British Museum collections, £12.99
Explore / Articles
China: Qin dynasty (221-207 BC)
The Qin dynasty inherited the territory and traditions of the Zhou in the Wei River area. Politically, the state of Qin did not become significant before the time of King Mu Gong (reigned 659-621 BC), who was responsible for making it the main power in the west of China. It set out to conquer and absorb many non-Chinese tribes and states scattered within, west and below the big loop of the Yellow River, also moving southwards and east into Hubei province. Because of its occupation of relatively remote western regions, Qin was regarded as somewhat foreign and backward by other Chinese states. By 221, Qin had eclipsed all rivals and unified China.
Although the Qin dynasty was shortlived, it was crucial to the formation of China as a unified and homogenous state. It was even responsible for giving China its English name, Qin being pronounced 'chin'. Scripts, weights and coins were standardized throughout the country. Road networks were established and the first part of the Great Wall was constructed to keep out marauding nomads. Daily life was harsh for ordinary people, and no dissent was tolerated. Scholars were suppressed and many books and records were burned.
The rulers of the Qin established the role of the ruler as paramount. The authority with which the emperor was regarded is visible today in the Terracotta Army; the 8,000 life-size figures which remain guarding the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the dynasty's only effective emperor. He gave himself the name Shi Huangdi, 'First Emperor', declaring that his dynasty would last thousands of years. After his death in 210 BC, however, the dynasty quickly collapsed.