An introduction to the Chin Dynasty, China’s third, which was ruled by Shih Huang-ti, the first emperor of China from 221-206 BCE.
The Chou Dynasty had witnessed the launching of the Hundred Schools of Thought and the rise of Legalism as the best means of rule, supplanting the previous concept of rule by magical power. This period was successful in promoting diversity of thought and enabled some of the world’s greatest philosophers, including Confucius, Mencius and Lao Tzu, to flourish. However, it also witnessed the division of power in the period of the Warring States. Division is not inherently bad but it led to a great deal of fighting and that always has a bad effect on economy, environment and society. The unification of the country by the Chin Dynasty, which ruled for just 15 years from 221-206 BCE, was beneficial in restoring an acknowledged central power and hence reducing lawlessness and promoting peace.
The state that was to be known as Chin had been conquering its neighbours for some decades, having initially been a border commandery intended to act as a border state separating sedentary China from the hostile and fierce nomads of the Steppe. It had followed a policy of attracting workers by offering substantial incentives for people to go and settle in that territory. When Chin finally succeeded in unifying all of the central Chinese territories, its ruler designated himself as Shih Huang-ti – Emperor Shih. This was the first use of the term ‘Emperor’ to designate a real life ruler of the country, since previously the term ‘Wang’ or king had been used.
Emperor Shih was energetic and capable and set about creating a modern, effective state through the expansion of the bureaucracy and improvements in its technical capacity. He also conscripted hundreds of thousands of workers to commence the construction of the Great Wall – the series of fortifications, walls, signal towers and forts which stretch from Po Hai to Inner Mongolia to the edge of Tibet. Walls in many parts of these regions already existed but Emperor Shih had them strengthened, improved and joined in an integrated system. The purpose was to provide respite from the Steppe nomads and their incessant raiding, since although it was impossible to stop them altogether it was possible to regulate their movements by funneling them into regions which were more convenient to monitor and police.
Much of the benefits of this strengthening of the state were to fall to Shih’s successors in the Han Dynasty since his own did not succeed him. His tomb contains the famous Terracotta Army.