The year is 430 BCE - otherwise known as the 10th year of the reign of Kao of Zhou.
For most of the decades from the death of You and the destruction of the first Zhou capital of Hao (771 BCE), the Central Plains - the very heartland of the Hua (Chinese) nation - has been dominated mainly by five powers - Jin, Qin, Song, Chu and Qi. In spite of military campaigns and the destruction of several smaller states, enacted by these so-called "Five Hegemons", the Zhou domain has so far remained intact, but times are changing.
The once-mighty Duchy of Jin, the shield of the king in the north, has been sliding into anarchy - leaving in its wake three feudatories who now outshine the clan of their former feudal masters. With Jin completely engulfed by civil war, and the duchy of Song lapsing into weakness, the last chances of lasting peace and stability for the Hua peoples are now gone - the great states on the periphery of the kingdom - Qin, Chu, and Qi with its northern neighbour Yan now face no checks on their schemes on the Central Plains and the rest of the world ...
Although the Zhou dynasts had been in power for almost seven centuries prior to the beginning of Bronze Dawn, their control over the Central Plains region (the Yellow River basin and thus the domain of the Hua) was not assured. Ever since the slaying of King You and the sack of Haojing (the former Zhou capital, possibly present day Xi'an) royal influence was increasingly limited to the crown lands surrounding the Zhou capital, "the king's town" - Wangcheng (now outside present-day Luoyang) - with the rest of the Hua nation now effectively under the control of the strongest royal vassals, rather than the king himself.
So with no strong authority to secure compliance, various states like Lu, Zhongshan or the fledgling Han kingdom (not to be confused with the Han dynasty) vied with each other for control over the Yellow River basin, even as other states like Qin, Zhao and Yan had to fight outsiders - Qin was busy attempting to subjugate the Xirong peoples (who ruled a nation known as Yiqu to the Hua), while Yan had to vie with the kingdom of Choson in the far north, even as it along with Zhao had to defend itself from raids by the Xianyun tribes - and Choson itself too had to compete with the Jin Confederacy for space in the cramped Korean peninsula (not to be confused with ducal Jin; the Chinese name of this confederacy is Chen).
Iron is thought to have been known to the Hua people, yet they had no genuine expertise in being able to cast serviceable implements from it - bronze remained the common currency and fuel of the Hua kingdoms' military might, and would remain in use for armour as early as the Qin dynasty (as evidenced by pigment analysis of First Emperor Qin Shi's Terra Cotta Warriors (see the next heading for more information).
Outside of the Zhou sphere, southern China was dominated by the exceedingly rich, cosmopolitan and powerful (but also very corrupt) kingdom of Chu, whose kings wielded far greater power in excess of what the Zhou sovereign could muster. Flush with rich lands and possibly superior technology, Chu could make itself felt on its neighbours, in particular the peoples of Yue, Ba, Shu, and to a more limited extent, the Nanman tribes of Yelang who shared a common ancestry with many of Chu's own subjects.
There too were also non-Hua nations that also flourished in this period, such as the Kushans (in lands due west of royal Qin, their exact core and range is still disputed); the Saka (possibly the ancestors if not the cousins of the more well-known Scythians); and the Dian and Vietnamese peoples of Bach Viet (literally, "Baiyue" or "Hundred Yue" in modern Chinese) and Van Lang to the southwest and far south. In addition, the Persians, once the mightiest of all powers in the Western hemisphere, would soon be supplanted by a new power - the Greeks, who following Alexander the Great's epic campaign across the Middle East, would then have a critical influence in the development of Asian culture, especially in India.
5th century BCE
- 440 BCE : Birth of Wu Qi, military theorist and general, in the march of Wei, duchy of Jin.
- 407 BCE : Li Kui, polymath, Legalist thinker and advisor to Wen marquess of Wei, wrote the Fajing, a treatise on administration and management.
- c 403-400 BCE : Following a skirmish, the march of Zhao formed an alliance with its southern neighbour, the march of Wei, against the principality of Zhongshan.
