End of Warring States Period and declaration of Empire

Key events and figures: With weakening of Qi it was more clearly becoming that Qin will be dominant power. Qin continued expansions and took large parts of Sichuan from state of Chu. After that only serious remaining competitor of Qin was Zhao. In 265BC ambitious King Zhuangxiang of Qin launched attacks on Han and Zhao. Han gave up many territories except their capital. Zhao intervened against Qin. Decisive battle between Zhao and Qin was about to occur at Changping. In first stages of battle there were direct combats. Both Zhao and Qin had many casualties. .Later army chief of Qin Bai Qi besieged fortifications of Zhao.  After long period of starvation soldiers of Zhao surrendered to Bai Qi. He killed all of them. In total Zhao lost 400 000 men. It was severe defeat for Zhao. But exhausted Qin troops after severe battle couldn’t conquer capital of Zhao.

End of Zhou was coming and it was more and more visible that Qin will win the war. After it lost reputation, territories and even nominal respect crackdown was inevitable. Because of internal conflicts on small territory they partitioned shortly again on Western and Eastern in 314BC.  King Nan moved away from East to West and declared independence there from another Zhou faction in east. In 256BC King Zhao of Qin conquered West Zhou and in 249BC King Zhuangxiang of Qin occupied East Zhou. It was finally end of 800 years of ruling even  nominal ruling of Zhou dynasty. Zhou was longest lasting dynasty of China. New era was coming. King Zhuangxiang of Qin announced that now Qin is supposed to get Mandate of Heaven as most powerful state.

Ambitiously  Qin armies were continuing to annex all states and unite China under one ruler. When King Zheng of Qin came to power in 247BC final stalemate was coming. King Zhen was very ambitious and motivated by legalist philosophy and wanted to unify China. King Zheng was considering unification of all China or in Chinese Middle Kingdom under Mandate of Heaven and new tittle- Emperor. He was using tactics of allying distant states and conquering those on his borders so he could step by step conquer all.  So he allied with Yan and Qi and aimed to conquer Wei, Chu, Zhao and Han.  First was defeated Han and conquered in 230BC as it was weakest at that point and most exhausted from wars.

Qin used opportunity of war between Yan and Zhao to conquer Zhao finally. Qin armies attacked from two sides Zhao. Zhao was defeated in battle of Fei in 233BC. However in 232BC on approach to capital Handan Qin armies were defeated  at Fanwu by Li Mu a general of Zhao army. After natural disasters in 229BC that happened in Zhao Qin used chance and attacked again. However capital Handan wasn’t giving up.  King Zheng of Qin used chance to bribe one of officials of Zhao to cause fake accusations towards capable general Li Mu on his loyalty towards King of Zhao.  Using internal dispute Qin armies took Handan in 228BC.

In 225BC  Wei capital Daliang was besieged by 600 000 Qin soldiers. Daliang , because of good location wasn’t giving up easily. So Qin strategists were looking for another option to conquer city. Qin soldiers caused flood by redirecting flow of river that killed 100 000 people in town. This left city open and last stand of Wei finally fell.

Now on target was Chu. Qin army was rapidly progressing deeper in Chu territory with many victories. Chu generals organized few strong counterattacks that slowed for a while Qin army. But in result all counterattacks finished with defeat. Chu capital Shouchun finally fell in 223BC..  Next one was Yan that fell in 222 BC after few years of resistance.  Last one was former power Qi state. King Jian of Qi ordered defense of borders from Qin. His army was weak and soldiers were sceptic. But despite that Qin forces entered from south behind back of Qi army ( situated on west) and reached capital Linzi without fight and captured King Jian.

With that Qin became only state in China. King Zheng considered that he has full right now to become hegemon and only ruler with mandate of Heaven. In 221BC declared himself as emperor Qin Shi Huangdi what means First Emperor of Qin.  After almost 1000 years since end of Shang dynasty tittle of emperor was returned.  Finally China was unified. More than two millennia of imperial China started now.

China during Qin, source: http://www.chinahighlights.com/map/ancient-china-map/qin-dynasty-map.htm

Qin dynasty from unifier to downfall( 221-206BC)

Key figures and events: Rule of Qin dynasty over Empire of China was shortlasting. .and had only one successful ruler Emperor Qin Shi. Now as Emperor Qin Shi  united all lands he started large scale centralization of land in all aspects and had absolute power in China. Qin Shi made one universal administrative system. Capital of whole empire became Xianyang a city that was capital of Qin state. Xianyang is todays Xian in Shaanxi province. His main philosophical ideology was Legalism about which we spoke before.

New and large Chinese empire needed good and effective protection from foreign tribes. So Qin Shi started creation of Great Wall on north and west to protect Chinese empire from barbarian tribes. This required slave labor but it was worth as wall protected China for many centuries. Wall didn’t just had purpose of defense but was symbol of border between China and other world.

First Emperor also ordered building of large palace in todays Xian. Palace served as model for building of Forbidden City many centuries later.

Emperor Qin Shi climbed Taishan to make worships to Heaven.

Qin Shi Huangdi was very afraid of death and was desperately looking for elixir of immortality.  Several years before his death Qin Shi was preparing large tomb and building of 8000 terracotta soldiers in human real size .Each soldier has different face and is unique figure.. They were made for many years and very accurately. When he died in 210BC he was buried together with whole army in tomb. Hidden terracotta soldiers were supposed to protect him in his after death life.  Emperor Qin Shi also believed that when China will be in big danger he and his army will wake up to defend it again.. No one knew exact place of his burial as diggers were killed immediately when they finished work. Only in 1974 farmers by coincidence discovered mausoleum and terracotta army. Today this place is museum and people from all over the world come to see this specific army of Qin Shi.

