Chinese history reveals a recurring theme of statecraft as an unending cycle of struggles for supremacy within the political universe. The decline of feudalism at the end of the Zhou dynasty between 722 and 481 B.C.E., also known as the Spring and Autumn period, gave rise to de facto independent states in China and the beginning of a bitter warfare between warlord-rulers fighting for hegemony. After this came the Warring States period, which was characterized by “incessant conflict among more or less technologically equal, culturally similar ‘sovereign’ states.” Despite all the trauma and hardship of this period, the centuries of conflict leading up to the Qin unification was a time of great intellectual foment and productivity. Along with the social upheavals of the period came the development of a class of educated lesser gentry who were increasingly called upon to help run governments and give advice on politics, governance, and statecraft to princes who found themselves increasingly locked in mortal combat with each other and were eager for any shrewd advice that might help them turn the tide in their favor. This highly literate but often underemployed class of advice givers quickly clustered themselves into competing schools, which included the Confucians, the Legalists, the Mohists, and the Taoists. It was during the Han dynasty when the Legalist structure of the authoritarian Qin state was adopted to an essentially Confucian public ethic, establishing the Chinese archetype of government for a very long time.
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