Last modified on 16 April 2013, at 16:49

Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/“The First Exalted Emperor”

IntroductionEdit

Painting of Qin Shi Huang

Qín Shǐ Huáng (秦始皇) was the king of the Chinese State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BCE, during the Warring States Period. He became the first emperor of a unified China, in 221 BCE. Calling himself the First Emperor (始皇帝) after China's unification, Qín Shǐ Huáng is a pivotal figure in Chinese history, ushering nearly two millennia of imperial rule. After unifying China, he and his chief adviser, Li Si, passed a series of major economic and political reforms. He undertook gigantic projects, including building and unifying various sections of the Great Wall of China, the now famous city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army, and a massive national road system. To ensure stability, Qín Shǐ Huáng outlawed and burned many books and buried some scholars alive. He ruled until his death in 210 BCE at the age of 49.

Qín Shǐ Huáng's Unified Imperial ChinaEdit

Qin tours

Historians often refer to the period from Qin Dynasty to the end of Qing Dynasty as Imperial China. Though the unified reign of the First Qin Emperor, Qín Shǐ Huáng, lasted only 12 years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang (close to modern Xi'an). The doctrine of Legalism that guided the Qin emphasized strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor. This philosophy, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing it in peacetime. Qin Shi Huang presided over the brutal silencing of political opposition, including the event known as the burning of books and burying of scholars. This would be the impetus behind the later Han synthesis incorporating the more moderate schools of political governance.

Qin Shi Huang is well known for beginning the Great Wall of China, which was later augmented and enhanced during the Ming Dynasty. His other major contributions include the concept of a centralized government, the unification of the legal code, development of the written language, measurement, and currency of China after the tribulations of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods. Even something as basic as the length of axles for carts had to be made uniform to ensure a viable trading system throughout the empire.

GovernmentEdit

In an attempt to avoid a recurrence of the political chaos of early imperial China, the conquered states were not allowed to be referred to as independent nations. The empire was then divided into 36 commanderies (郡, Jùn), later more than 40 commanderies. This system was different from the previous dynasties, which had loose alliances and federations. People could no longer be identified by their native region or former feudal state, as when a person from Chu was called "Chu person" (楚人, Chu rén). Appointments were now based on merit instead of hereditary rights.

EconomyEdit

Qin Shi Huang unified China economically by standardizing the Chinese units of measurements such as weights and measures, the currency, the length of the axles of carts to facilitate transport on the road system.[ The emperor also developed an extensive network of roads and canals connecting the provinces to improve trade between them. The currency of the different states were also standardized to the Ban liang coin (半兩, Bàn Liǎng). Perhaps most importantly, the Chinese script was unified. This newly standardized script was then made official throughout all the conquered regions, thus doing away with all the regional scripts to form one language, one communication system for all of China.

CultureEdit

While the previous Warring States era was one of constant warfare, it was also considered the golden age of free thought. Qin Shi Huang eliminated the Hundred Schools of Thought which incorporated Confucianism and other philosophies. After the unification of China, with all other schools of thought banned, legalism became the endorsed ideology of the Qin dynasty. Legalism was basically a system that required the people to follow the laws or be punished accordingly.

Beginning in 213 BCE, to avoid scholars' comparisons of his reign with the past, Qin Shi Huang ordered most existing books to be burned with the exception of those on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the State of Qin. This would also serve the purpose of furthering the ongoing reformation of the writing system by removing examples of obsolete scripts. Owning the Book of Songs or the Classic of History was to be punished especially severely. According to the later Records of the Grand Historian, the following year Qin Shi Huang had some 460 scholars buried alive for owning the forbidden books. The emperor's own library still had copies of the forbidden books but most of these were destroyed later when Xiang Yu burned the palaces of Xianyang in 206 BCE.

DeathEdit

Xu Fu expedition's for the elixir of life

Later in his life, Qin Shi Huang feared death and desperately sought the fabled elixir of life, which would supposedly allow him to live forever. He was obsessed with acquiring immortality and fell prey to many who offered him supposed elixirs. He send several expeditions to find this elixir all over the world, being the most famous Xu Fu's ill-fated enterprise, which included 60 barques and 5,000 crew members. The Emperor was so afraid of death and, "evil spirits", he had workers build a series of tunnels and passage ways to each of his palaces (over 200 were owned by him), because these would keep him safe from the evil spirits, as he traveled unseen.

n 211 BCE a large meteor is said to have fallen in Dōngjùn in the lower reaches of the Yellow River. On it, an unknown person inscribed the words "The First Emperor will die and his land will be divided." When the emperor heard of this, he sent an imperial secretary to investigate this prophecy. No one would confess to the deed, so all the people living nearby were put to death. The stone was then burned and pulverized. The Emperor died during one of his tours of Eastern China, on September 10, 210 BCE. Reportedly, he died due to ingesting mercury pills, made by his court scientists and doctors. Ironically, these pills were meant to make Qin Shi Huang immortal.

After the Emperor's death, his son Huhai became the Second Emperor, later known as Qin Er Shi or "Second Generation Qin." Qin Er Shi, however, was not as capable as his father. Revolts quickly erupted. His reign was a time of extreme civil unrest, and everything built by the First Emperor crumbled away within a short period.

Other AchievementsEdit

The Great Wall of China.

North: Great wall

The Qin Shi Huang fought nomadic tribes to the north and northwest. The Xiongnu tribes were not defeated and subdued, thus the campaign was tiring and unsuccessful, and to prevent the Xiongnu from encroaching on the northern frontier any longer, the emperor ordered the construction of an immense defensive wall. This wall, for whose construction hundreds of thousands of men were mobilized, and an unknown number died, is a precursor to the current Great Wall of China. It connected numerous state walls which had been built during the previous four centuries, a network of small walls linking river defenses to impassable cliffs. A great monument of China to this day, the Great Wall still stands, open to the public to challenge its million steps.

South: Lingqu Canal

The flow of Lingqu Canal, connecting rivers Xiang and Gui, built 3rd century BC.

A famous South China quotation was "In the North there is the Great wall, in the South there is the Lingqu canal." In 214 BCE the Emperor began the project of a major canal to transport supplies to the army. The canal allows water transport between north and south China. The canal, 34 kilometers in length, links the Xiang River which flows into the Yangtze and the Li Jiang, which flows into the Pearl River. The canal connected two of China's major waterways and aided Qin's expansion into the southwest. The construction is considered one of the three great feats of Ancient Chinese engineering, the others being the Great Wall and the Sichuan Dujiangyan Irrigation System.

AttributionEdit

"Qin Shi Huang" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qin_Shi_Huang