The Birth of an Empire
& the Death of an Emperor
Qin Shihuang's Terracotta Army
Qin Icon
Mount Tai
  Legitimizing the Dynasty
The Feng & Shan Sacrifices
Seal Script Characters for Feng and Shan
Empress Wu Performing the Feng and Shan Sacrifices
Tai Shan (Mount Tai) Today
Twenty-eighth year (219): the emperor visited the provinces and districts of the east and ascended Mt. Yi in Zhuo. He set up a stone marker and, consulting with the Confucian scholars of Lu, had it inscribed with praises of the virtue of the Qin. He also consulted with the scholars on matters pertaining to the Feng and Shan sacrifices and sacrifices to the various mountains and rivers. Afterward he ascended Mt. Tai, set up a stone marker, and performed the Feng sacrifice. On the way down, he encountered violent wind and rain and had to rest under a tree. He accordingly enfeoffed the tree with the title of fifth rank counsellor. He performed the Shan sacrifice at Liangfu and set up a stone marker inscribed with these words:
The August Emperor mounted the throne, issuing edicts, clarifying laws, which his subjects observe and obey.
     In the twenty-sixth year of his rule he first united the world; there were none who did not come to him in submission.
     In person he visited the people of distant regions, ascending Mt. Tai, surveying the eastern extremity all around.
     The ministers in his retinue, mindful of his deeds, seeking the source of his achievements, reverently praise his merits and virtue.
     The way of good government is implemented, the various occupations obtain what is needful, all is gauged by law and pattern.
     His great principles are noble and pre-eminent, to be bestowed on future generations, who will receive and honour them without change.
     The August Emperor, sage that he is, has brought peace to the world, never neglectful of his rule.
(Records of the Grand Historian: Qin, 46)
 Mount Langya: Qin Memorial
Feng and Shan Insrcription
Qin Icon
Qin Shihuangdi: The First Emperor
Qin Shi Huangdi’s Legacy

(cf. OE, 97-8)

Established a standard currency

Qin Coin

Bamboo Page Divider

Unified weights and measures

Qin Weights and Measures

Bamboo Page Divider

Standardized wheel-span for carts

Terra Cotta Chariot
Bamboo Page Divider

Standardized the Chinese written script

Seal Script Characters for "Qin Shihuang"

Bamboo Page Divider

Established the commandery system of centralized rule

Map of Qin Commanderies
Bamboo Page Divider

Built a network of over 4,000 miles of roads,
dug irrigation canals, and connected existing walls
to build the first “Great Wall of China”

