As the era unfolded, larger more powerful states annexed or claimed suzerainty over smaller ones. By the 6th century BC, most small states had disappeared, and a few large and powerful principalities dominated China. Some southern states, such as Chu and Wu, claimed independence from the Zhou. Wars were undertaken to oppose some of these states . In the state of Jin, six powerful families fought for supremacy, and a series of civil wars resulted in the splitting of Jin into three smaller states by the beginning of the fifth century.
At the same time, the control Zhou kings exerted over feudal princes slowly but inexorably faded. Eventually the nominal Zhou kings lost all real influence, the feudal system crumbled, and the Warring States Period began.
Beginning of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty
After the Zhou capital was sacked by western barbarian tribes, crown prince fled to the east. During the flight from the western capital to the east, the king relied on the nearby lords of , and for protection from barbarians and rebellious lords. He moved the Zhou capital from Zongzhou to Chengzhou in the Yellow River valley.
The fleeing Zhou elite did not have strong footholds in the eastern territories; even the crown prince's coronation had to be supported by those states to be successful. With the Zhou domain greatly reduced, i.e. to Luoyang and nearby areas, the court could no longer support six groups of standing troops . Subsequent Zhou kings had to request help from neighbouring powerful states for protection from raids and for resolution of internal power struggles. The Zhou court would never regain its original authority; instead, it was relegated to being merely a figurehead of the feudal states. Though the king ''de jure'' retained the Mandate of Heaven, ''de facto'' the title held no real power.
Rise of the hegemonies
The first nobility to help the Zhou kings was the Duke Zhuang of Zheng . He was the first to establish the hegemonical system , which was intended to retain the old proto-feudal system. Traditional historians justified the new system as a means of protecting weaker civilized states and the Zhou royalty from the intruding "barbarian" tribes. Located in the south, north, east and west, the barbarian tribes were, respectively, the , Yi, Rong and Di.
The newly powerful states were more eager to maintain aristocratic privileges over the traditional ideology of supporting the weak ruling entity during times of unrest , which was to be widely propagated during imperial China to consolidate power into the ruling family.
Dukes and made further steps in installing the overlordship system, which brought relative stability, but in shorter time periods than before. Annexations increased, favoring the several most powerful states, including , , and . The overlord role gradually drifted from its stated intention of protecting weaker states; the overlordship eventually became a system of hegemony of major states over weaker satellites of Chinese and "barbarian" origin.
The great states used the pretext of aid and protection to intervene and gain advantages over the smaller states during their internal quarrels. Later overlords were mostly derived from these great states. They proclaimed themselves master of their territories, without even recognizing the petty figurehead of Zhou. Establishment of the local administration system , with its officials appointed by the government, gave states better control over the dominion. Taxation facilitated commerce and agriculture more than proto-feudalism.
The three states of , and not only optimized their own strength, but also repelled the southern state of , whose rulers had proclaimed themselves kings. The Chu armies gradually intruded into the Yellow River Basin. Framing Chu as the "southern barbarian", ''Chu Man'', was merely a pretext to warn Chu not to intervene into their respective spheres of influence. Chu intrusion was checked several times in three major battles with increasing violence - the Battle of Chengpu, the Battle of Bi and the Battle of Yanling; this resulted in the restorations of the states of and .
''See main article: Interstate relations during the Spring and Autumn period.''
During the period a complex system of interstate relations developed. It was partially structured upon the Western Zhou system of feudalism, but elements of realpolitik were emerging. A collection of interstate customary norms and values, which can perhaps be loosely termed international law, was also evident. As the operational and cultural areas of states expanded and intersected, diplomatic encounters increased.
Changing tempo of war
After a period of increasingly exhaustive warfare, Qi, Qin, Jin and Chu finally met for a disarmament conference in 579 BC, where the other states essentially became satellites. In 546 BC, Jin and Chu agreed to yet another truce.
During the relatively peaceful 6th century BC, the two coastal states in today's Zhejiang, and , gradually grew in power. After defeating and banishing King Fuchai of Wu, King Goujian of Yue became the last recognized overlord.
