Qin dynasty

221 BC–206 BC
Commanderies of the Qin dynasty
Commanderies of the Qin dynasty
Common languagesOld Chinese
Religion 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
• 210 BC
CurrencyBan Liang
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Zhou dynasty
Qin (state)
Eighteen Kingdoms
Han dynasty
Today part ofChina
Qin dynasty
Qin dynasty (Chinese characters).svg
"Qin dynasty" in Qin-era seal script (top) and modern (bottom) Chinese characters
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia dynasty c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang dynasty c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou dynasty c. 1046 – 256 BC
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn
   Warring States
Qin dynasty 221–206 BC
Han dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Xin dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern JinSixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui dynasty 581–618
Tang dynasty 618–907
  (Second Zhou dynasty 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao dynasty
Song dynasty
  Northern SongWestern Xia
  Southern SongJin
Yuan dynasty 1271–1368
Ming dynasty 1368–1644
Qing dynasty 1644–1912
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic of China 1949–present

The Qin dynasty (Chinese: ; pinyin: Qín Cháo; Wade–Giles: Ch'in2 Ch'ao2) was the first dynasty of Imperial China, 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, with interruption and adaptation, until 1912 CE.

The Qin sought to create a state unified by structured political power and a large military supported by a stable economy.[1] 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.[2]

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 dynasty Confucians portrayed the 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

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

Notably, Qin Legalism encouraged practical and ruthless warfare.[7] During the Spring and Autumn period,[8] 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.[9] 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."[10]

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."[11] 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.[12]

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.[7]

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;[12] the Wei River canal built in 246 BC was particularly significant in this respect.[13]

Conquest of the Warring States

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

When the conquests were complete in 221 BC, King Zheng – who had first assumed the throne of the Qin state at age 9[17] – became the effective ruler of China.[18] 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.[18] He then combined the titles of the earlier Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors into his new name: Shi Huangdi (皇帝) or "First Emperor".[19][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.[20]

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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.

Three assassination attempts were made on Qin Shi Huang's life,[23] 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.[17] 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.[24]

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.[24] 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.[13] 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.[25][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.[26] Despite the short duration of the Qin dynasty, it was very influential on the structure of future dynasties.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Qin-dinastie
Alemannisch: Qin-Dynastie
asturianu: Dinastía Qin
Bân-lâm-gú: Chîn
Bikol Central: Dinastiyang Ch'in
български: Цин (3 век пр.н.е.)
brezhoneg: Tierniezh Qin
буряад: Цинь улас
català: Dinastia Qin
čeština: Dynastie Čchin
Deutsch: Qin-Dynastie
Ελληνικά: Δυναστεία Τσιν
español: Dinastía Qin
Esperanto: Dinastio Qin
euskara: Qin dinastia
français: Dynastie Qin
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Chhìn-chhèu
한국어: 진나라
հայերեն: Ցին դինաստիա
हिन्दी: चिन राजवंश
hrvatski: Qin (dinastija)
Bahasa Indonesia: Dinasti Qin
italiano: Dinastia Qin
עברית: שושלת צ'ין
Basa Jawa: Wangsa Qin
ქართული: ცინი
Kiswahili: Nasaba ya Qin
Latina: Domus Qin
latviešu: Cjiņu dinastija
lietuvių: Činų dinastija
მარგალური: ცინი
Bahasa Melayu: Dinasti Qin
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Cìng-dièu
монгол: Цинь улс
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ချင်မင်းဆက်
Nederlands: Qin-dynastie
日本語: 秦朝
norsk nynorsk: Qin-dynastiet
occitan: Dinastia Qin
ភាសាខ្មែរ: រាជវង្សឈិន
polski: Dynastia Qin
português: Dinastia Chin
română: Dinastia Qin
Simple English: Qin dynasty
slovenščina: Dinastija Č'in
српски / srpski: Династија Ћин
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Dinastija Qin
svenska: Qindynastin
Türkçe: Çin Hanedanı
українська: Династія Цінь
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: چىن سۇلالىسى
Vahcuengh: Caenzciuz
Tiếng Việt: Nhà Tần
Winaray: Dinastiya Qin
吴语: 秦朝
粵語: 秦朝
中文: 秦朝