Who Was The First Emperor Of Ancient China?

China was ruled by emperors for over 2,000 years. The emperor was authoritative and greatly respected and his words were considered sacred and were obeyed with immediate effect. The Chinese believe that all emperors that shaped the history of China ruled under the ‘mandate of heaven’, which could be taken away when they did not serve as a strategic and influential leader. One of the most popular and greatly remembered Emperor’s in China was Qin Shi Huang. Read on to learn more about his life, achievements, and ruling style.

who was qin shi Huangdi?

Qin Shi Huang, who ruled between 221 BC and 210 BC, is regarded and greatly remembered as the first emperor of China and the founder of the authoritarian Qin Dynasty. According to most historical records and other Chinese literary works, Qin Shi Huang was the first ruler who united China under one rule in 221 BC, and he began multiple economic, cultural, and political reforms throughout China. These reforms greatly influenced China’s history and governance methods. Along with that, he built up the Great Wall of China, which is considered one of the largest building-construction projects that have ever been undertaken worldwide. He was buried with the fascinating Terracotta Army, which is currently a wonder of the world.

When was the first emperor of China? (Early Years and Rule)

ying zheng

Qin Shi Huang, born Zhao Zheng was born when his father (Zhuangxiang) was held hostage in the state of Zhao. His mother was a concubine of Lu Buwei ( a rich merchant at the time), when Zhuangxiang fell in love with her. When Lu Buwei found out that her concubine had a son with another man, he consented for her to be Zhuangxiang’s wife. She then became Lady Zhao and her husband ascended the throne based on financial and political strategy, as he wasn’t the intended successor. While most scholars are convinced that Qin Shi Huang was an illegitimate child, that wasn’t really the case.

He was given the name Zhao Zheng, which came from his month of birth- Zhengyue (the 1st month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In 246 BCE, when he was about 13 years old, he formally ascended the throne (as King Zheng) and Qin was considered the most powerful state at the time. The central states were convinced that Qin was a very brutal country with a strong position on the mountainous western periphery. Because of Qin’s competitive advantage, Emperor Qin was able to develop a powerful military organization and a strong bureaucratic government, guided by the philosophy of Legalism.

Until he was officially declared of age in 238 BC, his government was headed by Lu Buwei (the rich merchant). When Qin Shi Huang became king/emperor, the first thing he did was to execute his mother’s lover who had joined the opposition, and exile Lu Buwei, who often used his relationship with his mother as a basis for manipulation. By 221 BC, with the help of ruthless leadership of gifted generals, espionage, and excessive bribery, Zheng (Qin Shi Huang) was able to eliminate all 6 remaining rival states that constituted China at the time. The year 221 marked his final triumph and for the first time ever he was able to unite China under the supreme rule of the Qin. All in all, he ruled from 246 to 210 BC, and in his 35-year reign, he caused both intellectual and cultural advancement in China. At the same time, his reign was characterized by massive destruction and oppression within China.

When/How did Qin Shi Huang die?

shi huangdi tomb

According to most Chinese historical records and other literary works, a large meteor is said to have fallen in the lower reaches of the Yellow River in 211 BC. Supposedly, the words ‘The First Emperor of the land will die and his land will be divided immediately after’ were inscribed on the meteor. When Qin Shi Huang heard of the message, he sent one of the imperial secretaries to carry out an investigation into the absurd prophecy. Unfortunately, no one confessed the deed, so the emperor declared that everyone who lived near the Yellow River was to be put to death. The stone was then crushed into small pieces and ignored.

When he was on his fifth tour of Eastern China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang became seriously ill immediately when he arrived in Pingyuajin, which is currently Pingyuan County in Shandong. Sadly, he died in 210 BC at the palace located in Shaqiu Prefecture, which was about two months away by road from the state capital of Xianyang.

To date, the cause of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is unknown. Some people claim that he may have been sick from the stress of running the demanding Qin Empire, while others claim that he died from a Chinese alchemical elixir, which was greatly associated with the fact that he ingested mercury pills made by court physicians and his alchemists to quench his thirst for immortality.

Qin Shi Huangdi Achievements/ Why was Qin Shi Huang Important?

Qin Shi Huang is considered a very important emperor in China as he created the first unified, multi-national, ad powerful state in Chinese History. Although the state survived for only fifteen years, the Qin dynasty played a very important role in Chinese history and it greatly influenced the following dynasty. Some of Qin Shi Huangdi’s achievements were;

Unification of China/ how he unified China

In 230 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang unleashed the last campaigns of the Warring States Period, as he set out to conquer all the remaining independent kingdoms, one at a time. The first state to fall was Hann in 230BC. In 229 BC, Qin took advantage of natural disasters to conquer Zhao where he had been born. When he was there, he sought to avenge his poor treatment as a child hostage and ruthlessly killed all his enemies. He eventually conquered the state of Zhao in 228 BC, followed by the country of Yan in 226 BC, and the small state of Wei in 225 BC. In 223 BC, he was able to conquer his greatest challenge, the state of Chu, and then captured the last remnants of Yan and the royal family in Liaodong in 222 BC.

