Qin dynasty

The Qin dynasty (Chinese: 秦朝; pinyin: Qíncháo; Wade–Giles: Chʻin²-chʻao²) was the first dynasty of Imperial China,[2] 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 CE.

The Qin sought to create a state unified by structured centralized political power and a large military supported by a stable economy.[3] 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.[4]

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. Han Confucians portrayed the legalistic Qin dynasty as a monolithic tyranny, notably citing a purge known as the burning of books and burying of scholars although some modern scholars dispute the veracity of these accounts.

When the first emperor died in 210 BC, two of his advisers placed an heir on the throne in an attempt to influence and control the administration of the dynasty. These advisors squabbled among themselves, resulting in both of their deaths and that of the second Qin Emperor. Popular revolt broke out and the weakened empire soon fell to a Chu general, Xiang Yu, who was proclaimed Hegemon-King of Western Chu, and Liu Bang, who later founded the Han dynasty. Despite its short reign, the dynasty greatly influenced the future of China, particularly the Han, and its name is thought to be the origin of the European name for China.


221 BC–206 BC
Commanderies of the Qin dynasty
Commanderies of the Qin dynasty
Common languagesOld Chinese
Chinese folk religion
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
• 221–210 BC
Qin Shi Huang
• 210–207 BC
Qin Er Shi
• 221–208 BC
Li Si
• 208–207 BC
Zhao Gao
Historical eraImperial
221 BC
• Death of Qin Shi Huang
210 BC
• Surrender to Liu Bang
206 BC
220 BC[1]2,300,000 km2 (890,000 sq mi)
• 210 BC
CurrencyBan Liang
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Zhou dynasty
Qin (state)
Eighteen Kingdoms
Han dynasty
Today part ofChina
North Korea
Qin dynasty
Qin dynasty (Chinese characters)
"Qin dynasty" in Qin-era seal script (top) and modern (bottom) Chinese characters
Hanyu PinyinQíncháo


Origins and early development

States of Zhou Dynasty
Map showing major states of Eastern Zhou

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.[5] One of Feizi's descendants, Duke Zhuang, became favoured by King Ping of Zhou, the thirteenth 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.[6]

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.[7]

Growth of power

Map of the Warring States. Qin is shown in pink
Map of the Growth of Qin

Lord Shang Yang, a Qin statesman of the Warring States period, advocated a philosophy of Legalism, introducing a number of militarily advantageous reforms from 361 BC until his death in 338 BC. Yang also helped construct the Qin capital, commencing in the mid-fourth century BC Xianyang. The resulting city greatly resembled the capitals of other Warring States.[8]

Notably, Qin Legalism encouraged practical and ruthless warfare.[9] During the Spring and Autumn period,[10] the prevalent philosophy had dictated war as a gentleman's activity; military commanders were instructed to respect what they perceived to be Heaven's laws in battle.[11] For example, when Duke Xiang of Song[note 1] was at war with the state of Chu during the Warring States period, he declined an opportunity to attack the enemy force, commanded by Zhu, while they were crossing a river. After allowing them to cross and marshal their forces, he was decisively defeated in the ensuing battle. When his advisors later admonished him for such excessive courtesy to the enemy, he retorted, "The sage does not crush the feeble, nor give the order for attack until the enemy have formed their ranks."[12]

The Qin disregarded this military tradition, taking advantage of their enemy's weaknesses. A nobleman in the state of Wei accused the Qin state of being "avaricious, perverse, eager for profit, and without sincerity. It knows nothing about etiquette, proper relationships, and virtuous conduct, and if there be an opportunity for material gain, it will disregard its relatives as if they were animals."[13] It was this Legalist thought combined with strong leadership from long-lived rulers, openness to employ talented men from other states, and little internal opposition that gave the Qin such a strong political base.[14]

Another advantage of the Qin was that they had a large, efficient army[note 2] and capable generals. They utilised the newest developments in weaponry and transportation as well, which many of their enemies lacked. These latter developments allowed greater mobility over several different terrain types which were most common in many regions of China. Thus, in both ideology and practice, the Qin were militarily superior.[9]

Finally, the Qin Empire had a geographical advantage due to its fertility and strategic position, protected by mountains that made the state a natural stronghold.[note 3] Its expanded agricultural output helped sustain Qin's large army with food and natural resources;[14] the Wei River canal built in 246 BC was particularly significant in this respect.[15]

Conquest of the Warring States

Qin Unification
Map showing the unification of Qin during 230–211 BC

During the Warring States period preceding the Qin dynasty, the major states vying for dominance were Yan, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Han, Wei and Qin. The rulers of these states styled themselves as kings, rather than using the titles of lower nobility they had previously held. However, none elevated himself to believe that he had the "Mandate of Heaven", as the Zhou kings had claimed, nor that he had the right to offer sacrifices—they left this to the Zhou rulers.[16]

Before their conquest in the fourth and third centuries BC, the Qin suffered several setbacks. Shang Yang was executed in 338 BC by King Huiwen due to a personal grudge harboured from his youth. There was also internal strife over the Qin succession in 307 BC, which decentralised Qin authority somewhat. Qin was defeated by an alliance of the other states in 295 BC, and shortly after suffered another defeat by the state of Zhao, because the majority of their army was then defending against the Qi. The aggressive statesman Fan Sui (范雎), however, soon came to power as prime minister even as the problem of the succession was resolved, and he began an expansionist policy that had originated in Jin and Qi, which prompted the Qin to attempt to conquer the other states.[17]

