The future of the European Union has been dominating the news following Britain’s decision to leave the bloc, a move many commentators say will have little impact in Hong Kong.

In structure, the EU is an atypical grouping of nations, somewhere between a federation and confederation, similar to the Zhou dynasty for most of its existence (1046-256BC).

The early Zhou kings, or “sons of heaven” (tianzi), kept effective control of their barons, who had been given both land and people. By the late 9th century BC, however, some subordinate lords commanded more states and larger armies than the royal house and the king’s authority began to falter, although he remained a titular figurehead, accorded the appropriate courtesy by his powerful subjects. Then, in 704BC, the southern state of Chu chose to exit the political arrange­ment after three and a half centuries.

The Chu nation was even older than the Zhou dynasty and its people were ethnically and linguistically distinct from the northerners. In exchange for their obeisance to the Zhou king, Chu rulers were given the low-ranking hereditary title of zi (equivalent to a European viscount). But it wasn’t a happy union, with the northerners despising the Chu, despite their considerable military power, for being supposedly less civilised. Indignant, the Chu ruler finally declared himself king and made the shocking decision to secede.