The Qin Dynasty (page 2)
The Qin Dynasty
The Zhou dynasty began to collapse in the late 700s BC; the main cause was rivalry from the nearby tribes. By 403 BC, the area of Chinese civilization had expanded, spreading eastward to the coastline, south to the South China Sea, and north to the Gobi Desert. This sprawling civilization comprised several kingdoms. Each had its own army—by the sixth century BC, iron swords and armor had replaced their bronze equivalents—and each had built thick stone and earthen walls for its defense. The seven kingdoms—Seven Warring States—that fought for complete control of China were the Han, Wei, Zhao, Qin, Chu, Yan, and Qi. The Qin (sometimes spelled Ch’in), which had the most powerful and best-organized army, emerged victorious in the struggle about 221 BC. The Qin dynasty barely outlasted its first emperor, but it gave its name to the nation and established certain precedents that would remain constant in Chinese culture and society for centuries to follow.
Zheng, the Qin king, had ruled his kingdom according to Legalist ideas, which advocated a strong, centrally controlled state. Zheng would take the same approach to ruling the Chinese Empire. He took the name Qin Shi Huang Di, or “First Emperor,” and chose Xianyang on the Wei River as his capital city.
Under Zheng, China cast off its traditional feudal model of government and underwent sweeping changes to the economy, the military, and the state. The purpose of the changes was to create a prosperous, centrally controlled state, in keeping with Zheng’s preference for the Legalist way of thinking. Zheng’s tomb, with seventy-five hundred life-sized terra-cotta warriors guarding his remains, provides evidence of his grandiose ideas about the exalted position of the emperor.
Zheng established new taxes to fill the royal treasury; he also oversaw the standardization of weights, measures, and currency. The building of hundreds of miles of roads linked the capital to the provinces. Combined, these measures made trade more efficient and therefore more profitable. Zheng also placed certain major economic activities under state control, including the manufacture of iron and the harvesting and distribution of salt.
Zheng used the military for both expansion and defense. Troops conquered new territory and were stationed in the farthest outposts of the empire to maintain order in case of rebellion. Under Zheng, soldiers were garrisoned as far from the capital as Korea and Vietnam.
Defense was especially necessary in the north; the Xiongnu and other nomadic warrior tribes of Central Asia were a constant threat. To protect his empire from northern invasion, Zheng ordered the filling in of the empty spaces between the walls erected by the individual kingdoms. This mammoth construction project was completed between about 221 and 212 BC. The completed Great Wall of China stretched along the empire’s northern border for fourteen hundred miles. It still stands today; the Chinese have maintained and repaired it all along.
Changes to the Government
The Qin dynasty can accurately be described as a totalitarian state, albeit an efficient one—thus exemplifying the positive and negative implications of the Legalist position. On the positive side, Zheng created a modern bureaucracy that could administer a large empire and established a uniform system of writing that enabled local officials to communicate easily with those in the capital. Perhaps more importantly, China was now a unified empire, without the inter- kingdom squabbling that had characterized the Warring States period. Apart from a relatively short era following the Han dynasty, China has continued as a unified state down to the present day.
On the negative side, Zheng tolerated no opposition to his government. He literally wiped out all those who spoke out against the government; they were either deported, murdered, or imprisoned. Zheng also ordered the forced relocation of massive numbers of peasants to new territories captured by the army. The impressive system of Chinese roads and the Great Wall of China were built by compulsory unpaid labor.
The repressive policies of the Qin dynasty made it so unpopular that it col- lapsed soon after the death of Zheng. His successor was weak and ineffectual, and China soon found itself in the midst of a civil war that pitted aristocrats and Legalists against Confucianists and commoners. Liu Bang, a commoner who had risen through the ranks of the army, became the leader of the latter group; he led his supporters to victory in 202 BC and became the first emperor of the Han dynasty under the name Han Gao-zu.
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