44 Ancient China: The Spring & Autumn Period & The Warring States

The Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) established itself as a decentralized government in which lords, loyal to the king, ruled over separate states. Initially, this form of government worked well but, in time, the states grew more powerful than the central Chinese government and each tried to claim from the Zhou the Mandate of Heaven.

The Mandate of Heaven

The Mandate of Heaven was a concept originally conceived during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) and developed by the Zhou which maintained that a monarch’s reign was legitimized by divine powers which had made an agreement with him: he would rule with their blessing as long as he cared for the welfare of his subjects. When it seemed the monarch and dynastic house cared more for themselves than the people—evidenced by social and economic turmoil—it was understood they had lost the Mandate of Heaven and should be replaced.(9)

A map showing the principle state of the Warring States Period in China c. 260  BCE
Philg88 | CC BY-SA


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