Tony and I were lucky enough to take a school trip to China back in 2005. We were fascinated by this incredibly different culture, and our trip to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors was of particular interest to me, bearing in mind my degree in archaeology.
Caitlin has a beautiful writing style and manages to bring to life these events of so long ago. I hope you are enjoying her articles as much as I am at the moment.
Ying Zheng was the first emperor of Qin and the emperor to unify China – his armies conquered the Han, Wei, Zhao, Chu, Yan, and Qi feudal states of the old Zhou Kingdom. Later known as Qin Shi Huang, he was the first of a long line of imperial rulers – the first of 557 (including the rulers of minor states) to be exact. He was the first of two emperors in the Qin dynasty (the second being his son Hu Hai, who was later overthrown) which lasted from the year 221 to 207 BC. You might notice that this is only a small period of time; 15 years is shorter than the blink of an historical eye. However, this in no way makes it insignificant. An historian could recognise that the feat of unifying China is, in its own right, massive, and historically notable for shaping the present – let alone the influence which carried on to many following dynasties and people (Mao Zedong, Chairman of the People’s republic of China saw himself as a mirror of Qin) as well as the cultural wonders which blossomed at the time.
There have been claims that the word “Qin”, in referral to the Emperor and his dynasty, is the root to which the name “China” originated from, although in our modern world we are more likely to link the word “Qin” to the famous terracotta warriors, or the Great Wall of China, which we classify as one of our seven wonders. Emperor Qin reformed politics, Chinese economy and military, and culture. He formed the restrictions which made the Ban Liang coin (a coin which we would view as a metal circle with a square hole in the centre) the only one to be used in the country; he standardised the Qinzhuan characters as China’s writing font; he placed importance on infrastructure and put focus on the building and designing of irrigation and road works.
Qin could be described as a tyrant nonetheless.
The first emperor of the Qin dynasty
As I mentioned before, Emperor Qin left some of the most important cultural artefacts we know of. The Great Wall of China was built by soldiers, prisoners of war, convicts, and peasants who were forcibly recruited. If they fell dead on the job, building continued until they were buried under what they were constructing. There is a legend from the time about a woman whose husband died while building, and that as she mourned her weeping was so bitter that it collapsed a section of the wall, revealing his bones so she could bury him (legend of Meng Tiangnv). While the wall is viewed by unfathomable numbers of visitors each day, the rumour that it can be viewed from space (without aid) is not true. What is probably my personal favourite fact about the Great Wall is that it was originally built along the Northern border of China, aspiring to protect the country from barbarians – however it is now located closer to the centre of China. We can thank the Mongols for this as their interactions with China (namely that of Kublai Khan) resulted in the expanding of Chinese territory. Mongolian land became that of the Chinese as the Mongol empire dissolved; but that is a completely different (and much later) story in the history of China.
Qin’s death occurred while traveling in 210BC. The peasant uprising (with taxes and forced military service, I am sure I do not need any more detail as to why this uprising occurred) led by Cheng Shang and Wu Quang followed, resulting in the abrupt halt to the dynasty while under Hu Hai’s leadership in 207BC. Despite being an ephemeral dynasty, Qin shaped Chinese history politically and culturally and aided in moulding the shape of China which we recognise today, with geographic and cultural reminders of this still prominent.
And so, the first of thousands of years of imperial rule in China began with Ying Zheng in 221BC…