The Qin Dynasty was the first Imperial Dynasty of China and was the first Dynasty to unify the entirety of China. Many know of the Dynasty and its Emperor Qin Shi Huang (The first Emperor of China) but not so many know of its origins or its structure. The way in which this Dynasty, this incredibly vast Empire functioned is an interesting mix of innovation and brutality but it was an effective system that ran on the Greed, desire and ambitions of its people but also their fear.

Qinshihuang (1)

To truly understand the way in which the Empire function so successfully and efficiently we have to understand the geography of China. The Qin was located in an advantageous position and had fertile lands with Great natural defence, as it was surrounded by mountains and with the aid of its fertile lands it could sustain its great military. Though the location was fertile and arable it was not so easily managed, the great natural defences were also a hindrance on the managing of the lands, divided by mountains and high plateaus, it was difficult to grow crops efficiently and was not resolved until the later introduction of foreign, hardier grain. Trade was also very expensive as China was mountainous and mostly land it had few options in transportation, it’s rivers were not naturally interconnected and the cheaper trade option, that is, via the sea and rivers was limited. Trade, using overland routes was almost exclusively for exotic goods such as silks, spices and precious gems. The others empires would criticise the Qin for the use of gains as a motivator for its people to go to war, and of course, the use of violence as a deterrent was also condemned.

The fact that the natural defences were a great boon and also had its setbacks the Qin, before their conquest had faced many defeats during the warring states period and was close to being defeated. The advent of the very aggressive Fan Sui who had set the young emperor (age 9) upon the throne of the Qin, with this Fan Sui could realise his expansionist ambitions. Fan Sui was a skilled diplomat and through many alliances and political moves he had kept the Qin alive, he had earned the Qin the funds and materials necessary to return to the war. After the constant warring of the other states had drained their strength, the Qin would strike quickly as to not let the opportunity pass them by, firstly they stuck out against the Han directly to their East.

The Qin crossed the Yellow river and conquered Zheng, within a year the Han had surrendered and became a subject of Qin. During one of the Zhou dynasty’s attacks against the Yan, Qin took the opportunity to attack the Zhou from two sides, taking 9 cities from the Zhou, who were at the time the most powerful of the dynasty’s, but his lose of cities cost them dearly in their military might. The lose of these cities was great but the following disasters that had struck the Zhou weakened the dynasty to a pitiable state, soon after the Qin enacted a ploy which led to the king of Zhou to execute one of his greatest generals. The generals replacement created the greatest opportunity for the Qin to defeat the Zhou, an opportunity they did not waste.

The fall of the Zhou proved that the Qin were not to be taken lightly, the next target for the Qin was the Yan. The Yan who were fearful of the Qin proposed and alliance with the remaining kings to oppose the Qin, the crown Prince of the Yan was not convinced this alliance would be enough to defeat the Qin and had sent an assassin, Jin Ke who was actually a scholar and a master of the sword. Jin Ke who retreated from Wei once the Qin had absorbed his homeland found shelter in the Yan kingdom and thus owed the Yan a great debt. The plan was to either disorganise the Qin Empire or kill the king Ying Zheng which Jin Ke had failed and was killed. Using this attempt on his life the king of Qin invaded successfully. As an apology to the Qin king, the Yan ruler killed his own son and sent his head to Ying Zheng as an apology, Ying Zheng accepted the apology and did not take Yan until 222 B.C.


The Qin had eventually destroyed all its enemies and Ying Zheng, king of the Qin changed his name to “Qin Shi Huang” (First Emperor of Qin) this is how we came to proclaim him as the first emperor of China. Though the First Emperor was a skilled warrior and politician it wasn’t his strengths alone that won the war, the First Emperor reformed the way in which the country was shaped. Prior to the rise of the Qin, like many of the other civilisations it was ruled by aristocrats and nobles, but the Qin had divided its lands up into blocks, these blocks would be given to peasants to own as their own lands. The genius of the idea is it gave the peasantry a way to rise up above their station but the clause is what was most innovative at the time. The land would be given to the peasants so long as they paid their taxes but they would also automatically be conscripted into the army when the Empire went to war. Lands would be granted to those that performed exceptionally in battle and had proved their valour. In trade and in battle the Qin used the latest technology, particularly the use of the crossbow and formations that played to the strengths of the individual units, in particular the crossbow units as it was the bulk of the Qin’s armies offensive. The Qin emperors brutality is one aspect that struck fear in his men and his enemies, after the defeat of the Zhou the Emperor had all the prisoners killed and any deserters were just as swiftly beheaded. In one instance 40000 men were lined up and beheaded. The Qin dynasty also introduced several reforms: currency, weights and measures were standardised, and a uniform system of writing was established. An attempt to restrict criticism and purge all traces of old dynasties led to the infamous burning of books and burying of scholars incident, which has been criticised greatly by subsequent scholars. The Qin’s military was also revolutionary in that it used the most recently developed weaponry, transportation, and tactics, though the government was heavy-handed and bureaucratic.