Legendary Terracotta army, source: https://www.audleytravel.com/china/things-to-do/terracotta-army-excursion

Qin Shi despite some strict methods and quite often oppression did significant thing for unifying China, building Wall, canal, promoting trade and developing of economy. His legalist views strengthened rule of law and state power. He was succeeded by incapable Qin Er Shi Huangdi. It literally means Second Emperor of Qin.  Qin Er Shi was too young and had low authority and respect among vassals. Qin Er Shi oppressed people a lot, took large taxes. He didn’t contribute to development of empire what differed him from Qin Shi.  This caused instability in Empire. So one of biggest rebellions was on south initiated by Chu clan to restore state of Chu. Han clan joined Chu clan and organized war against Qin Er Shi. In 207BC battle of Julu occurred.  Qin Er Shi because of poor commanding skills lost 300 000 soldiers that were captured and buried alive. After such big defeat Qin Er Shi  was blamed by soldiers and forced to commit suicide. This was end of Qin dynasty. In next chapter will be about events that occurred after fall of Qin.


Society and culture during short lasting Qin dynasty:

Social and administrative system significantly changed during Qin rule over China. We mentioned many centralization in terms of administration. Whole empire was divided on commanderies and counties. Commanderie was ruled by civil governor and military commander that were appointed by Emperor. There were 30 commanderies. Each commandery was divided on counties. Magistrate governed over each county. Qin Shi with help of main advisor Li Si  established strict bureaucratic system where reputation and previous prestige couldn’t save you and help your advancement in society. Hierarchy in bureaucracy was strict. Despite your wealth if your education and results on state exam were not satisfactory you couldn’t get higher rank in imperial civil or military service. Without that you even couldn’t enter service. Higher servicemen had bigger salaries and pensions in the system. When they entered circles of civil or military service they were enforcing laws set by emperor and if they were loyal and good in job they could advance to higher position. They were awarded with status and money not land like before. This was way how peasants were freed from direct serfdome they remained poor and had own land but paid tax to state not aristocrats anymore. They could be hired too by aristocrat. Still their position was very low and often were manipulated and punished. For disobeying emperor or attempting an attack on emperor punishment was death.

During Qin dynasty China got first conceptualized legal code  based on legalist teaching. It required strict punishments for crimes and mostly reminded on Hamurabi law based on eye for an eye vengeance principle.  Punishments often included limb amputation, castration and death.

During rule of Qin Shi version of Chinese spoken in Qin state was imposed on whole empire and their version of scripture as well. He also standardized measurement of weight, altitude, distance…

When its about economy significant improvements were made. Common currency was adopted that was called Ban Liang. Also Qin Shi ordered building of Canal that connects Li river and Xiang river with Yangtze that’s between them. This created first contour canal in world. Its total length became 2000km. It eased trade between northern and southern China. On such grand projects slaves were hired by force to work. Many new roads were built too. All this led to easing communication and connection of China. Emperor Qin tried to prevent new wars and wanted to secure prosperous future of empire.

Architecture got innovations. More popular became larger constructions such as palaces, gardens and fortifications. Also high constructions became popular such as drum or bell towers and pagodas too. Cities started to look richer. Appearance of palaces, gardens, pavilions and pagodas started to remind on those which we know today.

90% of population were peasants. Crops that they cultivated varied from region to region.  Peasants were no more serfs since Qin Shi abolished serfdom and feudalism as he promoted bureaucratization. Peasants were de jure free and could have small parts of land but their status was very submissive since they paid high taxes and often had to work as hires for rich aristocrats. De facto they were deeply burdened and their descendants couldn’t change position easily. Crafts, agricultural jobs, arts and merchant jobs were inherited from father to son. Cities experienced development.

When its about philosophy we mentioned that legalism was main ideology that Qin Shi used in keeping order and unity of China.  This philosophy says that laws must have supreme place in the state. Basically it means that laws are above everything including ruler.  When it comes to other teachings during this period Confucianism was present but was oppressed. Qin Shi was afraid that Confucians can accuse him for offensive wars and used to kill Confucians and burn their books. But Confucian movements somehow supported rule of Qin Shi as they believed that there is necessity of strong ruler and hierarchy in order to keep stability in society. Anyway Confucians  criticized ruler for lack of morality. During this period Moist movement  disappeared as it was too small and was assimilated into Taoist streams. Taoists still functioned as individual or small group shamans, fortune tellers and astrologists. Beliefs of ordinary people and their worships had a lot in common with Taoist teaching.

Foreign policy system

Traditionally during this time areas of todays China south from Yangtze river were mostly inhabited by Baiyue tribes.  Baiyue were people living in mountains of southern China and northern Vietnam. They are considered to be ancestor of South Chinese, Viet and Thai people.  Qin Shi Huangdi several times attempted to conquer these tribes but it did not finish with success.

During this period idea of China as center of world appears with a Celestial Emperor who is Son of Heaven and has Mandate of Heaven. Because of many inventions and stable system idea that China is in center and that it is civilized world developed. Idea of tributary system that all other countries should recognize superiority of Chinese Empire appeared and lasted until 19th century.


Sources: Indiana University, History G380 – class text readings – Spring 2010 – R. Eno  THE WARRING STATES PERIOD (453-221)

Saylor The Qin Dynasty






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