The Qin were swift in their assault on the other states. They first attacked the Han, directly east, and took their capital city of Xinzheng in 230 BC. They then struck northward; the state of Zhao surrendered in 228 BC, and the northernmost state of Yan followed, falling in 226 BC. Next, Qin armies launched assaults to the east, and later the south as well; they took the Wei city of Daliang (now called Kaifeng) in 225 BC and forced the Chu to surrender by 223 BC. Lastly, they deposed the Zhou dynasty's remnants in Luoyang and conquered the Qi, taking the city of Linzi in 221 BC.[18]

When the conquests were complete in 221 BC, King Zheng – who had first assumed the throne of the Qin state at age 9[19] – became the effective ruler of China.[20] The subjugation of the six states was done by King Zheng who had used efficient persuasion and exemplary stratagem. He solidified his position as sole ruler with the abdication of his prime minister, Lü Buwei. The states made by the emperor were assigned to officials dedicated to the task rather than place the burden on people from the royal family.[20] He then combined the titles of the earlier Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors into his new name: Shi Huangdi (皇帝) or "First Emperor".[21][note 4] The newly declared emperor ordered all weapons not in the possession of the Qin to be confiscated and melted down. The resulting metal was sufficient to build twelve large ornamental statues at the Qin's newly declared capital, Xianyang.[22]

Southward expansion

In 214 BC, Qin Shi Huang 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,[note 5] 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.[22]

Campaigns against the Xiongnu

However, while the empire at times was extended to the north, the Qin could rarely hold on to the land for long. The tribes of these locations, collectively called the Hu by the Qin, were free from Chinese rule during the majority of the dynasty.[23] Prohibited from trading with Qin dynasty peasants, the Xiongnu tribe living in the Ordos region in northwest China often raided them instead, prompting the Qin to retaliate. After a military campaign led by General Meng Tian, the region was conquered in 215 BC and agriculture was established; the peasants, however, were discontented and later revolted. The succeeding Han dynasty also expanded into the Ordos due to overpopulation, but depleted their resources in the process. Indeed, this was true of the dynasty's borders in multiple directions; modern Xinjiang, Tibet, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, and regions to the southeast were foreign to the Qin, and even areas over which they had military control were culturally distinct.[24]

Fall from power

Assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang
A stone rubbing of a carved relief from the Han dynasty depicting Jin Ke's assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang; Jing Ke (left) is held by one of Qin Shi Huang's physicians (left, background). The dagger used in the assassination attempt is seen stuck in the pillar. Qin Shi Huang (right) is seen holding an imperial jade disc. One of his soldiers (far right) rushes to save his emperor.

Three assassination attempts were made on Qin Shi Huang's life,[25] leading him to become paranoid and obsessed with immortality. 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.[19] They believed that they would be able to manipulate him to their own ends, and thus effectively control the empire. Qin Er Shi was, indeed, inept and pliable. He executed many ministers and imperial princes, continued massive building projects (one of his most extravagant projects was lacquering the city walls), enlarged the army, increased taxes, and arrested messengers who brought him bad news. As a result, men from all over China revolted, attacking officials, raising armies, and declaring themselves kings of seized territories.[26]

During this time, Li Si and Zhao Gao fell out, and Li Si was executed. Zhao Gao decided to force Qin Er Shi to commit suicide due to Qin Er Shi's incompetence. Upon this, Ziying, a nephew of Qin Er Shi, ascended the throne, and immediately executed Zhao Gao.[26] Ziying, seeing that increasing unrest was growing among the people[note 6] and that many local officials had declared themselves kings, attempted to cling to his throne by declaring himself one king among all the others.[15] He was undermined by his ineptitude, however, and popular revolt broke out in 209 BC. When Chu rebels under the lieutenant Liu Bang attacked, a state in such turmoil could not hold for long. Ziying was defeated near the Wei River in 207 BC and surrendered shortly after; he was executed by the Chu leader Xiang Yu. The Qin capital was destroyed the next year, and this is considered by historians to be the end of the Qin Empire.[27][note 7] Liu Bang then betrayed and defeated Xiang Yu, declaring himself Emperor Gaozu[note 8] of the new Han dynasty on 28 February 202 BC.[28] Despite the short duration of the Qin dynasty, it was very influential on the structure of future dynasties.

Culture and society

Domestic life

The aristocracy of the Qin were largely similar in their culture and daily life. Regional variations in culture were considered a symbol of the lower classes. This stemmed from the Zhou and was seized upon by the Qin, as such variations were seen as contrary to the unification that the government strove to achieve.[29]

Commoners and rural villagers, who made up over 90% of the population,[30] very rarely left the villages or farmsteads where they were born. Common forms of employment differed by region, though farming was almost universally common. Professions were hereditary; a father's employment was passed to his eldest son after he died.[31] The Lüshi Chunqiu[note 9] gave examples of how, when commoners are obsessed with material wealth, instead of the idealism of a man who "makes things serve him", they were "reduced to the service of things".[32]

Peasants were rarely figured in literature during the Qin dynasty and afterwards; scholars and others of more elite status preferred the excitement of cities and the lure of politics. One notable exception to this was Shen Nong, the so-called "Divine Father", who taught that households should grow their own food. "If in one's prime he does not plow, someone in the world will grow hungry. If in one's prime she does not weave, someone in the world will be cold." The Qin encouraged this; a ritual was performed once every few years that consisted of important government officials taking turns with the plow on a special field, to create a simulation of government interest and activity within agriculture.[31]


南桥 02
Dujiangyan, an irrigation project completed in 256 BC during the Warring States period of China by the State of Qin. It is located on the Min River in Sichuan, near the provincial capital of Chengdu. Although a reinforced concrete weir has replaced Li Bing's original weighted bamboo baskets, the layout of the infrastructure remains the same and is still in use today to irrigate over 5,300 square kilometers of land in the region.

