THE QIN DYNASTY [ 221-206 BC ]


Historians point out that it’s curious that climactic events around the world were unfolding around this same period…even though far apart and totally unconnected.

When the Qin dynasty started, civilizations of Egypt and Greece were in deep decline while the emergent state of Rome barely controlled the Italian peninsula. In Africa, Hannibal’s power—like that of the Qin—was gaining strength. But only 15 years later, Hannibal’s dreams of a European kingdom lay in ruins….coincidentally, almost the same time the Qin dynasty was unraveling.

The Qin (pronounced “Chin”) was China’s first unified empire and directly controlled huge geographical areas. Although one of shortest-lived dynasties, the Qin left an indelible mark on Chinese history. For 21 centuries, China lived under the template set by the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (“First Sovereign Qin Emperor”). His basic model of central government persists to this day.

From the capital of Xianyang (near modern day Xi’an), he wielded more power than any other man since Alexander the Great. Though his ambitions were legendary and contributions great, he was a ruthless tyrant who didn’t know how to back off. Ruling with an iron fist, he dragooned hundreds of thousands into a series of massive projects– ultimately leading to the fall of the Qin.


Eliminating regional differences, his central government standardized everything from money to weights & measures. For instance, he mandated that all cart axles all have the same length. This might seem control-freakish, but it actually made sense: the dirt roads developed deep grooves that sped up trade.

One huge contribution: He started a standardized system of written Chinese.


Government bureaucracy in China is born. His well-ordered state was organized into 36 administrative divisions and further subdivisions—all accountable to strong central government (basic system survives today). Ranks in society were also clearly defined. All household occupants are registered (surviving today in China and other Asian countries as the “hukou” household registration system).


Under the First Emperor, the Qin built a network of roads—thousands of miles—joining their capital to distant outposts of empire. Waterways and sophisticated irrigation systems were also constructed. Significantly, the Qin also connected existing northern walls to protect against the growing threat of nomads. These became the first version of the Great Wall of China.

[ Click here for more on the Great Wall History and Construction ]

He was also responsible for China’s other top tourist attraction: the Terracotta Army, which he believed would protect him in the afterlife from his numerous enemies.

And during his harsh rule, he did gain a lot of enemies. He became more paranoid and ruthless after he survived several assassination attempts (including one by a blind musician wielding a lead harp).

An example of his harsh methods was his zero-tolerance policy for tardiness—even his own generals were executed. In fact, it was this policy that sparked the beginning of a revolt (by peasants who were delayed by heavy rains).

"Dude! Aren't we supposed to be at a meeting right now?!" "Doh!"

210 BC: Qin dies at age of 50. Rebellion spreads fast and furiously. The Qin disintegrates and is eventually replaced by the HAN Dynasty….

NEXT: The Han Dynasty >>

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