The Eastern Zhou Dynasty, established in 771 BC, was little more than a puppet empire, for China was split into many feudals states, each vying for control of the nation. The Zhou Emperor could do little to hold his fractious empire together, and was little more than a figurehead with the post but no real power. As such, the Eastern Zhou was divided into two periods, the Spring and Autumn Period(771 BC - 476 BC), and the Warring States Period(476 BC - 221 BC). The date 476 BC is significant as the Zhou emperor was demoted to prince in that year, and it marked the end of the Zhou Dynasty.
Qin was originally a small, backward state on the western fringes of the Zhou Empire. It was however in an advantageous position, as because of its unique geograophical postion it did not have the same problems of water control as the other states had with the Huang He.
Some time in the 6-7th centuries BC rose a great statesman in Qin, Shang Yang.He was a legalist, believing that Man was born evil, and needed a system of rewards and strict punishments to keep him in line. He instituted reforms in Qin and made the state strong and powerful. Under him, Qin expanded its territory by defeating the Rong barbarians to the west. It then began its slow process of the conquest of China.
Qin was backward in terms of culture, but it had a very strong and disciplined army which included chariots and a powerful cavalry force. It warred incessantly with other large states like Jin and Chu, and in the 4th century BC crushed the state of Zhao under the famed general Bai Qi. It is said that he had 400,000 surrendered Zhao soldiers buried alive to prevent the Zhao from ever rising again. Qin power was at a high point after this victory, but a coalition of states managed to keep its power in check.
Yin Zheng, rumoured to be the bastard son of Prime Minister Lu Buwei, came to the throne in 247 BC after the death of Duke Zhuangxiang. He was then only thirteen, and his mother, assisted by Lu Buwei, handled state affairs. When he came of age, however, he had Lu Buwei killed and drove his mother into the Cold Palace, assuming total control.
Qin Shihuang died suddenly in 210 BC. It has been suggested that an "elixir of life" he took had killed him. In any case, his second son Ying Huhai ascended the throne after the eunuch Zhao Gao and official Li Si got rid of the rightful heir Crown Prince Fusu. They did this as they wished to have someone more pliable to their wishes, and Huhai was perfect.
He then set out with one thing on his mind: the unification of China. He recruited able generals and advisors to do the job, and these, combined with Qin's formidable army, had great success. In quick succession Han(233 BC), Zhao(228 BC), Yan(227 BC), Wei(225 BC), Chu(223 BC) and finally Qi(221 BC), fell to Yin Zheng's forces. China was unified under one centralised authority for the first time in its history.Yin Zheng took the title of Qin Shihuang, "The First Emperor". He intended his dynasty to last thousands of years, with his descendant being named Er Shi("Second emperor"), and so on etc.
Qin Shihuang's first task was to divide China into 36 commanderies, which were sub-divided into provinces. The commanderies each had a civil and military governor, who answered to an imperial inspector, while all three were directly answerable to the emperor himself. The former nobility of the various defeated feudal states lost all their power. They were uprooted and forced to live near the capital of Xiangyang, where Qin Shihuang could keep an eye on them and make sure they were not plotting rebellion.
Qin Shihuang also gave China a standard currency, language, writing and tools of measurement, to avoid confusion, as all the former feudal states had different types. However, he turned China into a police state. Censorship was rife, and the rule of the Qin was harsh. Any able-bodied males were liable for corvee labour, being sent to build the Great Wall or work on any of the numerous palace projects in the capital. Books on philosophies other than Legalism were banned, and 400 scholars were executed because of this rule.
Qin Shihuang is also famous for the 7.000 strong terracotta army in his vast tomb. The tomb and the soldiers took 700,000 forced labourers decades to construct, with great mountains and rivers of mercury. This lavish tomb, as well, as the Afang palace in Xiangyang and the Great Wall of China, contributed in a large part to the discontentment of the masses because of their cost and the forced labour used.
By this time the country was in some disorder. Huhai was weak, cruel and oppressive. this angered the people even more and the first peasant rebellion, led by Wu Guang and Chen Sheng, broke out in 209 BC. With some difficulty the Qin army defeated it, but more began springing up, and the armed forces of the country were hard-pressed to stop them.
Amidst all this chaos, Zhao Gao deposed and killed the emperor, planning to usurp the throne for himself. He had long since gotten rid of Li Si. However, the military stormed the palace and killed Zhao Gao, placing Qin Shihuang's nephew Ziying on the throne. By this time the empire was in anarchy, and the army of Liu Bang was already marching on Xiangyang. Forty-five days later Ziying was forced to surrender himself and the city to the future emperor Gaozu, who later was to defeat Xiang Yu and found the Han Dynasty.
The Qin Empire, though short-lived, made many important contributions to the history of China. The standardised currency, language and measuring equipment helped unify China and made the work of suceeding dynasties easier. China grew strong and expanded its borders during this time, annexing Fujian, Kwantung and Kwangsi. Chinese armies reached the Gulf of Tonkin, and the northern and western barbarians were repulsed several times. Many great feats of engineering remain, one of course being the Great Wall, but unfortunately not Afang Palace, which was burnt by Xiang Yu when he took Xiangyang. China on the whole was stronger as it had been put under a strong centralised authority. Suceeding dynasties consolidated and improved on what the Qin created.
List of Rulers
Qin Shihuang, Yin Zheng 221 BC - 210 BC
Er Shi, Yin Huhai 210 BC - 207 BC
Zi Ying, 207 BC - 206 BC
c. 250 BC: Qin rulers adopts Legalism
230-221: Qin rulers gain control of majority of China
221-210 BC: The Reign of the First Emperor
Construction of the Great Wall
214 BC: Beginnings of Imperial expansion.
210 BC: A Terra Cotta Army is Built to Guard the Emperor's Tomb
213: The Burning of the Books
206 BC: The Imperial Library is destroyed.