Warring States-era architecture had several definitive aspects. City walls, used for defense, were made longer, and indeed several secondary walls were also sometimes built to separate the different districts. Versatility in federal structures was emphasized, to create a sense of authority and absolute power. Architectural elements such as high towers, pillar gates, terraces, and high buildings amply conveyed this.[33]

Philosophy and literature

CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - stone slab with twelve small seal characters
Stone slab with twelve small seal characters. Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC). The 12 characters on this slab of floor brick affirm that it is an auspicious moment for the First Emperor to ascend the throne, as the country is united and no men will be dying along the road. Small seal scripts were standardized by the First Emperor of China after he gained control of the country, and evolved from the larger seal scripts of previous dynasties. The text on it is "海内皆臣,歲登成熟,道毋飢人".

The written language of the Qin was logographic, as that of the Zhou had been.[34] As one of his most influential achievements in life, prime minister Li Si standardized the writing system to be of uniform size and shape across the whole country. This would have a unifying effect on the Chinese culture for thousands of years. He is also credited with creating the "lesser-seal" (Chinese: 小篆,; pinyin: xiǎozhuàn) style of calligraphy, which serves as a basis for modern Chinese and is still used in cards, posters, and advertising.[35]

During the Warring States period, the Hundred Schools of Thought comprised many different philosophies proposed by Chinese scholars. In 221 BC, however, the First Emperor conquered all of the states and governed with a single philosophy, Legalism. At least one school of thought, Mohism, was eradicated, though the reason is not known. Despite the Qin's state ideology and Mohism being similar in certain regards, it is possible that Mohists were sought and killed by the state's armies due to paramilitary activities.[36]

Confucius's school of thought, called Confucianism, was also influential during the Warring States period, as well as throughout much of the later Zhou dynasty and early imperial periods.[note 10] This school of thought had a so-called Confucian canon of literature, known as the "six classics": the Odes, Documents, Ritual, Music, Spring and Autumn Annals, and Changes, which embodied Chinese literature at the time.[37]

During the Qin dynasty, Confucianism—along with all other non-Legalist philosophies, such as Daoism—were suppressed by the First Emperor; early Han dynasty emperors did the same. Legalism denounced the feudal system and encouraged severe punishments, particularly when the emperor was disobeyed. Individuals' rights were devalued when they conflicted with the government's or the ruler's wishes, and merchants and scholars were considered unproductive, fit for elimination.[38]

One of the more drastic allegations, however the infamous burning of books and burying of scholars incident, does not appear to be true, as it was not mentioned until many years later.[39] The Han dynasty historian, Sima Qian wrote that First Emperor, in an attempt to consolidate power, in 213 BC ordered the burning of all books advocating viewpoints that challenged Legalism or the state, and also stipulated that all scholars who refused to submit their books to be burned would be executed by premature burial.[22] Only texts considered productive were to be preserved, mostly those that discussed pragmatic subjects, such as agriculture, divination, and medicine.[40] However, Sinologists now argue that the "burying of scholars" is not literally true, as the term probably meant simply "put to death".[41]

Government and military

The Qin government was highly bureaucratic, and was administered by a hierarchy of officials, all serving the First Emperor. The Qin put into practice the teachings of Han Feizi, allowing the First Emperor to control all of his territories, including those recently conquered. All aspects of life were standardized, from measurements and language to more practical details, such as the length of chariot axles.[21]

2015-09-22-091227 - Museum der Grabanlage des Qin Shi Huangdi
Terracotta Army, museum of the grave of Qin Shi Huang.
01 terracottawarriorsgroup
Qin warriors of the Terracotta Army.

The states made by the emperor were assigned to officials dedicated to the task rather than place the burden on people from the royal family. Zheng and his advisers also introduced new laws and practices that ended feudalism in China, replacing it with a centralized, bureaucratic government. The form of government created by the first emperor and his advisors was used by later dynasties to structure their own government.[20] Under this system, both the military and government thrived, as talented individuals could be more easily identified in the transformed society. Later Chinese dynasties emulated the Qin government for its efficiency, despite its being condemned by Confucian philosophy.[21][42] There were incidences of abuse, however, with one example having been recorded in the "Records of Officialdom". A commander named Hu ordered his men to attack peasants in an attempt to increase the number of "bandits" he had killed; his superiors, likely eager to inflate their records as well, allowed this.[43]

Terracotta Army General (Left), Mid-rank officer of the terracotta army in Xi'an (Right)

Terrakotta general 2010

Qin Shi Huang also improved the strong military, despite the fact that it had already undergone extensive reforms.[44] The military used the most advanced weaponry of the time. The invention of the sword during the Warring States period was a great advance. It was first used mostly in bronze form, but by the third century BC, the Qin were using stronger iron swords. The demand for this metal resulted in improved bellows. The crossbow had been introduced in the fifth century BC and was more powerful and accurate than the composite bows used earlier. It could also be rendered ineffective by removing two pins, which prevented enemies from capturing a working crossbow.[11]

