San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Spring and Autumn Period
of Ancient China,
720 BCE to 480 BCE

The Spring and Autumn Period was the time of the Eastern Zhou dynasty politically but it was the age of Confucius (Master K'ung) philosophically. He articulated the principles that justified the feudal system of the time. The name Spring and Autumn is taken from the book The Spring and Autumn Annals which is attributed to Confucius, if not as author at least as editor. This period also included the phenomenon of known as A Hundred Schools of Thought.

The Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou dynasty had its origins to the west of the Shang Empire in what is now Shaanxi Province. The capital for this Zhou state was near where Xi'an is now, on the Weihe (Wei river) above its confluence with the Huanghe (Yellow River).

In early times the Zhou was a tributary state to the more powerful Shang state. Sometimes the Zhou fought with the Shang. In 1122 BCE (traditional date) the Zhou the Shang army and defeated it. Soon after there was a rebellion of the provinces of the Shang state that took three years to subdue. Over time the Zhou created a feudal organization to control the consolidated Shang and Zhou empires.

After to several centuries the Zhou leaders accepted the reality that their empire lay too far to the east of their old capital to administer it efficiently. They built a new capital at Lo-yang. The lo syllable was from the name of the river on which it was located, the Luo. The second part means sun. This meant it was located on the north bank of the river where the sun, unshaded by trees, always shone.

After 770 BCE the Zhou capital was located at Loyang and the period after 770 BCE became known as the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. Obviously the period before 770 BCE had to be called the Western Zhou Dynasty.

During the time of the Eastern Zhou Dynasties the arts, craft and technology continued the developments achieved in the Zhou state. There was mention in the surviving literature of a nine floor structure having been built during the period. Ox-drawn plows were developed during this era as were cross bows. In the arts laquerware was developed. And this was the period in which chopsticks became the instruments for eating.

Probably the most important technological development of the time was large scale water projects for flood control and irrigation. These projects increased agricultural production that provided a surplus that enabled a larger share of the population to focus their efforts on matters other than finding enough of to eat.

This freeing of some to devote themselves to intellectual pursuits led to the flowering of schools of thought in philosophy and politics. This was the era of Confucius. But there were also many others who thought and wrote about such things as Political Administration.

By 480 BCE the Zhou Empire had broken up and the princes of the pieces fought each other for dominance.

(To be continued.)

For more on the history of Chana see China.

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