Qin Shi Huang

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Qin Shi Huangdi
秦始皇帝
Qinshihuang.jpg
King of Qin
Reign 7 May 247 – 220 BC
Emperor of China
Reign 220 BC – 10 September 210 BC
Issue Crown Prince Fusu
Prince Gao
Full name
Ancestral name: Ying ()
Clan name: Zhao ()
Given name: Zheng ()
House Qin Dynasty
Father King Zhuangxiang
Mother Lady Zhao
Born 7 February 260 BC
Died 10 August 210 BC (age 50[2])
Shi Huangdi
始皇帝 (篆文).svg
Shi Huangdi in small seal script (220 BC)
Chinese 始皇帝
Literal meaning First Emperor
Qin Shi Huang
Chinese 秦始皇
Literal meaning First Emperor of the Qin
King Zheng of Qin
Chinese
Zhao Zheng
Traditional Chinese 趙政
Simplified Chinese 赵政
Ying Zheng
Chinese 嬴政

Qin Shi Huang (260–210 BC[3]), personal name Zheng, was the King of the state of Qin (r. 246–221 BC[4]) who conquered all other Warring States and united China in 221 BC.[4] Rather than maintain the title of king borne by the Shang and Zhou rulers, he ruled as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. The title emperor (huangdi) would continue to be borne by Chinese rulers for the next two millennia.

During his reign, his generals greatly expanded the size of the Chinese state: campaigns south of Chu permanently added the Yue lands of Hunan and Guangdong to the Chinese cultural orbit; campaigns in Central Asia conquered the Ordos loop from the nomad Xiongnu, although eventually causing their confederation under Modu Chanyu. Qin Shi Huang also worked with his minister Li Si to enact major economic and politic reforms aimed at the standardization of the diverse practices of the earlier Chinese states.[4] This process also led to the banning and burning of many books and the execution of recalcitrant scholars.[1] His public works projects included the unification of diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army. He ruled until his death, which occurred in 210 BC despite an infamous search for an elixir of immortality.[1]

Name

Modern Chinese names have two components, a surname () and a given name (). The nobles of ancient China, however, had two distinct surnames: the ancestral name () comprised a larger group descended from a prominent ancestor, usually said to have lived during the time of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors of Chinese legend, and the clan name () comprised a smaller group that showed a branch's current fief or recent title.

The ancient practice was to list men's names separately—Sima Qian's "Basic Annals of the First Emperor of Qin" introduces him as "given the name Zheng and the surname Zhao"[5][7]—or to combine the clan surname with the personal name: Sima's account of Chu describes the sixteenth year of the reign of King Kaolie as the time when Zhao Zheng was enthroned as King of Qin".[8] However, since modern Chinese surnames (despite usually descending from clan names) use the same character as the old ancestral names, it is much more common in modern Chinese sources to see the emperor's personal name written as Ying Zheng,[9] using the ancestral name of the family who ruled both Qin and Zhao.

The rulers of Qin had styled themselves kings from the time of King Huiwen in 325 BC. Upon his ascension, Zheng became known as the King of Qin[5][6] or King Zheng of Qin.[10][11] This title made him the nominal equal of the rulers of Shang and of Zhou, the last of whose kings had been deposed by King Zhaoxiang of Qin in 256 BC.

Following the surrender of Qi in 221 BC, King Zheng had reunited all of the lands of the former Kingdom of Zhou. Rather than maintain his rank as king, however,[12] he proclaimed the new title of emperor (huángdì). This derived from the titles of the divine Three Sovereigns (三皇, Sān Huáng) and the legendary Five Emperors (五帝, Wŭ Dì) of Chinese prehistory.[13] The title was intended to appropriate some of the prestige of the Yellow Emperor,[14] whose cult was popular in the later Warring States period and who was considered to be a founder of the Chinese people. King Zheng chose the new regnal name of First Emperor (Shǐ Huángdì, formerly transcribed as Shih Huang-ti)[15] on the understanding that his successors would be successively titled the "Second Emperor", "Third Emperor", and so on through the generations. (In fact, the scheme lasted only as long as his immediate heir, the Second Emperor.)[16] The First Emperor intended that his realm would remain intact through the ages but, following its overthrow and replacement by Han after his death, it became customary to prefix his title with Qin. Thus:

