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What is Qin Dynasty?

By Licia Morrow
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Qin Dynasty took place between 221 BC and 206 BC, and was ruled by emperors Yingzheng and Hu Hai. After years of political fighting, Emperor Yingzheng, also known as Emperor Qin Shi Huang, overthrew the warring states of Han, Zhao, Wei, Yan, Chu, and Qi, establishing the Shaanxi Province city of Xianyang as the Qin Dynasty capital. This was the first time in Chinese history that the country was centralized and unified, and this dynasty affected the development of the many dynasties that were to follow.

During his reign, Emperor Qin made many changes to the Chinese government, culture, and economy. In governmental affairs, he reorganized the major departments and restructured local regions, proclaiming himself as emperor of the state. This effectively centralized all political power under his personal authority.

Before the Qin Dynasty, a system of standard weights and measures did not exist. Emperor Qin called for an established system, and also decreed that the Ban Liang Coin was to be used as the country’s monetary standard. He also proclaimed Qinzhuan as the standard style for written characters.

Much of Emperor Qin’s work during the Qin Dynasty helped to develop the country’s economy. For example, he focused his energies on improving waterways and road building. The building of the Great Wall of China was begun during his reign, and he also succeeded in building the famous terra-cotta warriors that guarded his grave.

Although he made many contributions, Emperor Qin practiced tyranny by burning books, murdering Confucian scholars, imposing extreme taxes, and forcing labor and military service. The common people who lived during the Qin Dynasty were troubled, and many were imprisoned and forced into labor for not following Qin’s strict laws. Many opulent palaces were built from this labor force.

When Emperor Qin died in 210 BCE, his second son, Hu Hai, succeeded him. The end of the Qin Dynasty was actually ruled by an advisor named Zhao Gao, whose plotting and devious tricks reduced Hu Hai to nothing more than a puppet. The peasants staged a coup, started by Wu Guang and Chen Sheng. Xiang Yu and Liu Bang continued to lead the rebels, and in 206 BCE, Liu Bang overtook the capital city and the Qin Dynasty was officially over.

In 206 BCE, the Chu-Han war broke out between the rebellious factions that had overthrown the Qin Dynasty. Liu Bang emerged as the victor and went on to construct the Western Han Dynasty.

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Discussion Comments

By SteamLouis — On Sep 22, 2011

@burcidi-- Yea, I believe it was the shortest Chinese Dynasty.

And did you know that technically, the Great Wall had already started being built before Qin Dynasty? The norther Chinese states each had their individual walls to protect from invaders. When Emperor Qin took over all of the states, he decided to connect all of them and make one single wall.

Even if it was a short-lived dynasty that is not being remembered too well, I think Emperor Qin still deserves praise for building the Great Wall.

By burcinc — On Sep 22, 2011

@burcidi-- The article did a good job covering the different factors leading to the fall of the Qin Dynasty, but I think that oppression and tyranny was the biggest cause.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang did not treat the people well, he had too many large and expensive projects going on and he oppressed the people for the money and man power required for them.

I also think that the Emperor made a huge mistake by trying to eliminate Confucianism. He also did not foresee the threats to the throne after his death and things just got worse afterward. The oppression and tyranny eventually led to the revolts and fall of Qin Dynasty.

By burcidi — On Sep 21, 2011

The Qin Dynasty only lasted 15 years?! I'm really surprised about this. Considering the improvements that were made to the government and economy, I would have expected this dynasty to have lasted longer.

Is it the shortest living dynasty of China?

Which do you think is more responsible for its fall, the centralized government that was imposed on the people or an incompetent ruler?

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