Home Chinese Culture China History The First Emperor

Qin Shi Huang — First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty

Qin ShihuangThe First Emperor, Qin Shihuang.

'First Emperor of Qin', Qin Shihuang (259–210 BC),reunified China by conquering the other Warring States in 10 years. He then ruled the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) till his death with devastating purpose, completing the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army.

His rule brought huge accomplishments and staggering wealth and power to his court, along with massive destruction, killing millions and burning much literature. He molded the people into conformity to build massively and conquer more territory. But the people hated him.

  • Chinese: 秦始皇 Qín Shǐhuáng /chin shrr-hwung/ 'Qin [family name] First Emperor'

The First Emperor's Background

The First Emperor was born the son of a king of the Qin kingdom that already had plans for the conquest of every other kingdom in the Warring States Period.

His predecessors had been preparing for regional conquest for years by mobilizing the masses to build massive construction projects, conscripting the people for the army, and producing the most advanced weaponry that they could.

The State of Qin rulers believed in a political philosophy called Legalism that justified strict centralized control and using the people to strengthen Qin, so they focused on huge construction projects and conquest.

The First Emperor's Childhood (259–246 BC)

the Terracotta WarriorsThe Terracotta Warriors were made to guard the First Emperor's tomb. Construction began when he was 13.

The First Emperor was born in 259 BC. His name when he was a child was Ying Zheng. When he was 13 in the year 246, his father died. He was too young to rule himself, so officials and his mother and others ruled in his place.

His family and the royal court engaged in many plots and had secret sexual affairs and children. There was a plot to replace him with another child, but the plot was uncovered, and people were tortured and killed. Ying Zheng then took power as King Zheng.

King Zheng of Qin (246–221 BC)

King Zheng officially started to rule in 246 BC when he was 13. During a short period of time, his ruling court mobilized Qin for conquests and then started invading the other states from 230 to 221 BC.

The First Emperor's Imperial Reign (221–210 BC)

In this way, the Qin court gained control and founded the Qin Dynasty. King Zheng titled himself Qin Shi Huangdi that means "First Emperor of the Qin." To strengthen their empire, centralization of power and standardization of the different peoples they conquered was their priority.

Conscription and Construction

One of the first decrees of the Qin Empire was that all weapons had to be surrendered to them. They ordered that every man had to serve for a year in the army.

The Qin Empire is known for using their great wealth and power to build on an unprecedented scale. They built many roads and some canals for transporting troops and supplies. They also built a huge necropolis for Qin Shihuang, including the Terracotta Army, and many other big projects including the Ling Canal in Guilin.

The Great Wall

the great wallSome of the modern Great Wall was built along the foundations of the Qin Great Wall.

The First Emperor of Qin ordered the destruction of defensive walls of the former states, but he ordered the construction of a Great Wall across the north to fend off northern tribes like the Xiongnu.

In 214, the First Emperor secured his northern frontier. He appointed Meng Tian to lead an army of about 100,000 to drive away the nomadic Xiongnu and construct the Great Wall and forts along the border. He used hundreds of thousands of laborers.

Standardization and Servitude

Weights, measurements, and coinage were standardized. Under Li Si, the emperor's head official, the writing system was standardized by ordering everyone to write in the Qin script. The rulers wanted everyone to be able to understand their orders and for the officials to be able to communicate with each other.

Officials were chosen based on their ability to serve the First Emperor and obey him. To promote obedience, punishment was severe. Even the First Emperor's own son, who warned him not to kill scholars, was demoted and sent to the north to build the Great Wall — notorious as a place where people were likely to die.

The First Emperor's Death (210 BC)

qinshihuanglingIt is thought that the tomb of the First Emperor is under this artificial hill.

There were assassination attempts on the First Emperor's life. By killing many scholars and officials and imposing his harsh rule, many people hated him. He wanted to live forever, and he may have died from poisonous substances offered by Daoists to try to gain immortality.

When Qin died in 210 BC, construction ended on the Qin necropolis, and the First Emperor was interred within.

The First Emperor's Legacy

Unification and Infrastructure

The Qin court succeeded in unifying the empire and retaining control for 15 years. They standardized the writing system, money, and measurements and built a lot of infrastructure. Their construction projects helped the big region prosper later.

Death and Destruction

Through the First Emperor's wars of conquest, harsh rule, and huge construction projects, which took the lives of millions, the region's population fell by over 50% from about 40 million to about 18 million. Qin Shihuang had much literature that didn't suit his rule destroyed, and many dissenters and scholars executed.

Visiting The First Emperor's Mausoleum

Tour the Terracotta Army with China HighlightsThe Terracotta Army statues are a part of The First Emperor's legacy.

The mausoleum project built by The First Emperor and his court is thought to cover more than about 56 square kilometers. But the world-famous Terracotta Warrior's Museum covers just one part of the mausoleum complex.

A knowledgeable guide can help facilitate your visit, help you avoid the crowds, and share historical information.

Here are our most popular tours that include the Terracotta Army:

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