  • , Qín or Ch‘in, "of Qin"
  • , Shǐ or Shih, "first"[3]
  • 皇帝, Huángdì or Huang-ti, "emperor", a new term[18] coined from
    • , Huáng or Huang, literally "shining" or "splendid" and formerly most usually applied "as an epithet of Heaven",[19] the high god of the Zhou[17]
    • , or Ti, the high god of the Shang, possibly composed of their divine ancestors,[20] and used by the Zhou as a title of the legendary Five Emperors, particularly the Yellow Emperor

As early as Sima Qian, it was common to shorten the resulting four-character title to 秦始皇,[21] variously transcribed as Qin Shihuang or Qin Shi Huang. The new title carried religious overtones. For that reason, Sinologists—starting with Peter Boodberg[22] or Edward Schafer[23]—sometimes translate it as "thearch" and the First Emperor as the First Thearch.[24]

Following his elevation as emperor, both Zheng's personal name and possibly its homophone [26] became taboo.[27] The First Emperor also arrogated the first-person Chinese pronoun (OC*lrəm,[28] mod.zhèn) for his exclusive use[30] and in 212 BC began calling himself The Immortal (真人, OC*Tin-niŋ,[28] mod.Zhēnrén, lit. "True Man").[12] Others were to address him as "Your Majesty" (陛下, mod.Bìxià, lit. "Beneath the Palace[31] Steps") in person and "Your Highness" () in writing.[12]

Life

Birth

A rich merchant in the State of Han, named Lü Buwei, met Master Yiren (公子異人, Gōngzǐ Yìrén). Lü Buwei's manipulation helped Yiren become King Zhuangxiang of Qin.[1] At the time, Yiren was a prince of Qin who resided at the court of Zhao as a hostage to guarantee the armistice between the two states.[32]

According to the Records of the Grand Historian, the first emperor was born in 259 BC as Yiren's eldest son.[3][33] Prince Yiren had fallen in love at first sight with a concubine belonging to Lü Buwei and Lü had consented to provide her to his protegé. The Lady Zhao bore the child on 18 February, but he was named Zheng () from his birth during the first month (正月, Zhengyue) of the Chinese lunar calendar.[33] His clan name of Zhao came from his father's lineage and was unrelated both to his mother's surname and the location of his birth.[citation needed]

According to the Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian during the next dynasty, the first emperor was not the actual son of Prince Yiren. By the time Lü Buwei introduced the dancing girl Zhao Ji to the prince, she was allegedly Lü Buwei's concubine and had already become pregnant by him.[32] According to translations of the Annals of Lü Buwei, the woman gave birth to the future emperor in the city of Handan in 259 BC, the first month of the 48th year of King Zhaoxiang of Qin.[34]

The idea that the emperor was an illegitimate child was widely believed throughout Chinese history and contributed to the generally negative view of the First Emperor.[3] However, modern analysis has concluded that the sentence in the Records of the Grand Historian describing Qin Shi Huang's unusual birth is probably a later interpolation added in order to slander him.[35] John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel, in their translation of Lü Buwei's Spring and Autumn Annals, call the story "patently false, meant both to libel Lü and to cast aspersions on the First Emperor."[36] Claiming Lü Buwei – a merchant – as the First Emperor's biological father was meant to be especially disparaging, since later Confucian society held merchants to be the lowest of all social classes.[37]

King of Qin

Regency

In 246 BC, when King Zhuangxiang died after a short reign of just three years, he was succeeded on the throne by his 13-year-old son.[38] At the time, Zhao Zheng was still young, so Lü Buwei acted as the regent prime minister of the State of Qin, which was still waging war against the other six states.[3]

Chengjiao, the Lord Chang'an (长安君),[39] was Zhao Zheng's legitimate half-brother, by the same father but from a different mother. After Zhao Zheng inherited the throne, Chengjiao rebelled at Tunliu and surrendered to the state of Zhao. Chengjiao's remaining retainers and families were executed by Zhao Zheng.[40]

Lao Ai's attempted coup

As King Zheng grew older, Lü Buwei became fearful that the boy king would discover his liaison with his mother Lady Zhao. He decided to distance himself and look for a replacement for the queen dowager. He found a man named Lao Ai.[41] According to the Record of Grand Historian, Lao Ai was disguised as a eunuch by plucking his beard. Later Lao Ai and queen Zhao Ji got along so well they secretly had two sons together.[41] Lao Ai then became ennobled as Marquis Lào Ǎi, and was showered with riches. Lao Ai's plot was supposed to replace King Zheng with one of the hidden sons. But during a dinner party drunken Lào Ǎi was heard bragging about being the young king's step father.[41] In 238 BC the king was traveling to the ancient capital of Yōng (雍). Lao Ai seized the queen mother's seal and mobilized an army in an attempt to start a coup and rebel.[41] When King Zheng found out this fact, he ordered Lü Buwei to let Lord Changping and Lord Changwen attack Lao Ai and their army killed hundreds of the rebels at the capital, although Lao Ai succeeded in fleeing from this battle.[42]

