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The Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) reunited China and laid the foundation for 21 centuries of imperial rule. Its great building projects and achievements were overshadowed by enormous cultural destruction and loss of life.
In 361 BC, a legalist called Shang Yang, who was born in Wei State, went to Qin State and his legalism reform proposal was adopted by King Xiao of Qin.
He made big political changes that took hold. He espoused and ruled according to a defined set of strict rules and a clear political philosophy.
By 338 BC, although Shang Yang was eventually killed, his reform had made Qin the most powerful and ruthless state, both in military and economic terms.
In 256 BC, King Zhao ordered the construction of a water conservation and flood control project, which was known as Dujiangyan irrigation system in the Chengdu Plain. This irrigation system transformed Sichuan into the most abundant grain producing region in China.
In 246 BC, Ying Zheng took the throne after his father King Zhuangxiang of Qin died.
That year, Ying Zheng ordered a water engineer named Zheng Guo to build a canal from the Jing River. About 227,000 sq km (10,000 sq mi) of salty land were irrigated with the Zhengguo Canal, north of Xi'an. The fertile land not only fed the peasants but also Qin's army, thus Qin State became rich and strong.
So, in 10 years, Ying Zheng had been able to unify China after centuries of division.
In 221 BC, Ying Zheng eventually established the new dynasty — the Qin Dynasty. He claimed the title of Shi Huangdi for himself, historically known as Qin Shihuang, which literally means the 'first emperor of the Qin Dynasty'.
The First Emperor set up a new system of prefectures, which was the first two-tier administrative system in ancient China. He also ordered that everyone had to serve for a year in the army. The writing system, money, and measurements were standardized.
In 213 BC, under Li Si's proposal, the First Emperor ordered the burning of all historians' records except the Qin government's official philosophy. Much of the culture, literature, and scholarly works of the Zhou era were destroyed.
In the First Emperor's later years, he was addicted to the idea of attaining immortality. He gathered hundreds of alchemists to make an elixir for him.
In 212 BC, two alchemists who were acquainted with Confucian scholars grumbled that the First Emperor was tyrannical and autarchic. The First Emperor was angered by their betrayal and commanded the censors to investigate the scholars. As a result, more than 460 scholars were buried alive.
Fu Su, the eldest and the most talented son of the First Emperor, tried to dissuade him from doing so. But it didn't work and annoyed his father. Fu Su was finally sent to the frontier to build the Great Wall.
In 210 BC, the First Emperor died on a return trip from trying to find the elixir across the eastern seas.
His youngest son, Hu Hai, tampered with his will and sent a false decree commanding Fu Su and Meng Tian to commit suicide. Then Hu Hai took the throne. He was known as Qin Ershi, the Second Emperor of Qin.
Hu Hai carried out a more crucial rule. Tens of thousands of prisoners and slaves were forced to join in with the construction of the mausoleum and palace. The heavy burden of tax and cruel decree eventually led to nationwide rebellions.
In 209 BC, the Dazexiang (now in Anhui Province) Uprising broke out. Two army officers, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, had to delay their march due to flooding from a severe rainstorm. According to the Qin law, they would be condemned to death. With this concern, they finally decided to rebel against the government.
Among the revolts, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu led the two most powerful troops.
In 207 BC, the chief eunuch Zhao Gao forced the emperor to commit suicide and intended to take the throne. With the officials' protest, Ziyin, the oldest son of Fu Su, finally took the throne and Zhao Gao was killed.
That year, Liu Bang and his army approached the capital Xianyang and King Ziyin decided to surrender to Liu Bang. The Qin Empire was finished.
In 206 BC, the Qin capital city, Xianyang, was destroyed after Liu Bang occupied it.
This was the end of the Qin empire. Liu Bang was the founder of another new empire — the longest in imperial China's history, called the Han Dynasty.
Visit Qin sites and learn more about this dynasty from 2,200 years ago firsthand. The best place to visitis the Terracotta Warriors and other sites in Xi'an.
Most of the Qin empire's sites are inXi'an — tour ancient sites and Qin projects with our Xi'an tours.