The history of China can never be complete without the mention of Qin Shi Huang. Known as the first emperor, Huang engineered the military, administrative and economic policies that unified all of China for the first time. He also masterminded the construction of several historic monuments including the forerunner to the Great Wall of China. Huang was however not without his failings. He reportedly oversaw the killing of numerous scholars just to perpetuate the greatness of his dynasty. Want to know more about this important historical figure? Then, come with us.
Qin Shi Huang’s Early Life and Background Details
Qin Shi Huang (birth name – Ying Zheng or Zhao Zheng) was born in February 259 BC. His father was Prince Yiren, who would go on to become King Zhuangxiang of Qin State. His mother was formerly the concubine of a rich merchant and her name was Lady Zhao.
Some sources state that Huang is actually the biological son of the aforementioned rich merchant but this has been dismissed as an attempt to tarnish his image. At the time Qin was born, China comprised of seven states that were always battling each other. This period was known as The Warring States Period, and Huang grew up learning about these wars as well as the history of China.
All these were in a bid to prepare him for the leadership of Qin State one day. Huang’s father passed away in 246 BCE and he found himself saddled with leadership. He was however still young at that time (13 years old) and as such, a temporary leader was appointed.
What Were His Achievements?
Qin Shi Huang formally assumed full power at the age of 22 (in 235 BC) and immediately commenced the ruthless implementation of his grand plan to unify all of China. He first utilized his military might and conquered the remaining six states. The first to fall was Han State followed by Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan, and Qi states (in 221 BC).
Huang did not stop at this juncture but rather rolled out several policies geared at strengthening the bonds of unity. The first was an administrative policy in which he divided entire China into 36 admin units known as commanderies. These commanderies were further divided into districts and counties, and officials were appointed on the basis of merit rather than birth status. The second policy was an economic one during which he standardized the unit of measurement as well as the currency used throughout China.
Qin Shi Huang also embarked on the construction of a vast network of roads and canals which greatly improved trade and travel. Finally, the self-declared emperor ordered that the scripts of the Chinese language be harmonized and made uniform.
Huang’s reign was however not without some negatives. The emperor staunchly believed in the supremacy of his Qin dynasty and opposed any religion or school of thought contrary to this belief. He, therefore, rounded up hundreds, if not thousands, of dissenting scholars and executed them. Huang also ordered the burning of all texts except books related to agriculture, medicine, and historical records of the Qin dynasty.
How Did Qin Shi Huang Die?
Emboldened by his ability to unify all of China, Qin Shi Huang boasted that his Qin dynasty would last for 10,000 generations. He thus embarked on a quest to find an elixir which would make him immortal in order to fulfill his prophecy. Huang consulted several masters, magicians, and teachers all to no avail. The emperor later sent out a ship carrying hundreds of men and women in search of Anqi Sheng, a magician who was said to be 1000 years old. These people never found the magician and all of them fled in order to avoid certain death.
Huang eventually fell sick during his fourth tour of eastern China and died on 10th of September, 210 BC. His death threw his court into disarray as they knew that a revelation of his demise would lead to the collapse of his unified empire. These advisers, therefore, hid his death until they got back to the capital, Xianyang, two months later.
Qin Shi Huang was eventually buried in an enormous mausoleum which he had constructed during his lifetime. His tomb featured a vast terracotta army of 8,000 soldiers, horses, and chariots. It also contained thousands of life-sized figures (archers, infantrymen, musicians, and entertainers) who would keep him company in the afterlife.
Fun Facts About The Founder of Qin Dynasty
1. His Terracota tomb complex was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1987
2. He survived several assassination attempts including one that involved a flute full of lead.
3. He never married but rather had numerous concubines, and fathered about 50 children.
4. Qin Shi Huang oversaw the construction of the Lingqu Canal, located in the southern part of China.
5. He reportedly died as a result of a poisonous chemical which he ingested in his quest for eternal life.