Qin Dynasty, 221-206 bc, also known as Ch’in, the first true empire in Chinese history. Its title gave rise to the name “China.”
Founded in 221 bc by Qin Shihuangdi (Ch’in Shih-huang-ti), the Qin dynasty was a continuation of a Qin state that had existed in what is now the province of Shaanxi (Shensi) since the 8th century bc. Although it lasted only 15 years, the Qin was the first dynasty to truly unify China. Many of the institutions of later Chinese imperial governments first took shape in this period. These included a strong central government that controlled the provinces through an efficient bureaucracy and the separation of civil and military power.
|II||ORIGINS AND RISE OF THE QIN|
In the 8th century bc, the Western Zhou (Chou) dynasty ended with the fall of its dynastic capital of Zongzhou (Tsung-chou). In the following years, the capital area was repeatedly invaded and settled by people from numerous small city-states that had sprung up after the Zhou's fall. At one time during the so-called Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn) period (722-481 bc), it is estimated that more than 150 of these small political entities existed in the land once ruled by the Western Zhou. The small state of Qin was one of these, and its population and culture combined elements both of the remaining Zhou, and of the numerous invaders who had swept through the region.
|A||The Qin State|
Duke Mu (659-621 bc) was the first Qin ruler to play a significant role in the regional politics of the Spring and Autumn period, and under his influence the Qin state gradually began to incorporate neighboring areas. Over the course of the next several generations, the Qin came to control the entire former Western Zhou domain.
During the Zhanguo (Warring States) period (403-221 bc), the Qin remained strong. In 352 bc the Qin ruler, Duke Wen, hired a renowned scholar named Shang Yang (390?-338 bc) to launch a series of political reforms. In the 14 years from 352 to 338 bc, the state of Qin was thoroughly reorganized. Feudalism was abolished, and land was taken from hereditary landowners and distributed among peasants, who were then taxed by the central government. Villages and settlements were put under county administration. A new code of law was devised and applied to all citizens equally, regardless of rank. Many able-bodied male citizens were conscripted into the military, while foreign laborers were recruited to till unused arable land and thus increase state revenue. These measures helped the Qin become the most effectively organized state in ancient China.
In 337 bc the Qin state proclaimed that it intended to unify China under its rule. Over the course of the next century, the state of Qin steadily gained power and influence. Served by many capable advisers and strategists, the Qin managed gradually to gain the upper hand in dealing with the six other major states: Zhao (Chao) and Yen in the northeast, Wei and Qi (Ch'i) in the east, and Han and Chu (Ch'u) in the southeast. By the end of the 4th century bc, the Qin had become the most formidable power in China.
Insurmountable on the battlefield, the Qin were equally skilled politically, employing such techniques as bribery, espionage, and assassination to solidify their position. Between 230 and 221 bc, Qin conquered all six states and unified China. The Qin empire encompassed the main part of what is now China, extending north to the Great Wall, south to the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) delta, west to what is now Gansu province, and east to the Pacific Ocean.
|III||THE QIN EMPIRE|
In 221 bc King Zheng (also spelled King Cheng) proclaimed the Qin dynasty and took the unprecedented title of Qin Shihuangdi (First Emperor), assuming that his dynasty would last for thousands of years. Despite his assumptions, after his death in 210 bc the dynasty was only to last another four years.
Despite the short life of the dynasty, Qin Shihuangdi himself accomplished much during his lifetime. The empire was divided into 36 (later 42) jun, or provinces, with governors appointed by the state. Each province consisted of several counties governed by appointed magistrates. The central government was headed by a chancellor who supervised daily operations. Imperial investigators, or yushi, were dispatched to oversee the performance of provincial governors. A network of highways linked strategically important cities so that imperial troops could be easily deployed.
|A||Construction and Public Works|
A nomadic empire named Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu) controlled the vast steppe land in northern Asia. During the Warring States period, the northern Chinese states of Qin, Zhao, and Yen had all tried to defend their borders by building fortified walls to prevent a Xiongnu invasion. Qin Shihuangdi mobilized more than 500,000 soldiers and conscripted laborers to connect these segments into a single fortified defense line labeled the Great Wall of China centuries later.
In the south, many more conscript laborers were sent to build roads linking the interior of the empire with the coastal regions. This massive undertaking also included the construction of a complex system of locks that connected two rivers separated by the high southern mountains.
