The Association of Southeast Asian Nations established the Asean Economic Community last month to promote freer movement of trade and a single market among the organisation’s 10 members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It’s questionable, however, whether this region – with 625 million people and disparate cultures, political systems and levels of socioeconomic development – can achieve any kind of economic integration. A single currency and political coming together à la the European Union is a pipe dream.

For most of the Warring States period, the state of Qin in the west (based in presentday Shaanxi) was a constant threat to the six major kingdoms in central and eastern China. The six states – Chu, Han, Wei, Zhao, Yan and Qi – formed alliances at various times with the hope of conquering Qin. The allied wars against Qin in 318BC, 296BC, 247BC and 241BC all ended in failure, mainly due to rivalries between the six kingdoms.

In 230BC, Ying Zheng, the king of Qin, began the eastern invasion. Qi was the last state to fall, in 221BC. Ying unified China and declared himself the new empire’s first emperor, bequeathing to later dynasties a centralised imperial system that would continue for more than 2,000 years until its abolition in 1912.