This era of peace was only a prelude to the maelstrom of the Warring States Period. The four powerful states were all in the midst of power struggles. Six elite landholding families waged war on each other in Jin. The Chen family was eliminating political enemies in Qi. Legitimacy of the rulers was often challenged in civil wars by various royal family members in Qin and Chu. Once all these power strugglers firmly established themselves in their dominions, the bloodshed among states would continue in the Warring State Period. The Warring States Period officially started in 403 BC when the three remaining elite families in Jin - Zhao, Wei and Han - partitioned the state; the impotent Zhou court was forced to recognize their authority.
List of overlords, or Ba
''See main article: Five Hegemons ''
Traditionally, the Five Overlords of Spring and Autumn Period include:
*Duke Wen of Jin
*King Zhuang of Chu
*Duke Mu of Qin
*Duke Xiang of Song
While some other historians suggest that the Five Overlords include:
*Duke Huan of Qi
*Duke Wen of Jin
*King Zhuang of Chu
*King Fuchai of Wu
*King Goujian of Yue
List of prominent states
The name following the name of the state is the capital .
:Cai 蔡 - Shangcai 上蔡 上蔡
:Chen ?; - Wanqiu 宛丘; 宛丘
:Chu 楚 - Ying 郢 郢
:Lu 鲁 - Qufu 曲阜 曲阜
:Qi ? - Linzi ?淄 临淄
:Qin 秦 - Xianyang 咸? 咸阳
:Song 宋 - Shangqiu 商丘 商丘
:Wu ? - 姑? 姑苏
:Yue 越 - Kuaiji ?稽 会稽
:Zheng ? - Xinzheng 新?
List of important figures
Bureaucrats or Officers
:Guan Zhong , statesman and advisor of Duke Huan of Qi and regarded by some modern scholars as the first .
:Baili Xi , famous prime minister of Qin.
:Bo Pi, （伯?）the corrupted bureaucrat under King Helü and played important diplomatic role of - relations.
:文? and Fan Li范蠡, the two advisors and partisans of of his rally against Wu.
:Zi Chan, （子?）leader of self-strengthening movements in
:Confucius（孔子）, leading figure in Confucianism
:Laozi （老子）or Lao tse, founder of Daoism
:Mozi, known as Motse or "Mocius" to Western scholars, founder of Mohism
:Confucius（孔子）, the editor of ''Spring and Autumn Annals ''
:Ou Ye Zi, literally means Ou the wielder and mentor of the couple Gan Jiang and Mo Ye
Entrepreneurs and Commercial personnel
Generals, military leaders and authors
:Rang Ju, elder contemporary and ''possibly'' mentor of
:Sun Tzu, （?子）the author of ''The Art of War''
:Yao Li, （要离）sent by King Helü to kill Qing Ji（庆忌）.
:Zhuan Zhu,（专渚） sent by He Lu to kill his cousin King Liao
List of important events
770 B.C. - the nobility of the Zhou realm supported King Píng of Zhou as the new king of the Zhou Dynasty. King Píng moved the capital to Luòyì . The era of Eastern Zhou, or Spring Autumn, began. King Píng appointed the son of the nobility Yíng Qí to the northwestern part of the Zhou realm. He was named Duke Xiāng of Qin . The kingdom of Qin was born.
763 B.C. - Duke Zhuang of Zheng attacked and destroyed the barbarian kingdom of hú . Duke Zhuang relied on his famous officer Zhài Zhòng .
750 B.C. - Duke Wén of Jin , Jī Chóu , attacked and destroyed the kingdom of Yú Chén Zhou
704 B.C. - Duke of Chǔ , Mǐ Xióng Tōng , saw the weakened power of the King of Zhou as an opportunity to break free from being a tributary state of the Zhou Dynasty and claimed the title of king himself. He announced the kingdom of Chǔ and called himself King Wu of Chu .
701 B.C. - Duke Zhuang of Zheng died. His son Jī Hū succeeded the title of Duke and was known as Duke Zhāo of Zheng . Because Lady Yōng of Song was married to Duke Zhuang of Zheng and had a son named Ji Tū , the King of Song thought that he could extend influence in Zheng by helping to support a new ruler who had relations with Song. Zhài Zhòng , who had the respect and influence in the state of Zheng, was lured and captured by Song and was forced to support Jī Tū as the successor to the throne