Great Wall of China - Chin Dynasty China
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Ch'in Dynasty China

Chinese chariot

July 2016 - The Ch'in Dynasty is the one which gave its name to China. The first Ch'in emperor, in 221 BC, was Ch'in Shih Huang Ti. He started out as the king of a smaller state - possibly Central Asian? maybe Sogdian or Scythian? - but he was able to force all the other states to accept his rule too, so then he became the emperor of all China. To show that he was the emperor, and more important than the other kings, he built big palaces and had very elaborate court ceremonies in his capital city of Xianyang. And, to show that China was all one empire now, Ch'in made everyone use the same letters to write with and use the same kinds of weights to measure things with, all over the empire. Officials began to use seals to show that they had approved something.

Chinese infantry

Ch'in didn't trust the other kings whom he had conquered, so he didn't let them run anything. Instead, he chose his own assistants and sent them out as governors and judges for each part of his empire. And, so that he could keep an eye on the kings and their families, he made them leave their homes and come live in the capital city with him, and help him there. That way they couldn't revolt against him.

Great Wall
Great Wall of China

Ch'in also got together a huge army to keep the kings from revolting against him. And when he didn't need it for revolts, he kept the army busy defending the empire and making it bigger and bigger. Soon China reached from Mongolia in the north to Vietnam in the south.

The biggest danger to China was the people who lived in Mongolia and Siberia, who often tried to invade China. A lot of the kings in northern China had already built walls along their kingdoms to keep out these invaders. Ch'in ordered his army to join up all these little walls to make the Great Wall of China. The wall ended up being 1,500 miles long (2400 kilometers)! That's almost as long as the United States' border with Mexico (most of which doesn't have a wall.)

The new peace and security in China encouraged Silk Road traders from Central Asia to buy and sell things in China. The Ch'in government forced enslaved women to spin and weave a lot of beautiful silk cloth to sell, and with the profits they bought silver to use in coins, horses for the Ch'in army, glass bowls and cups, and good steel for swords and tools. With the steel, they made sewing needles and they started to embroider the silk so they could sell it for even more profit.

More about the Ch'in Dynasty
Quiz on the Ch'in Dynasty

Bibliography and further reading about the Ch'in dynasty in China:

Chin Dynasty Art
Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220) Ancient China
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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