Somewhere around 1045 B.C.E., the Zhou, a clan of people who once lived in northwestern China moved into the central plains. They were vey rebellious, and established a new dynasty. For several centuries, the Zhou controlled a group of states in China. In later years of the dynasty, wars between the states put China in a bad situation.
The Early Years: Stability and Feudalism
After overcoming the Shang, the Zhou established their own rule over China. To make their conquest clear, they claimed that they had been given the Mandate of Heaven, a divine right to rule over the country of China.
According to this belief, Heaven was a power the ruled over human destiny. Heaven was the father of the king. As long as the king governed his people the right way, Heaven would give him the right to continue ruling. If the king did not rule things well, Heaven would send signs of its displeasure, such as earthquakes and floods. When the king lost the support of Heaven, others had the right to overthrow him.
The Zhou increased the stability of their power through a system called feudalism. Under feudalism, the king owned all of the land, but he often gave away large portions of the land to loyal supporters, or citizens called lords. In exchange for the land, the lords sent soldiers to fight a war if the king was ever attacked, or in a sticky situation. All of the lords were rulers of their own lands, or even states. They had the right, and power over any peasant farmers who worked on the land. All peasants in the area had the lord's protection, so in return, the peasant farmers would give a portion of their crops to the lord.
The Later Years: Conflict and Creative Thought
Feudalism worked for quite some time to keep China stable. But in the 700s B.C.E., the system started to fail. Lords of indivisual states started becoming more and more powerful, and ambitious as the days went on. Eventually, the power of some lords rivaled the power of the king!
Between about 770 and 453 B.C.E., several small states often fought with one another. They soon grouped into six or seven larger states the battled brutal wars for power. These wars brought about 250 years of complication to the country of China. This time in history is generally called the Warring States Period.
This time period led the Chinese to question human nature and the best way for rulers to dominate. Many determined rulers hired scholars to instruct them on how to create order, and increase their power.
So many ideas were presented that the Chinese later called them the "Hundred Schools of Thought." The three most influential schools of though that emerged were Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism. Each of those had a great impact on China, and influenced many.