A price of 1 million copper coins was placed on Lao Ai's head if he was taken alive or half a million if dead.[41] Lao Ai's supporters were captured and beheaded; then Lao Ai was tied up and torn to five pieces by horse carriages, while his entire family was executed to the third degree.[41] The two hidden sons were also killed, while mother Zhao Ji was placed under house arrest until her death many years later. Lü Buwei drank a cup of poison wine and committed suicide in 235 BC.[3][41] Ying Zheng then assumed full power as the King of the Qin state. Replacing Lü Buwei, Li Si became the new chancellor.

First attempted assassination

Main article: Jing Ke

King Zheng and his troops continued to take over different states. The state of Yan was small, weak and frequently harassed by soldiers. It was no match for the Qin state.[43] So Crown Prince Dan of Yan plotted an assassination attempt to get rid of King Zheng, begging Jing Ke to go on the mission in 227 BC.[1][43] Jing Ke was accompanied by Qin Wuyang in the plot. Each was supposed to present a gift to King Zheng, a map of Dukang and the decapitated head of Fan Wuji.[43]

Qin Wuyang first tried to present the map case gift, but trembled in fear and moved no further towards the king. Jing Ke continued to advance toward the king, while explaining that his partner "has never set eyes on the Son of Heaven", which is why he is trembling. Jing Ke had to present both gifts by himself.[43] While unrolling the map, a dagger was revealed. The king drew back, stood on his feet, but struggled to draw the sword to defend himself.[43] At the time, other palace officials were not allowed to carry weapons. Jing Ke pursued the king, attempting to stab him, but missed. King Zheng drew out his sword and cut Jing Ke's thigh. Jing Ke then threw the dagger, but missed again. Suffering eight wounds from the king's sword, Jing Ke realized his attempt had failed and knew that both of them would be killed afterwards.[43] The Yan state was conquered by the Qin state five years later.[43]

Second attempted assassination

Main article: Gao Jianli

Gao Jianli was a close friend of Jing Ke, who wanted to avenge his death.[44] As a famous lute player, one day he was summoned by King Zheng to play the instrument. Someone in the palace who had known him in the past exclaimed, "This is Gao Jianli".[45] Unable to bring himself to kill such a skilled musician, the emperor ordered his eyes put out.[45] But the king allowed Gao Jianli to play in his presence.[45] He praised the playing and even allowed Gao Jianli to get closer. As part of the plot, the lute was fastened with a heavy piece of lead. He raised the lute and struck at the king. He missed, and his assassination attempt failed. Gao Jianli was later executed.[45]

Unification of China

Imperial tours of Qin Shi Huang

In 230 BC, King Zheng unleashed the final campaigns of the Warring States period, setting out to conquer the remaining independent kingdoms, one by one.

The first state to fall was Hán (韓; sometimes called Hann to distinguish it from the Hàn 漢 of Han dynasty), in 230 BC. Then Qin took advantage of natural disasters in 229 BC to invade and conquer Zhào, where Qin Shi Huang had been born.[46][47] He now avenged his poor treatment as a child hostage there, seeking out and killing his enemies.

Qin armies conquered the state of Zhao in 228 BC, the northern country of Yan in 226 BC, the small state of Wei in 225 BC, and the largest state and greatest challenge, Chu, in 223 BC.[48]

In 222 BC, the last remnants of Yan and the royal family were captured in Liaodong in the northeast. The only independent country left was now state of Qi, in the far east, what is now the Shandong peninsula. Terrified, the young king of Qi sent 200,000 people to defend his western borders. In 221 BC, the Qin armies invaded from the north, captured the king, and annexed Qi.

For the first time, all of China was unified under one powerful ruler. In that same year, King Zheng proclaimed himself the "First Emperor" (始皇帝, Shǐ Huángdì), no longer a king in the old sense and now far surpassing the achievements of the old Zhou Dynasty rulers.[49] The emperor made the He Shi Bi into the Imperial Seal, known as the "Heirloom Seal of the Realm". The words, "Having received the Mandate from Heaven, may (the emperor) lead a long and prosperous life." (受命於天,既壽永昌) were written by Prime Minister Li Si, and carved onto the seal by Sun Shou. The Seal was later passed from emperor to emperor for generations to come.

