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Warring States and a Balance of Power Failure

Around 500 BCE the North China Plain was fragmented. There were as many as 148 territories, ruled by a warlord – a person not much different from the warring lords of Europe during its Middle Ages. The warlords attempted a balance of power. They combined against anyone of them perceived as becoming too big of a threat. But it didn't work. By the year 476 BCE the tendency of the bigger powers to absorb the smaller powers had reduced the surviving warlords to something like seventeen. And this was the beginning of what would be called the Warring States Period.

One of the powers was Qin, on the west side of the North China Plain. Qin was seen by other powers as inferior because of the many Tibetan and Turkish people that it had absorbed. Positioned as it was in the West, Qin was a thoroughfare for trade with the tribal lands farther west in Central Asia. Trade contributed to its wealth. Qin had a chief minister, Shang Yang, who organized the kingdom for warfare. He was interested in incentives – penalties fearful people and rewards for the brave. He held to a political philosophy called Legalism. It held Confucianism to be a waste of time. Rather than share Confuciaism's disdain for commerce, he encouraged trade and work. He encouraged the making of cloth for export. He threatened slavery for any able-bodied man not engaged in a useful occupation. He encouraged growth by offering immigrants virgin land and exemption from military service. Many came to Qin, increasing its manpower and food production, which helped strengthen Qin militarily.

The ruler of Qin was an innovator. He added commoners to his army and centralized power to himself by dividing his realm into administrative units and putting officials in charge in the place of nobles. Record keeping of available resources was begun. New administrative techniques were introduced, including record keeping, preventions against tax evasion, along with standard measures and coinage. Qin – pronouned Chin – was the beginning of what would be called China.

Qin in 314 BCE won a military victory over nomadic herdsmen to its north. In 311, Qin expanded southward against more nomadic people and founded the city of Chengedu. Qin's ministers were afraid that if they didn't defeat other powes on the North China Plain these other power would combine against it. In 230 BCE, Qin began defeating these powers. In the year 221 the Warring States Period would be said to have ended. Qin's ruler went to a sacred mountain, Dai Shan, and it would be said that there he recieved the Mandate from Heaven to rule the "entire world." He took the name Shi-huang-di (di signifying emperor) – China's first emperor.

CONTINUE READING: Han rule to the good Emperor Wen (206-157)

Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.