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First Emperor of China

Page history last edited by Gabriel Rodriguez 3 years, 2 months ago

18th century French line engraving of Qin Shi Huang





Focus Question:


How did the First Emperor unify China by subduing warring factions, seizing land, centralizing government, imposing strict rules, and creating with the use of slave labor in large state building projects for irrigation, transportation, and defense (e.g., the Great Wall)?


Topics on the Page


Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor


Unifying China


Building Projects


Quest for Immortality

  • Role of the Terracotta Army 



Who was the first emperor?


  • Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin Dynasty
  • Ruled from 246 BC to 210 BC
  • Before he became ruler, there were 7 different states with various rulers who were fighting for control



Unifying China

  • Huang was able to create a very powerful army
  • Over the course of 9 years, Huang was able to gain control of all the states
  • Became a unified state
  • After he became emperor, Huang made the following changes: 
    • Abolished nobility and replaced them with his officials 
    • Established Xianyang as a capital 
    • Outlawed Confucianism, information about Confucianism is linked here
    • Books that disagreed with him were destroyed
      • He also ordered over 1000 deaths of scholars
      • more information about him burning books and killing scholar is found here  
    • Created an elaborate postal and irrigation system. This allowed mail to travel faster and farming to prosper. 
    • More information of his achievement and sources of the information founded here can be found here  
  • In order to established unity after conquering all of these states he implement these ideas so all of his conquered territory have something in common to overcome cultural barriers
    • Simplified the writing system
    • Standardized weights and measures
    • Created new coins  
    • Conducted a census on the people 


Building Projects he Implemented


  • Many of his construction and labor project required the use of slaves, who were also used in his army 


  • To defend China from northern invaders, Huang ordered the creation of a defensive wall


    • Became the first part of the Great Wall, which is now known as The Great Wall of China
    • Anyone who stood in his way was forced to work on the wall
    • Thousands died in its creation, and many people died building this would be buried inside the wall.
    • Slaves and Prisoners were used first to build this Great Wall 
    • Click here for more information of the builders of the Great Wall 


  • Created a canal that would linked the Yangtze River and Pearl River Delta. This canal allowed easier way for transportation of supplies and army. This canal allowed easier access between North and South China.
    • more information can be found here about the Canal, but also about the Great Wall


  • Created a complex road system that would allowed easier accessibility of travel between major cities and towns that allowed the growth of trade throughout china


More information about these can be found here on this link too about his construction projects 




Centralizing the Government through Legalism 


  • Replaced the feudalistic system with a more legalistic system. More information can be found here about Legalism. 


  • Legalism is the philosophical belief of humans doing more wrong than right because of their self interest. Legalism promotes the strict laws to be followed and punishments to be given to those who breaks them.


  • QIn Shi Huang believed in the philosophy of Legalism that allowed him to establish his empire and dynasty.


  • It allowed QIn Shi Huang to deteriorate other aristocratic families' power and centralized the authority of the empire under a single central government.  
    • More information about Legalism and other philosophy of the early Chinese history can be found here  




Quest for Immortality 

  • Huang feared death and worked to avoid it but ultimately led him to an early death
    • More information can be found Here. This link provided information of him touring around China in search of a way to attain immortality from Ancient Chinese legends and methods


  • He hired doctors and alchemists to create potions to extend his life


  • Most of them contained mercury, which most likely killed him due to poisoning 


This Smithsonian magazine article, “2,000-Year-Old Texts Reveal the First Emperor of China’s Quest for Eternal Life” describes how Qin Shi Huang issued an executive order demanding that his subjects search for an immortality elixir. 


Terracotta horse and two soldiers from the Terracotta Army buried near the

Mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin, at Lintong, Shaanxi Province, 1974

Terracotta horse and two soldiers from the Terracotta Army buried near the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin, at Lintong, Shaanxi Province, 1974

Qin Shi Haung's death and tomb + Role of the Terracotta Army


  • Haung died in 210 BC 
  •  In case he died, he ordered a huge tomb to be made
    • Included rivers, models of his palaces, and traps to catch invaders


  • Also ordered a terracotta army to be made
    • About 8,000 clay soldiers were created to guard his tomb
    • Included terracotta horses, chariots, and weapons
    • These soldiers were to protect him in the afterlife too
    • Each statue have unique facial traits to represent a real life army should be 
    • These are two websites that give more facts about these terracotta warriors: Kids History China Highlight 


Click here to view pictures of the terracotta army



  • Click here for an article on Huang's tomb from National Geographic
    • Additional information about his tomb about the things inside of it can be found here in this link  
  • His tomb was founded by farmers in Xi'an China in 1974 


A lesson plan about Qin Shi Haung's burial tomb can be comparing it to other civilization's burial of royalty. Compare and contrast Qin Shi Haung burial to those of Egyptian pharaoh burial. Both are quite similar.

      • Ideas of these were inspired by this page



For more information about Huang, click here 

Click here for lesson plans on the First Emperor and Imperial China



 This Youtube video, The First Emperor of China, is an English Documentary that retells the life of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.

It showcased his rise to power and the things he done over his lifetime.  This video is about 1 hour and 42 minutes long. 

Click here for resources and information from Mr. Donn's webpage.

  • Click here for a timeline of the unification of China and start and end of the Qin Dynasty


      • Click here for a timeline of the Chinese dynasties 

The Great Wall




Link here to dramatic event page on The Great Wall and the Grand Canal



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