In the South, military expansion in the form of campaigns against the Yue tribes continued during his reign, with various regions being annexed to what is now Guangdong province and part of today's Vietnam.[47]

Emperor of Qin

Administrative reforms

In an attempt to avoid a recurrence of the political chaos of early imperial China, the conquered states were not allowed to be referred to as independent nations.[50] The empire was then divided into 36 commanderies (郡, Jùn), later more than 40 commanderies.[47] The whole of China was now divided into administrative units: first commanderies, then districts (縣, Xiàn), counties (鄉, Xiāng) and hundred-family units (里, Li).[51] This system was different from the previous dynasties, which had loose alliances and federations.[52] People could no longer be identified by their native region or former feudal state, as when a person from Chu was called "Chu person" (楚人, Chu rén).[51][53] Appointments were now based on merit instead of hereditary rights.[51]

Economic reforms

A 5-catty weight inscribed with a description of Qin Shi Huang's edict to standardize weights and measures, 221 BC

Qin Shi Huang and Li Si unified China economically by standardizing the Chinese units of measurements such as weights and measures, the currency, the length of the axles of carts to facilitate transport on the road system.[52] The emperor also developed an extensive network of roads and canals connecting the provinces to improve trade between them.[52] The currency of the different states were also standardized to the Ban liang coin (半兩, Bàn Liǎng).[51] Perhaps most importantly, the Chinese script was unified. Under Li Si, the seal script of the state of Qin was standardized through removal of variant forms within the Qin script itself. This newly standardized script was then made official throughout all the conquered regions, thus doing away with all the regional scripts to form one language, one communication system for all of China.[51]

Philosophy

Qin Shi Huang also followed the school of the five elements, earth, wood, metal, fire and water.(五德終始說) Zhao Zheng's birth element is water, which is connected with the colour black. It was also believed that the royal house of the previous dynasty Zhou had ruled by the power of fire, which was the color red. The new Qin dynasty must be ruled by the next element on the list, which is water, represented by the color black. Black became the color for garments, flags, pennants.[3] Other associations include north as the cardinal direction, winter season and the number six.[54] Tallies and official hats were six inches long, carriages six feet wide, one pace (步, ) was 6 ft (1.8 m).[3]

While the previous Warring States era was one of constant warfare, it was also considered the golden age of free thought.[55] Qin Shi Huang eliminated the Hundred Schools of Thought which incorporated Confucianism and other philosophies.[55][56] After the unification of China, with all other schools of thought banned, legalism became the endorsed ideology of the Qin dynasty,[51] which was basically a system that required the people to follow the laws or be punished accordingly.

Portrait of Epang palace

Beginning in 213 BC, at the instigation of Li Si and to avoid scholars' comparisons of his reign with the past, Qin Shi Huang ordered most existing books to be burned with the exception of those on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the State of Qin.[57] This would also serve the purpose of furthering the ongoing reformation of the writing system by removing examples of obsolete scripts.[58] Owning the Book of Songs or the Classic of History was to be punished especially severely. According to the later Records of the Grand Historian, the following year Qin Shi Huang had some 460 scholars buried alive for owning the forbidden books.[3][57] The emperor's oldest son Fusu criticised him for this act.[59] The emperor's own library still had copies of the forbidden books but most of these were destroyed later when Xiang Yu burned the palaces of Xianyang in 206 BC.[60]

Third attempted assassination

In 230 BC, the state of Qin had defeated the state of Han. A Han aristocrat named Zhang Liang swore revenge on the Qin emperor. He sold all his valuables and in 218 BC, he hired a strongman assassin and built him a heavy metal cone weighing 120 jin (roughly 160 lb or 97 kg).[41] The two men hid among the bushes along the emperor's route over a mountain. At a signal, the muscular assassin hurled the cone at the first carriage and shattered it. However, the emperor was actually in the second carriage, as he was traveling with two identical carriages for this very reason. Thus the attempt failed.[61] Both men were able to escape in spite of a huge manhunt.[41]

Public Works

Great Wall

The Qin fought nomadic tribes to the north and northwest. The Xiongnu tribes were not defeated and subdued, thus the campaign was tiring and unsuccessful, and to prevent the Xiongnu from encroaching on the northern frontier any longer, the emperor ordered the construction of an immense defensive wall.[47][62] This wall, for whose construction hundreds of thousands of men were mobilized, and an unknown number died, is a precursor to the current Great Wall of China. It connected numerous state walls which had been built during the previous four centuries, a network of small walls linking river defenses to impassable cliffs. A great monument of China to this day, the Great Wall still stands, open to the public to challenge its million steps.[63][64]