- 403 BCE : The marches of Wei, Zhao and Han were recognised as kingdoms by decree of Weilie, the Zhou king as kingdoms. Ximen Bao, engineer and politician of Wei, commenced construction of a canal in Wei.
- 401 BCE : King Dao ascended to the throne of Chu. He made Wu Qi his chancellor, whose reforms began to transform Chu into an efficient and powerful state.
4th century BCE
- 400s BCE : The Tianwen Qixiang Zazhan (also known as the "Book of Silk"), an astrological guide recording the existence and orbit of 29 different comets, was first written. *The Commentaries of Master Zuo, viz the "Zuo Zhuan", was also composed around this time.
- 396 BCE : Death of Ximen Bao.
- c 395 BCE : Death of Li Kui.
- c 391 BCE : Death of Mo Di, engineer and philosopher.
- c 385-372 BCE : Birth of Meng Ke (also known as Mencius), philosopher and political theorist.
- 381 BCE : Wu Qi murdered in Chu.
- 380 BCE : Birth of Su Qin, intellectual, diplomat and double agent.
- 379 BCE : Duke Kang of Qi died heirless. Tian Yingqi took the Qi throne, styling himself King Wei and declaring independence of Qi from Zhou.
- c 370s BCE : The last remaining territories of ducal Jin annexed by its former marches, extinguishing the duchy forever.
- 370 BCE : Birth of Hui Shi, Logician philosopher.
- c 369 BCE : Birth of Zhuang Zhou, Daoist mystic and philosopher.
- 362 BCE : Duke Xiao ascended as ruler of Qin.
- 361 BCE : Duke Xiao accepted into his service a legalist called Shang Yang, a native of Wei, as his chancellor.
- 354 BCE : Kingdom of Wei besieged Zhao, but was driven back following its defeat by Qi forces under Sun Bin at Guiling (northern present-day Henan).
- 350 BCE Shang Yang began his reforms in Qin. Birth of Shen Dao, Legalist political philosopher.
- 344 BCE : Angered by the decision of Wei and Qi to recognise each other as independent kingdoms, Marquess Su of Zhao besieged Wei, but was forced to retreat.
- 343 BCE : Death of King Wei of Qi. By then, his kingdom was one of the strongest states, and independent from the Zhou Dynasty.
- 342 BCE : Kingdom of Wei under Pang Juan attacked Han, but was driven back following its defeat by Qi forces under Sun Bin at Maling. Sun Bin later ambushed Pang Juan, forcing him to commit suicide.
- c 330s-310s BCE : Su Qin attempted to form an alliance between six kingdoms against Qin, but ultimately failed.
- 338 BCE : Shang Yang executed in Qin by quartering, but his reforms had made Qin the most powerful and ruthless state, both in military and economic terms.
- 334 BCE : Chu conquered Yue, marking the apex of Chu royal power.
- 325 BCE : Duke Hui of Qin proclaimed himself "King Hui of Qin".
- 323 BCE : Yan declared independence, proclaiming its ruler as a king.
- 318 BCE : Coalition of Chu crushed by Qin. Jixia Academy refurbished by Qi king Xuan. Dai Yan seized ducal throne of Song and declared himself king.
- 316 BCE : Qin conquered Shu and Ba. Death of Sun Bin.
- 310 BCE : Death of Hui Shi.
- c 310 BCE : Birth of Xun Kang, Confucianist scholar and chronicler in Zhao.
- 305 BCE : Birth of Zou Yan, Daoist thinker and natural philosopher. Bamboo manuscripts interred in tombs at this time proved that the Hua races at this time had mastered various mathematical concepts, including decimal systems and the concept of zero.
- c 303-302 BCE : Meng Ke died.
With the seven greatest states now having declared themselves independent of Zhou, the Warring States Period was now very much in full swing in China. In the meantime, the Yue royal family managed to flee their ancestral homeland of Zhejiang and resettled themselves in the land of Min, founding the kingdom of Minyue.
