Qin Dynasty

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The Qin Dynasty (Chinese: 秦朝; pinyin: Qín Cháo; Wade-Giles: Ch'in Ch'ao) ( 221 BC - 206 BC) was preceded by the Zhou Dynasty and followed by the Han Dynasty in China. The unification of China 221 BC under the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang marked the beginning of imperial China, a period that lasted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The Qin Dynasty left a legacy of a centralized and bureaucratic state that would be carried onto successive dynasties.

Qin Shi Huang

Qin Shi Huang imposed the State of Qin's centralized, non-hereditary bureaucratic system on his new empire in place of the Zhou's feudalistic one. The Qin Empire relied on the philosophy of legalism (with skillful advisors like Han Fei and Li Si). Centralization, achieved by ruthless methods, was focused on standardizing legal codes and bureaucratic procedures, the forms of writing and coinage, and the pattern of thought and scholarship. Characters from the former state of Qin became the standard for the entire empire. The length of the wheel axle was also unified and expressways standardized to ease transportation throughout the country. To silence criticism of imperial rule, the emperor banished or put to death many dissenting Confucian scholars and confiscated and burned their books.

To prevent future uprisings, Qin Shi Huang ordered the confiscation of weapons and stored them in the capital. In order to prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he also destroyed the walls and fortifications that had separated the previous six states. A national conscription was devised: every male between the ages of seventeen and sixty years was obliged to serve one year in the army. Qin aggrandizement was aided by frequent military expeditions pushing forward the frontiers in the north and south. To fend off a barbarian intrusion (mainly against the Xiongnu in the north), the fortification walls built by the various warring states were connected to make a wall; this is usually recognised as the first Great Wall of China, although the present, 5,000- kilometer-long Great Wall of China was largely built or re-built during the Ming Dynasty. A number of public works projects, including canals and bridges, were also undertaken to consolidate and strengthen imperial rule. A lavish tomb for the emperor, complete with a Terracotta Army, was built near the capital Xianyang, a city half an hour from modern Xi'an. These activities required enormous levies of manpower and resources, not to mention repressive measures.

Qin Shi Huang reportedly began going "crazy" from swallowing mercury pills, which were made by his court alchemists and doctors, containing too much mercury. Ironically, these pills were meant to make Qin Shi Huang immortal. This may be accountable for most of his paranoiac acts such as building the terracotta army. This may also be the cause of his death later on.

Second Emperor

During his reign Shi Huang Di made five inspection trips around the country. During the last trip with his second son Huhai (胡亥) in 210 BC, Shi Huang Di died suddenly at Shaqiu prefecture. Huhai, under the advice of two high officials — the Imperial Secretariat Li Si(李斯) and the chief eunuch Zhao Gao, forged and altered Emperor's will. The faked decree ordered Shi Huang Di's first son, the heir Fusu (扶蘇), to commit suicide, instead naming Huhai as the next emperor. The decree also stripped the command of troops from Marshal Meng Tian (蒙恬) — a faithful supporter of Fusu — and sentenced Meng's family to death. Zhao Gao step by step seized the power of Huhai, effectively making Huhai a puppet emperor.

Qin empire in 210 BC.
Qin empire in 210 BC.

Within three years of Shi Huang Di's death, widespread revolts by peasants, prisoners, soldiers, and descendants of the nobles of the Six Warring States sprang up all over China. Chen Sheng (陳勝) and Wu Guang (吳廣), two in a group of about 900 soldiers assigned to defend against the Xiongnu, became the leaders of the first revolution by commoners.

Third Emperor

In the beginning of October 207 BC, Zhao Gao forced Huhai to commit suicide and replaced him with Fusu's son, Ziying (子嬰). Note that the title of Ziying was "king of Qin" to reflect the fact that Qin no longer controlled the whole of China. The Chu-Han contention ensued. Ziying soon killed Zhao Gao and surrendered to Liu Bang (劉邦) in the beginning of December 207 BC. But Liu Bang was forced to hand over Xianyang and Ziying to Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu then killed Ziying and burned down the palace in the end of January 206 BC. Thus the Qin dynasty came to an end, three years after the death of Qin Shi Huang, and less than twenty years after it was founded.

Although the Qin Dynasty was short-lived, its legalist rule had a deep impact on later dynasties in China. The imperial system initiated during the Qin dynasty set a pattern that was developed over the next two millennia.

Sovereigns of Qin Dynasty

Note: King Zhaoxiang of Qin (秦昭襄王) had already been ruling Qin for 51 years when Qin annihilated the Zhou Dynasty; however the other six warring states were still independent regimes. Historiographers thus used the next year (the 52nd year of King Zhaoxiang of Qin) as the official continuation from Zhou Dynasty.

Qin Shi Huang was the first Chinese sovereign to proclaim himself "Emperor", after reunifying China in 221 BC. That year is therefore usually taken as the start of the "Qin Dynasty".

Posthumous names / title Chinese family names and given names Period of Reigns
Convention: "Qin" + posthumous name
Zhaoxiang (昭襄 Zhāoxiāng) Ying Ze (嬴則 yíng zé or Ying Ji|嬴稷 yíng jì) 306 BC– 250 BC
Xiaowen (孝文 Xiàowén) Ying Zhu (嬴柱 yíng zhù) 250 BC
Zhuangxiang (莊襄 Zhuāngxiāng) Ying Zichu (嬴子楚 yíng zi chǔ) 249 BC– 247 BC
Shi Huangdi (始皇帝 Shǐ Huángdì) Ying Zheng (嬴政 yíng zhèng) 246 BC– 210 BC
Er Shi Huangdi (二世皇帝 Èr Shì Huángdì) Ying Huhai (嬴胡亥 yíng hú hài) 209 BC– 207 BC
Ziying was often referred using personal name or Qin Wang Ziying (秦王子嬰 qín wáng zi yīng)
Did not exist Ying Ziying (嬴子嬰 yíng zi yīng) 207 BC

During the Qin Dynasty, starting with Qin Shi Huang, there were no posthumous names. The title of Shi Huangdi ("Commencing Emperor") and Er Shi Huangdi ("Second Generation Emperor") were used during the rulers' lifetimes.

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