Lingqu Canal

A famous South China quotation was "In the North there is the Great wall, in the South there is the Lingqu canal" (北有長城、南有靈渠, Běiyǒu chángchéng, nányǒu língqú).[65] In 214 BC the Emperor began the project of a major canal to transport supplies to the army.[66] The canal allows water transport between north and south China.[66] The canal, 34 kilometers in length, links the Xiang River which flows into the Yangtze and the Li Jiang, which flows into the Pearl River.[66] The canal connected two of China's major waterways and aided Qin's expansion into the southwest.[66] The construction is considered one of the three great feats of Ancient Chinese engineering, the others being the Great Wall and the Sichuan Dujiangyan Irrigation System.[66]

Elixir of Life

Later in his life, Qin Shi Huang feared death and desperately sought the fabled elixir of life, which would supposedly allow him to live forever. He was obsessed with acquiring immortality and fell prey to many who offered him supposed elixirs.[67] He visited Zhifu Island three times in order to achieve immortality.[68]

Xu Fu's ships set sail in 219 BC in search of the medicine for immortality.

In one case he sent Xu Fu, a Zhifu islander, with ships carrying hundreds of young men and women in search of the mystical Penglai mountain.[61] They were sent to find Anqi Sheng, a 1,000-year-old magician whom Qin Shi Huang had supposedly met in his travels and who had invited him to seek him there.[69] These people never returned, perhaps because they knew that if they returned without the promised elixir, they would surely be executed. Legends claim that they reached Japan and colonized it.[67] It is also possible that the book burning, a purge on what could be seen as wasteful and useless literature, was, in part, an attempt to focus the minds of the Emperor's best scholars on the alchemical quest. Some of the executed scholars were those who had been unable to offer any evidence of their supernatural schemes. This may have been the ultimate means of testing their abilities: if any of them had magic powers, then they would surely come back to life when they were let out again.[70] Since the great emperor was afraid of death and "evil spirits", he had workers build a series of tunnels and passage ways to each of his palaces (he owned over 200), because traveling unseen would supposedly keep him safe from the evil spirits.

Death

In 211 BC a large meteor is said to have fallen in Dōngjùn (東郡) in the lower reaches of the Yellow River. On it, an unknown person inscribed the words "The First Emperor will die and his land will be divided."[71] When the emperor heard of this, he sent an imperial secretary to investigate this prophecy. No one would confess to the deed, so all the people living nearby were put to death. The stone was then burned and pulverized.[33]

The Emperor died during one of his tours of Eastern China, on September 10, 210 BC (Julian Calendar) at the palace in Shaqiu prefecture (沙丘平台, Shāqiū Píngtái), about two months away by road from the capital Xianyang.[43][43][72][73] Reportedly, he died due to ingesting mercury pills, made by his alchemists and court physicians.[74] Ironically, these pills were meant to make Qin Shi Huang immortal.[74]

After the Emperor's death, Prime Minister Li Si, who accompanied him, became extremely worried that the news of his death could trigger a general uprising in the Empire.[43] It would take two months for the government to reach the capital, and it would not be possible to stop the uprising. Li Si decided to hide the death of the Emperor, and return to Xianyang.[43] Most of the Imperial entourage accompanying the Emperor was left ignorant of the Emperor's death; only a younger son, Ying Huhai, who was traveling with his father, the eunuch Zhao Gao, Li Si, and five or six favorite eunuchs knew of the death.[43] Li Si also ordered that two carts containing rotten fish be carried immediately before and after the wagon of the Emperor. The idea behind this was to prevent people from noticing the foul smell emanating from the wagon of the Emperor, where his body was starting to decompose severely as it was summertime.[43] They also pulled down the shade so no one could see his face, changed his clothes daily, brought food and when he had to have important conversations, they would act as if he wanted to send them a message.[43]

Family

The following are some family members of Qin Shi Huang:

Qin Shi Huang had about 50 children, sons about 30, daughters about 15, but most of their names are unknown. He had numerous concubines but never seemed to name an empress.[77]

Second Emperor conspiracy

Eventually, after about two months, Li Si and the imperial court reached Xianyang, where the news of the death of the emperor was announced.[43] Qin Shi Huang did not like to talk about his own death and he had never written a will. After his death, the eldest son Fusu would normally become the next emperor.[78]