Another group of conscript laborers, numbering several hundred thousand, were mobilized to construct Qin Shihuangdi's mausoleum, a huge hill built in the Qin capital. Although it is rumored that Qin Shihuangdi's tomb actually consisted of a vast underground palace containing gold and precious stones, no one knows for certain, as all the workers were either executed or walled inside the tomb when it was finished, to keep them from revealing its secrets. Recent excavations near the site have uncovered several thousand life-size terra-cotta warriors standing in formation. These clay archers, infantry, cavalrymen, and chariot warriors—all armed with a variety of real weapons—reveal high levels of artistic achievement. The fact that each soldier has a unique build, hairstyle, and features also testifies to the enormous cost incurred to build the imperial mausoleum.
The policies of the Qin court encouraged economic development. Successful businessmen were honored by being given a position in the imperial court. At the same time, however, wealthy families were ordered to move to the capital so that the imperial court could keep them under control. During this period, many former peasants achieved great success and prestige as businessmen and merchants. The economic growth, which had begun in the Warring States period, reached its pinnacle as the government took measures to promote economic development. It standardized currency and writing, constructed highways, and regulated axle-widths and measurements. All of these contributed greatly to the Qin's new centralized economy.
The Qin government was totalitarian, based on the philosophy of Fajia (Legalism), which placed absolute power in the hands of the ruler, who governed by means of strict laws and harsh punishments. Practical reformers and scholars such as Shang Yang (d. 338 bc) and Han Fei (280?-233 bc) saw Legalism as a way to create a highly efficient, albeit ruthless, administrative apparatus. Qin Shihuangdi ruled by absolute control and took severe actions to eliminate all possible challenges to his authority. Intellectuals who criticized Qin politics were executed. Confucian scholars who condemned the Qin for inhumanity and injustice were purged. It is said that around 400 scholars who criticized the Qin government were buried alive. All books and histories of the empire other than those having to do with agriculture or medicine were burned. Anyone who wished to learn received a standardized basic education taught by government staff. This anti-intellectualism ran counter to the atmosphere of free learning that had prevailed in the Qin state during the Warring States period. To reduce the threat of insurrection, descendants of the ruling houses of the six conquered states were forced either to relocate to the capital or be exiled. All weapons owned by private citizens were confiscated; the metal from these weapons was used to cast the gigantic metal statues and bells that adorned the imperial palace.
|IV||DECLINE AND FALL OF THE QIN|
Qin Shihuangdi died in 210 bc while on an inspection tour of the eastern part of the empire. After his death, Zhao Gao (Chao Kao), a eunuch who had been the crown prince's tutor, plotted to usurp power and conspired to force the crown prince to commit suicide. He then had Qin Shihuangdi's second son, Huhai, who reigned from 211 to 207 bc, installed on the throne as the Second Emperor.
The government of the Qin dynasty was such that it required an extremely strong ruler in order to function. When Qin Shihuangdi died, his heirs could no longer control it. The meteoric rise of the Qin was followed by an equally rapid fall.
The Qin court was unable to handle the unrest that was growing throughout the empire. Massive construction projects had taken their toll on the empire, both in capital and in lives. Millions of peasants were either drafted to serve on the frontier or conscripted for labor. Harsh punishment awaited anyone failing to report. Tensions increased, and the Qin court led by Zhao Gao failed to deal effectively with dissatisfaction. Rebel groups were formed in the countryside. They were joined by people trying to avoid conscription or punishment, and insurrections began to occur, led by peasants or by the descendants of the ruling houses of the six former states. A number of these groups formed a coalition in the name of a descendant of the former Chu royal house. As the threat grew, the Qin court disintegrated. Huhai was murdered by Zhao Gao, who was in turn killed by other courtiers. A young prince was hastily put on the throne and immediately surrendered to the insurgents. In 206 bc, the Qin dynasty came to an end. A civil war followed, fought between Xiang Yu (Hsiang Yu), a former Chu general, and Liu Bang (Liu Pang), a peasant leader. Liu Bang eventually defeated the other forces and took control of the empire, founding the Han dynasty in 205 bc.
Although many scholars have condemned the Qin government for its ruthless despotism, many of the government institutions established during the Qin period were adopted first by the Han dynasty and then by later dynasties. These included an imperial authority served by a bureaucracy, an administration of provinces and counties supervised by imperial inspectors, and the separation of civil and military branches of government. Despite its brevity, the Qin government became the model for imperial China for the next 2000 years.