The history of Qin
The Qin Dynasty(Wade-Giles Ch'in; 221 BC
- 207 BC) was preceded by the Zhou Dynasty and followed by the Han
Dynasty in China. Qin, which has a pronunciation similar to the
English word "chin," is a possible origin of the word
"China" (see China in world languages). The unification
of China 221 BC under the First Emperor marked the beginning of
imperial China, a period that lasted until the fall of the Qing
Empire in 1912. The Qin Dynasty left a legacy of a centralized and
bureaucratic state that would be carried onto successive dynasties.
Much of what came to constitute China proper was unified for the
first time in 221 B.C. In that year the western frontier state of
Qin, the most aggressive of the Warring States, subjugated the last
of its rival states, putting an end to the Warring States Period.
The King of Qin, Zheng, named himself Shi Huangdi (First Emperor),
a formulation of titles previously reserved for deities and the
mythological sage-emperors. He is known by historians as Qin Shi
Huang. He wanted his successors to rule China forever with the title
"Second Emperor", "Third Emperor", etc.
In consolidating power, Qin Shi Huang imposed the State of Qin's
centralized, non-hereditary bureaucratic system on his new empire
in place of the Zhou's feudalistic one. The Qin Empire relied on
the philosophy of legalism (with skillful advisors like Han Fei
and Li Si). Centralization, achieved by ruthless methods, was focused
on standardizing legal codes and bureaucratic procedures, the forms
of writing and coinage, and the pattern of thought and scholarship.
Characters from the former state of Qin became the standard for
the entire empire. The length of the wheel axle was also unified
and expressways standardized to ease transportation throughout the
country. To silence criticism of imperial rule, the emperor banished
or put to death many dissenting Confucian scholars and confiscated
and burned their books.
To prevent future uprisings, Qin Shi Huang ordered the confiscation
of weapons and stored them in the capital. In order to prevent the
resurgence of feudal lords, he also destroyed the walls and fortifications
that had separated the previous six states. A national conscription
was devised: every male between the ages of seventeen and sixty
years was obliged to serve one year in the army. Qin aggrandizement
was aided by frequent military expeditions pushing forward the frontiers
in the north and south. To fend off barbarian intrusion (mainly
against the Xiongnu in the north), the fortification walls built
by the various warring states were connected to make a wall; this
was an early precursor of the 5,000- kilometer-long Great Wall of
China built later during the Ming Dynasty. A number of public works
projects, including canals and bridges, were also undertaken to
consolidate and strengthen imperial rule. A lavish tomb for the
emperor, complete with a Terracotta Army, was built near the capital
Xianyang, a city half an hour from modern Xi'an. These activities
required enormous levies of manpower and resources, not to mention
Endless labor in the later years of Qin Shi Huang's reign started
to provoke widespread discontent. However, the emperor was able
to maintain stability thanks to his tight grip on every aspect of
the lives of the Chinese.
During his reign Qin Shi Huang made five inspection trips around
the country. During the last trip with his second son Huhai in 210
BC, Qin Shi Huang died suddenly at Shaqiu prefecture. Huhai, under
the advice of two high officials ª the Imperial Secretariat
Li Si and the chief eunuch Zhao Gao forged the altered Emperor's
will. The faked decree ordered Qin Shi Huang's first son, the heir
Fusu to commit suicide, instead naming Huhai as the next emperor.
The decree also stripped the command of troops from Marshal Meng
Tianª a faithful supporter of Fusu ª and sentenced Meng's
family to death. Zhao Gao step by step seized the power of Huhai,
effectively making Huhai a puppet emperor.
Within three years of Qin Shi Huang's death, widespread revolts
by peasants, prisoners, soldiers, and descendants of the nobles
of the Six Warring States sprang up all over China. Chen Sheng)
and Wu Guang two in a group of about 900 soldiers assigned to defend
against the Xiongnu, became the leaders of the first revolution
In the beginning of October 207 BC, Zhao Gao forced Huhai to commit
suicide and replaced him with Fusu's son, Ziying . Note that the
title of Ziying was "king of Qin" to reflect the fact
that Qin no longer controlled the whole of China. The Chu-Han contention
ensued. Ziying soon killed Zhao Gao and surrendered to Liu Bang
in the beginning of December 207 BC. But Liu Bang was forced to
hand over Xianyang and Ziying to Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu then killed
Ziying and burned down the palace in the end of January 206 BC.
Thus the Qin dynasty come to an end, three years after the death
of Qin Shi Huang, and less than twenty years after it was founded.
Although the Qin Dynasty was short-lived, its legalist rule had
a deep impact on later dynasties in China. The imperial system initiated
during the Qin dynasty set a pattern that was developed over the
next two millennia.