Li Si and the chief eunuch Zhao Gao conspired to kill Fusu because Fusu's favorite general was Meng Tian, whom they disliked[78] and feared; Meng Tian's brother, a senior minister, had once punished Zhao Gao.[79] They believed that if Fusu was enthroned, they would lose their power.[78] Li Si and Zhao Gao forged a letter from Qin Shi Huang saying that both Fusu and General Meng must commit suicide.[78] The plan worked, and the younger son Huhai became the Second Emperor, later known as Qin Er Shi or "Second Generation Qin."[43]

Qin Er Shi, however, was not as capable as his father. Revolts quickly erupted. His reign was a time of extreme civil unrest, and everything built by the First Emperor crumbled away within a short period.[47] One of the immediate revolt attempts was the 209 BC Daze Village Uprising led by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang.[71]

Legacy

Mausoleum

See also: Terracotta Army

The Chinese historian Sima Qian, writing a century after the First Emperor's death, wrote that it took 700,000 men to construct the emperor's mausoleum. The British historian John Man points out that this figure is larger than any city of the world at that time and calculates that the foundations could have been built by 16,000 men in two years.[80] While Sima Qian never mentioned the terracotta army, the statues were discovered by a group of farmers digging wells on March 29, 1974.[81] The soldiers were created with a series of mix-and-match clay molds and then further individualized by the artists' hand. Han Purple was also used on some of the warriors.[82] There are around 6,000 Terracotta Warriors and their purpose was to protect the Emperor in the afterlife from evil spirits. Also among the army are chariots and 40,000 real bronze weapons.[83]

Tomb

One of the first projects the young king accomplished while he was alive was the construction of his own tomb. In 215 BC Qin Shi Huang ordered General Meng Tian with 300,000 men to begin construction.[3] Other sources suggested he ordered 720,000 unpaid laborers to build his tomb to specification.[38] Again, given John Man's observation regarding populations of the time (see paragraph above), these historical estimates are debatable. The main tomb (located at 34°22′52.75″N 109°15′13.06″E / 34.3813194°N 109.2536278°E / 34.3813194; 109.2536278) containing the emperor has yet to be opened and there is evidence suggesting that it remains relatively intact.[84] Sima Qian's description of the tomb includes replicas of palaces and scenic towers, "rare utensils and wonderful objects", 100 rivers made with mercury, representations of "the heavenly bodies", and crossbows rigged to shoot anyone who tried to break in.[85] The tomb was built at the foot of Li Mountain, and is only 30 kilometers away from Xi'an. Modern archaeologists have located the tomb, and have inserted probes deep into it. The probes revealed abnormally high quantities of mercury, some 100 times the naturally occurring rate, suggesting that some parts of the legend are credible.[74] Secrets were maintained, as most of the workmen who built the tomb were killed.[74][86]

Historiography

A modern statue of Qin Shi Huang, located near the site of the Terracotta Army

In traditional Chinese historiography, the First Emperor of the Chinese unified states was almost always portrayed as a brutal tyrant who had obsessive fear of assassination. Ideological antipathy towards the Legalist State of Qin was established as early as 266 BC, when Confucian philosopher Xun Zi disparaged it.[citation needed] Later Confucian historians condemned the emperor who had burned the classics and buried Confucian scholars alive. They eventually compiled a list of the Ten Crimes of Qin to highlight his tyrannical actions.

The famous Han poet and statesman Jia Yi concluded his essay The Faults of Qin (過秦論, Guò Qín Lùn) with what was to become the standard Confucian judgment of the reasons for Qin's collapse. Jia Yi's essay, admired as a masterpiece of rhetoric and reasoning, was copied into two great Han histories and has had a far-reaching influence on Chinese political thought as a classic illustration of Confucian theory.[87] He attributed Qin's disintegration to its internal failures.[88] Jia Yi wrote that:

Qin, from a tiny base, had become a great power, ruling the land and receiving homage from all quarters for a hundred odd years. Yet after they unified the land and secured themselves within the pass, a single common rustic could nevertheless challenge this empire... Why? Because the ruler lacked humaneness and rightness; because preserving power differs fundamentally from seizing power.[89]

In more modern times, historical assessment of the First Emperor different from traditional Chinese historiography began to emerge. The reassessment was spurred on by weakness of China in the latter half of 19th century and early 20th century, and Confucian traditions at that time began to be seen by some as an impediment to China's entry into the modern world, opening the way for changing perspectives.

