When the Zhou (Chou) dynasty was established in about the eleventh century B.C., its feudal system consisted of some 172 states under the nominal central authority of a single king, the Son of Heaven. As time went by, probably due to the unwieldy size of the kingdom and primitive form of communication technology, the various states became increasingly independent of the political center. With the gradual decline of the authority of the king, conflicts erupted among the various states with growing intensity (Davidson 465). Since the eighth century B.C. it became more common for stronger states to conquer and annex smaller and weaker states. Then the political order gradually deteriorated into a condition of "international" anarchy, a war of all states against all states. By the end of the Spring and Autumn period there were only some twenty-two states left. During the subsequent Warring States period, incessant wars and annexations were conducted among the remaining states until the unification of China under the domination of the sole surviving Qin state in 221 B.C. (Hulsewe and Loewe 34).
Before arrival of the Qin, the royal Zhou domain never exceeded a thin strip of land bordering the capital. The domains of the great revonal powers, however, grew steadily at the expense of weaker states. As these regional powers became stronger economically and politically, they spread the ancient culture of the Zhou over an ever wider territory. Modeling their states on the royal Zhou court and their rituals on the royal Zhou rites, they came to dominate much of the North, Northwest, Middle Yangzi, and Lower Yangzi macroregions by the fifth century BCE. This expanded area became the crucible in which a common culture was alloyed. Following Gungwu (1993): 'The common view about imperial China says that there have been dozens of dynasties since the fall of Qin in 206 B.C. Most of them were overthrown by violence, but continuity was greater than change under each new ruling house" (71). Gradually the strong states forged the apparatus that would be necessary for imperial unification under the Qin during the third century BCE. The lords who ruled the territories of eighthcentury BCE China were members of a hereditary aristocracy, the scions of branches of the royal Zhou lineage (Hulsewe and Loewe 31). Their birthright to rule was unchallenged, even if their separate ambitions frequently led to diplomatic and military maneuvers against one another. Serving these lords were highranking ministers (qing and daifu), also hereditary elites. The options evident in rich assemblages of the late Spring and Autumn period were perpetuated during the early Warring States era. As it happens, there is now more evidence for casting in several regions surrounding the central plains, especially the north (states of Yan and Zhongshan), south (Chu and smaller states), and west (Qin), during this period than for the center (Davidson 465).
The success of the Qin armies in 221 BCE marks a fundamental turning point in Chinese history. From that date forward China would normally be unified under one central regime. In periods when central rule was weakened, the ideal of a centralized state nonetheless remained potent. Even in periods of actual political