Qin dynasty composite bow arrows (top) and crossbow bolts (bottom)
Credit: Liang Jieming

The Qin also used improved methods of transportation and tactics. The state of Zhao had first replaced chariots with cavalry in 307 BC, but the change was swiftly adopted by the other states because cavalry had greater mobility over the terrain of China.[45]

The First Emperor 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. Another project built during Qin Shi Huang's rule was the Terracotta army, intended to protect the emperor after his death.[44] The Terracotta Army was inconspicuous due to its underground location, and was not discovered until 1974.[46]


The dominant religious belief in China during the reign of the Qin, and, in fact, during much of early imperial China, was focused on the shen (roughly translating to "spirits" or "gods"), yin ("shadows"), and the realm they were said to live in. The Chinese offered animal sacrifices in an attempt to contact this other world, which they believed to be parallel to the earthly one. The dead were said to have simply moved from one world to the other. The rituals mentioned, as well as others, served two purposes: to ensure that the dead journeyed and stayed in the other realm, and to receive blessings from the spirit realm.[note 11][47][48]

Religious practices were usually held in local shrines and sacred areas, which contained sacrificial altars. During a sacrifice or other ritual, the senses of all participants and witnesses would be dulled and blurred with smoke, incense, and music. The lead sacrificer would fast and meditate before a sacrifice to further blur his senses and increase the likelihood of perceiving otherworldly phenomena. Other participants were similarly prepared, though not as rigorously.

Such blurring of the senses was also a factor in the practice of spirit intermediaries, or mediumship. Practitioners of the art would fall into trances or dance to perform supernatural tasks. These people would often rise to power as a result of their art—Luan Da, a Han dynasty medium, was granted rule over 2,000 households. Noted Han historian Sima Qian was scornful of such practices, dismissing them as foolish trickery.[49]

Divination—to predict and/or influence the future—was yet another form of religious practice. An ancient practice that was common during the Qin dynasty was cracking bones or turtle shells to gain knowledge of the future. The forms of divination which sprang up during early imperial China were diverse, though observing natural phenomena was a common method. Comets, eclipses, and droughts were considered omens of things to come.[50]

Etymology of China

The name 'Qin' is believed to be the etymological ancestor of the modern-day European name of the country, China. The word probably made its way into the Indo-Aryan languages first as 'Cina' or 'Sina' and then into Greek and Latin as 'Sinai' or 'Thinai'. It was then transliterated into English and French as 'China' and 'Chine'. This etymology is dismissed by some scholars, who suggest that 'Sina' in Sanskrit evolved much earlier before the Qin dynasty. 'Jin' (pronounced as 'Zhin'), a state controlled by the Zhou dynasty in seventh century BC, is another possible origin.[51] Others argued for the state of Jing (荆, another name for Chu), as well other polities in the early period as the source of the name.[52]


An edict in bronze from the reign of the second Qin Emperor

Qin Shi Huang was the first Chinese sovereign to proclaim himself "Emperor", after unifying China in 221 BC. That year is therefore generally taken by historians to be the start of the "Qin dynasty" which lasted for fifteen years until 207 when it was cut short by civil wars.[53]

Posthumous name / title Personal name Period of Reigns
Shi Huangdi Zheng (政) 221 – 210 BC
Er Shi Huangdi Huhai (胡亥) 210 – 207 BC
None Ziying (子嬰) 207 BC

See also


  1. ^ Not to be confused with any Duke of the Song dynasty of a later period.
  2. ^ This was due to the large workforce available as a result of their landowning policies (implemented by Shang Yang), described in the culture and society section.
  3. ^ This was the heart of the Guanzhong region, as opposed to the region of the Yangtze River drainage basin, known as Guandong. The warlike nature of the Qin in Guanzhong evolved into a Han dynasty adage: "Guanzhong produces generals, while Guandong produces ministers." (Lewis 2007, p. 17)
  4. ^ As the modern Chinese habit is to include dynasty names as a surname, this became Qin Shi Huangdi. Later, this was abridged to Qin Shi Huang, because it is uncommon for Chinese names to have four characters.
  5. ^ Formerly known as Canton.
  6. ^ This was largely caused by regional differences which survived despite the Qin's attempt to impose uniformity.
  7. ^ The first emperor of the Qin had boasted that the dynasty would last 10,000 generations; it lasted only about 15 years. (Morton 1995, p. 49)
  8. ^ Meaning "High Progenitor".
  9. ^ A text named for its sponsor Lü Buwei; the prime minister of the Qin directly preceding the conquest of the other states.
  10. ^ The term "Confucian" is rather ill-defined in this context—many self-dubbed Confucians in fact rejected tenets of what was known as "the Way of Confucius", and were disorganized, unlike the later Confucians of the Song and Yuan dynasties.
  11. ^ Mystics from the state of Qi, however, saw sacrifices differently—as a way to become immortal.



