Qin Shi Huang in World History

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Under the rule of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, China underwent vast changes to the empire, some of which are still present in China today. Qin unified China and helped turn it into the world power that it remains to be to this day.

During the Warring States period, the many states of China fought each other for control. The Qin state was victorious and gained control of China and created a centralized rule over the other states. The victory was surprising because the Qin state was one of the smaller and less wealthy states under the Zhou dynasty.

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The first emperor was born in the Qin state under the rule of the Zhou dynasty. Overtime, the Qin state grew powerful enough to take control. Under Qin Shi Huang, most of modern day central and northern China was unified in approximately 221 BCE after Qin was able to defeat the rival states (Saft, 2008, pg. 23). Qin’s autocratic system of rule was followed because it proved to be successful. He was able to accomplish so much because of his ability to mobilize the Chinese on such an epic scale. It became the Chinese way to value social harmony and secrecy over individual freedom. The Qin dynasty used any means to keep the empire together and eliminate any threats, however small. Qin was able to use societies ‘fear of turmoil’, to establish a single empire where he ruled solely with the power of his hands (Harding, 2020).

Qin made several lasting contributions to world history. His most obvious lasting contribution to world history would be the name of China itself, which is derived from the word Qin, which is pronounced as ‘chin’. By contributing to the name of the country itself, it can be said that Qin did in fact create China.

While emperor, Qin created a standardized system of currency, measures, and weights to make it easier to trade among the empire. He developed the Ban Liang currency that was used throughout China. This was different from past currencies which were used only in specific parts of China. The Ban Liang currency was bronze. The circular coins had square holes representing Earth in the middle of the coin, with the coin itself representing Heaven. This standard means of payment has continued to be used in China through the centuries (Harding, 2020).

Another of Qin’s contributions to China’s development was the building of multiple highways, roads and irrigation systems throughout China. The multiple highways were crucial for keeping control of the large empire, the highways made it easier and faster to travel around the many provinces and keep tabs on the local government officials. Many of the major highways built under Qin that spread throughout the territory laid the foundation for the highways used in China today. The highways that Qin was responsible for later became a part of the Silk Road, one of if not the most famous trade routes in history. The Silk Road made the trading of goods and exchanging of cultures very easy and played a big part in the development of other empires in Asian and Europe later on.

One of Qin’s most lasting contributions is building the foundation for what we now know to be the Great Wall of China. Fearing invasions and wanting to protect the large empire, Qin forced seven hundred thousand laborers to build a wall along the northern part of the empire’s territory. The work was grueling and dangerous and many died during its construction. The wall was not only a way to protect from invaders, but also a way for Qin to show his wealth and power to both the people under his rule as well as competitors and enemies. The impressive construction of this wall spanned over 1500 miles and even today remains to be one of China’s most iconic landmarks.

Qin was a very strict emperor who instituted a legalist system of government during his 12-year reign. Any literature not provided by the government was burned as a way to keep Confucianism and any other type of culture out of China. Qin used any means necessary to keep the empire together and remain in power, from burning books to killing those who spoke out against him/undermined him. Scholars, and their families, that were seen as questioning the empire were put to death (Harding, 2020). Qin ruled using the philosophy of legalism, which was the strictest way of ruling that developed in the Warring States period (Von Sivers, et al., 2018, pg. 247). Under legalism, the most important thing is to build a strong state, by any means necessary. Legalists valued agriculture and the military, and only allowed teachings of history and literature that were approved by the government. Most people were very critical of this way of ruling, because it was very strict compared to Daoism and Confucianism. Modern China has remained to be extremely strict and with a large emphasis on the power of the government over its people. Today in China, bookstores have no books written about the country’s leaders. China still values social harmony over individual freedom, very similar to how Qin ruled over China centuries ago (Harding, 2020) The emperor was not an elected position. Modern China, led by the Communist Party, does not hold elections or campaigns. It tightly monitors media and abolishes dissent and controls its people with a strong use of military force.

Most notable of Qin’s legacy is his tomb on Mount Li, which was discovered in China in 1974. In Qin’s tomb were thousands of life-sized terracotta clay warriors. This was puzzling to historians because sculpture was not a popular art in China at the time of Qin’s rule (Nickel, 2013, pgs. 414-416). Qin’s tomb is also the only one from that time period to have the terracotta warriors, and it is believed that Qin wanted the warriors buried with him to protect and guard him in the afterlife. Although not uncommon for emperors in China to be buried with live human sacrifices, Qin however chose to be buried with the clay soldiers because they would last forever (and therefore protect him forever), unlike a human sacrifice who would rot as a corpse eventually (Man, 1941, pgs. 127-156). Qin's ability to mobilize the Chinese on such an epic scale resulted in an amazing feat of the terracotta army figures, complete with weapons and horses spreading over 50 square kilometers. Qin's mausoleum was surrounded by rivers of mercury as well as booby traps (Harding, 2020).

Following the death of Qin, after a 12-year rule as emperor, the empire erupted into a large and violent rebellion against the government. The people revolted against the strict laws and punishments that Qin upheld, and the government was not powerful enough to put the rebellion down. Soon after Qin’s death, the empire fell into the hands of the Han dynasty, ending the Qin dynasty. Some could argue that because of the rebellion, Qin was unsuccessful in creating China, but all his accomplishments lasted even with and after other dynasties that took control.

Qin Shi Huang unified the states of modern-day China to create an empire that to this day remains to be one of the major world powers. Had China not unified as early as it did, there’s no way of knowing if it would be as large and powerful as it is today. Qin was a strict ruler with a tight grip on the people under his rule, his fear of losing power is the reason behind the many innovations he is responsible for. The highways that he created to travel easier among his empire later on became the trading route that spread different cultures around the hemisphere. The wall that he was building to protect from invaders became the foundation for one of China’s most well-known landmarks. And the terracotta soldiers found in his tomb were something never seen before and to this day are a recognizable part of Chinese culture. Had Qin not become the ‘first emperor’ and taken control of the empire, China would not be the country it is today.

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