Qin dynasty

Last updated


221 BC–206 BC
Qin Dynasty.png
Commanderies of the Qin dynasty
Capital Xianyang
Common languages Old Chinese
Chinese folk religion
Government Absolute monarchy
 221–210 BC
Qin Shi Huang
 210–207 BC
Qin Er Shi
 221–208 BC
Li Si
 208–207 BC
Zhao Gao
Historical era Imperial
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
Currency Ban Liang
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Zhou dynasty
Blank.png Qin (state)
Eighteen Kingdoms Blank.png
Han dynasty Blank.png
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Today part of China
North Korea
Qin dynasty
Qin (Chinese characters).svg
"Qin" in seal script (top) and regular (bottom) Chinese characters
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History of China
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Qin 221–207 BC
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The Qin dynasty ( [tɕʰín] 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 AD.


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.


Origins and early development

Map showing major states of Eastern Zhou States of Zhou Dynasty.png
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 Streitende-Reiche2.jpg
Map of the Warring States. Qin is shown in pink
Map of the Growth of Qin EN-QIN260BCE.jpg
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

Map showing the unification of Qin during 230-211 BC Qin Unification.png
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

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. Assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang.jpg
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]


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. Nan Qiao 02.jpg
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

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 "Hai Nei Jie Chen ,Sui Deng Cheng Shou ,Dao Wu Ji Ren 
". CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - stone slab with twelve small seal characters.jpg
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]

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

Terrakotta general 2010.jpg
Terracotta Army General (Left), Mid-rank officer of the terracotta army in Xi'an (Right)

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 Qinacruballistabolts.jpg
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]


Floating on high in every direction,
Music fills the hall and court.
The incense sticks are a forest of feathers,
The cloudy scene an obscure darkness.
Metal stalks with elegant blossoms,
A host of flags and kingfisher banners.
The music of the "Seven Origins" and "Blossoming Origins"
Are intoned as harmonious sounds.
Thus one can almost hear
The spirits coming to feast and frolic.
The spirits are seen off to the zhu zhu of the musics,
Which purifies and refines human feelings.
Suddenly the spirits ride off on the darkness,
And the brilliant event finishes.
Purified thoughts grow hidden and still,
And the warp and weft of the world fall dark.

Han shu, p. 1046

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', 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 BronzePlaque-EdictOfSecondEmperor-Qin-ROM-May8-08.png
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 / titlePersonal namePeriod of Reigns
Shi Huangdi Zheng (政)221 – 210 BC
Er Shi Huangdi Huhai (胡亥)210 – 207 BC
None Ziying (子嬰)207 BC

Imperial family tree

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.

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Zhao (state) one of the states in ancient Chinas Warring States period

Zhao was one of the seven major states during the Warring States period of ancient China. It was created from the three-way Partition of Jin, together with Han and Wei, in the 5th century BC. Zhao gained significant strength from the military reforms initiated during King Wuling's reign, but suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Qin at the Battle of Changping. Its territory included areas now in modern Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. It bordered the Xiongnu, the states of Qin, Wei and Yan. Its capital was Handan, in modern Hebei Province.

Qin Er Shi emperor of the Qin Dynasty

Qin Er Shi was the son of Qin Shi Huang and the second emperor of China's Qin dynasty. He ruled from 210 to 207 BCE.

King Nan of Zhou, born Ji Yan and less commonly known as King Yin of Zhou, was the 37th and last king of the Chinese Zhou dynasty, the son of King Shenjing of Zhou and grandson of King Xian of Zhou. He was king for fifty-nine years, the longest in the Zhou Dynasty and all of pre-imperial China. By the time of King Nan's reign, the kings of Zhou had lost almost all political and military power, as even their remaining crown land was split into two states or factions, led by rival feudal lords: West Zhou, where the capital Wangcheng was located, and East Zhou, centred at Chengzhou and Kung. Therefore, Nan lacked any personal territory and was effectively under the control of the local feudal lords, essentially relying on their charity.

Emperor Gaozu of Han Founding emperor of the Han Dynasty (256 BC – 195 BC)

Emperor Gaozu of Han, born Liu Bang (劉邦), was the founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty, reigning from 202 – 195 BCE. His temple name was "Taizu" (太祖) while his posthumous name was "Emperor Gao" (高皇帝); "Gaozu of Han", derived from the Records of the Grand Historian, is the common way of referring to this sovereign even though he was not accorded the temple name "Gaozu". Liu Bang was one of the few dynasty founders in Chinese history who was born in a peasant family.

Yan (state) ancient Chinese state during Zhao dynasty

Yan was an ancient Chinese state during the Zhou dynasty. Its capital was Ji. During the Warring States period, the court was also moved to another capital at Xiadu at times.