  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "...The collapse of the Western Zhou state in 771 BC and the lack of a true central authority thereafter opened ways to fierce inter-state warfare that continued over the next five hundred years until the Qin unification of China in 221 BC, thus giving China her first empire." Early China A Social and Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, 2013, page 6.
  3. ^ Tanner 2010, p. 85-89
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 17
  6. ^ "Chinese surname history: Qin". People's Daily. Archived from the original on 10 May 2008. Retrieved 28 June 2008.
  7. ^ Lewis 2007, pp. 17–18
  8. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 88
  9. ^ a b Morton 1995, p. 45
  10. ^ Origins of Statecraft in China
  11. ^ a b Morton 1995, p. 26
  12. ^ Morton 1995, pg. 26
  13. ^ Time-Life Books 1993, p. 86
  14. ^ a b Kinney and Clark 2005, p. 10
  15. ^ a b Lewis 2007, pp. 18–19
  16. ^ Morton 1995, p. 25
  17. ^ Lewis 2007, pp. 38–39
  18. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 10
  19. ^ a b Bai Yang. 中国帝王皇后亲王公主世系录 [Records of the Genealogy of Chinese Emperors, Empresses, and Their Descendants] (in Chinese). 1. Friendship Publishing Corporation of China (中国友谊出版公司). pp. 134–135.
  20. ^ a b c "China's First Empire | History Today". www.historytoday.com. Archived from the original on 17 April 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  21. ^ a b c World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia, p. 36
  22. ^ a b c Morton 1995, p. 47
  23. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 129
  24. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 5
  25. ^ Borthwick, p. 10
  26. ^ a b Kinney and Hardy 2005, p. 13-15
  27. ^ Bodde 1986, p. 84
  28. ^ Morton 1995, pp. 49–50
  29. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 11
  30. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 102
  31. ^ a b Lewis 2007, p. 15
  32. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 16
  33. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 75–78
  34. ^ World and its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia, p. 34
  35. ^ Bedini 1994, p. 83
  36. ^ Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, p. 61
  37. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 206
  38. ^ Borthwick, p. 17
  39. ^ Nylan, Michael (2001), The five "Confucian" classics (PDF), Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-08185-5, archived from the original (PDF) on 11 June 2014. pp. 29–30.
  40. ^ Borthwick, p. 11
  41. ^ Bodde (1986), p. 72.
  42. ^ Borthwick 2006, pp. 9–10
  43. ^ Chen, pp. 180–81
  44. ^ a b Borthwick 2006, p. 10
  45. ^ Morton 1995, p. 27
  46. ^ "Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor". UNESCO. Archived from the original on 7 August 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2008.
  47. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 178
  48. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 186
  49. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 180
  50. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 181
  51. ^ Keay 2009, p. 98.
  52. ^ Wade, Geoff (May 2009). "The Polity of Yelang and the Origin of the Name 'China'" (PDF). Sino-Platonic Papers. 188. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011. "This thesis also helps explain the existence of Cīna in the Indic Laws of Manu and the Mahabharata, likely dating well before Qin Shihuangdi."
  53. ^ Bodde 1986, p. 20


Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Zhou dynasty
Dynasties in Chinese history
221–207 BC
Succeeded by
Han dynasty
Ancient Chinese coinage

Ancient Chinese coinage includes some of the earliest known coins. These coins, used as early as the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BCE), took the form of imitations of the cowrie shells that were used in ceremonial exchanges. The Spring and Autumn period also saw the introduction of the first metal coins; however, they were not initially round, instead being either knife shaped or spade shaped. Round metal coins with a round, and then later square hole in the center were first introduced around 350 BCE. The beginning of the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BCE), the first dynasty to unify China, saw the introduction of a standardised coinage for the whole Empire. Subsequent dynasties produced variations on these round coins throughout the imperial period. At first the distribution of the coinage was limited to use around the capital city district, but by the beginning of the Han Dynasty, coins were widely used for such things as paying taxes, salaries and fines.

Ancient Chinese coins are markedly different from their European counterparts. Chinese coins were manufactured by being cast in molds, whereas European coins were typically cut and hammered or, in later times, milled. Chinese coins were usually made from mixtures of metals such copper, tin and lead, from bronze, brass or iron: precious metals like gold and silver were uncommonly used. The ratios and purity of the coin metals varied considerably. Most Chinese coins were produced with a square hole in the middle. This was used to allow collections of coins to be threaded on a square rod so that the rough edges could be filed smooth, and then threaded on strings for ease of handling.

Official coin production was not always centralised, but could be spread over many mint locations throughout the country. Aside from officially produced coins, private coining was common during many stages of history. Various steps were taken over time to try to combat the private coining and limit its effects and making it illegal. At other times private coining was tolerated. The coins varied in value throughout the history.

Some coins were produced in very large numbers – during the Western Han, an average of 220 million coins a year were produced. Other coins were of limited circulation and are today extremely rare – only six examples of Da Quan Wu Qian from the Eastern Wu Dynasty (222–280) are known to exist. Occasionally, large hoards of coins have been uncovered. For example, a hoard was discovered in Jiangsu containing 4,000 Tai Qing Feng Le coins and at Zhangpu in Shaanxi, a sealed jar containing 1,000 Ban Liang coins of various weights and sizes, was discovered.

Bai Qi

Bai Qi (Chinese: 白起; c. 332 BC - 257 BC), also known as Gongsun Qi (公孙起), was a military general of the Qin state in the Warring States period of China. Born in Mei (present-day Mei County, Shaanxi), Bai Qi served as the commander of the Qin army for more than 30 years, being responsible for the deaths of over one million, earning him the nickname Ren Tu (人屠; human butcher). According to the Shiji, he seized more than 73 cities from the other six hostile states, and to date no record has been found to show that he suffered a single defeat throughout his military career. He was named by Chinese historians as one of the four greatest generals of the Warring States period, along with Li Mu, Wang Jian, and Lian Po.

Ban Liang

The Ban Liang (Traditional Chinese: 半兩 ; Pinyin: bàn liǎng) was the first unified currency of the Chinese empire, introduced by the first emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC (although it already circulated in the State of Qin prior to unification). It was round with a square hole in the middle. Before that date, a variety of coins were used in China, usually in the form of blades (knife money) or other implements, though round coins with square holes were used by the State of Zhou before it was extinguished by Qin in 249 BCE.The Ban Liang corresponds to a "half tael" (半兩), or twelve zhu (銖, about 0.68 grams). It typically weighs between ten and six grams, roughly corresponding to the Greek stater.

The standardization of currency with this round coinage was part of a broader plan to unify weights, measures or axle width during the Qin empire. Ban Liang coins continued to be used under the Western Han dynasty until they were finally replaced by the Wu Zhu coins in 118 BC.

Burning of books and burying of scholars

The burning of books and burying of scholars (Chinese: 焚書坑儒; pinyin: fénshū kēngrú) refers to the supposed burning of texts in 213 BCE and live burial of 460 Confucian scholars in 212 BCE by the Qin Shi Huang of the Qin dynasty of Imperial China. The event caused the loss of many philosophical treatises of the Hundred Schools of Thought. The official philosophy of government ("legalism") survived.

Modern scholars doubt the details of the story in the Records of the Grand Historian—the main source—because Sima Qian, the author, wrote the story one century or so after the events and was an official of the Han dynasty which could be expected to portray the previous rulers unfavorably. While it is clear that the First Emperor gathered and destroyed many works which he regarded as subversive, two copies of each school were to be preserved in imperial libraries. These were destroyed in the fighting following the fall of the dynasty. It is now believed that there likely was an incident, but they were not Confucians and were not "buried alive".

Former Qin

The Former Qin (351-394) was a state of the Sixteen Kingdoms in eastern Asia, mainly China. Founded by an officer in Shi Le's dynasty, it completed the unification of North China in 376. Its capital was Xi'an up to the death of the ruler Fu Jiān in 385. Despite its name, the Former Qin was much later and less powerful than the Qin Dynasty which had ruled all of China during the 3rd century BC. The adjective "former" is used to distinguish it from the "Later Qin" state (384-417).

The severe defeat of the Former Qin in the Battle of Fei River in 383 encouraged uprisings, which split the Former Qin territory into two noncontiguous pieces after the death of Fu Jiān. One fragment, at present-day Taiyuan, Shanxi was soon overwhelmed in 386 by the Xianbei under the Later Yan and the Dingling. The other struggled in greatly reduced territories around the border of present-day Shaanxi and Gansu until disintegration in 394 following years of invasions by Western Qin and Later Qin.

In 327, the Gaochang commandery was created by the Former Liang under the Han Chinese ruler Zhang Gui. After this, significant Han Chinese settlement occurred, meaning that a major part of the population becoming Chinese. In 383, the General Lu Guang of Former Qin seized control of the region.All rulers of Former Qin proclaimed themselves "Emperor", except for Fu Jiān who claimed the title "Heavenly Prince" (Tian Wang) but was posthumousty considered an emperor.

Large seal script

Large Seal script or Great Seal script (Chinese: 大篆; pinyin: Dàzhuàn) is a traditional reference to Chinese writing from before the Qin dynasty (i.e. before 221 BCE), and is now popularly understood to refer narrowly to the writing of the Western and early Eastern Zhou dynasties (i.e. 1046–403 BCE), and more broadly to also include the oracle bone script (c.1250–1000 BCE). The term is in contrast to the name of the official script of the Qin dynasty, which is often called Small or Lesser Seal Script (小篆 Xiǎozhuàn, also termed simply seal script). However, due to the lack of precision in the term, scholars often avoid it and instead refer more specifically to the provenance of particular examples of writing.

In the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE), when clerical script became the popular form of writing and (small) seal script was relegated to more formal usage such as on signet seals and for the titles of stelae (inscribed stone memorial tablets which were popular at the time), the people began to refer to the earlier Qin dynasty script as 'seal' script (due to the continued use on signet seals, or name chops). At that time, there was still knowledge of even older, often more complex graphs (dating to the middle to late Zhou dynasty, and directly ancestral to the Qin forms) which differed from the Qin seal script forms, but which resembled them in their rounded, seal-script-like style (as opposed to the squared, rectilinear clerical script style). As a result, two terms emerged to describe them: 'greater seal script' for the more complex, earlier forms, and 'small seal script' for the Qin dynasty forms.

It is only more recently that the term 'greater seal script' has been extended to refer to Western Zhou forms or even oracle bone script, of which the Han dynasty coiners of this term were unaware. The term 'large seal script' is also sometimes traditionally identified with a group of characters from a book c. 800 BCE entitled Shizhoupian, preserved by their inclusion in the Han dynasty lexicon, the Shuowen Jiezi. Xu Shen, the author of Shuowen, included these when they differed from the structures of the Qin (small) seal script, and labelled the examples Zhòuwén (籀文) or Zhòu graphs. This name comes from the name of the book and not the name of a script. Thus, it is not correct to refer to the c. 800 BCE Zhoū (周) dynasty script as Zhòuwén. Similarly, the Zhòu graphs are merely examples of large seal script when that term is used in a broad sense.

