The State of Chu
In early Warring States Period, State of Chu was one of the strongest states in China. The state rose to a new level around 389 BC when the King of State of Chu named the famous reformer Wu Qi as its prime minister.
State of Chu rose to its peak in 334 BC when it gained vast amounts of territory. The series of events began when State of Yue begin preparations to attack State of Qi. The King of State of Qi sent a emissary who persuaded the King of State of Yue to attack State of Chu instead. State of Yue initiated a large scale attack at State of Chu, but was devastatingly defeated by State of Chu"s counterattack. Chu then proceeded to conquer the State of Yue.
The kingdom"s power continued even after the end of the Spring and Autumn period in 481 BC. Chu overran Cai to the north in 447 BC. However, by the end of the 5th century BC, the Chu government had become very corrupt and inefficient with much of the state"s treasury to pay for a large official retinue. Many officials had no meaningful task except taking money. Thus, Chu"s large army was of low quality due to the corrupt and cumbersome bureaucracy.
In the late 390s BC, King Dao of Chu made Wu Qi his chancellor. Wu"s reforms began in 389 BC to transform Chu into an efficient and powerful state, lowering the salaries of officials and removing useless ones. He also enacted building codes to make the capital, Ying seem less barbaric. Despite Wu Qi"s massive unpopularity with the Chu government (except the king), his reforms made Chu very powerful until the late 4th century BC, when Zhao and Qin were ascendant. Chu"s powerful army annexed Chen state, defeating the states of Wei and Yue. However, Wu Qi was assassinated by the Chu officials at the funeral of King Dao in 381 BC.
During the late Warring States Period, Chu was increasingly pressured by Qin to its west, especially after Qin enacted and preserved the legalistic reforms of Shang Yang. Chu"s size and power made it the key state in alliances against Qin. As Qin expanded into Chu territory, Chu was forced to expand southwards and eastwards, absorbing local cultural influences along the way. In 333 BC, Chu and Qi partitioned and annexed the coastal state of Yue.
By the late Warring States Period (about the late 4th century BC), however, Chu"s prominent status had fallen into decay. As a result of several invasions headed by Zhao and Qin, Chu was eventually subjugated by Qin.
According to the Records of the Warring States, a debate between School of Diplomacy strategist Zhang Yi and the Qin general Sima Cuo on unifying China led to two conclusions. Zhang Yi believed conquering the Han state and seizing the Mandate of Heaven from the figurehead resident Zhou king would be wise. Sima Cuo considered Chu as its main rival in the struggle to unite the Warring States. Sima Cuo decided it was essential to control the fertile Sichuan Basin to increase agricultural output and most importantly, to control the upper reaches of the Yangzi River that led to the Chu heartland.
According to the Records of the Warring States, Sima Cuo remarked, "To conquer Shu is to conquer Chu. Once Chu is eliminated, the country will be united."
King Huiwen of Qin decided to support Sima Cuo. In 316 BC, the Qin army conquered the Shu (state) and Ba (state) and successively expanded to the east in the following decades. In 278 BC, Qin general Bai Qi conquered Chu"s capital city of Ying. Following the fall of Ying, the Chu government moved to various locations in the east until settling in Shouchun (in present-day Anhui province) in 241 BC.
At this critical moment when Chu was nearing annihilation, Qin set its strategic aims to central China, especially the powerful Zhao state. After a massive two year struggle, Bai Qi lured out, surrounded, isolated, forced the surrender of and massacred the main Zhao force of 400,000 men at the Battle of Changping. After 260 BC, all major obstacles to Qin dominance ended and it was a matter of time until China"s unification.