The Qin dynasty or Ch'in dynasty was the first dynasty of Imperial China, lasting from 221 to 206 BC. Named for its heartland in Qin state (modern Gansu and Shaanxi), the dynasty was founded by Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of Qin. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the Legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the fourth century BC, during the Warring States period. In the mid and late third century BC, the Qin state carried out a series of swift conquests, first ending the powerless Zhou dynasty and eventually conquering the other six of the Seven Warring States. Its 15 years was the shortest major dynasty in Chinese history, consisting of only two emperors, but inaugurated an imperial system that lasted from 221 BC, with interruption and adaptation, until 1912 AD.
Table of Contents / Timeline
In the 9th century BC, Feizi, a supposed descendant of the ancient political advisor Gao Yao, was granted rule over Qin City. The modern city of Tianshui stands where this city once was. During the rule of King Xiao of Zhou, the eighth king of the Zhou dynasty, this area became known as the state of Qin. In 897 BC, under the Gonghe Regency, the area became a dependency allotted for the purpose of raising and breeding horses. One of Feizi's descendants, Duke Zhuang, became favoured by King Ping of Zhou, the 13th king in that line. As a reward, Zhuang's son, Duke Xiang, was sent eastward as the leader of a war expedition, during which he formally established the Qin. The state of Qin first began a military expedition into central China in 672 BC, though it did not engage in any serious incursions due to the threat from neighbouring tribesmen. By the dawn of the fourth century BC, however, the neighbouring tribes had all been either subdued or conquered, and the stage was set for the rise of Qin expansionism.
Zhao Zheng of Qin was bornXian, China
Zhao Zheng becomes King of QinXian, China
Qin controls a major part of ChinaGuanzhong, China
Qin's campaign against the Yue tribesSouthern China
As trade was an important source of wealth for the Yue tribes of coastal China, the region south of the Yangtze River attracted the attention of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and he undertook a series of military campaigns to conquer it. Lured by its temperate climate, fertile fields, maritime trade routes, relative security from warring factions to the west and northwest, and access to luxury tropical products from Southeast Asia, the emperor sent armies to conquer the Yue kingdoms in 221 BC. Military expeditions against the region were dispatched between 221 and 214 BC. It would take five successive military excursions before the Qin finally defeated the Yue in 214 BC.
First Emperor of ChinaXian, China
Construction of the Great Wall of ChinaGreat Wall of China
Emperor Shi Huangdi developed plans to fortify his northern border, to protect against nomadic invasions. The result was the initial construction of what later became the Great Wall of China, which was built by joining and strengthening the walls made by the feudal lords, which would be expanded and rebuilt multiple times by later dynasties, also in response to threats from the north.
Qin's campaign against the XiongnuOrdos, Inner Mongolia, China
In 215 BC, Qin Shi Huangdi ordered General Meng Tian to set out against the Xiongnu tribes in the Ordos region, and establish a frontier region at the loop of the Yellow River. Believing that the Xiongnu were a possible threat, the emperor launched a preemptive strike against the Xiongnu with the intention to expand his empire.
Construction begins on the Lingqu CanalLingqu Canal, China
Southern ExpansionGuangzhou, Fuzhou, Guilin, Han
In 214 BC, Shi Huangdi secured his boundaries to the north with a fraction (100,000 men) of his large army, and sent the majority (500,000 men) of his army south to conquer the territory of the southern tribes. Prior to the events leading to Qin dominance over China, they had gained possession of much of Sichuan to the southwest. The Qin army was unfamiliar with the jungle terrain, and it was defeated by the southern tribes' guerrilla warfare tactics with over 100,000 men lost. However, in the defeat Qin was successful in building a canal to the south, which they used heavily for supplying and reinforcing their troops during their second attack to the south. Building on these gains, the Qin armies conquered the coastal lands surrounding Guangzhou, and took the provinces of Fuzhou and Guilin. They struck as far south as Hanoi. After these victories in the south, Qin Shi Huang moved over 100,000 prisoners and exiles to colonize the newly conquered area. In terms of extending the boundaries of his empire, the First Emperor was extremely successful in the south.
Obsession with deathChina
Following several assassination attempts, Shi Huangdi becomes increasingly obsessed with death and the concept of eternal life. Evidence suggests he may have begun searching for an elixir of immortality.
Book burnings and ExecutionsChina
As part of his Legalist political beliefs, Shi Huangdi requires that all books that do not support Legalism be destroyed. He orders these books to be burned, and only texts on farming, medicine, and predictions are saved. On the advice of his chief advisor Li Siu, Shi Huangdi orders 420 scholars to be executed by live burial, since many scholars opposed his book burnings. In 2010, Li Kaiyuan, a researcher in the field of history of Qin Dynasty and Han Dynasty, published an article titled The Truth or Fiction of the Burning the Books and Executing the Ru Scholars: A Half-Faked History, which raised four doubts about "executing the ru scholars" and argued that Sima Qian had misused historical materials. Li believes that the burning the books and executing the ru scholars is a pseudo-history that is cleverly synthesized with real "burning the books" and false "executing the ru scholars".
Xu Fu returnsXian, China
Qin Er Shi ascends the throneXian, China
Death of Shi HuangdiEast China
He died in 210 BC, while on a trip to the far eastern reaches of his empire in an attempt to procure an elixir of immortality from Taoist magicians, who claimed the elixir was stuck on an island guarded by a sea monster. The chief eunuch, Zhao Gao, and the prime minister, Li Si, hid the news of his death upon their return until they were able to alter his will to place on the throne the dead emperor's most pliable son, Huhai, who took the name of Qin Er Shi
Terracota Warriorsoutskirts of Xian, China
Qin Er Shi forced to commit suicideXian, China
Following Shi Huangdi's death, the Qin government can no longer keep China unified. Rebel forces, each claiming the Mandate of Heaven, form across the country. Qin authority is finally overthrown in the capital of Xianyang in 206 BCE, and a series of battles for supreme authority commences.
The Qin sought to create a state unified by structured centralized political power and a large military supported by a stable economy. The central government moved to undercut aristocrats and landowners to gain direct administrative control over the peasantry, who comprised the overwhelming majority of the population and labour force. This allowed ambitious projects involving three hundred thousand peasants and convicts, such as connecting walls along the northern border, eventually developing into the Great Wall of China, and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army.
The Qin introduced a range of reforms such as standardized currency, weights, measures and a uniform system of writing, which aimed to unify the state and promote commerce. Additionally, its military used the most recent weaponry, transportation and tactics, though the government was heavy-handedly bureaucratic.
- Lewis, Mark Edward (2007). The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. London: Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02477-9.
- Beck, B, Black L, Krager, S; et al. (2003). Ancient World History-Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: Mc Dougal Little. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-618-18393-7.
- Bodde, Derk (1986). "The State and Empire of Ch'in". In Twitchett, Dennis; Loewe, Michael (eds.). The Cambridge History of China, Volume 1: The Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 BC–AD 220. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8.
- Taagepera, Rein (1979). "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D". Social Science History. 3 (3/4): 121. doi:10.2307/1170959. JSTOR 1170959
- Tanner, Harold (2010). China: A History. Hackett. ISBN 978-1-60384-203-7
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