Qin Dynasty — The Epoch of Great Unification 

Main Hall of Xianyang Palace

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

 

What is Qin Dynasty?

 

Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC) was the first centralized empire in the ancient history of China, which had unified language, currency, measurement, after having defeated the other six kingdoms of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC).

 

Founding emperor Qin Shi Huang that constructed Great Wall and Terracotta Army was the first Emperor of China

 

The political system of the Qin Dynasty had set a foundation of Chinese feudal empires in the next 2000 years and was the starting point of "Great Unity" in Chinese culture. 

In about 14 years of the Qin Dynasty, 3 emperors had reigned the empire.

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

 

Facts about the Qin Dynasty

 

  • The ancestors of Qin were believed 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 the Shang Yang’s reform, commoners of Qin could get noble titles because of their military achievement, which was mainly based on how many heads of the enemies that 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 is the first emperor in the history of China; he never nominated a queen nor a crown prince.

  • Qin Dynasty is 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 the Qin Dynasty — National Museum of China

  • The commerce industry was suppressed by administrative policies in Qin Dynasty, therefore, most merchants came back to be peasants.

  • Qin Dynasty respected and applied Legalism.  

Unearthed Bamboo Slips Recording the Laws of the Qin Dynasty

Unearthed Bamboo Slips Recording the Laws of the Qin Dynasty — Hubei Museum 

  • Many big projects were built in this era, such as the Great Wall, the national road, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, and the Terracotta Army

 

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

Unearthed Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty

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

 

Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Qin Dynasty

Defeating of other Six Kingdoms and Establishing the Qin Dynasty

Qin Shi Huang, one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, established the first unified feudal imperial regime, the Qin Dynasty after the remarkable general Wang Jian and his son had perished the other six kingdoms of 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 whole country. 

Qin Shi Huang also commanded to build 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

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

Cruel Fights Over the Throne and Large Scale Rebellions of Qin

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

The next year, because of heavy taxes, levies, severe laws, and the next emperor's incapability, a big peasant rebellion happened, and then 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 the Qin Dynasty — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum

The End of the Qin Dynasty

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 ascended to the throne for less than two months, then surrendered to King Liu Bang when his army was approaching and was assassinated by King Xiangyu about a month later. 

This was the official ending of the Qin Dynasty. 

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

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

 

Political Structure and Social Systems of the Qin Dynasty

 

Population:

 

Around 25 million to 30 million 

 

Political System: Three Councillors and Nine Ministers System 

 

  • The emperor has the most paramount power; officers who were in charge of the military, administration, and supervision (Three Councillors) directly answer to the emperor. 

 

  • The other nine departments (Nine Ministers) that managed finance, judiciary, ceremony, security, etc, were independent of each other and only listen to the emperor. 

 

  • Independent vassal states were replaced by 48 counties that were in 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:

 

Emperor assignment, recommendation, and regular assessment. 

 

Tax:

 

Certain amounts of farmland products; capitation tax; military or labor services.

Currency of the Qin Dynasty the "Qin Ban Liang"

Currency of the Qin Dynasty (Qin Ban Liang) —Shanghai Museum

Military Service:

Everyone in the kingdom had the obligation to fight in their army and protect their family. 

 

More rewards were given to soldiers with military achievements, such as noble titles, money, exemption from duty, etc.

 

Land System:

 

Private Ownership of Land, in which civilians can own, cultivate, and sell their farmland while paying taxes to their country. 

Unearthed Eaves Tile of the Qin Dynasty

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

 

Scientific Achievements and Artifacts of the Qin Dynasty

 

  • Construction of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System (by Li Ping): As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dujiangyan is one of the greatest, most scientific irrigation systems in Chinese history, which is still in use today.

 

It changed Chengdu from a place that frequently suffered from huge 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

Unearthed Multiplication Table on Bamboo Slips of the Qin Dynasty — National Museum of China

Unearthed Inlayed Silver Carriage Piece of the Qin Dynasty​

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