Although the Imperial Era is often thought to begin with the fall of Qi in 221 BCE at the hand of the First Emperor Qin Shi, many of the innovations and events of this era often had their roots in the decades prior to the final Qin conquests. Of these, the most notable events of the era apart from military clashes was the continued bureaucratisation of Hua society, along with the widespread proliferation of true cavalry (as opposed to chariot riders) and iron tools for both civilian and military purposes.
Outside of the lands of the Hua, portentous events were taking place. The Seleucid Empire was established in 312 BCE from the Asian lands conquered by Alexander the Great, but its founder, Seleucus Nicator ("Seleucus the Victorious") would not have an easy path: almost a decade before, an adventurer hailing from Gandhara by the name of Chandragupta had seized control of the Nanda capital of Pataliputra in northern India and established his own line, the Maurya dynasty. Chandragupta would then launch an invasion of Greek India in 305 BCE, eventually consolidating his borders with the Seleucids and gaining the hand of one of Seleucus' daughters in marriage; this new queen of Mauryan India would become the grandmother of the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka.
Of all the lands that Seleucus Nicator managed to defend from Chandragupta Maurya, some of the lands he managed to successfully retain were the satrapies of Sogdiana and Bactria. However, the dilution of Seleucid power gave a local governor Diodotus an opportunity to secede from the empire: this he did, founding the Greek kingdom of Diodotid Bactria in 250 BCE. While Diodotus' line would not survive, the kingdom he founded nevertheless did, and its cultural and military achievements would shape the face of India and eventually China in the coming centuries.
3rd century BCE
- 307-c 290 BCE : Wuling of Zhao established China's first horse cavalry units following the practice of nomadic tribes. Soon after, other kingdoms also began to establish units of horse cavalry.
- 295 BCE : Zhao kingdom annexed Zhongshan.
- c 280s BCE : Births of Li Si and Han Feizi, Legalist political philosophers and Qin politicians.
- c 286 BCE : Death of Zhuang Zhou. Song invaded and partitioned by Qi, Chu and Wei.
- c 287 BCE : Invasion of Qi by Yan — Yan forces sacked Linzi, destroying the Jixia Academy.
- 286 BCE : Qi annexed Song.
- 285 BCE : Yan overran Qi.
- 284 BCE : Su Qin died in Qi. The cause of his death - assassination, or execution - is still unknown.
- 279 BCE : Battle of the Fire Cattle Columns — Yan defeated at Jimo, Shandong, and expelled from Qi.
- 275 BCE : Death of Shen Dao.
- c 272 BCE : Qin annexed the ethnic Rong kingdom of Yiqu.
- 271 BCE : Battle of E'yu — Prince She of Zhao defeated an invading Qin army.
- 260s BCE : Fan Sui Counsellor-in-Chief of Qin court. He plotted the downfall of both Han and Wei, advocating a campaign of political subversion and extermination against their inhabitants.
- 260s BCE : Xiongnü raided Zhao, but are driven back by general Li Mu.
- 262-260 BCE : Changping campaign — Qin under Bai Qi annihilated a vast portion of Zhao's army, marking the decline of the latter kingdom.
- 258 BCE : Van Lang of present-day Vietnam defeated and annexed by the Hua adventurer Thuc Phan, who crowned himself as An Dương of Au Lac.
- 257 BCE : Birth of Zhao Tuo, Qin general. Qin besieged the Zhao capital of Handan, but was driven back by armies from Chu and Wei.
- 256 BCE : Lord Chunshen annexed Lu for Chu. Qin captured Wangcheng, ending the Zhou dynasty. Liu Bang, mercenary, warlord and Emperor of China born around this time in Chu.
- 255 BCE : Downfall and death of Fan Sui of Qin.
- c 240s BCE : Construction of Zheng Guo's Canal began in Qin. Upon completion, the canal drastically increased crop yields in Qin, improving the kingdom's military and economic standing.
- 246 BCE : King Zheng (260–210 BCE) future First Emperor of China, ascended to the throne at the age of thirteen.
- 243 BCE : Under Li Mu's generalship, Zhao seized territories from Yan kingdom.
- 240 BCE : Death of Zou Yan.
- c 235 BCE : Death of Xun Kuang.
- 233 BCE : Li Si forced Han Fei to commit suicide.