Qin Era Great Wall
The Great Wall Throughout History
The Contemporary Great Wall
Qin Icon
Writing Brush
On the Other Hand ...
According to the historians of the Han dynasty, the greatest opposition to Qin rule came from those at the bottom of society who were forced to do military or labor service. The official history of the Han dynasty tells the story of how a group of laborers, delayed by rain, decided to revolt. “Now if we flee, we shall die,” they said. “If we undertake a great plan, we shall die. It’s death either way. But we could risk death for a kingdom.” Because absconding from labor service brought death, as did rebellion, they reasoned that they might as well rise up against the harsh rule of the Qin. (OE, 102)
Bamboo Copy of Records of the Grand Historian
In his reflections on the rise and fall of the First Emperor, the Grand Historian, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE) concluded:
Sima Qian
Then Qin faced south to call itself ruler of the empire, which meant that the world now had a Son of Heaven to head it. The masses hoped that they would be granted the peace and security to live out their lives, and there was not one of them who did not set aside selfish thoughts and look up to the sovereign in reverence. ... But the First Emperor was greedy and short-sighted, confident in his own wisdom, never trusting his meritorious officials, never getting to know his people. He cast aside the kingly Way and relied on private procedures, outlawing books and writings, making the laws and penalties much harsher, putting deceit and force foremost and humanity and righteousness last, leading the whole world in violence and cruelty. In annexing the lands of others, one may place priority on deceit and force, but insuring peace and stability in the lands one has annexed calls for a respect for authority. Hence I say that seizing, and guarding what you have seized, do not depend upon the same techniques. (RGH: Qin, 81)
Han Scholar Jia Yi
The Han scholar Jia Yi (201-169 BCE) similarly wrote:
Qin, with its originally tiny territory and a force of only one thousand chariots, nevertheless summoned to itself the eight regions of the world and made its peers pay court to it for more than a century. Later, after it had converted everything within the six directions into its home and made the Xiao and Han passes into its strongholds, a single fellow created trouble, whereupon its seven ancestral temples straightway toppled, its rulers died at the hands of men, and it became the laughing stock of the world.
       Why? Because it failed to display humanity (ren) and righteousness (yi) or to realize there is a difference between the power to attack and the power to consolidate. (
OE, 102)
Qin Icon
Bamboo Scroll
On the Other Other Hand ...
We must be cautious ... in using later sources to study the Qin. In one of the most infamous incidents recorded by later historians, the Qin emperor launched a large-scale book burning in 213 B.C.E. that sought to destroy all dissenting points of view. ... Still, we must remember that books were made of wooden slips. Because most classical learning, and certainly The Book of Songs, continued to be transmitted from teacher to student, a book burning would not have had much effect.
The Burning of the Books and the Burying of Scholars
Jia Yi’s Confucian viewpoint, with its emphasis on humanity and righteousness, provided the Han dynasty with the perfect justification for the overthrow of the Qin. As a piece of historical writing dictated by political considerations, the story of the rebelling laborers further contributed to the myth. In the Grand Historian Sima Qian’s account of the Zhou conquest of the Shang (occurring some eight hundred years earlier and described in chapter 1), the last Shang king, surrounded by beautiful women and luxuries, could do no right, while the first Zhou king could do no wrong. The same kind of stereotyping shaped later accounts of how the Han dynasty leaders overthrew the Qin.
       A tomb excavated in 1975 provides a surprising corrective to received wisdom about Qin brutality. The legal materials from the Shuihudi tomb reveal that men called up for service who failed to report or who absconded were liable to be beaten, not killed, as the Han historians falsely maintained in their account of the dynasty’s founding. The officials in charge of a group of laborers could be fined one shield if the laborers were six to ten days late; a suit of armor if over ten days late. We must conclude that the Han-dynasty historians overstated these punishments to discredit the previous and fallen Qin dynasty. ... Contrary to the writings of the Han historians, and contrary to the expectations of modern scholars, the provisions from the Qin code stress close adherence to a rigorously delineated series of judicial procedures. ... [They] depict a a legal system that stressed careful procedures usually marked by unvarying punishments for specific crimes — they show, in short, a legal system far different from that suggested by Han-dynasty denunciations of the unjust rule of the Qin. (
OE, 103-5)
... and What About Ulrich Heininger?
Ulrich Heininger
Only when in our century the image of the past changed with the collapse of the Empire, modern historiographers stressed the lasting merits Qin Shihuang deserved for China’s unity. The negative aspects of his rule receded proportionately. Thus the losses occasioned by the burning of the books, were given less weight, when historians referred to the destruction of the Imperial library by rebels as the chief cause for the big gaps in the pre-Han literary tradition. Yet up to the present, the emperor remains in Chinese and Western accounts incriminated with the murder of the Confucianists.
The Burying of Scholars
An event like the murdering of four hundred and sixty Confucian scholars was monstrous enough. So a treatise dealing with the despotism of the First Emperor should mention it. That the Xinyu contains no comment on this atrocity, proves the whole story as a later invention. (Burying the Scholars Alive)
So ...
was the
First Emperor:
a hero?
a villain?
Qin Shihuangdi: The First Emperor
... and what can this teach us about Mao?
Mao Speaking at Tiananmen Square
Qin Icon
Mausoleum of the First Emperor
The Death of an Emperor
The First Emperor hated any talk of dying, and none of his officials dared even allude to the matter of death. When his illness grew increasingly grave he wrote a letter under the imperial seal to be sent to his son, Prince Fusu, saying, “When mourning is announced, proceed to Xianyang and carry out the burial.” The letter had already been sealed and deposited with Zhao Gao, chief of the office of imperial carriage, who had charge of official seals, but it had not yet been entrusted to a messenger.
       In the seventh month [of 210 BCE] ... the First Emperor passed away at the Ping Terrace in Shaqiu or Sand Hill. ... Zhao Gao accordingly joined with Prince Huhai and the chancellor Li Si in plotting in secret, destroying the sealed letter that the emperor had prepared to be sent to Prince Fusu. They then forged a testamentary edict that was supposed to have been received by the chancellor Li Si from the emperor at Shaqiu which designated Huhai as heir apparent. They also prepared a new letter to be sent to Prince Fusu and Meng Tian, accusing them of various crimes and ordering them to commit suicide. (
RGH: Qin, 62-3)

The Burial of an Emperor
In the ninth month, the First Emperor was interred at Mt. Li. When the emperor first came to the throne he began digging and shaping Mt. Li. Later, when he unified the empire, he had over 700,000 men from all over the empire transported to the spot. They dug down to the third layer of an underground springs and poured in bronze to make the outer coffin. Replicas of palaces, scenic towers, and the hundred officials, as well as rare utensils and wonderful objects, were brought to fill up the tomb. Craftsmen were ordered to set up crossbows and arrows, rigged so they would immediately shoot down anyone attempting to break in. Mercury was used to fashion imitations of the hundred rivers, the Yellow river and the Yangtze, and the seas, constructed in such a way that they seemed to flow. Above were representations of all the heavenly bodies, below, the features of the earth. “Man-fish” oil was used for lamps, which were calculated to burn for a long time without going out. (RGH: Qin, 63)

Entrance Ticket for the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum
Click for Slide Show of the Terra Cotta Warriors
Bamboo Page Divider
Qin Shihuang's Seal with Li Si's Calligraphy
Essay 1
Memorial to the Second Qin Emperor

In 210 BCE, the Second Qin Emperor (Qin Er Shi) was enthroned at the age of twenty-one following the death of his father, the First Emperor of China (Qin Shihuangdi). According to the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), the Second Emperor was placed on the throne by the Prime Minister Li Si and the Chief Eunuch Zhao Gao, who manipulated the line of succession for their own benefit and in the process destabilized the dynasty and contributed to its collapse a few years later. However, what if Li Si and Zhao Gao had been challenged by a billiant official with the capiacity to teach the Second Emperor the proper Way of the Ruler and thereby stabilize the dynasty? For your first assignment, you will be that brilliant official, writing a detailed “memorial” to the Second Emperor that (i) identifies the causes of the Zhou dynasty’s failure; (ii) explains the reasons for the First Emperor’s success; and (iii) establishes a new ideology that will secure the dynasty for ten thousand generations. Since the First Emperor implemented a Legalist polity, you will need to decide whether to advocate for continuing this approach without modification or to temper/replace it with one of the other political solutions of the period, such as Confucianism or Daoism. You should also indicate whether you would maintain the centralized rule of the First Emperor or restore (partially or fully) the type of “feudalism” that prevailed during the Zhou dynasty. For grading details, see the Essay 1 Rubric.
Qin Icon