At a time when Chinese territory was encroached upon by foreign nations, leading Kuomintang historian Xiao Yishan emphasized the role of Qin Shi Huang in repulsing the northern barbarians, particularly in the construction of the Great Wall.

Another historian, Ma Feibai (馬非百), published in 1941 a full-length revisionist biography of the First Emperor entitled Qín Shǐ Huángdì Chuán (秦始皇帝傳), calling him "one of the great heroes of Chinese history". Ma compared him with the contemporary leader Chiang Kai-shek and saw many parallels in the careers and policies of the two men, both of whom he admired. Chiang's Northern Expedition of the late 1920s, which directly preceded the new Nationalist government at Nanjing was compared to the unification brought about by Qin Shi Huang.

A modern statue of the First Emperor and his attendants

With the coming of the Communist Revolution in 1949, new interpretations again surfaced. The establishment of the new, revolutionary regime prompted another re-evaluation of the First Emperor, this time in accordance with Maoist thought. The new interpretation given of Qin Shi Huang was generally a combination of traditional and modern views, but essentially critical. This is exemplified in the Complete History of China, which was compiled in September 1955 as an official survey of Chinese history. The work described the First Emperor's major steps toward unification and standardisation as corresponding to the interests of the ruling group and the merchant class, not the nation or the people, and the subsequent fall of his dynasty as a manifestation of the class struggle. The perennial debate about the fall of the Qin Dynasty was also explained in Marxist terms, the peasant rebellions being a revolt against oppression – a revolt which undermined the dynasty, but which was bound to fail because of a compromise with "landlord class elements".

Since 1972, however, a radically different official view of Qin Shi Huang has been given prominence throughout China. The re-evaluation was initiated by Hong Shidi's biography Qin Shi Huang. The work was published by the state press as a mass popular history, and it sold 1.85 million copies within two years. In the new era, Qin Shi Huang was seen as a farsighted ruler who destroyed the forces of division and established the first unified, centralized state in Chinese history by rejecting the past. Personal attributes, such as his quest for immortality, so emphasized in traditional historiography, were scarcely mentioned. The new evaluations described how, in his time (an era of great political and social change), he had no compunctions against using violent methods to crush counter-revolutionaries, such as the "industrial and commercial slave owner" chancellor Lü Buwei. However, he was criticized for not being as thorough as he should have been, and as a result, after his death, hidden subversives under the leadership of the chief eunuch Zhao Gao were able to seize power and use it to restore the old feudal order.

To round out this re-evaluation, a new interpretation of the precipitous collapse of the Qin Dynasty was put forward in an article entitled "On the Class Struggle During the Period Between Qin and Han" by Luo Siding, in a 1974 issue of Red Flag, to replace the old explanation. The new theory claimed that the cause of the fall of Qin lay in the lack of thoroughness of Qin Shi Huang's "dictatorship over the reactionaries, even to the extent of permitting them to worm their way into organs of political authority and usurp important posts."

Mao Zedong, chairman of the People's Republic of China, was reviled for his persecution of intellectuals. On being compared to the First Emperor, Mao responded: "He buried 460 scholars alive; we have buried forty-six thousand scholars alive... You [intellectuals] revile us for being Qin Shi Huangs. You are wrong. We have surpassed Qin Shi Huang a hundredfold."[90]

Cultural references

Literature

  • Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), the Argentine writer, wrote an acclaimed essay on Qin Shi Huang, "The Wall and the Books" ("La muralla y los libros") in the 1952 collection Other Inquisitions (Otras Inquisiciones).[91]
  • The 1984 book Bridge of Birds (by Barry Hughart) portrays Qin Shi Huang as a power-hungry megalomaniac who achieved immortality by having his heart removed by an "Old Man of the mountain".
  • The Chinese Emperor, by Jean Levi, appeared in 1985.
  • In the 1985 novel Contact (by Carl Sagan), the character Xi Qiaomu—who had been involved in excavations of the tomb of Emperor Qin during the Cultural Revolution—is visited by a personified alien in the form of the Emperor Qin.[92]
  • In the Area 51 book series, Qin Shi Huang is revealed to be an alien exile stranded on Earth during an interstellar civil war.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times, the wizard, Rincewind, discovers a suit of armor owned by a previous emperor which gives him control of a terracotta army. As with most of Pratchett's Discworld series, this book is a play on a real-world concept. In this case, the model is Emperor Qin Shi Huang's cultural impact on modern-day China.
  • In Hydra's Ring, the 39th novel in the Outlanders series, Qin Shi Huang is revealed to be still alive in the early 23rd century through extraterrestrial nano-technology that has bestowed a form of immortality.

