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The Giants Back

Qin Shihuang

Imperial china begins with the founding of the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. (Qin, pronounced "chin," is the derivation of the English word "China"). Although the Qin dynasty was short-lived, it set the model for a unified and homogeneous state. The Han dynasty that followed was one of the most stable and prosperous periods in Chinese history. Several centuries of division followed the downfall of the Han, until the country was united again under the Sui (A.D. 581-618) and Tang dynasties (A.D. 618-906).
King Zheng assumed the leadership of Qin in the year 246 B.C. at age thirteen, and only a few years later launched a series of military campaigns that led to the defeat of all rival states. He proclaimed himself Qin Shi Huangdi (the First Emperor of Qin), initiating an imperial dynasty that would rule over all the kingdoms of China. A new capital was built at Xianyang, on the Wei River opposite present-day Xi'an. Here, the First Emperor centralized control and formed a huge court bureaucracy to administer the new empire. The country was divided into thirty-six areas, each with its own governor. The emperor standardized weights, measures, writing scripts, money, roads, and even the axle widths of chariots. His most ambitious building projects included work on the first Great Wall (meant to keep out foreign invaders) and his own mausoleum, in which as many as 700,000 workers toiled to supply a model army for his defense and a model palace for his afterlife. The First Emperor is also remembered for his fear of subversion, which led to the burning of books and harsh treatment of scholars. His brutal regime and severe laws led to the demise of the dynasty, which was toppled only three years into the reign of his successor, his youngest son.

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