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For Auntie Har and Uncle David.
The classic state of Qin has its origins in being a Chinese outpost meant to provide a buffer against western "barbarians" and to produce horses; it was in an out of the way area, and the region was partly desert. There was little indication that this state would prove to be the most powerful, or that it would unify China in the end. However, Qin would follow a philosophy known as Legalism to great effect, which helped in amassing its force and overriding all the other states of the Warring States period. The Qin king Ying Zheng founded a new dynasty which replaced the Zhou dynasty in 221 BC and ruled until 206 BC. This dynasty - called the Qin dynasty - ruled the first unified Chinese empire.
Though the unified reign of the First Emperor lasted only twelve years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang (in modern Xi'an). His sons, however, were not as successful; as soon as the Qin reign ended, the Qin imperial structure collapsed. Nevertheless, the influence of Qin prevades Chinese culture, both at home in Greater China and abroad, and continues to this day. The Qin Dynasty is well known for building the Great Wall of China, which would later be augmented and enhanced during the Ming Dynasty, and it is from its name that the term "China" itself has its origins (the Chinese name for China itself is zhòngguo (中国) "middle-kingdom").
Barbarians at the Gate
Very little of the origins of prehistoric Qin have survived to our time, so it is hard to tell how exactly Qin was originally formed, or how and why. What little we know of Qin comes from sources collated and edited during the Han era, particularly in the form of the great Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (or Shiji for short).
The first ruling house of Qin, the Ying clan, was said to have had its origins back in the near-mythological pre-Xia era of China, and ruled not just Qin, but were also present in the nearby territory of Dai — which would eventually become the kingdom of Zhao. The Ying prided themselves on being descendents of none other than Huangdi, the semi-legendary "Yellow Emperor" and in later years, saw themselves as the vanguards and successors of the Zhou dynasty, as well as the keepers of the sacred traditions and heritage of the Zhou kings. The Ying themselves were said to have been an ally of the Ji of Qishan (the future scions of the Zhou dynasty), and until the late Spring and Autumn Period, were close benefactors to the Zhou.
Other sources beyond the Shiji suggest that the people of Qin shared a close kinship with the many Rong (or "western non-Chinese" barbarians) peoples who roamed the lands of western China and the foothills of the Himalayas — there were times when this charge was levelled against Qin by their more vengeful eastern cousins, accusing them of being non-Chinese. Whether these accusations were baseless propaganda, or had their basis in fact, remains to be seen: excavations in Qin territory (comprising the lands along the border of present-day Shaanxi and Gansu provinces in northern China) from the 1920s onward have revealed many different cultures within the ambit of Qin, with the earliest being the Neolithic Dadiwan culture (6500–5000BCE), followed by the larger and more influential Yangshao culture of the Yellow River basin (5000-3000BCE). Metalworking and horse rearing seem to have arrived in Qin with the emergence of the Qijia (2200–1600BC) and Siba (1900-1500BC) cultures concentrated farther west around Qinghai and the Hexi corridor. Yet, how these cultures may have impacted the development of the future state of Qin, is still a mystery that remains to be solved.
The Dukes of Qin
For centuries before the Zhou dynasty, the Ying clan was said to have ruled the western backwater territories on the fringes of the Yellow River Basin, defending the nascent Chinese kingdom against the depredations of the Xirong or "West Rong" (the Scythians are thought to be one of these peoples) with their family lands in Xichui (near present-day Longnan, southeastern Gansu). During the reign of King Xiao (910-895BCE) a son of the ruling marquis of Xichui, named Feizi, served the Zhou as an highly skilled overseer of the imperial horse herds. The king was so impressed by Feizi's skill at training horses that he decreed Feizi be given lands along the Qin Valley north of the old Ying stronghold of Xichui, stylising the horse trainer as marquis Qin Ying.
The first few centuries of Qin, however, were not kind ones. From the beginning, Qin itself seemed doomed to be absorbed by bigger neighbours, or destroyed outright by the Rong — the lands of Gansu were mostly dry plain with meagre croplands (a situation that would be fixed only centuries later). Indeed, following the death of Feizi, the Rong rebelled against the marquisate, and first destroyed Feizi's father's former march of Xichui, before ravaging Qin itself for almost a generation. Only in the reign of Marquis Zhuang (later posthumously elevated to Duke) did Qin not only beat back the Rong hordes, but also annexed the former lands of the now devastated Xichui with help from the Zhou court. This was but a temporary reprieve — after Zhuang's death, the Rong came back with a vengeance, and this time, they did not just stop with Qin, but eventually arrived at Haojing (present-day Xi'an) in 771BCE, killing the Zhou king You. The destruction of Haojing, as well as You's death resulted in a succession crisis that led to the so-called "Eastern Period" of the Zhou era — the weakening of royal rule, and the social conditions that led to the civil wars of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States eras.
