Discovering China S1 • E1

Discovering China - The Qin Dynasty—China's First Dynasty





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Published on Aug 13, 2012

The Qin Dynasty from 221 to 206 BC is considered China's first dynasty. Although China did have three ancient dynasties: the Xia, Shang and Zhou, Qin's ruler was the first to declare him self an emperor. He united China after centuries of division and ruled over an estimated population of twenty million people.

Now despite its glory, the Qin was a brutal and short-lived dynasty. Emperor Qin's objective was to rule "all under heaven," and he did this through military campaigns and a state philosophy of legalism, or the idea that misbehavior is met with harsh punishment in order to keep the populace in line.

The original state of Qin was located in the western area of what was China at the time. It was a royal domain allocated for raising horses. It then became one of seven warring states after the ancient Zhou dynasty spilt up. The young king of Qin started his assault of other states in the year 230 BC and by 221 BC had defeated all six, unifying China.

He then sought to solidify this unification through a unification of culture. Qin unified the currency, weights and measures, Chinese characters and even the width of roads across the whole empire.

But emperor Qin was not popular among the people, his compulsory public works projects and high taxation put a heavy burden on the populace. The Qin emperor ordered the burning of all books on alternative philosophies than the one used by the Qin government, he then buried alive 460 people who violated this rule. His heavily centralized power structure also angered the nobility who's power was weakened.

In 210 BC, emperor Qin died, and his successor found himself faced with revolts. In 206 BC, a group of rebels, led by Lieutenant Liu Bang succeeded in toppling the Qin. Liu Bang established the Han dynasty which would last for four centuries.

Although it lasted for only 17 years and inflicted great suffering on the populace, the Qin dynasty left behind a legacy. The first Great Wall of China was built during the Qin to protect the country from invasions from the north. After the Qin emperor died, he was buried in a massive complex of tombs. In the 1974 Chinese farmers dug up some parts of a terracotta statue, this led to the discovery of 7000 terracotta warriors that had been buried with the emperor to protect him in the afterlife.

But what is more is that the Qin sewed the seeds of unification and led to later periods of prosperity and stability during the great dynasties that followed. We'll tell you about one of those, the Han dynasty, next time.


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