qi in the east.
In 497, the nobles in Jin began a civil war. In 453, there were only four major regions in Jin, and in that year the three weaker clans destroyed the stronger, leaving only Han, Wei, and Zhao. In 403, they divided the Jin state between themselves.
This action left eight states in the former Zhou empire region: Han, Wei, Zhao, Qin, Chu, Yue, Qi, and Yan near modern-day Beijing.
ate Spring and Autumn Period
481 BC was the end of the Spring and Autumn Period according to the Spring and Autumn Annals. The start of the reigning period for King Yuan of Zhou, 475 BC, is the generally accepted date. 403 BC was when the Jin state officially splitinto Zhao, Wei, and Han.
The Partition of Jin (455–403 BC)
The Jin state was a major state in central northern China during the middle part of the Zhou Dynasty but the Jin duke lost power to his nobles.
The Philosophy and Religion
The Spring and Autumn Period was known as the time of the “Hundred Schools of Thought”. During the beginning and middle parts of the era, the existence of many small states and fiefdoms with their own languages，tribal and cultural backgrounds allowed many schools of thought to exist simultaneously.
Since there was some level of peace, people could discuss and teach their ideas freely. The Spring and Autumn Period was a fertile time for the development of philosophy and religion.Major philosophies emerged that were passed to later empires: Legalism, Confucianism, and Taoism.
Other major schools of thought, such as Mohism, Buddhism, and others that we don’t know anything about, were not passed down to later empires.