China has a long interesting and intriguing history of its rulers and Emperors. Some emperors were tyrants and ruled with an iron fist, some stayed longer and some went underground as quickly as the rose. One of the most interesting was the Qin dynasty with its power it had wielded and the system that the emperor used to rule over many states that he captured but demised only after 15 years. There were many other emperors that had been before and after him but they did not have the power and the unmatched skills of the king. Therefore, this paper will give a full history of this kingdom led by Qin Shi Huang.
The Qin Dynasty
Qin Dynasty was one of the greatest empires like no other in the Chinese history. This is the dynasty that was very different from other dynasties that existed before it and those that came afterwards. Qin’s Empire was a role model for almost all the empires that emerged after it. (Lewis 2007) confirms that, “The dynasty, held and played an important role in the Chinese history and it had a substantial influence on all the following dynasties”. The empire led by Emperor Qin Shi Huang survived for only fifteen years and it was from the year 221 B.C. to 206 B. C. the dynasty had all the best military commanding power and it was the first to practice a unified administrative and it worked very well. Emperor Qin had all the leadership skills that enabled him to use his military influence, conquered and subdued his neighbors. He extended his empire far and wide to reach the current neighbors of China. (Chen & Liu 2003) note that, “Emperor Qin pushed China’s borders south to the current day Vietnam and current day Korea, however the central kingdom remained in the Yellow River Valley” Emperor Qin magnificently and significantly used innovative methods to unify his empire. The methods were not only politics and bureaucracy, but he also used economy and society, culture and ideology, spiritualism and religion as well. However, he warned people not to call him King but Emperor was what he preferred to be call.
Emperor Qin was the most influential emperor in the history of China like no any other of all the emperors who ruled China in those years. He is believed to be the one who set the foundation of the current united People’s Republic of China. However, before him was Emperor Yingzheng who had started the unification process by waging a very successful war campaign that had subdued more than five other states or empires like Yan, Chu, Zhao, Wei and others (Chen & Liu 2003). This emperor before Qin was successful because these states or empires were in constant war with each other for close to 500 years thus weakening them militarily. (Chen & Liu 2003) in their account in the book ‘State Formation in Early China’ they say, “The state of Qin was in full development as Emperor Qin defeated other six states which ended chaos that was caused by wars among the vassals of more than five hundred years hence he established a unified and centralized kingdom and Xianyang as the capital city”. So, when they were attacked, they were easily defeated and they had no power to rebel anymore and when the Qin dynasty took over, it also maintained the military might which ensured no uprising anymore and instead he extended the military campaigns against other kingdoms.
Therefore, Qin dynasty utilized his military power to rule his empire and all the other kingdoms, states and empires he had captured. He ensured that the empire was united without any dissidence, those who were heard raising opposing views seemingly to oppose his rule were prosecuted and the capital punishment he meted out to them was burying them alive. On the other hand, he employed many ways to achieve the unification of his empire and make it the strongest empire. The many ways were based on culture, politics, and bureaucracy and also military, here are some as follows:
First and foremost Emperor Qin believed that everybody was bad so the best way to rule or manage these kinds of people is using force as (Lewis 2007) narrates, “Qin was a legalist and legalists believe that people are basically bad and it is necessary to control them by regulating every minute of their lives to maintain their discipline”. Lewis continues to say in his book ‘The Early Chinese Empires’ that if anybody was overheard suggesting that one day things will improve the person was put to death as quickly as possible without trial (2007).
Emperor Qin declared himself the supreme emperor of the empire and all issues concerning the economy of all the states he had captured and subdued were to be under him for as long he will rule. He was the emperor who authorized the production and use of coins with the commonly known Ban Liang Coin which was to be the medium of exchange in the whole country or empire. During his powerful reign, he authorized the standardization of measures and weights. Even though Qin was a tyrant the move of standardizing measures and weights impressed his people because many corrupt business people were cut in the bud. Therefore this move checked corruption throughout his empire. “The standardization of the writings which made Qinzhuan to be the standard font and standardization of measures and weights was to encourage and promote trade in all his states including the captured states.” (Keightley 2000) writes in his book ‘The Ancestral Landscape: Time Space and Community in Late Shang China (1200- 1045 B.C.).’ The weights and measures standardization were also meant to unify all other weights and measures of the new states that Emperor Qin suppressed. This was another simple but meaningful step Emperor Qin took to unify the entire empire.