- 233-232 BCE : Li Mu drove back Qin raiders from Zhao.
- c 232 BCE : Birth of Xiang Yu, warlord and future ruler of China in Chu.
- 230 BCE : King Zheng of Qin consolidated control of his court. Qin, on the advice of chancellor Li Si, conquered the Han kingdom.
- 229 BCE : At the behest of his ministers, King Jia of Zhao ordered Li Mu to commit suicide.
- 228 BCE : Qin occupied the territory of Zhao.
- 226 BCE : Qin occupied the Yan capital, Ji (now Beijing), and the King of Yan moved his capital to Liaodong.
- 225 BCE : Qin conquered Wei.
- 223 BCE : Qin conquered Chu, drastically increasing the might of the kingdom.
- 222 BCE : Qin conquered the rest of Yan and Zhao.
- 221 BCE Qi king abdicates, capitulating to Qin. Qin dynasty established, with King Zheng stylised as Qin Shi Huangdi ("Emperor Qin Shi").
- 214 BCE : Qin Shi commissioned construction of the Lingqu canal in present-day Guangxi as part of a pacification campaign in the south.
- 213 BCE : Li Si ordered a general extermination of Confucianists, Mohists, and other dissident thinkers.
- 210s-200s BCE : Qin general Meng Tian refurbished old pre-Imperial walls to form the Great Wall of China.
- Construction of Qin Shi's mausoleum, along with the famous "Terra Cotta Warriors", also took place during this time, alongside possible contacts between China and the Greeks of Bactria.
- 210 BCE : Death of First Emperor while travelling. Qin Ershi enthroned by chief eunnch Zhao Gao as emperor. Li Si and Meng Tian put to death by order of Zhao Gao.
- 209-208 BCE : Revolts flared up in former territory of Chu. Huai of Chu enthroned as emperor Yi of Xichu - "Western Chu".
- 208 BCE : Zhao Tuo seized control of Cổ Loa from An Duong of Au Lac. He later seceded from Qin, crowning himself king of Nanyue.
- 207 BCE : Battle and Massacre of Julu — Chu rebels under Xiang Yu defeated Qin at Xin'an (near Luoyang in Henan province), burying alive as many as 200,000 prisoners. Emperor Ershi of Qin forced to commit suicide by Zhao Gao.
- 207-206 BCE : Ziying ascended as ruler of Qin and slew Zhao Gao, but was later slain by Xiang Yu. Qin capital of Xianyang sacked and razed. Liu Bang took possession of Hanzhong (not the same area as the kingdom of Han).
- 206 BCE : Xiang Yu put Emperor Yi of Xichu to death, claiming for himself the title of High King of Xichu. Civil war in northeastern China ushered in the Chu-Han contention.
- 205 BCE : Liu Bang attacked Xiang Yu — Han forces seized western and central China, but are driven back from Pengcheng in eastern China.
- 204 BCE : Han forces under Han Xin seized control of northeastern China from rebel forces. Xiang Yu at bay. Hong Canal treaty signed, partitioning China into Han and Chu.
- 203 BCE : Liu Bang reneged on the Hong Canal Treaty, attacking Xiang Yu.
- 202 BCE : Xiang Yu committed suicide at Gaixia, Anhui. Liu Bang sole ruler of China, crowned as emperor Han Gaozu.
Following his ascension to power, Gaozu's line would eventually consummate the late Qin empire's quest to unite the Hua peoples and dominate China, ushering in a golden age during its zenith. But threats still remained - the Xiongnü and the Koreans were still at large, while Nanyue, Dian and Yelang remained independent, and Han China was still weak. Generations would pass before Han could challenge the Xiongnü and eventually annex the other nations in the time of Gaozu's great-grandson, Liu Che — the famous Emperor Wu.
In the meantime, the Xiongnü would not just continue raiding China, but would drive the Kushans and Saka farther west into India and Iran, before being themselves displaced by other tribes (with Han Chinese support). Survivors of this onslaught would eventually reach India, Persia and Europe in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE where they would soon be known by a new name: the Xionites, or Huns.