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Study On Emperor Qin Shih Huang

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Published: Mon, 15 May 2017

Emperor Qin Shih Huang was the first Emperor of Chine. He unified China and built the Great Wall of China that is still intact today. Emperor Qin Shih Huang left behind many legacies that have made China what it is today. “In his 35-year reign, he managed to create magnificent and enormous construction projects. He also caused both incredible cultural and intellectual growth, and much destruction within China.” (about.com) Despite his good intentions in unifying China, he did many things that were deemed unpardonable by people of his time. He killed many scholars because he was afraid that they would outsmart him. At the same time, many slaves were sacrificed during the construction of the Great Wall of China. Many people have argued that Emperor Qin Shih Huang was a brutal Emperor and disregard his contributions to China. However, his contributions far surpassed his relentless action therefore; Emperor Qin Shih Huang was a noble Emperor.

Emperor Qin Shih Huang was born in 259BC, and was the son of the King of the Qin state. He was named Zheng, which meant ‘upright’ or ‘correct. When the King died in 247 B.C., Zheng became King at the age of thirteen. (China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors 20) He reigned for 35 years and during his reign; it was described as the beginning of 246B.C. As Zheng was still a minor when he was King, Prime Minister Lu Bu Wei acted in his state for the first eight years. As there were rumors circulating that Lu Bu Wei was actually the father of Zheng, Lu eventually committed suicide by drinking poison. Twenty-four year old Zheng then took full control over the kingdom of Qin. (The Terra Cotta Army 56)

During the time of 475-221 B.C., all the states were at war with themselves. It was called the Warring States period. (MacFarquhar and Schoenhals 2006) China was then divided into many small states and each had their own way of doing things. The states had been fighting for power and when a state won, they could take over another state. (Qin Shi Huangdi 6-7) Within twenty-five years of his reign, King Zheng was able to eliminate all the other states and have ruling power on all of them.

King Zheng then named himself the ‘First Emperor’, Qin Shi Huangdi. “Qin was for his original states, ‘Shi’ means first, and ‘Huangdi’ was a new compound word that joins majestic with emperor.” (China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors p 26) After his new title was formed, Emperor Qin went on and chose the symbol of the state according to the School of the Five elements-earth, wood, metal, fire, and water. With the new symbolism in place, the feudal system was abolished and the Qin dynasty was divided into thirty-six provinces that each had its own governor, army commander, and an inspector. (Sunzi’s Art of Wat and Managemtne Strategy)

As the Qin empire was now unified from the warring states, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered General Meng Tian and his soldiers to fortify the walls along the North of China which had been built earlier. (enchanted learning.com) There were multiple purposes of building the wall, firstly, it marked the boundary of where the state is, secondly, it was a defense whereby enemies will find it difficult to raid the state, and lastly, merchants and travelers who were coming into the state would have to be taxed when they were passing through the border. (The first emperor: China’s Terracotta Army 52) There was also another importance to the building of the walls. Because the Qin empire was so large, the walls provided a means of communication within the provinces. Soldiers were situated along the walls, keeping watch of the movement of the enemies. If there was a warning, they would light the fire and the soldiers all along the wall will also light the fire. Just like a stretch of streetlights being ignited one by one along a dark street.

As the empire can now fend for itself, Emperor Qin still had some work to do to unify all the different warring states that had many different ways of doing things. The Qin empire created a new writing system to be used throughout the empire. “It reduced the complex and variable Large Seal script with its curving lines, allowed swifer writing with brush and ink-essential for imperial record keeping, and it allowed communication between people who have never been able to communicate orally.” (The early Chinese empires 53) This development led to the founding of an imperial school that dealt with texts and the interpretation of meaning. Many historians during that time had to obey what he was asked to do or write. Therefore, the histories that we have today may or may not be factual but was written to the pleasing of the Emperor during that time.

In 213 B.C., there were texts defaming Emperor Qin despite his great efforts in unifying China. His Grand councilor, Li Si, was furious and suggested, “To ban all works of literature and poetry, historical documents and ‘the sayings of the hundred schools of philosophy.” (The Terra Cotta Army 79) This event was traditionally viewed as a terrible act of censorship and vandalism. Many people believed that Emperor Qin was ruthless because they thought he was the one who suggested burning all the books, however, Emperor Qin was the one who agreed to this suggestion only because he thought he was unifying the empire and not destroying it. He only sought for unification. In modern day, China’s ruler, Mao also took away many books during his time of Cultural Revolution. Why was Mao’s way of doing things still accepted when it was similar to what Emperor Qin Shi Huang did and was deemed terrible two thousand years ago?

The standardization of physical things were “the emperor’s attempt to standardize the mind of his people because of their great diversity”. He standardized weights, measures, and the coinage system. The standardized coinage system was “essential for the smooth running of the new bureaucratic administration.” (China’s First Emperor and his Terracotta Warriors 89) There were many forms of money during that time and the Qin dynasty used bronze coins with a hole in the middle and two characters that states the weight of the coin- eight grammes. This new coinage system was implemented throughout the whole of the Qin empire.

Weights and measurements were also standardized in the empire. With the same coinage, weights and measurement system, the economy was much stable as everything was the same. (travelguidechina.com) Emperor Qin wanted his empire to be unified and ‘one’ thus, he standardized many things. However, this led to the dissatisfaction of many philosophical ideas. Legalism was the only official belief and Confucianism was not allowed. Many scholars were dissatisfied with Emperor Qin. However, in order to keep his empire, Emperor Qin had to have his people think the same way so as to control what his people might do and result in splitting China back to the different states again. (Thinkquest.com)

As the Qin Empire was huge, Emperor Qin was constantly on the road, visiting all the different provinces to make sure that his governors were doing what they were instructed to do. This led to Emperor’s Qin decision of building speed roads from the capital to the north, northeast, south, and southeast. (Governing China: From Revolution through Reform 71) This led to the improved communication system whereby people were able to travel and spend lesser time on the roads and helped Emperor Qin spend lesser time on the road. The speed roads that Emperor Qin built more than two thousand years ago are still being used now. Emperor Qin did many things to unify and make China what it is today.


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