The Qin Dynasty was the first to unify China and Qin Shi Huang was China’s first emperor. The history of the Qin Dynasty is the beginning of a unified China.
The Qin Dynasty started as one of the many small kingdoms that held power in China during and after the collapse of the Zhou Dynasty. It went on to encompass the territory of all other Chinese states at the time.
The dynasty was first established by the Zhou Dynasty to protect against nomadic peoples of the steppe.
The Qin Dynasty is known as being the first government to politically unify China. However, the Qin Dynasty was also known for widespread oppression and ruthlessness.
Qin Dynasty Rise to Power
The Warring States Period was a period of disunity that lasted from 475 BCE to 221 BCE. During this time, the state of Qin was just one of seven states that vied for power in China. The kingdoms of Han, Wei, Chu, Qi, Wu, Zhao and Yan, along with Qin, were the major powers at the time.
In 231 BCE, the Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huang, began a campaign to dominate the other Chinese kingdoms. It started by attacking the Han kingdom, which was already weak. One by one the rival kingdoms fell until at last the state of Qi was conquered in 221 BCE.
The Qin declared itself the first unified ruler of China and Qin Shi Huang took on the title huangdi, meaning “emperor.” The Qin Dynasty was the first unified government of China.
First Unified Dynasty in China
The Qin Dynasty instituted a number of reforms to support the political unification of China. A common currency was introduced to further trade, and units of measurement were also standardized; the history of the Qin Dynasty was a history of unification.
Then, as now, China was divided linguistically. The Qin Dynasty introduced a standard written language with uniform characters to ensure smooth communication throughout China, especially for government purposes.
The Qin government wielded unified, unrivalled political power. This allowed it to undertake a number of large public works projects that required huge resources and manpower. One of these was the first part of the Great Wall, used to fend off Xiongnu nomads from the north.
Repression and Cruelty in the Qin Dynasty
Qin Shi Huangdi is known as a tyrant in Chinese history. Taxes were high on peasants and criticism and dissent were silenced ruthlessly. The emperor was said to be incredibly paranoid of traitors and spies.
The emperor was a strong supporter of Legalism, a philosophy that calls for strict laws and punishments and the absolute authority of rulers. It was in direct opposition to Confucianism. Throughout the Qin Shi Huang’s reign, Confucian scholars were massacred and Confucian texts burnt.
Decline of the Qin Dynasty
Qin Shi Huangdi died in 210 BCE. His life was probably shortened by frequent ingestion of mercury, which he thought would prolong his life and allow him to rule China longer. Though the Qin Dynasty had two further emperors, they were ineffective rulers.
Almost as soon as Qin Shi Huangdi died, revolts against the government began. The dynasty ended in 206 BCE when Liu Bang captured the Qin capital. Liu Bang later went on to found the Han Dynasty several years later.