The first of the so-called five hegemons or lords-protector of the federated Chinese Empire was the Lord of Ts'i, whose capital was at the powerful and wealthy city of Lin-tsz , in Shan Tung province. Neither the Yellow River nor the Grand Canal touched Shan Tung in those days, and Lin-tsz was evidently situated with reference to the local rivers which flow north into the Gulf of "Pechelee," so as to take full political advantage of the salt, mining, and fishing industries. A word is here necessary as to this Protector's pedigree: we have seen that his ancestor, thirteen generations back, had inspired with his counsels and courage the founder of the imperial Chou dynasty in 1122 B.C.; he had further given to the new Emperor a daughter of his own in marriage, had served him as premier, and had finally been enfeoffed in reward for his services as Marquess of Ts'i, the economic condition of which far-eastern principality he had in a very few years by his energy as ruler mightily improved, notably with reference to the salt and fish industries, and to general commerce. The Yellow River, then flowing along the bed of what is now called the Chang River, and the sea, respectively, were the western and eastern limits of this state, which embraced to the north the salt flats now under the administration of a special Tientsin Commissioner, and extended south to the present Manchu Tartar-General's military garrison at Ts'ing-thou Fu. Of course, later on, during the five-hundred-year period of unrest, extensions and cessions of territory frequently took place, both within and beyond these vague limits, usually at the expense of Lu and other small orthodox states. Across the Yellow River, whose course northwards, as already stated, lay considerably to the west of the present channel, was the extensive state of Tsin; and south was the highly ritual and literary Weimar of China, the unwarlike principality of Lu, destined in future times to be glorified by Confucius.
Scarcely anything is recorded of a nature to throw specific light upon the international development of these far-eastern parts. But in the year 894 B.C. the reigning prince of Ts'i was boiled alive at the Emperor's order for some political offence, and his successor thereupon moved his capital, only to be transferred back to the old place by his son thirty-five years later. The imperial flight of 842 naturally caused some consternation even in distant Ts'i, and in 827 the next Emperor on his accession commanded the reigning Marquess of Ts'i to assist in chastising the Western Tartars. When this last Emperor's grandson was driven from his old hereditary domain in 771, and the semi-Tartar ruler of Ts'in took possession of the same, as already narrated, Ts'i was still so inconsiderable a military power that even two generations after that event, in the year 706, it was fain to apply for assistance against Northern Tartar raids to one of the small Chinese principalities in the Ho Nan province. In 690 the prince, whose sister had married the neighbouring ruler of Lu, made an armed attack by way of vengeance upon the descendant of the adviser who had counselled the Emperor to boil his ancestor alive in 894: his power was now so considerable that the Emperor commissioned him to act with authority in the matter of a disputed succession to a minor Chinese principality. This was in the year 688 B.C., and it was the first instance of a vassal acting as dictator or protector on behalf of the Emperor; only, however, in a special or isolated case. Two years later this prince of Ts'i was himself assassinated, and the disputes between his sons regarding the succession terminated with the advent to the throne of one of the great characters in Chinese history, who was magnanimous and politic enough to take as his adviser and premier a still greater character, and one that almost rivals Confucius himself in fame as an author, a statesman, a benefactor of China; and a moralist.
This personage, who, like most Chinese of the period, carried many names, is most generally known as the philosopher Kwan-tsz, and his chief writings have survived, in part at least, until our own day. He was, in fact, a distant scion of the reigning imperial family of Chou, and bore its clan name of Ki. Here it may be useful to state parenthetically that most prominent men in all the federated states seem to have belonged to a narrow aristocratic circle, among whose members the craft of government, the knowledge of letters, and the hereditary right to expect office, was inherent; at the same time, there was never at any date anything in the shape of a priestly or military caste, and power appears to have been always within the reach of the humblest, so long as the aspirant was competent to assert himself.
The new ruler of Ts'i officially proclaimed himself Protector in the year 679 B.C., which is one of the fixed dates in Chinese history about which there is no cavil or doubt, He soon found himself embroiled in war with the Tartars, who were raiding both the state to his north in the Peking plain, and also the minor state, south of the Yellow River, that his predecessor has protected specially in 688. This was the state of Wei , through or near the capital town of which, near the modern Wei-hwei Fu, the Yellow River then ran northwards.
The way these successive Protectors of China afterwards exercised their preponderant influence in a general sense was this: When it appeared to them, or when any orthodox vassal state complained to them, that injustice was being done; whether in matters of duty to the Emperor, right of succession, legitimacy of birth, great crime, or inordinate ambition; the recognized Protector summoned a durbar, usually somewhere within the territory of the central area, or China proper as previously defined, and consulted with the princes, his colleagues, as to what course should be pursued. A distinction was drawn between "full-dress durbars" and "military durbars"; the etiquette in either case was very minute, and external behaviour at least was exquisitely courteous, though treachery was far from rare, and treaties never lasted long unbroken. But to return to the First Protector. Towards the end of his glorious reign of forty-three years the Marquess of Ts'i grew arrogant, vainglorious, and licentious, so much so that his western neighbour, the powerful state of Tsin, declined to attend the durbars. Of the other great powers Ts'in was much too far off to take active part in these parliaments; Ts'u was too busy in spreading civilization among the barbarous states or tribes south of the Yang-tsz. The Emperor was practically a _roi fainéant_ by this time, and, curiously enough, less is known of what went on within his dominions or appanage after the western half of it fell to Ts'in in 771, than of what transpired in the territories of his three menacing vassals to the north, north-west, and north-east, and of his half- civilized satrap to the south. The fact is, all four rising powers were now carefully engaged in watching each other, and in playing a profound political game around their prey. This prey was the eastern half of the Emperor's original domain and the dozen or so of purely Chinese, highly cultured, vassal states making up the rest of modern Ho Nan province, together with small parts or wedges of modern Chih Li, Shan Tung, An Hwei, and Kiang Su. From first to last none of these ritual and literary states showed any real fight; there is hardly a single record of a really crushing victory gained by any one of them. The fighting instincts all lay with the new Chinese, that is, with the Chinese adventurers who had got their hand well in with generations of fighting against barbarians--Tartars, Tunguses, Annamese, Shans, and what not--and had invigorated themselves with good fresh barbarian blood. The fact is, the population of China had enormously increased; the struggle for life and food was keener; the old patriarchal appetite for ritual was disappearing; the people were beginning to assert themselves against the land-owners; the land-owners were encroaching upon the power of the ruling princes; and China was in a parlous state.