For Qin, now under the rule of Zhuang's son marquis Xiang, there was a silver lining.
Following the sack of Hao, Xiang chose to back the disgraced Prince Yijiu, who was then crowned as Ping of Zhou, with his new court farther east at Luoyang. King Ping's succession, however, was not contested — before his death, King You had originally disowned Ping, and stipulated that his son by his concubine, Bao Si, be made his successor. The duke of the neighbouring state of Guo took advantage of this, and with help from the Quanrong put forward a pretender, stylised Xie of Zhou, with his court based at Jiaru (in the Guanzhong plain). Duke Wen, the ruler of the now mighty state of Jin, killed Xie in 750BCE, uniting the Zhou kingdom once more. Ping was grateful, and in addition to rewarding Jin with more lands, also elevated Qin to the level of a duchy, and issued a decree stating that all lands west of Qishan (the old Zhou lands) would belong to Qin if they could be wrested from the Rong.
In spite of this, You's high-handed treatment of his vassals (allegedly under the influence of concubine Bao Si) and his subsequent death still cast long shadows over his kingdom. Zhou prestige was forever tarnished, with power having passed out of the king's hands into those of his vassals. Thus began the Chunqiu Shidai, the so-called "Spring and Autumn Period", which marked not only the end of the power of the kings of Zhou — but ushered in China's classical age.
Qin Spring, Royal Fall
After the reign of Ping, Qin was now caught between two different rivals — the "Dog Rong" or Quanrong in the west and the now-powerful grand duchy of Jin.
As no help could be expected from the king, the Qin dukes tried to maintain relations the best they could with Jin, but it was not always easy. On one hand, Qin and Jin attempted to strengthen relations through dynastic marriages, yet their relations were prone to breaking down — Jin would invade Qin, or Qin would seek to control Jin by supporting rival claimants for the Jin ducal throne, whilst trying her best to defend herself from the depredations of the Quanrong to the west and south. Countless battles and counter-battles were fought between both Jin and Qin, until the reign of Duke Mu (died 621BCE), after both principalities had fought each other for generations to a bloody stalemate in the east.
The reign of Mu must be writ large, for it was during his reign that Qin began to subdue the many Rong tribes, primarily through diplomacy and judicious use of force. One day, Duke Mu was accosted by a Rong man named You Yu, who claimed to be of Jin ancestry. Mu wisely accepted his ministers' advice, to retain You Yu as a spy on the Rong. This the duke did, and after having stabilised the eastern situation, Mu struck out aided with You Yu's intelligence and scored a resounding victory against the Rong. For the first time in centuries, the Qin finally could rest easy in the west, but storm clouds were still gathering. Continued instability in Qin's neighbour Jin continued to build up and sometimes spill over, creating military crises that Qin could survive only through sheer luck and fortitude, while to the southeast a new threat was rising — the kingdom of Chu. Against this threat, no diplomacy between Qin and Jin could work, for the alliance between both nations would always break down, due to the many succession crises that took place both at home and abroad, yet by the reign of Xiao of Qin (381–338BCE) these crises began to work in Qin's favour. The centuries from Mu to his descendent Xiao would see Jin trapped in civil war which would result in her eventual downfall (and the beginning of the Warring States era), while Chu despite her size was mired in corruption and weakness, which would encourage attacks by other states, particularly the upstart state of Wu which was allied at one point in time to Qin.
Rise of an Empire: Lord Shang's Reforms
It was under the reign of Duke Xiao (born Ying Quliang) that the famed power of Qin began to take shape through ruthlessly enacted reforms that would strengthen the state and make Qin the powerful war machine of the closing years of the Warring States era. One of Xiao's leading men was a minister born to the ducal family ruling the petty state of Wei (衞) named Gongsun Yang, who was an adherent of a new political philosophy known asFajia (法家) which is now known across the world outside of Chinese-speaking circles as Legalism, advocating a ruthlessly imposed administration system for military and civil affairs guided by sheer utilitarianism and ruthless efficiency. Thought to have first emerged in the fledgling state of Han (韓) around 400BCE, by Xiao's time the concepts of Legalism had spread far and wide across the Chinese world.
