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The title above is fairly broad, so more specifically, what specific events led to the Warring States period experienced towards the end of the Western Zhou Dynasty in ancient China? As the lineage and vassal systems are broad answers to this question, what specifically about them contributed to this period in the otherwise illustrious and steadfast Zhou Dynasty?

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This an excellent question, as I have always wondered also. –  Jacob Oct 11 '11 at 20:14
Never heard about the lineage and vassal system in use in ancient china, I'd be interested in information on this. –  MichaelF Oct 12 '11 at 12:01

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The downfall of Zhou began with the end of Western Zhou, over 500 years before Zhou's final demise. King You's actions in seeking to please his concubine Baosi (including replacing the heir apparent with her son) led to a revolt by the forces of Marquis Shen and assisted by the Western Rong and Quan (Dog) Rong tribes. King You was killed and the capital Haojing was razed. The Eastern Zhou, established in Luoyang to avoid the Rong threat, never had the power to control its vassals, who took to fighting amongst themselves. The multitudes of states in the Spring and Autumn period consolidated into seven major powers in the Warring States and ultimately left Qin as the victor. Zhou's ultimate demise was due to a revolt against Qin, when, in alliance with other states, it launched a surprise attack on Qin. They responded by attacking Zhou, whose ruler quickly submitted.

Qin as a feudal power began when Duke Xiang received a fief and title from the new Eastern Zhou ruler King Ping. Three generations of his family had been engaged in the fight against the Rong and Qin were rewarded for their success (Sima Qian also mentions Qin's attempted rescue of Western Zhou and assistance during the movement to the new capital, which, while not quoted amongst King Ping's reasons for the reward, would likely have improved King Ping's opinion of them). They strengthened their base by conquering further barbarian territory and swallowing up some small neighbouring states.

The other major states of the Warring States period were all founded early in the Zhou dynasty, which presumably gave them the advantage of having had a long time to build up their power. I lack the sources to be able to properly explain how they were able to build a base that exceeded in power both the Zhou and neighbouring states that may have been of equally long standing.

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It all came down to greed and power. The Zhou Dynasty had become so large that it was becoming difficult, if not impossible, to manage and keep under control. As a result, the Zhou leaders created separate territories and appointed leaders over each territory. As these territories began to grow and prosper, they started to pull away from the Zhou leadership and started to form their own political structures.

Eventually, one of these territories (Ch'in) emerged as a true power with their own government and military. They eventually conquered each of the other territories of the Zhou Dynasty, effectively bringing it to an end.

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In other words, a pretty typical development for a feudal state? –  Wladimir Palant Oct 20 '11 at 10:57
I think we can always come up with the specific events that led to the fall (hence +1 to line's answer) but the general trend should also be recognized and respected. Hence +1 to this too. –  Monster Truck Jul 25 '12 at 13:31

The Zhou dynasty was brought down by the rise of the Qin dynasty, leaders of a ruthless but efficient state based in the west, that offered the "latest" in commercial, agricultural, and military technology.

The Qin soon imploded because of the unpopularity of its cruel regime, paving the way for the Han dynasty. But it destroyed a lot of what had come before it.

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sorry, downvote: the chronology is off by a few centuries... –  Felix Goldberg Apr 4 '13 at 22:39
@FelixGoldberg: OK, deleted the reference to the warring states period, which was EARLIER in the Zhou dynasty, while the Qin was at the end. Carried over the error from the question itself. Will you remove your downvote (and perhaps edit the question since you pointed it out)? –  Tom Au Apr 5 '13 at 12:43
But the question didn't mention the Qin? I understood it to refer to about 700 BCE. –  Felix Goldberg Apr 5 '13 at 14:40
@FelixGoldberg: I think I see the problem. I read two separate questions: 1) What led to the downfall of the Zhou dynasty? and 2) What led the Zhou dynasty into the "Warring States" period? (which was followed by something of a "revival" of the Zhou.) I answered the "first" one, and the OP probably wanted an answer to the "second" one. –  Tom Au Apr 5 '13 at 15:28

The Zhou dynasty fell due to reliance on Divine rule (mandate of heaven) and to depopulation caused by war.

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Welcome to the site, but this answer needs more work :) –  Drux Apr 5 '13 at 8:33
Thank you for the answer. Citations would make this answer much better. As it stands, it is just an opinion, which is of little value in historical research/scholarship. –  Mark C. Wallace Apr 5 '13 at 12:31
Welcome among us. Please read our About and FAQ pages, as they provide many useful informations on how to make your answers and questions better. –  Darek Wędrychowski Apr 6 '13 at 16:04
This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. –  Tom Au Apr 23 '13 at 23:53

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