I've been reading about the Warring States Period in Li Feng's 'Early China', and I don't know if I missed a passage but I can't seem to figure out why the period was so violent.

I've been searching via Google but still I seem to be getting a lot of information on the dynamics of war, but not exactly why the wars happened in the first place. So a few questions about that:

  • why was there so much conflict during the period, and what were the incentives that each state had for being at war
  • is there a reason why the region couldn't have been peaceful during the period?
  • 2
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warring_States_period mentions "the goal of creating one Chinese Empire, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation". On the incentives for each state, I would suggest the links provided for each state in the Wiki warring states article. Apr 29, 2018 at 3:25
  • Be wary of labels. Was it any more violent than preceding periods? And lumping 200 years worth of conflict together can make it seem there's a lot more fighting going on.
    – Schwern
    Apr 29, 2018 at 3:39
  • 3
    Because war is effectively the job application for the vacant position of Emperor?? Upvote just for a non - European question.
    – MCW
    Apr 30, 2018 at 12:41
  • @MarkC.Wallace thanks for that, your answer wasn't something I had considered. And I guess being emperor means control over resources (agriculture, people etc..) translating into wealth? I was originally thinking it was less political, more about things like food security
    – Cdn_Dev
    May 1, 2018 at 12:50
  • 1
    @LarsBosteen The idea that there was any goal to creater an empire is quite anachronistic (this is pushed by modern Chinese orthodoxy to promote unification); For the Warring States period, the states basically expanded their extant administration to cover more land and grow more powerful. There was no conceptual higher level of "Empire" above each kingdom. Likewise MCW there wasn't a position for the Emperor during this period - there was a Son of Heaven, but that was actually still occupied by the House of Zhou in Luoyang until very near the end of the period, and carries no real power.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 28, 2022 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


As for many massive and durable wars, the problem lies in a dual-cause. This cause is the strategic incentive to war for many of the kingdoms engaged in the process.

First part of the dual-cause, "Thucydide's trap": This is a phenomenon in an area with different entities of common culture, that have no "ideological" reasons to fight each other (example of the contrary: the Crusades). But one of them becomes stronger, and the others don't want someone to be so uniquely strong that it could become the King. So some sort of coalition could raise against the strongest entity,and this results in a long period of war during which, every time an entity stands out of the crowd, it is attacked and put back by all the others.

Second part of the dual-cause, strategic opportunities: On the other hand, when you feel you're strong at a time but the others are going to catch up, your entity feels like it should attack and secure its positions. This could lead your entity to partial or full-target attacks, that creates a war.

Other reasons had come in from time to time:

  • Alliances: when you had good relations with an other kingdom that is attacked, the First Part gets more important as you don't want to be isolated by having all your allies defeated
  • Starvation, trade issues: sometimes you need something and your neighbour don't want to give it to you...
  • Plunder, raids: sometimes one of the soldiers or citizen under your responsibility acts without order and you need to catch up with him, otherwise your population will see you as a traitor and/or a weak man
  • @MCW You're right, I meant "lies in XXX". Thank you for highlighting that Mar 26, 2022 at 17:57

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