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Chinese model of a chariot and four horses

Chinese emperor’s chariot and horses in a model

When did the Qin Dynasty start?

The Qin (or Ch’in) Dynasty is the one which gave its name to China. The first Qin emperor, in 221 BC, was Qin 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.

Before Qin: the Zhou Dynasty
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A unified Qin empire

To show that he was the emperor, and more important than the other kings, Qin Shih Huang Ti 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, Qin 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 started to use seals to show that they had approved something.

Chinese writing and literature
Chinese math and numbers
What are seals and sealings?

clay statues of Chinese soldiers

Qin Dynasty terracotta warriors

Reorganizing China’s government

Qin 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.

Chinese government

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

A big Qin army

Qin 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. China was one of the two biggest empires in the world, along with the Persian Empire. (Though the Roman Empire was also growing fast!)

More about Vietnam
More about Central Asia

The Qin build the Great Wall of China

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. Qin 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 Silk Road and Chinese trade

The new peace and security in China encouraged Silk Road traders from Central Asia to buy and sell things in China. The Qin government forced enslaved women to spin and weave a lot of beautiful silk cloth to sell.

History of silk
Women in ancient China
China and slavery
Where did steel come from?

With the profits from selling the silk, they bought silver to use in coins, horses for the Qin 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 Qin Dynasty
Quiz on the Qin Dynasty

Bibliography and further reading about the Qin dynasty in China:

Qin Dynasty Art
Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220)

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