How the Qin Dynasty Began
Prior to the Qin dynasty, the area occupied by the Ancient Chinese was divided into states, which were ruled over by different families with a king as head of each state. This is why the period just before the Qin Dynasty (453 – 221 BCE) is known as the Warring States Period.
The king of the state of Qin, Zhuang Xiang, died in 246 BCE, leaving his son, Zheng as king. Zheng quickly began fighting with the states bordering the state of Qin. As each one fell, his army grew and so did his empire. He declared himself Emperor Qin Shihuangdi in 221 BCE and became the first emperor of the new Chinese empire. The capital of the Qin dynasty was at Xianyang, in Shaanxi Province.
Qin Dynasty Achievements
Before the Qin Dynasty, a son inherited land and possibly a kingdom from his father, just like Qin Shihunagdi did from his father. New rules established during the Qin Dynasty stopped these hereditary activities from occurring. Instead of hereditary vassals, government officials took charge of the newly created provinces and ruled them through and for the emperor.
The 2,500 miles of the Great Wall of China was made into a solid fortification during the Qin Dynasty. Started 200 years prior to the Qin Dynasty, the wall was not complete and was not strong. Laborers rebuilt and linked all sections of the wall, which held back nomads and tribes from the north of China. Additionally, large-scale road systems were built in the new empire.
Qin Dynasty Legalism
The rules for the people changed to that of Legalism, which gave absolute power to the emperor and his government. Before, kings in each state decided what should be done and many times the decisions did not make sense or the decisions differed in a similar event. With Legalism, the laws were made into a system and were followed the same in each event.
Qin Dynasty under Emperor Er Shi
Upon Qin Shihunagdi’s death in 210 BCE, his son, Hu Hai became the Emperor Er Shi, whose reign as emperor lasted three years. Not long after his reign began, the people grew tired of laboring for the government, paying higher taxes, and new and increased punishments. They revolted in 208 BCE with the help of neighboring rulers who had yet to become a part of the new Chinese empire.
During the fighting, Emperor Er Shi was forced to commit suicide. Although his nephew was placed on the throne where he ruled for fifty days, the rebels killed him and the remaining Qin imperial family members. The capital at Xianyang was destroyed by fire. One of the leaders of the opposition, Liu Bang, became Emperor Gaodi in 206 BCE, marking the beginning of the next Ancient Chinese dynasty, the Western Han.
Qin Dynasty Culture
Many things improved for everyone during the Qin dynasty, such as:
- The government standardized weights and measures, which assured that everyone was selling and buying exact and true amounts of an item.
- The government minted the Ban Liang coin (round coin with square hole in the middle) to be used across the empire, which made it easier to buy and sell.
- The government required the standardization of written characters, which gave the government and its people one way of learning to write and to read.
There were, however, things that were not good during the Qin dynasty. These included:
- Many people were forced to work at hard labor on building the Great Wall of China, roads and irrigation works.
- The people were taxed heavily to help the government pay for its services.
- There was a forced military service.
- Many new laws were put into place. For example, if a member of a family broke a law, the whole family including spouses, children and even aunts, uncles, cousins and so on, would be punished. These punishments, sometimes including death, were meant to have families take responsibility to teach each other that laws were to be followed, to stop revenge and rebellion against the government, and to keep family members from shielding each other.
One of the most famous uses of labor during the Qin dynasty was the creation of thousands of terracotta warriors, and bronze chariots and horses found in the burial tomb of Qin Shihuangdi.