The “Warring States Period” derives its name from the Record of the Warring States, a work compiled early in the Han dynasty.

Although different scholars point toward different dates ranging from 481 BC to 403 BC as the true beginning of the Warring States, Sima Qian’s choice of 475 BC is generally the most often cited and popularly accepted one. The Warring States era also overlaps with the second half of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, though the Chinese sovereign, known as the king of Zhou, ruled merely as a figurehead and served as a backdrop against the machinations of the warring states.

After further political consolidation, seven prominent states remained by the end of 5th century BC, and the years in which these few states battled each other are known as the Warring States period. Though there remained a nominal Zhou king until 256 BC, he was largely a figurehead and held little real power.

Numerous developments were made during this period in culture and mathematics, examples include an important literary achievement, the Zuo Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, which summarizes the preceding Spring and Autumn period and the bundle of 21 bamboo slips from the Tsinghua collection, which was invented during this period dated to 305  BC, are the worlds’ earliest example of a two digit decimal multiplication table, indicating that sophisticated commercial arithmetic was already established during this period.

As neighboring territories of these warring states, including areas of modern Sichuan and Liaoning, were annexed, they were governed under the new local administrative system of commandery and prefecture (郡縣/郡县). This system had been in use since the Spring and Autumn period, and parts can still be seen in the modern system of Sheng & Xian (province and county, 省縣/省县).

The final expansion in this period began during the reign of Ying Zheng, the king of Qin. His unification of the other six powers, and further annexations in the modern regions of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi in 214 BC, enabled him to proclaim himself the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang).

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