Later Qin

The Later Qin (simplified Chinese: 后秦; traditional Chinese: 後秦; pinyin: Hòuqín; 384–417), also known as Yao Qin (姚秦), was a state of Qiang ethnicity of the Sixteen Kingdoms during the Jin dynasty (265–420) in China. The Later Qin is entirely distinct from the Qin dynasty, the Former Qin and the Western Qin.

Its second ruler, Yao Xing, supported the propagation of Buddhism by the Madhyamakin monk Kumārajīva.

All rulers of the Later Qin declared themselves emperors, but for a substantial part of Yao Xing's reign, he used the title Tian Wang.

Li Si

Li Si (; c. 280 BC – September or October 208 BC) was a Chinese politician of the Qin dynasty, well known Legalist writer and politician, and notable calligrapher. He served as Chancellor (or Prime Minister) from 246–208 BC under two rulers: Qin Shi Huang, the king of the Qin state and later the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty; and Qin Er Shi, Qin Shi Huang's eighteenth son and the Second Emperor. Concerning administrative methods, Li Si "indicated that he admired and utilized the ideas of Shen Buhai", repeatedly referring to the technique of Shen Buhai and Han Fei, but regarding law followed Shang Yang.John Knoblock, a translator of classical Chinese texts, considered Li Si "one of the two or three most important figures in Chinese history". Having a clear vision of universal empire and "one world comprising all Chinese, bringing with universal dominion universal peace", Li Si was "largely responsible for the creation of those institutions that made the Qin dynasty the first universal state in Chinese history".

Li Si assisted the Emperor Shi Huangdi in unifying the laws, governmental ordinances, weights and measures, and standardized chariots, carts, and the characters used in writing... [facilitating] the cultural unification of China. He "created a government based solely on merit, so that in the empire sons and younger brothers in the imperial clan were not ennobled, but meritorious ministers were", and "pacified the frontier regions by subduing the barbarians to the north and south". He had the weapons of the feudal states melted and cast into musical bells and large human statues, and relaxed taxes and the draconian punishments inherited from Shang Yang.


The Lingqu (simplified Chinese: 灵渠; traditional Chinese: 靈渠; pinyin: Líng Qú) is a canal in Xing'an County, near Guilin, in the northwestern corner of Guangxi, China. It connects the Xiang River (which flows north into the Yangtze) with the Li River (which flows south into the Gui River and Xijiang), and thus is part of a historical waterway between the Yangtze and the Pearl River Delta. It was the first canal in the world to connect two river valleys and enabled boats to travel 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from Beijing to Hong Kong.

Qin Er Shi

Qin Er Shi (Chinese: 秦二世; pinyin: Qín Èrshì; literally: 'Second Generation of the Qin'; Mandarin: [tɕʰǐn ɑ̂ɻ ʂɨ̂]; 229 – October 207 BCE) was the son of Qin Shi Huang and the second emperor of China's Qin dynasty. He ruled from 210 to 207 BCE.

Shang Yang

Shang Yang (Chinese: 商鞅; c. 390 – 338 BCE), also known as Wei Yang (Chinese: 衞鞅) and originally surnamed Gongsun, was a Chinese philosopher and politician. He was a prominent legalist scholar. Born in Wey, Zhou Kingdom, he was a statesman and reformer of the State of Qin during the Warring States period of ancient China. His policies laid the administrative and political foundations that would enable Qin to conquer all of China, uniting the country for the first time and ushering in the Qin dynasty. He and his followers contributed to the Book of Lord Shang, a foundational work of what has modernly been termed Chinese Legalism.

Small seal script

Small Seal Script (Chinese: 小篆, xiǎozhuàn), formerly romanized as Hsiao-chuan and also known as Seal Script, Lesser Seal Script and Qin Script (秦篆, Qínzhuàn), is an archaic form of Chinese calligraphy. It was standardized and promulgated as a national standard by Li Si, prime minister under Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of Qin.

Before the Qin conquest of the six other major warring states of Zhou China, local styles of characters had evolved independently of one another for centuries, producing what are called the "Scripts of the Six States" (六國文字), all of which are included under the general term "Great Seal Script". Under one unified government, however, the diversity was deemed undesirable as it hindered timely communication, trade, taxation, and transportation, and as independent scripts might be used to represent dissenting political ideas.

Hence, Emperor Qin Shi Huang mandated the systematic unification of weights, measures, currencies, etc., and the use of a standard writing script. Characters which were different from those found in Qin were discarded, and the Qin's small seal characters became the standard for all regions within the empire. This policy came in about 220 BC, the year after Qin's unification of the Chinese states.The standardized use of small seal characters was promulgated via the Cangjiepian, a primer compiled by Li Si and two other ministers. This compilation, stated to contain 3,300 characters, is no longer extant, and is known only through Chinese commentaries through the centuries. Several hundred characters from fragmented commentaries were collected during the Qing period, and recent archeological excavations in Anhui, China, have uncovered several hundred more on bamboo strips, showing the order of the characters; however, the script found is not the small seal script, as the discovery dates from Han times.

The Cambridge History of China

The Cambridge History of China is an ongoing series of books published by the Cambridge University Press (CUP) covering the history of China from the founding of the Qin dynasty in 221 BC to 1982 AD. Chinese history before the Qin dynasty is covered in an independent volume, The Cambridge History of Ancient China (1999) which follows the Pinyin romanization system; all other volumes use Wade–Giles romanization.

