For hundreds of years, the kings of Chou ruled China. King Yu-wang (r. 781-771 b.c.e.) had a beautiful concubine whom he loved dearly. The woman, however, always looked depressed. The king would have paid any price to make her smile. One day, he lighted the fire beacon, a signal to announce the approach of an enemy. As the feudal lords with their troops hurried to the rescue, they found the king drinking with his concubine. They were forced to lead their troops back. The concubine enjoyed the practical joke so much that for the first time she gave a hearty laugh.
The Marquis of Shen, father of the lawful queen, resented the treatment of his daughter and grandson by the king, and he allied himself with the barbarians. Together they marched on the capital. The fire beacon was again lighted, but this time no rescuing troops appeared. King Yu-wang was killed and the beautiful concubine carried away by the barbarians.
The capital was also sacked and destroyed. When the heir-apparent, P’ing-wang, was raised to the throne, he moved the government to Loyang, a city to the east. This was the beginning of the Eastern Chou dynasty (770 b.c.e.). From that time on, the royal house was weakened, and several feudal states rose to unprecedented power. The territory in the west, the present province of Shensi, was given up to the state of Ch’in, which gradually aggrandized itself as a result of the conquest of the neighboring tribes of barbarians and became the force to reunify China centuries later.
The first feudal lord to attain imperial importance was Duke Huan of Ch’i (685-643 b.c.e.), who occupied the northeast of the present province of Shangtung. His prime minister, Kuan Chung, on whom the duke relied heavily, launched a program of economic reconstruction. With his people enjoying economic prosperity at home and placing full confidence in him, the duke began a series of diplomatic moves that successfully bound various other states by treaty. He became an overlord, the leader of the feudal lords, defender of the royal house, and protector of weaker states.
The great menace to the allied states, with the king of Chou as their nominal head, was Ch’u, occupying, roughly, the present provinces of Hupeh and Hunan, a mere viscountship in the south, generally considered barbarous but grown so formidable in its military strength and vast in its territory that its rulers defied the royal house and called themselves kings. The utmost Duke Huan of Ch’i, accomplished with regard to the potential enemy in the south, though he had chased the barbarians in the northeast up to the border of Manchuria during a military campaign to help the much harassed state of Yen, was to bring about a pact of amity. The smaller states, under the pressure of circumstances, were often compelled to choose between...
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