At this point, the only independent country that was left was the state of Qi, which is currently known as the Shandong Peninsula. The young king of Qi was terrified by Qin Shi Huang (he was King Zheng at the time) and sent a large army to defend his western borders. Unfortunately, the Qin armies were much stronger and they annexed Qi. Generally, Emperor Qin used the standardization of trade and communication, currency, and language, to successfully unify China.

For the first time under his rule, all Chinese counties, lands, and regions, were united under one authoritarian ruler. In the same year, he declared himself the ‘First Emperor’ of the land of China, and he was no longer King Zheng. Prime Minister Li Si, carved onto the Imperial Seal that Emperor Qin had ordered, and wrote ‘Having received his Mandate from Heaven, May the emperor lead a long and prosperous life.

Building the Great Wall of China

shi huangdi great wall of china

Generally, the Qin fought multiple nomadic tribes towards the North and North-West of China. Even so, the Xiongnu tribes were still standing strong and the military campaigns became tiresome, costly, and unsuccessful in the long run. For this reason, Emperor Qin Shi Huang demanded the construction of an immense defensive wall, which is now the Great Wall of China. The whole idea was that the wall needed to be massive enough to prevent the Xiongnu from invading the northern frontier any longer.

Hundreds of men were mobilized to construct the wall, and several died in the process. Reportedly, the wall connected several state walls which had been built before. In order to seamlessly impose centralized rule and prevent the resurgence of any feudal lords in China, he went ahead and ordered the destruction of all the wall sections that divided his empire among the former states. The wall wasn’t supposed to be a permanently fixed border; it needed to be built continuously to connect all the remaining fortifications along the empire’s northern frontier.

Rammed earth was used for construction in the plains, and stones from the mountains were used over mountain ranges. Unfortunately, there isn’t any documentation about the exact length and course of the Qin walls. Also, all the ancient walls seem to have eroded over the years, and very few sections are seen today. While the exact figure is unknown, several men died during the construction of the Great Wall. Currently, the wall is a popular tourist attraction site in China.

The Standardization and Servitude in China

Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty standardized writing, and this was considered a critical factor in overcoming cultural barriers that existed between the different provinces in ancient China. Along with that, he standardized systems of currency, measures, and weights. Also, he conducted a census of his people, built great highways for his people to use, and managed to establish elaborate postal and irrigation systems in the empire. All these unified the empire and created a more cohesive society.

Why did Qin Shi Huang burn books?

Qin Shi Huang burnt books to consolidate his rule. During his reign as emperor, Legalism was the central philosophy and he was greatly against Confucianism and any other philosophy that contradicted his. To ensure that all his subjects adamantly subscribed to his philosophy of Legalism, he could not allow any other forms of philosophy or ideas to exist within his territorial boundary. The best way, at that particular time, to successfully stop the spread of history, philosophical ideas, and other confusing trains of thought contrary to his ruling style, was to burn books that were not about Legalism or other practical subjects. Also, he was convinced that killing all scholars who were in any other non-legalist subjects would also prevent the spread of other philosophical ideas that could tamper with his rule as emperor and divide people. In that regard, he buried over 400 Confucian scholars alive and ensured that all their philosophical texts were burned. He also burned nearly all historical texts that were not about the Qin state. This marked the end of the Hundred Schools of Thought and the philosophy of Mohism was one of the ideas that were completely wiped out.

Where was Qin Shi Huang buried?

One of the most fascinating creations of Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the preparation he made for his own funeral/death. He had a massive tomb constructed for him on Mount Li, which is near the current Xi’an City, located in Shaanxi province in China, and he was buried there after his unexpected death. His tomb was filled with hundreds of thousands of life-sized terracotta soldiers, who were intended to guard him in his afterlife. Each soldier had real weapons and they remain a wonder in the world today.

Why did Qin Shi Huang build the Terracotta Army?

shi Huangdi terracotta army

Generally, the Terracotta army is a wide collection of several carved figures that represent the military troops of Qin Shi Huang, and it is described as funerary artwork buried with the first emperor of China. There are three particular reasons why Qin Shi Huang built the Terracotta Army. First, was because he wanted the army to protect Qin Shi Huang and his tomb. During his reign, he killed many of his rivals and had several enemies, but was still powerful. Even so, he felt that he needed a great sense of protection from his soldiers in the afterlife, where he would meet his enemies. Following advice from his colleagues and friends, he chose to build the pottery warriors that would protect him in his afterlife.

Second, Qin Shu Huang built the Terracotta Army to show his glory within his territorial boundaries (China) and in the world at large. Without a doubt, Emperor Qin had a great sense of pride and he believed that he was the greatest emperor of all time. Because he wanted to be venerated for life, he decided to construct the Terracotta army, which is indeed a wonder in the world and exudes glory.

Lastly, he built the Terracotta army so that they would help him rule the underworld in the afterlife. The emperor was obsessed with power and he believed that by building an army, he would prolong his reign over China and become the king of the underworld, upon his death. It was more or less the quest for immortality that made him build the Terracotta Army warriors.

Final Thoughts

Upon Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s death, China immediately plunged into civil war and the land was exacerbated by floods and drought. In 207 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s son and heir were killed, and the Qin Dynasty collapsed entirely. Even so, his innovations remain a wonder and the Qin Dynasty played a crucial role in the history of China.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *