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Qin Dynasty — The Epoch of Great Unification 

The Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC) was the first centralized empire in ancient Chinese history, characterized by a unified language, currency, and measurement system, achieved through the defeat of the other six kingdoms during the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC).

The founding emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang, who constructed the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army, was the first Emperor of China.

Qin's political system laid the foundation for Chinese feudal empires over the next 2000 years and marked the beginning of the concept of "Great Unity" in Chinese culture. 

During the 14 years of the Qin Empire's reign, three emperors ruled the dynasty.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Certificate (Hu Fu) to Deploy Forces Garrisoned in Yangling

Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Certificate (Hu Fu) to Deploy Forces Garrisoned in Yangling — National Museum of China

Main Hall of Xianyang Palace

Main Hall of Imperial Palace (Xianyang Palace) of Qin, based on Architectural Historian Yang Hongxun's Restored Model.

Qin Dynasty Facts


  • The ancestors of Qin were believed to be descendants of the Yellow Emperor, who later were enfeoffed by kings of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC) for their exceptional military contributions.


  • The State Qin became powerful and obtained advantages over other kingdoms after the Reform of Shang Yang (about 395 BC — 338 BC). 

  • According to Shang Yang’s reform, commoners of Qin could get noble titles because of their military achievement, mainly based on how many heads of the enemies one had cut out. 


Terracotta Warriors and Horses of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang

Terracotta Warriors and Horses of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, Photo by Zhao Zhen.

  • Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor in the history of China, never nominated a queen or a crown prince.

  • Qin Dynasty was the first unified empire with centralized power in Chinese history that applied the System of Prefectures and Counties instead of the previous System of Enfeoffment.

  • Measurement, currency, and language were unified in this era. 

Unearthed Unified Scale Hammer of the Qin Dynasty

Unearthed Unified Scale Hammer of Qin — National Museum of China

  • The administrative policies of Qin suppressed the commerce industry; therefore, most merchants returned to being peasants.

  • Legalism was the dominant official ideology of Qin.

Unearthed Bamboo Slips Recording the Laws of the Qin Dynasty

Unearthed Bamboo Slips Recording the Laws of Qin — Hubei Museum 


  • The first large-scale peasant uprising in Chinese history happened in the late Qin. 

Unearthed Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty

Unearthed Terracotta Warriors of Qin — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum 

Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Qin Dynasty

Conquest of the Other Six States and the Establishment of Qin

Qin Shi Huang, also known as Qin Shihuangdi, ranks among the most extraordinary emperors in Chinese history.


He established the first unified feudal imperial regime, Qin, after the remarkable general Wang Jian and his son successfully conquered the other six kingdoms during the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC).


Under Qin's governance, the measurement, currency, and language were unified, and standardized royal roads were constructed within the country. 

Qin Shi Huang also commanded the construction of the Great Wall to defend the Xiongnu in the North and the Terracotta Warriors to guard his mausoleum underground. 

Unearthed Bronze Chariot and Horses of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

Bronze Chariot and Horses — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Cruel Fights Over the Throne and Large-Scale Rebellions

After Qin Shi Huang passed away in the year 210 BC, his 18th son Huhai snatched the throne through conspiracy, assassinated all his other siblings, and became the second emperor of Qin. 

The following year, because of heavy taxes, levies, harsh laws, and the next emperor's incapability, a big peasant rebellion happened, followed by rebel forces of nobles of the former six kingdoms.

The whole nation fell into chaotic wars again. 

Unearthed Sword of the Qin Dynasty
Unearthed Armour of the Qin Dynasty

Unearthed Sword and Armor of Qin — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum

End of the Qin Empire

Those uprising armies together defeated the main force of the Qin Empire.

Soon, the second emperor of Qin was forced to suicide.


The third emperor of Qin, Ziying, wore to the throne for less than two months, then surrendered to King Liu Bang when his army was approaching and was assassinated by King Xiang Yu about a month later. 

This was the official ending of the Qin Empire. 

Then, those uprising armies kept fighting against each other until Liu Bang defeated other forces and established another unified empire, the Han Dynasty.

Unearthed Jade Goblet of the Qin Dynasty

Jade Goblet of Qin — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Political Structure and Social Systems of the Qin Empire




Some historians and scholars have estimated that the population of China during the Qin Dynasty might have been around 25 million to 30 million people. 


Political System: Three Councillors and Nine Ministers System 


  • The emperor held supreme power, and the officials in charge of the military, administration, and supervision (Three Councillors) directly answered to the emperor. 


  • The other nine departments (Nine Ministers), responsible for managing finance, judiciary, ceremony, security, etc., operated independently of each other and reported directly to the emperor. 


  • Independent vassal states were replaced by 48 counties under direct control by the central government through assigning, monitoring, and assessing governors of each county.

 Three Councillors and Nine Ministers System of the Qin Dynasty

Official Selection System


In the Qin Dynasty, the selection and promotion of officials were determined by a comprehensive set of criteria, including military achievements, recommendations from fellow officials, participation in official examinations, direct assignments from the emperor, and evaluations of administrative performance.




In the Qin Dynasty, taxation was levied through specific assessments on farmland products, capitation taxes, and obligations for military or labor services.

Currency of the Qin Dynasty the "Qin Ban Liang"

Currency of Qin (Qin Ban Liang) —Shanghai Museum

Military Service

  • Every individual in the kingdom bore the obligation to enlist in the army, actively participating in the defense of their land and ensuring the safety of their own families. 

  • Soldiers with military achievements received additional rewards, including noble titles, monetary compensation, exemptions from duty, etc.


Land System


The Qin Empire implemented a system of Private Ownership of Land, allowing civilians to own, cultivate, and sell their farmland while fulfilling their tax obligations to the state.

Unearthed Eaves Tile of the Qin Dynasty

Eaves Tile of Qin — Shaanxi Academy of Archeology (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Qin Dynasty Achievements


  • Construction of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System (by Li Ping)


As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dujiangyan is one of the most outstanding scientific irrigation systems in Chinese history, which is still in use today.


It changed Chengdu from a place that frequently suffered from massive floods and severe drought to a cultivable, productive, and fertile region. 

Dujiangyan Irrigation System

The Dujiangyan Irrigation System in Sichuan Province that is Still Functioning

  • Construction of the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors.

  • Application of Greenhouse Cultivation. 

Unearthed Multiplication Table on Bamboo Slips of the Qin Dynasty

Multiplication Table on Bamboo Slips of Qin — National Museum of China

Unearthed Inlayed Silver Carriage Piece of the Qin Dynasty​

Inlayed Silver Carriage Piece of Qin — British Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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