China Ancient History Part I

By | October 16, 2021

Qin (Ch’in, 221–206 BC)

King Zheng (Cheng, 246–221) of Qin became the first central ruler of China, a country located in Asia according to In order to stand out from the predecessor dynasty, whose title of ruler (Wang) had been usurped by all sovereign princes towards the end of the Zhou period, but also to demonstrate his divine emperorship, he gave himself the title of “Divinely Exalted” (Huangdi, Huang-ti), the was to designate the central ruler of China in the future, and called himself Qin Shi Huangdi (Ch’in Shih Huang-ti, “first divinely exalted of Qin”; 221-210).

At the same time he decreed a number of (partly tough) measures to secure the dynasty and eradicate tradition. This included the confiscation of weapons and the relocation of the defeated noble families to the capital Xianyang in the valley of the Wei. The first emperor of China had measures, weights and writing systems standardized, large palaces built, highways and canals laid out. He had a gigantic mausoleum built for himself, which was guarded by a terracotta army (discovered in 1974 near Lintong). In order to achieve this, the population was threatened with draconian penalties and forced to do heavy labor.

The most ambitious project was the expansion of the border walls in the north, which had existed since the 4th century, to form the Great Wall (Great Wall of China) against the great empire of the Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu), the first in a long chain of empires of the shepherd and hunter peoples of the north, which from now on should accompany Chinese history. In the south, on the other hand, the Qin Empire was able to promote colonization and establish outposts on the South China Sea.

In a conscious break with tradition, Qin Shi Huangdi refrained from enfeoffing blood relatives to secure his rule. Rather, he divided – under the influence of his Chancellor Li Si (Li Ssu, † 208)  - the newly won empire into centrally administered units. On several trips, the emperor demonstrated his rule by erecting steles in important places and making sacrifices. After all, he should make far-reaching cultural and political proposals from Li Si implemented that with the great book burning of 213 BC. This can be related to: reduction of private education, privilege of the practically relevant subjects medicine, fortune telling and agriculture, confiscation of historical and philosophical writings that should only be studied by officially sanctioned scholars, restriction of freedom of speech, prohibition of criticism of the present References to the past.

The empire only outlived its founder by a few years. Under his weak successor Ershi Huangdi (Erh-shih Huang-ti, 210–207), uprisings from eastern China quickly expanded to the entire territory of the empire. showed the attachment of the people to the kingdoms destroyed by the Qin. In 207 the Qin capital was conquered by rebels and a formal handover of rule took place. A few months later, however, the capital was looted and the ruling clan wiped out. Confucian historiography later made Qin Shi Huangdi the prototype of the tyrant.

Han (202 BC to 220 AD)

Liu Bang (Liu Pang), as Emperor Gaozu (Kao-tsu, 202-195), from the region of Chu, was victorious in the power struggles for the legacy of the Qin. He was the first emperor of China from the common people. While he took over much of the previous Qin dynasty, he deviated decisively in the territorial organization of his empire: he gave almost two thirds of his dominion, the east and south-east, as a fief to his comrades in arms, who formally elected him emperor; the rest was placed under direct administration. When, within a few years, fierce rivalries broke out between these feudal lords and the emperor, the dynasty founder enfeoffed his own blood relatives. However, even these did not show themselves to be loyal to the emperor in the long term, so that under the Hankaiser Jing (157–141) after a rebellion of several kings, the division of inheritance of the kingdoms and other measures were decreed, as a result of which the power of the kings fell. Later dynasties were never to return to this mixed system of the imperial constitution, even if Chinese political thinkers kept reflecting on the merits of the feudal system.

The most important external opponents of the dynasty were the Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu). After military failures, the mobile dynasty initially opted for a policy of appeasement, which was supported by marriage alliances and tribute payments (especially silk). Only the most impressive Han emperor, the “warrior” (Wudi, Wu-ti, 141-87), went militarily and diplomatically to the offensive against the Xiongnu. In bold cavalry advances, sometimes under the leadership of generals from the Xiongnu people, he pushed his opponents back into the steppe. The border areas were colonized, but the Xiongnu were not subjugated.

China Ancient History Qin