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5-08-2015, 22:21

China’s First Emperor

In 246 BCE, the state of Qin (pronounced “chin”) in northwestern China declared a new ruler. The new king, Ying Zheng, was only 13 years old, but he would rule over the small, powerful territory held by the Qin people.

Zheng may have been young, but he was ambitious. At the time, China was divided into seven separate states—Qin, Han, Zhao, Chu, Yan, Wei, and Qi— each controlled by a different ruler. Zheng wanted to rule over all the Chinese states. The Qin army was better supplied, better organized, and faster than the armies from the other states.

With the help of his adviser, Li Si, Zheng used his military might to conquer the states one by one. By 221 BCE, ancient China was under Zheng’s control.

Zheng changed his name to Qin Shihuangdi. Di was a name used for the gods. The title Huangdi meant he thought of himself as a

An artist’s rendition of Qin Shihuangdi, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty

living god. His new name Shihuangdi meant “first sovereign emperor,” and he became the first Chinese ruler with the title of emperor.1


Qin Shihuangdi’s realm spanned most of the eastern part of modern China, and governing the region was an enormous task. Qin Shihuangdi believed he was the supreme ruler, and if his subjects disagreed with him, they were punished. This strict manner of governing was known as legalism.

Qin Shihuangdi ordered that many things become standardized including weights, measurements, and writing. He also improved the roadways so citizens could easily move from place to place, which improved trading.

He ordered a canal built to connect several of China’s major rivers. Qin Shihuangdi also built a wall, which would eventually become part of the Great Wall, to protect his kingdom from attacks from the Huns, a group of nomads from the north.

Although Qin Shihuangdi made great strides in unifying ancient China and advancing the region’s infrastructure, he was a strict ruler. As part of Qin Shihuangdi’s legalist thinking, he viewed scholars as a threat because they might oppose his rule. Historians believe Qin Shihuangdi buried more than 400 scholars alive because they opposed his way of thinking.