Partition of Jin

The Partition of Jin (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Sān Jiā Fēn Jìn; literally: "Three Families Partitioning Jin"), the watershed between the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, refers to the division of the State of Jin between rival families into the three states of Han, Zhao and Wei. As a result the three states were often referred to as the "Three Jins" (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Sān Jìn)).

Because the process took several decades, there is some debate between scholars as to the year that best marks the true partition of Jin. Kiser & Cai (2003) state that the most common dates picked by historians are 481, 475, 468, and 403 BCE. The last date, according to Sima Guang marks the conferring of Marquessates by King Weilie of Zhou on Wei Si, ruler of the State of Wei; Zhao Ji, ruler of the State of Zhao, and Han Qian, ruler of the State of Han.[1]

In 376 BCE, 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.


Succession issues were constant in Jin as far back as seventh century BCE. Even when, for example, King Xi of Zhou used his royal clout to give legitimacy to Wu of Quwo as the rightful duke of Jin in 678 BCE, succession issues continued to arise.[2]

At the same time that the Jin duke was conquering new lands, a process of "subinfeudation" or "rear vassalage" occurred in the early and middle parts of the Spring and Autumn period, wherein aristocratic title and territory were awarded to vassals loyal to Jin, rather than to the Zhou royalty.[3] However, 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. Instead, powerful ministerial families arose which were given fiefs like cadet houses in other states. For example, the house of Zhao descended from Zhao Cui, while the house of Wei descended from Wei Chou, both of whom were retainers of Duke Wen of Jin; the house of Han in turn descended from Han Wan, who was a retainer of Duke Wu of Jin.

Over time, while other powerful states (like Chu) were centralizing power through a rising bureaucracy, Jin continued to have a feudal power structure with aristocratic families ruling even individual counties.[4] Over the course of a few generations, the major aristocratic families gained enough power to undermine the ruling duke's authority.[5] 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.[6]

Growing aristocracy

The House of Zhao(趙/赵) gained in prominence after Duke Wen placed them in charge of newly conquered lands.[7] such that, in 607 BCE, they deposed a duke that attempted to curb their political power.[8] The Xian clan (先) was eliminated in 596 BCE.[9] Duke Li of Jin encouraged the Luan clan (栾) to lead a military coalition that squashed the rising power of the Xi clan (郤). Subsequently, in 573, Luan supporters had Duke Li murdered and placed a puppet on the throne[10] and the clan was then itself eliminated by 550, making the Zhi, Zhao, and Han clans the most powerful at about this time. Soon after, the Wei clan (魏) also grew in power.[11]

In the leadup to the civil war, the dominant clans were the Zhao, Wei, Han (韩), Fan (范), Zhi (智) and Zhonghang (中行) who were collectively called the "Six Titled Retainers" (Chinese: ; pinyin: Lìu Qīng). These six aristocratic families dominated Jin in the late Spring and Autumn period, basically using the ruling duke as a figurehead until Jin was split into three separate states.[12]

Civil war

After the 546 BCE truce agreement between Jin and Chu (itself prompted in part by Jin's internal difficulties), conflicts between aristocrats and with the Duke escalated and a civil war (497-453 BCE) commenced.

During the time of Duke Ding of Jin (511-475), the Fan and Zhonghang clans were eliminated, leaving only the Zhi, Zhao, Han, and Wei clans remaining. By about 450s BCE, the Zhi clan was the most dominant and began demanding territory from the other clans.

The Battle of Jinyang

Main article: Battle of Jinyang

Acting on his own accord, the Jin Minister Zhi Xiangzi (Chinese: ) used the Zhi clan's place in the Jin court to intimidate and demand territory from ministers Han Kangzi (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) of the Han clan and Wei Huanzi of the Wei clan. After Zhao Xiangzi (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) of the Zhao clan rejected Zhi Xiangzi's demands in 455 BCE, Zhi Xiangzi attacked the Zhao clan while compelling the Han and Wei clans to send troops.

Zhao Xiangzi retreated to the Jin city of Jinyang in 455 BCE, and the united forces laid siege for two years while also diverting water supplies away from the city. Faced with a critical situation, Zhao Xiangzi sent an envoy who persuaded the Han and Wei clans to change sides. They arrived and diverted a huge stream of water that split Zhi Xiangzi's camp in two, then captured and killed Zhi Xiangzi. In 453 BCE, the Zhao, Han, and Wei clans annihilated the Zhi clan.

As their respective powers were so balanced, none of the three remaining aristocratic families felt they could feasibly gain an upper hand over the others. So, in 403 BCE, they divided the state's lands among themselves[13] into the "three Jins" of Wei, Han, and Zhao.[14][15] All three states quickly formed strong bureaucracies,[16] thereby weakening the potential for any aristocratic families from encroaching on their power. This same year, King Weilie of Zhou proclaimed Jin, Wei, Han, and Zhao as equals

Remaining Jin lands

Duke Ai of Jin died in 434 BCE and was succeeded by Duke You of Jin. The Han, Zhao and Wei clans divided up surplus Jin territory amongst themselves, leaving only Jiang County and Quwo County (both in modern day Shanxi Province) for Duke You of Jin.

Because Zhao Xiangzi had usurped his position as Prince, Zhao Bolu (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) became upset and agitated, naming his grandson Zhao Xianzi (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) heir apparent. However, after Zhao Xiangzi died, his son Zhao Huanzi (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) banished Zhao Xianzi and appointed himself ruler of Jin. Zhao Huanzi himself died a year later, whereupon the Zhao clan killed all of his sons and enthroned Zhao Xianzi. Later on, Zhao Xianzi's son Marquess Lie of Zhao succeeded as ruler.

In 349 BCE, the Han and Zhao states divided the remaining Jin territory between themselves, thus completely destroying the State of Jin.



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