The series was conceived by British historian Denis C. Twitchett and American historian John K. Fairbank in the late 1960s, and publication began in 1978. The complete History will contain 15 volumes made up of 17 books (not including the Cambridge History of Ancient China) with volumes 5 and 9 consisting of two books each.An unauthorized Chinese translation of volume 7 (The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 1) was made in 1992 by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In this version, the map of the Ming empire in the original was replaced by a more extensive map from The Historical Atlas of China, while the other maps were used unchanged.Volume 2 will be published in 2019. The final volume, Volume 4 will be published in 2020.

Three Qins

The Three Qins (Chinese: 三秦; pinyin: Sān Qín) refer to three of the Eighteen Kingdoms, formed from the division of the empire after the collapse of the Qin dynasty in 206 BC. The three kingdoms are located in Guanzhong (in present-day central Shaanxi), the heartland of the Qin Empire.

Originally, according to a promise by King Huai II of Chu, Guanzhong belonged to Liu Bang, because Liu was the first to capture Guanzhong and end the Qin dynasty. However, Xiang Yu ignored the promise and relocated Liu to another fief, Kingdom of Han, which was located in present-day Sichuan. Guanzhong was granted to three former Qin generals, who surrendered to Xiang Yu after the Battle of Julu. The three kingdoms are collectively known as the Three Qins, because they occupied the heartland of the former Qin state.

The Three Qins are listed as follows:

Yong (雍), ruled by Zhang Han, occupying present-day central Shaanxi

Sai (塞), ruled by Sima Xin, occupying present-day northeastern Shaanxi

Zhai (翟), ruled by Dong Yi, occupying present-day northern ShaanxiIn the autumn of 206 BC, Liu Bang's general Han Xin made a surprise attack on the Kingdom of Yong and defeated Zhang Han. Following that, Sima Xin and Dong Yi surrendered to Liu. By 205 BC, the Three Qins became part of Liu's Kingdom of Han (later known as the Han dynasty).

Wang Jian (Qin)

Wang Jian (fl. 220s BC) was a military general from the State of Qin during the Warring States period. Under his command, the Qin army conquered the states of Zhao, Yan, and Chu. He is considered one of the four greatest generals of the Warring States period, along with Bai Qi, Lian Po and Li Mu.Wang was born in Dongxiang, Pinyang, Guanzhong (north-east of modern Fuping County, Shaanxi province). His son, Wang Ben (王賁), was also a Qin general.


Xianyang (Chinese: 咸阳; pinyin: Xiányáng) is a prefecture-level city in central Shaanxi province, situated on the Wei River a few kilometers upstream (west) from the provincial capital of Xi'an. Once the capital of the Qin dynasty, it is now integrated into the Xi'an metropolitan area, one of the main urban agglomerations in inland China, with more than 7.17 million inhabitants, its built-up area made of 2 urban districts (Qindu and Weicheng) was 945,420 inhabitants at the 2010 census. It has a total area of 10,213 square kilometres (3,943 sq mi).

Zhang Han (Qin dynasty)

Zhang Han (died 205 BC) was a military general of the Qin dynasty. When uprisings erupted throughout China during the reign of Qin Er Shi, Zhang Han led the Qin armies and successfully quelled several of these rebel forces. In 207 BC, Zhang Han was defeated by Xiang Yu of Chu at the Battle of Julu, after which he surrendered along with his 200,000 troops. He was conferred the title "King of Yong" (雍王) by Xiang Yu and given part of the lands in Guanzhong as his fief when Xiang split the former Qin Empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms after the fall of the Qin dynasty. Zhang Han's territory was conquered by Liu Bang in 206 BC, and he committed suicide a year later.

Zhao Tuo

Zhao Tuo or Triệu Đà (Chinese: 趙佗; pinyin: Zhào Tuó; Vietnamese: Triệu Đà), was a Qin dynasty Chinese general who participated in the conquest of the Baiyue peoples of Guangdong, Guangxi and Northern Vietnam. After the fall of the Qin, he established the independent kingdom of Nanyue (Nam Viet) with its capital in Panyu (now Guangzhou) in 204 BCE. Some traditional Vietnamese history scholars considered him an emperor of Vietnam and the founder of the Triệu dynasty, although official modern historians regard him as a foreign invader.


Ziying (died January 206  BC) was the third and last ruler of the Qin dynasty. He ruled over a fragmented Qin Empire for 46 days from mid-October to early December in 207  BC. He is referred to in some sources with the posthumous name Emperor Shang of Qin (秦殤帝), despite Qin abolishing the practice of posthumous names. (In Chinese tradition, even someone who never held a ruling title while alive might be given the posthumous title "emperor" after his death.)

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinQíncháo
Bopomofoㄑㄧㄣˊ   ㄔㄠˊ
Gwoyeu RomatzyhChynchaur
Tongyong PinyinCíncháo
Yale RomanizationChíncháu
SuzhouneseZín záu
Yue: Cantonese
Yale RomanizationChèuhnchìuh
Southern Min
Hokkien POJChîn-tiâu
Old Chinese
Baxter–Sagart (2014)*[dz]i[n] m-t<r>aw
Qin Dynasty
See: family tree of
the Kings of Qin
Zheng 政 259–210 BC
King of Qin 秦王 247–221 BC

Qin Shi Huang 秦始皇
221–210 BC
118 or 25 (disputed)
Fusu 扶蘇
d. 210 BC
Huhai 胡亥 229–207 BC
Qin Er Shi 秦二世
210–207 BC
Ziying 子嬰 d. 206 BC
Qin San Shi 秦三世
207 BC
Qin dynasty topics
See also


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