Qin Shihuangdi – Life and legacy

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An eternal ruler

Qin Shihuangdi died suddenly in 210 BC, aged 49. Despite his declaration that the Qin Dynasty would last thousands of years, it collapsed in 207 BC.

Before his death, and believing he would rule forever, the First Emperor decided to recreate his entire empire and court underground in clay, wood and bronze. Over a period of more than 30 years, around 700,000 labourers built him a palace for the afterlife.

He surrounded this palace with representations of his officials, his buildings, his parks and animals – everything he would need to carry on his life without end. He planned that his body would be buried under a mound representing a miniature mountain, so that he would become an eternal part of China’s landscape.

The site was chosen for its location, protected by mountains in the south (mount Li) and west (Qinling mountains) and water to the north (Wei river). The east led to the Great Central Plains, but was protected by a terracotta army: 8.000 soldiers and horses modelled in clay in what marks a new highpoint in the art of sculpture in early China.

When the First Emperor died he was buried in a tomb at the heart of the complex and while the location of the tomb mound was known, the terracotta army remained hidden until its chance discovery by farmers in 1974. The tomb itself has not yet been excavated although scientific tests have been carried out.

Although his dynasty did not last long, the deeds of the First Emperor created a huge legacy. He was crucial to the formation of China as a unified state and was even responsible for giving China its English name. Scripts, weights and coins were standardised, road networks were established and the first part of the Great Wall was constructed to keep out marauding nomads.

The First Emperor's impact on the world can still be felt today.

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