Institutional reforms and reformers during the warring states period

Yuri Pines*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the transformation of the Warring States-period polities from loose aristocratic entities into centralized bureaucratic states. It focuses primarily on the reforms in the state of Qin associated with Shang Yang and his followers. The reforms resulted in the formation of an assertive agro-managerial state, able to mobilize its population to agriculture and warfare. Shang Yang overhauled Qin’s social system, replacing the pedigree-based order with the system of the ranks of merit, which allowed sociopolitical and economic advancement to individuals who excelled on the battlefield or in increasing their grain yields. The accompanying centralization and profound bureaucratization of Qin’s society had dramatically improved the state’s control over its human and material resources. The newly emerging assertive and all-reaching state allowed Qin to successfully subjugate its rivals. In the long term, however, an excessively activist state proved to be a liability once imperial unification was achieved.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Early China
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9780199328369
StatePublished - 10 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2020.


  • Agro-managerial economy
  • Bureaucracy
  • Centralization
  • Conscription
  • Household registration
  • Punishments
  • Qin
  • Ranks of merit
  • Reforms
  • Shang yang


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