Qin (state) Chinese feudal state

Qin was an ancient Chinese state during the Zhou dynasty. Traditionally dated to 897 B.C., it took its origin in a reconquest of western lands previously lost to the Rong; its position at the western edge of Chinese civilization permitted expansion and development that was unavailable to its rivals in the North China Plain. Following extensive "Legalist" reform in the 3rd century BC, Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States and unified China in 221 BC under Qin Shi Huang. The empire it established was short-lived but greatly influential on later Chinese history.

Li Si Chinese politician of the Qin Dynasty

Li Si was a Chinese calligrapher, philosopher, politician, and writer of the Qin dynasty. He served as Chancellor 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.

Zhang Han 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.

Chu (state) Ancient chinese state

Chu was a hegemonic, Zhou dynasty era state. From King Wu of Chu in the early 8th century BCE, the rulers of Chu declared themselves kings on an equal footing with the Zhou kings. Though initially inconsequential, removed to the south of the Zhou heartland and practising differing customs, Chu began a series of administrative reforms, becoming a successful expansionist state during the Spring and Autumn period. With its continued expansion, Chu became a great Warring States period power, until it was overthrown by the Qin in 223 BCE.

Xianyang Prefecture-level city in Shaanxi, Peoples Republic of China

Xianyang 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 was 945,420 inhabitants at the 2010 census. It has a total area of 10,213 square kilometres (3,943 sq mi).

Seven Warring States former country

The Seven Warring States or Seven Kingdoms refers to the seven leading states during the Warring States period of ancient China:

Emperor Yi of Chu, also known as King Huai II of Chu before receiving his de jure emperor title, personal name Xiong Xin, was the ruler of the Chu state in the late Qin dynasty. He was a grandson of King Huai of Chu. In 223 BC, during the Warring States period, the Chu state was conquered by the Qin state, which unified the various Chinese feudal states in a series of wars and established the Qin dynasty in 221 BC. In 209 BC, when rebellions broke out throughout China to overthrow the Qin dynasty, the Chu state was revived as an insurgent state against Qin imperial rule. Xiong Xin was discovered by Xiang Liang, a rebel leader who descended from a famous Chu general, and installed on the Chu throne as "King Huai II of Chu". However, Xiong Xin was merely a puppet ruler because power was concentrated in Xiang Liang's hands, and was later passed on to Xiang Liang's nephew, Xiang Yu, after Xiang Liang was killed in battle. In 206 BC, the Qin dynasty was overthrown by the rebels, after which Xiang Yu, who was the de facto leader of all the rebel forces, divided the former Qin Empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms. He promoted King Huai II to a more "honourable" title – Emperor Yi of Chu – and made him the nominal sovereign ruler over all the Eighteen Kingdoms. Xiang Yu then had Emperor Yi relocated to Chen County and secretly ordered Ying Bu to assassinate the emperor during the journey.

The grand chancellor, also translated as counselor-in-chief, chancellor, chief councillor, chief minister, imperial chancellor, lieutenant chancellor and prime minister, was the highest-ranking executive official in the imperial Chinese government. The term was known by many different names throughout Chinese history, and the exact extent of the powers associated with the position fluctuated greatly, even during a particular dynasty.

Qins wars of unification Military campaigns launched 3rd century BC by Qin state against the other six major states

Qin's wars of unification were a series of military campaigns launched in the late 3rd century BC by the Qin state against the other six major Chinese states — Han, Zhao, Yan, Wei, Chu and Qi. During 247–221 BC, Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States.

Qin campaign against the Yue tribes

As trade was an important source of wealth for the Yue tribes of coastal China, the region south of the Yangtze River attracted the attention of Emperor Qin Shi Huang to undertake a series of military campaigns to conquer it. Lured by its temperate climate, fertile fields, maritime trade routes, and relative security from the warring factions from the west and northwest, the wealth and access to luxury tropical products from Southeast Asia motivated the Emperor to send an army to conquer the Yue kingdoms. The emperor craved for the resources of the Baiyue and dispatched military expeditions against the region between 221 and 214 BC. It would take Emperor Qin Shi Huang five successive military excursions before finally defeating the Yue in 214 BC.

Ancient Chinese states historical state within China prior to Chinas unification in 221 BCE

Ancient Chinese States were typified by variously sized city states and territories that existed in China prior to its unification by Qin Shi Huang in 221 BCE. In many cases these were vassal states characterized by tribute paid to the ruling Zhou dynasty. Such states and fiefdoms would again emerge during later dynasties as a political expedient when required.

Zhang Cang 張蒼 was the representative thinker of the Yin-Yang School, as well as a Confucian scholar, general, and prime-minister under Liu Bang. Evidence on his life is contained in the Book of Han and some later sources.



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Further reading

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