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How did Qin Shi Huangdi unify China?

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Qin Shi Huangdi or commonly known as just Qin Shi Huang, was the emperor of China from 221BC. Qin Shi Huang (then known as Ying Zheng) became the King of Qin at the age of 13 but did not assume control until he was 22. He was the one responsible for unifying china. Qin Shi Huang assumed autocratic control, introducing a new currency, and by creating a unified system of weights and measures, writing and currency. Qin Shi Huang was both a brutal tyrant and a great leader. He used violence to take control of china, killed scholars and burnt books to wipe out heresy and brutality was the basis of his greatest achievements. Today, Qin Shi Huang is still well known by his brutal tyrannous style of leadership rather then his many great achievements.

Ying Zheng (Qin Shi Huang) became the King of Qin at a tender age of 13 following the death of his father, Chuang Xiang, but did not assume control until the year 238BC, when he was 22 years old. Before that, the state affairs and power fell into the hands of Lu Buwei, a high-ranking minister of state, and the empress dowager. When Ying Zheng took control, he immediately erased the power of both the Empress Dowager and that of Lu Buwei to suppress a rebellion.

After the rebellion, Zheng set about reforming and strengthening his kingdom. He searched for outside advice and promoted a new elite of both civil and military officials (including mandarins such as Li Si and Wang Wan) and then carried out the improvements advocated by his father, developing the military and agriculture. Soon Qin became the strongest of the seven warring states and between 230 BC and 221BC, Zheng succeeded in defeating all his opponents. He found himself master of all the former warring states, and for the first time in history, China became a unified, multi-nationality empire under a central government.

After unification, Zheng ordered his ministers to discuss possible titles for a supreme ruler of the country and a name for the empire. Zheng considered is accomplishments far greater then those of ‘San Huang’ and ‘Wu Di’, rulers in the ancient times, so he used the given names of these two predecessors to make the title ‘Huang Di’ meaning the word emperor. Zheng then divided the country into 36 prefectures, broken down further into counties, townships, rings and lis. They were put under control of military and administrative officials who were all directly appointed or removed by the emperor himself. This meant that the emperor had both the military and administrative powers of China concentrated in his hands.

Qin Shi Huang was also responsible for the ‘three unifications’ and the construction of a road system. The unifications were of weights and measures, of the Chinese written language, which made it easier for the different parts of the country to communicate, and of currency, which involved the abolition of the currencies of the former six kingdoms in exchange for Qin coins. Qin Shi Huang’s introduction of these ‘three unifications’ and the road system not only benefited the economic development, cultural exchanges and transportation, but has also had a strong and lasting influence on China.

As a result of wanting a continuing anarchy rule, in 213 BC, Li Si convinced Qin Shi Huang that he should control what people read in order to stop open criticism of his government and avoid trouble in the future. He attempted to wipe out heresy by burning almost all classic works, excluding books on medicine, divination and agriculture. Tragically, this brutal act meant that much of the acquired ancient knowledge and wisdom were lost. This led to the criticism from many Confucian scholars, of who condemned him for having become a tyrant.

This rose to another act of brutality from Qin Shi Huang. Over four hundred and sixty scholars were buried alive in Xianyang, accused of ‘spreading vicious rumours to confuse the black-headed people.’ Many more scholars became prisoners or were banished to the frontier regions and those who dared to disregard the law or express their opinions on state affairs would be killed along with their entire families.

Even the great wall was built on the basis of Qin Shi Huang’s brutality. When he wished to protect his empire from attack by the Xiongnu, he sent hundreds of thousands of ‘convicts’ (many were scholars), ex-soldiers and peasants from the defeated states into the cold mountains where they were forced to work. It was said that ‘each stone in the Great wall cost a human life’, a price of which Qin Shi Huang did not show much care.

Qin Shi Huang’s brutal actions earned the hatred of almost everyone, he ruled with force, through a strict adherence to the law. Qin Shi Huang believed that in order for him to rule with relative peace, all his subjects should suffer. He tried to change the past by burning books so that the people had no other way of leadership to compare him to. Thus they are unable to criticize him. He also taxed the peasants heavily and forced them into labour. Qin Shi Huang can also be compared to the more recent Mao Zedong. They were both leaders who ruled with force. Both expelled ‘the old ways’ attempting to erase history so that there left nothing to compare them with. And both ultimately condemned innocent lives for, well, their piece of mind.

Qin Shi Huang quite obviously made great contributions, which overshadowed those of his predecessors. His name has been kept alive in the mind of all the Chinese, whether in admiration or hatred. But one thing is known for sure; Qin Shi Huang used violence to take control of China, and continued to rule his empire with brutality and in dispute. For a leader who used brutality as a lever for greatness, mass murder as a retort for peace, sacrifice as a building block for protection, surely his rule was a brutal tyranny. But, Qin Shi Huang was in fact a peculiar but great leader, and the eternal emperor.

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