As you read, bear in mind that a quiz covering today's
reading and the earlier reading on the Spring & Autumn period
Reading Assignment: The Warring States Period
On Thursday, we resume the "master narrative" of Classical China that we interrupted in order to make our bows to Confucius. The "story" picks up as the state of Jin splits into three smaller states, led by former warlord clans of Jin -- this marks the close of the Spring & Autumn period (771-453) and the transition to the Warring States era (453-221).
The transition is not a sudden one. Changes in society that had been underway since the break-up of the Western Zhou empire continue during this latter part of the Classical period. But these changes do show a marked acceleration after about 400 B.C., and the Warring States era raises the stress level of society several fold.
We will initially focus on the greatest progressive social leap of the entire Classical period: the reforms initiated in the state of Qin during the mid-fourth century by a man known as Shang Yang, or Lord Shang. Shang Yang's reforms in Qin are the most direct reason why the state of Qin was ultimately able to prevail over all its competitors and reunify China under its rule.
The career of Shang Yang is narrated in your reading, followed by an account of structural changes in inter-state politics which resulted from the changed status of Qin after Shang Yang's reforms.
The three remaining tales describe events in different states, Qi, Wei, and Qin. In the tales of Qi and Wei, we see lively portraits of shi in the service of minister-lords, illustrating ways in which social mobility was during this period reaching down to very low classes of men indeed. In contrasting the tale of Lord Mengchang's court in Qi and the history of the quirky Feng Xuan with the tale from Wei, a successor state of Jin, which recounts a very different type of relationship between Lord Xin-ling and his retainer Hou Ying, it is interesting to think back to the Spring and Autumn societies of Qi and Jin - which were sharply contrasted in earlier readings and in lecture - and think of continuities we might see. Is there any reason, for example, that we might expect the Feng Xuan story to come from Guan Zhong's old homeland, and the Hou Ying story to come from the homeland of Chong'er (Duke Wen) and his courtier Hu Yan?
The tale of Lü Buwei which ends this reading brings us politically to the brink of a new period of Chinese history - the end of the Classical era of the late Zhou and beginning of the Imperial era established by Qin. Can you see in the tale any resemblance between the Qin of Lü Buwei and the future First Emperor and the state that was transformed by Shang Yang a century earlier?