Qin Dynasty China (221-206 BCE)

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Qin map
Terracotta Army
Small seal script
Qin crossbow bolts
Qin Earthenware censer
Qin section of Great Wall
Qin Road of Mules and Horses
Terracotta army display
Armoured general and infrantryman
Terracotta Horses and Chariot
Men with cavalry horses
Armoured archer kneeling
Armour suit


At the end of the Zhou Dynasty the various city-states and provinces splintered and squabbbled, this was the Warring States period (475-221 BCE). By 221 BCE the Qin Dynasty emperor, Ying Zheng, had prevailed and set about restoring order and unifying the country. He replaced the Zhou’s feudal system with a centralised bureaucratic one.

The Qin unified the written language and established the system of weights and measures and formalised the coinage. However this dynasty lasted just fifteen years.

Map of the original Qin state and the other states it subsumed (source: chinaeducenter.com)

Qin is pronounced as ‘Chin’ and is the origin of the name China. With the whole country under his rule Ying Zheng claimed the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ to govern the whole. However, instead of choosing the traditional title of king (Wang), he named himself as ‘Shi Huang’, usually translated as ‘First Emperor of Qin,’

The dynasty had its detractors, because the Qin actively suppressed the freedom of expression. ordering the burning of many books and burying alive any scholars that dissented.

The Qin Empire is known for its marvels of engineering, including a complex system of over four thousand miles of road and the ‘Straight Road’, which ran for about 500 miles along the Ziwu Mountain range.

The Great Wall, was conceived by the Qin emperor, though using previous walls that had been built during the Warring States Period. He called it the Wan Li Chang Cheng, (10,000-Li-Long Wall). He gave the task to Qin general and road builder, Meng Tian, who initialy controlled thirty thousand workers for these projects. He used the Qin roads to transport the materials for the Wall.The Qi territory’s borders were to be marked to the north by border walls to keep out the northern barbarian Huns. Across the years the Great Wall was expanded to stretch for 13,000 miles of walls and fortifications. The sections we tourists see today are 14th-17th c CE Ming sections.

Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com

The Shi Huang was also famous for marvels of architecture and art to celebrate the glory of the new dynasty. Each time the Qin conquered another state, he had built a replica of that state’s ruling palace was built along the Wei River opposite his own Palace. Weapons captured as part of the Qin’s victories were melted down to be cast as giant statues and placed in the capital city Xianyang.

Perhaps the greatest building project was a massive tomb for himself on Li Mount, near modern-day Xi’an, and after his death in 210 BCE, he was duly buried there. Shi Huang sent seventy-thousands workers to build an underground complex at the foot of the Lishan Mountains to serve his tomb. It was designed as an underground city from which the Shi Huang could rule in the afterlife. The complex includes vast chambers and halls, temples, administrative buildings, bronze sculptures, a replica of the imperial armory, and terracotta statues depicting government officials to acrobats.


It is believed that the emperor used liquid mercury in the tomb to represent rivers and lakes.

Image source: realhistoryww.com

A mile away from the underground city, at the eastern gate, Shi Huang had constructed an army of life-size statues, almost eight thousand terracotta warriors and six hundred terracotta horses, chariots, and other artefacts.


The Han Dynasty, which replaced the Qin, would rule for over four hundred years

Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com

The Qin prime minister, Li Si (c280-208 BCE), standardised the writing system to be of a uniform size and shape across the whole country. This unifying effect lasted for thousands of years.
Li Si is also credited with creating the Small Seal Script (opposite). This served as a basis for the modern Chinese writing system, still used in cards, posters, and advertising today.
Emperor Shi Huang made major improvements to the military.. They made use of the sword that had been invented in the Warring States Period, made of bronze initially and later iron. They also used crossbows, introduced in the 5th century BCE, because they proved more powerful and accurate than the earlier composite bows. Crossbows could, by removing two pins be made useless to enemies. 
Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com

Image source: artblart.com

Qin Earthenware Censer on show at Xi’an Museum, Xi’an
A section of the Great Wall from the Qin period – a little worse for wear.
Image source: travelchinaguide.com

This road connected Hunan and Guangdong provinces and was built by the Qian. It was named the road of Mules and Horses, and hoof prints are cler in the slates from its regular use. Records show this was built in 214 BCE, the slate slabs are 2-3 m wide. Legend states that te way was trampled down by 150,000 soldiers heading south in their programme of unification, the slates were added subsequently. The Han record that they maintained it and added hotels and post offices along its route.
Image source: China.org

Image source: R S Denton 2019

The Terracotta Army was discovered arranged in battle formations. There are some 7,000 life-size terracotta figures of warriors and horses. The emperor’s purpose was to achieve immortality, and to be guarded in the after-life by these warriors, officers, infantrymen, horses, chariots, and all their attendant armor and weaponry – even civil officials.
The individal faces are very different, as are their outfits. The picture at the top is an armoured general. The bottom one is an armoured infantrymn.

Image source: exhibitions.asianart.org

Image source: R S Denton 2019

These terracotta horses and chariot are on show in the Qin Museum. Some 520 horses with 130 chariots have been found to-date: a further 150 cavalry horses have also been discovered here.
Men with cavalry horses. The horses are approximately life-size, they have a saddle but no stirrups, as these were not in use at this period.

Image source: khanacademy.org

Image source: khanacademy.org

An armoured arched kneeling. It would originally have been painted. The ‘Museum of Qin: Terracotta Warriors and Horses’ has sought to show how this would look:

In the Terracotta Army pit the kneeling archers were placed at the front, from where they could protect the cavalry and chariots.
Over eighty sets of ceremonial armour have been found at the site. The six hundred plates are of limestone connected by bronze wire, this would have provided no protection, it is a stone version of the real bronze armour. Regular soldiers would have had leather armour with bronze plates, officers had a fishscale version.
Image source: thehistoryblog.com

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