Succession issues were constant in Jin as far back as seventh century BCE.

Jin was unique among the major states in a major respect; whereas other states often enfeoffed the cadet branches of the ruling house, Jin had a policy of exiling or disempowering its own cadet houses.

During most of the seventh and sixth centuries, Jin was composed of an assortment of semi-independent city-states fighting each other and the Jin Duke as much as they fought other states.

The House of Zhao gained in prominence after Duke Wen placed them in charge of newly conquered lands.

After the great age of Jin power, the Jin dukes began to lose authority over their nobles. A full-scale civil war between 497 and 453 BC ended with the elimination of most noble lines; the remaining aristocratic families divided Jin into three successor states: Han, Wei, and Zhao. This is the last event recorded in the Zuo Commentary.

The Battle of Jinyang saw the allied Han, Zhao and Wei destroy the Zhi family (453 BC) and their lands were distributed among them. With this, they became the “de facto” rulers of most of Jin’s territory, though this situation would not be officially recognised until half a century later.

In 403 BC, the Zhou court under King Weilie officially recognized Zhao, Wei and Han as immediate vassals, thereby raising them to the same rank as the other warring states.

From before 405 until 383 the three Jins were united under the leadership of Wei and expanded in all directions. The most important figure was Marquess Wen of Wei (445–396). In 408–406 he conquered the State of Zhongshan to the northeast on the other side of Zhao. At the same time he pushed west across the Yellow River to the Luo River taking the area of Xihe (literally ‘west of the [Yellow] river’).

The growing power of Wei caused Zhao to back away from the alliance. In 383 it moved its capital to Handan and attacked the small state of Wey. Wey appealed to Wei which attacked Zhao on the western side. Being in danger, Zhao called in Chu. As usual, Chu used this as a pretext to annex territory to its north, but the diversion allowed Zhao to occupy a part of Wei. This conflict marked the end of the power of the united Jins and the beginning a period of shifting alliances and wars on several fronts.

In 376 BC, the states of Han, Wei and Zhao deposed Duke Jing of Jin and divided the last remaining Jin territory between themselves, which marked the final end of the Jin state.

In 370 BC, Marquess Wu of Wei died without naming a successor, which led to a war of succession. After three years of civil war, Zhao from the north and Han from the south invaded Wei. On the verge of conquering Wei, the leaders of Zhao and Han fell into disagreement about what to do with Wei, and both armies abruptly retreated. As a result, King Hui of Wei (still a Marquess at the time) was able to ascend the throne of Wei.

By the end of the period Zhao extended from the Shanxi plateau across the plain to the borders of Qi. Wei reached east to Qi, Lu and Song. To the south, the weaker state of Han held the east-west part of the Yellow River valley, surrounded the Zhou royal domain at Luoyang and held an area north of Luoyang called Shangdang.

With the absorption of most of the smaller states in the era, this partitioning left seven major states in the Zhou world: the three fragments of Jin, the three remaining great powers of Qin, Chu and Qi, and the weaker state of Yan near modern Beijing. The partition of Jin, along with the Usurpation of Qi by Tian, marks the beginning of the Warring States period.

The Jin division created a political vacuum that enabled during the first 50 years expansion of Chu and Yue northward and Qi southward. Qin increased its control of the local tribes and began its expansion southwest to Sichuan.

By staff editor

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