Films

  • Shin No Shikoutei (1962) - The film portrays Qin Shi Huang as a battle-hardened emperor with his roots in the military.[93]
  • The Emperor's Shadow (1996) - The film focuses on Qin Shi Huang's relationship with the musician Gao Jianli, a friend of the assassin Jing Ke.[94]
  • The Emperor and the Assassin (1999) - The film centers on the identity of Qin Shi Huang's father, his supposed heartless treatment of his officials, and a betrayal by his childhood lover, paving the way for Jing Ke's assassination attempt.[95]
  • Hero (2002) - The film starred Jet Li, a nameless assassin who plans an assassination attempt on the King of Qin (Chen Daoming). The film is a fictional re-imagining of the assassination attempt by Jing Ke on Qin Shi Huang.[96]
  • The Myth (2005) - The film starred Jackie Chan as Meng Yi, a military general serving under Qin Shi Huang. Meng is reincarnated into the present-day as an archaeologist. Kim Hee-sun co-starred as a Korean princess who was forced to marry the emperor.[97]
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) - Third installment in the Mummy film series. Jet Li plays Qin Shi Huang, resurrected from the dead along with his Terracotta Army.

Television

Music

Video games

  • The 2003 video game Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb portrays Indiana Jones entering the tomb of Qin Shi Huang to recover "The Heart of the Dragon".
  • In the 2005 video game Civilization IV, Qin Shi Huang is one of the two playable leaders of China.[104]
  • In the computer game Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, the Qin Dynasty campaign has the player as the head architect of Qin Shi Huang, in charge of overseeing the construction of the capital, the Lingqu canal, the Great Wall, as well as his tomb and the terracotta army.
  • Qin Shi Huang is also revealed to be the final boss of the video game Shin Sangoku Musou: Multi Raid 2.
  • Qin Shi Huang appears in Koei game Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI under his birth name, Ying Zheng.
  • World of Warcraft's heavily Chinese culture inspired expansion Mists of Pandaria, the raid boss "Qin-Xi- Emperor's Closed Fist" in the Mogu-Shan Vaults, is a clear reference to Qin-Shi.

See also

References

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  2. ^ Although 49 by the Chinese reckoning.[1]
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  7. ^ In simplified Chinese, 及生,名为政,姓赵氏.[6]
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  9. ^ See, e.g., Nienhauser's gloss of the name Zhao Zheng (n. 579).[8]
  10. ^ Sima Qian translated by William Nienhauser Jr. & al. as The Grand Scribe's Records, Vol. 1 The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China, p. 123.
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  26. ^ That both were forbidden has been the general understanding of historians but Beck cites numerous sources from the era employing the latter character in support of the argument that it was not forbidden until the reign of the Second Emperor.[25]
  27. ^ His father's name 子楚 also became taboo, prompting references to Chu to be replaced by its original name "Jing" ().[25]
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Further reading

  • Bodde, Derk (1987). "The State and Empire of Ch‘in". In Twitchett, Denis; Loewe, Michael. The Cambridge history of China 1. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. pp. 20–103. ISBN 0-521-21447-5. 
  • Clements, Jonathan (2006). The First Emperor of China. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-3960-7. 
  • Cotterell, Arthur (1981). The first emperor of China: the greatest archeological find of our time. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. ISBN 0-03-059889-3. 
  • Guisso, R.W.L.; Pagani, Catherine; Miller, David (1989). The first emperor of China. New York: Birch Lane Press. ISBN 1-55972-016-6. 
  • Yu-ning, Li, ed. (1975). The First Emperor of China. White Plains, N.Y.: International Arts and Sciences Press. ISBN 0-87332-067-0. 
  • Portal, Jane (2007). The First Emperor, China's Terracotta Army. British Museum Press. ISBN 978-1-932543-26-1. 
  • Qian, Sima (1961). Records of the Grand Historian: Qin dynasty. Burton Watson, trans. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. 
  • Yap, Joseph P (2009). Wars With the Xiongnu, A Translation From Zizhi tongjian. AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4490-0604-4. 

External links

First Emperor of Qin
Born: 260 BC Died: 210 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King Zhuangxiang
King of Qin
246–221 BC
with Lü Buwei (246–235 BC)
Recreated
Title next held by
Qin San Shi
New title Emperor of China
Qin
221–210 BC
Succeeded by
Qin Er Shi