The breakdown of the Zhou Empire, in the third century B.C.E., permitted the establishment of many small kingdoms ruled by former vassals and incursions of nomadic peoples who lived on the Chinese border. This period of internal warfare—called the “Warring States Period”—stimulated intellectual ferment and the formulation of new conceptions of political and social organization. The creation of the brief Qin Empire in 221 B.C.E. seemed to promise a return to political order. Qin tyranny, however, produced resistance and the collapse of the dynasty in 207 B.C.E. The Han dynasty (which replaced the Qin dynasty) ruled for nearly four centuries, and political unity was achieved through the creation of a large civil bureaucracy.
In this unit, we will examine how political and social disorder later resulted in consolidation and the emergence of a distinct Chinese state—a far different polity than the fragmentation and chronic instability that characterized the Zhou.