Another important project was agriculture of which he authorized. Irrigation was initiated to promote the economy of the state and benefit the people of his empire. However, to resume full control he denied his people all the riches like; he took away all the land from people more especially the nobles. All these huge tracks of land were under his empire which most of them he took went under intense agriculture with forced labor from criminals and dissidents who escaped the wrath from the emperor. This is one way he ensured that there is no shortage of food and he indeed achieved his goal. Agriculture was practiced throughout his empire. He knew if people were hungry the can revolt against his dictatorial rule. Different varieties of food were produced in large quantities throughout the year because of the many irrigation schemes or projects he had started. The Great Wall was a menace when it was heard by people and Emperor Qin threatened to send lazy people to build the wall. Farming was done by all and the main farming activities were rice and silk making and those who defied doing this were punished or put to death or sent to build the wall.
Emperor Qin promoted the improvement of all infrastructures which included building of roads throughout the state or the empire. He was the emperor who knew the importance of roads but primarily he wanted to build them so that his soldiers were able to move quickly anywhere and incase of any uprising it will be quelled easily. Therefore, many roads were built during his reign. He knew very well many people were not happy with his rule even though in the other part he did many other things for the good of his people especially the production of food which was enough for them. While building roads he authorized the building of the Great Wall of China. It was the biggest ever project that was authorized by him. The wall was meant to protect his empire from outside attacks and he was correct. The Great Wall required immense resources and sacrifice to complete it. For Emperor Qin to achieve his ambitions he took to forced labor from his subjects and heavy taxes that were imposed on them, those who did not comply with this ruling were subjected to hard labor and or execution. The roads he built accelerated his Empire’s economic growth.
To consolidate his iron fist rule, he paralyzed the education sector because he believed if people got educated they will revolt against his rule. (Watson 1992) in his book ‘The Tso Chuan: Selections from China’s Oldest Narrative History’ notes that, “Emperor Qin had fear that if people were educated their thinking will be altered and they will at last overthrow him, this led him to burn thousands of books”. However, Emperor Qin was the one who encouraged the standard written character. This was a way he wanted to cover his arrogance by pretending that he encouraged education but the right education was not profitable that is why he was burning books. “All the books were destroyed except for the copies held in the Qin Imperial Library” (Lewis 2007). The reason behind him burning books was to suppress any educated people who wanted to question his tyrannical tactics and rule.
Because of superb spying system he employed he had been informed that some educated people were questions his rule behind the scene. When he had this he was infuriated and he mercilessly went round his kingdom and pulled together close to five hundred scholars and buried them alive. Of hearing this act all people literate and illiterate went silent and nobody dared to raise any question or concern. “This worst episode happened during his second year in power which came to be known as ‘To Burn The Books and Bury the Scholars Alive’ and this was the time during which the Great Wall construction was going on and building of many luxurious palaces” (Chen & Liu 2003). His rule was the worst and many innocent people were living in constant fear.
He also overhauled the government system in the central government and around the provinces under him to tighten his grip in the government. He divided his empire into 36 provinces and down further into districts. Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a total tyrant who oppressed his people by executing and forcing them into hard labor to build the Great Wall, roads and irrigation channels but history has it that he is the only Emperor who developed his empire, provided enough food for his people and protected them from being attacked by other kingdoms which most of them were later to be under his authoritarian rule. Nevertheless, many of his people were not happy with him and they had no room to question his rule, he had spies who reported any ill minded people. If people did not report criminals, they faced consequences like imprisonment and execution. So, people never attempted to hide any criminal activity or indecency among them.
He ruled for only fifteen years. Emperor Han took over but later was overthrown by peoples uprising.
The current People’s Republic of China is all accredited to Emperor Qin who for only fifteen years in power managed to unite China which was disintegration into many small states. He is also remembered because of the China’s Great Wall which he initiated and it is one of the greatest tourist attractions in China now.
Chen, X. & Liu L. (2003). State Formation in Early China. London: Duckworth Publishers.
Keightley, D. (2000). The Ancestral Landscape: Time Space and Community in Late Shang China (1200- 1045 B.C.). Berkeley: Institute for Asian Studies, China Research Monograph.
Lewis, M. E. (2007). The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. Cambridge: Harvard (Bleknap).
Watson, B. (1992). The Tso Chuan: Selections from China’s Oldest Narrative History. New York: Columbia.