Qin Dynasty | 10 Facts About China’s First Imperial Dynasty


Qin dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China. It was responsible for unifying China and laid the foundation for future empires. Here are 10 interesting facts about the reign and achievements of Qin dynasty.


#1 Feizi was the founder of the state of Qin

Bust of Shang Yang
Bust of the legalist Shang Yang

Feizi was a skilled horse breeder who worked for King Xiao of Zhou breeding and training horses for his army. For his contribution King Xiao appointed Feizi to rule over the city of Qin during 9th century BC. The modern city of Tianshui stands where this city once was. Feizi is regarded as founder of the state of Qin, which went on to become one of the seven dominant states during the Warring States period.

#2 Shang Yang’s philosophy of Legalism made Qin more powerful

Shang Yang came to power as a court official in the state of Qin in 361 BC. He introduced a clear political philosophy known as Legalism. Legalism encouraged practical and ruthless warfare contrasting to the prevalent philosophy in China by which war was fought with morals like the enemy was allowed to set up formation before attack. Shang Yang’s Legalism was critical in making Qin more politically and militarily powerful than the other states.

#3 Qin dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China

The period in Chinese history before the reign of Qin dynasty is referred to as the Warring States period. It was dominated by the Seven Warring States, namely, Han, Zhao, Yan, Wei, Chu, Qi and Qin. King Zheng of Qin started his successful campaign to conquer the remaining six states in 230 BC and in 221 BC, China became a unified centralized state for the first time. King Zheng took the title of “Qin Shi Huang” or the “First Emperor of Qin”.

Present China and area under Qin Dynasty
Present China and the area under Qin Dynasty at its height


#4 Their reign lasted only 15 years, from 221 BC to 206 BC

Statue of Qin Shi Huang
Marble statue of Qin Shi Huang – The First Emperor of Qin Dynasty

After the death of Qin Shi Huang, his son Huhai took the throne as Qin Er Shi. He proved to be an ineffective leader and there were revolts all over the empire. Qin Er Shi committed suicide and his nephew Ziying became the third and last emperor of Qin dynasty. In 207 BC, Ziying was defeated and executed by the Chu leader Xiang Yu. The following year the Qin capital was destroyed bringing an end to their reign after only 15 years.

#5 Independent states system was abolished when Qin dynasty came to power

When Qin dynasty came to power, all weapons not in possession of Qin were confiscated and melted down. The conquered states were not allowed to be referred to as independent nations and the empire was divided into 36 districts. Officials were appointed on the basis of merit rather than hereditary rights. Role of aristocrats and landowners were minimized with the government having direct control over peasantry. People were heavily taxed and forced to do some military service.

#6 Non-legalist philosophies including Confucianism were suppressed

Before the Qin dynasty varied philosophies flourished which were known as the Hundred Schools of Thoughts. Confucianism was also very influential. Qin dynasty ruled with a single philosophy, Legalism and all other non-legalist philosophies including Confucianism were suppressed. Legalism gave absolute power to the emperor and individual rights were devalued when they conflicted with that of the ruler.


#7 Chinese script was unified during the Qin rule

Prime minister of First Emperor, Li Si unified the Chinese script by bringing a new, simplified, standardized script. This had a unification effect on the Chinese culture for thousands of years and is considered an important achievement under Qin dynasty. Also a style of calligraphy was created which is still used in cards, posters and advertising. Other reforms during Qin rule include standardization of currency, weights and measures.

Bronze Measuring Instrument of the Qin Dynasty
Bronze Measuring Instrument of the Qin Dynasty


#8 Qin are known for their great construction projects

To guard against the nomadic Mongols, construction of an enormous defensive wall was started during the reign of Qin dynasty. This would later go on to become the Great Wall of China. Other great architectural and engineering achievements of the Qin dynasty include the Lingqu Canal and the huge tomb complex known as the Qin Mausoleum that includes the Terracotta Warriors.

Qin Mausoleum with the Terracotta Warriors
Qin Mausoleum with the Terracotta Warriors


#9 Qin Dynasty is infamous for burning of books and burying of scholars event

The most infamous event that occurred during the Qin reign was the burning of books and burying alive 460 Confucian scholars. This is said to have occurred during the reign of the First Emperor and due to it Qin Shi Huang remained a hated figure in China till the nineteenth century. However some modern scholars believe that though books were burned, two copies were preserved and though scholars were killed, they were not buried alive.

Depiction of burning of books and burying of scholars event
Depiction of the infamous burning of books and burying of scholars event


#10 China derives its European name from Qin dynasty

Though their reign was short, Qin dynasty laid the political and administrative foundation for the later empires. Its policies and philosophies had a deep influence on future dynasties, especially the Han. The name ‘Qin’ (pronounced as ‘Chin’) is believed to be the etymological ancestor of the modern-day European name of the country, China.

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