Legend has it that upon meeting Gongsun for the first time, the duke then began speaking with Shang Yang, discussing reforms for 3 days and nights nonstop. We do not know if this is true, but one thing is certain: Duke Xiao would give his unflinching and unswerving support to Gongsun Yang's reforms for the rest of his life. With the intent to bolster the control of the sovereign over the entire state, Gongsun Yang's reforms included abolition of the feudal fengjing system that had been in place for almost 600 years, the promotion of a market economy, as well as the introduction of a written penal code that all people could (theoretically) have access to, ranging from areas such as criminal law as well as regulations regarding agriculture, particularly how a field should be sown. The army was not neglected either: a system of twenty ranks with distinctively privileges was imposed, with promotion dependent on the number of enemy heads presented at the end of battle. A new capital too was erected, close to where the old Zhou capital of Hao once stood — Xianyang, which would remain the capital of Qin until it was razed two centuries later.
These reforms would soon be put to the test: to maximise Qin's resources to obtain victory in war: despite the immense hostility from the ducal court against him, Gongsun Yang's reforms would lead to two victorious campaigns against the post-Jin state of Wei (魏) in 366BCE and 341BCE, weakening Wei and confirming the ascendancy of Qin. For his contributions, Duke Xiao made Gongsun lord of the lands of Shang (商, near present-day Shangluo) and stylising him as Lord Shang Yang, the name he is most frequently remembered by.
A new Heavenly Mandate: The New Kingdom
Despite the thumping success of his reforms, Shang Yang was bitterly hated by his colleagues, and could survive only as long as his patron Duke Xiao lived. After Xiao died in 338BCE, Shang Yang was arrested and gruesomely executed by Xiao's successor Ying Si, now stylised as king Huiwen. Unlike Shang Yang whose body was torn apart by horses, his laws however would remain intact and so would continue to remain the strength of the Qin kingdom, eventually influencing the course of the development of legal jurisprudence in China itself. Huiwen's reign saw Qin absorb the larger state of Shu and her strategic location on the Yangtze in 316BCE. This was then followed up by the annexation of the smaller state of Ba, following which roads were built to connect Shu and Ba with Qin, and a member of the new deposed Kaiming clan, the royal family of Shu, installed as a viceroy to administer the new lands as a part of Qin.
With the resources of Shu and Ba on hand, the time was now ripe for the conquest of China under the banner of Qin. The most obvious target for Qin's aggression was the state of Han, which was considered to be the smallest and weakest of all the seven "Warring Kingdoms" of the day (Chu was considered the largest and most powerful despite her internal problems).
The state was excellent in battle and conquered all the states, unifying the country. There was little indication that this state would prove to be the most powerful, or that it would unify China in the end. However, victories at such key battles as Battle of Changping, the bloodiest engagement in history until the Second World War, against the state of Zhao, allowed Qin to develop and conquer the other 6 states by 221 BC under Ying Zheng.
Template:History of China The Qin dynasty began building the Great Wall of China, although this was a much earlier wall, made of tamped earth, not the more modern stone structure constructed under the Ming dynasty, over 1500 years later. The wall was a large project, and produced by corvee labour, but it built on earlier structures produced by various states in the Warring States period to keep out the nomads of the steppes to the north and west.
After the Houe of Ying
The Qin dynasty's highly authoritarian approach led to a rebellion which replaced it with the Han dynasty, although many modern scholars agree that it was not the tight rule of Ying Zheng (or "Qin Shihuang Di") that was unpopular; rather, it was the breakdown of the law instituted by the Qin under Ying Zheng's successor that caused unrest and rebellion in 206 BC.
The period following the Qin was a short period of warlords, the two most famous being Liu Bang, the governor of Pei, and Xiang Yu, a nobleman of the former state of Chu. Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu and founded the Han Dynasty, although both are famous in Chinese history and culture, with Xiang Yu being the subject of much of Chinese opera, the famous aria, "Xiang Yu bids farewell to his concubine" being based on an event in his life according the famous Chinese history, the Records of the Historian by Sima Qian of the Han.
- Chinaknowledge.de; Qin Dynasty