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The small state of Han (韓, not to be confused with the more famous Han dynasty, 漢) was one of the so-called "Seven Kingdoms" which dominated the Chinese world of the Warring States era (470s–221 BCE). Despite its size, Han was a key player in the war between Qin and the other five kingdoms, as the latter were often allied with Han to resist Qin aggression.
Like her neighbours (the richer state of Wei, and the more powerful Zhao state), Han owed her birth to the disintegration and eventual Partition of Jin (403 BCE). Prior to this, however, she, along with her other sister-states, were once part of the ducal fiefdom of Jin, created by king Cheng in the 11th century BCE, on the northern border of Zhou royal lands around the then capital of Fenghao. The rulers of Han were related to the bloodline of the ducal family - who, in turn, were themselves descendents of Zhou royalty, overseeing Jin under the fengjing system. A charioteer, Ji Wuzi, helped his half-nephew Ji Cheng of Quwo, to gain control of Jin by eliminating his rivals and distant relatives, the marquesses of Jin. For his assistance, the charioteer — now stylised Han Wuzi — was granted estates around Hancheng, and it is from this moment that the Han clan was born, its leaders being Wuzi's descendents.
The eventual weakening of Zhou royal rule, especially after the sack of Fenghao in a civil war, saw Jin eventually become a major hegemon in what is now known as the "Spring and Autumn Period" (along with the Central Plains states of Song, Qi and Qin in the north, and the southern kingdoms of Chu — and very briefly, Wu). Next, it was the turn of the Duchy itself to unravel. Jin, unlike other states, had a highly oligarchic structure - the Duke of Jin did not rule alone but also held sway over several smaller noble clans. By the time of Duke Qing (late 520s BCE), ducal power was increasing strained, especially by a civil war between three pretenders for the Zhou throne and four clans - the Zhi, Han, Zhao and Wei - would eventually come to dominate politics in the duchy. Ducal authority would prove insufficient to maintain order when Zhi began demanding land from Zhao - who with the help of Han and Wei, exterminated Zhi by 403BCE, and force the then duke, Chu, to go into exile.
From that time on, Han - along with Zhao and Wei, were in de facto control of Jin lands, although the duchy still existed, with the Duke now reduced to lands near the present-day cities of Linfen and Yuncheng in Shanxi. Although it would take almost another 50 years before the Zhou court would recognise their claims and elevate them to the status of kingdoms (ie, principalities) the polities of Han, Zhao and Wei were now, for better or for worse, independent.