Emperor Qin Shi Huang (Part 2)

October 26, 2010 9:38 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 6:41 pm

Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China. (Wikimedia Commons)
Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China. (Wikimedia Commons)
Secondly, Ying Zheng, who had become Qin Shi Huang, rescinded aristocratic titles, and adopted the political system of centralized authority. He established the Cabinet at the central government level, called the system of Nine Ministers or the Nine Cabinet Members. Locally, he adopted the county system which divided the country into counties. All officials were appointed by the emperor. The emperor could retain or remove any official at his will.

Thirdly, strict rule of law was implemented. From the highest ranking officials to the lowest social stratum across the country, everyone had to obey the harsh and detailed laws of the Qin empire. Violators were prosecuted without exception.

Fourthly, written characters in the various warring states were unified. Although ancient Chinese characters were used by all states, there were variations in strokes or choice of characters. The Qin government issued the standard for written characters. The “lesser-seal” of Qin became the official written language, to be used by all officials and ordinary citizens.

Fifthly, monetary and measuring systems were unified. Universal length gauge, volume gauge, currency, and even the distance between the wheels of a horse-drawn wagon were all unified.

It took Qin Shi Huang just 16 years since he fully assumed the role of the King of Qin till he fully unified China. Of course, his predecessors had laid the ground work.

After the unification, Qin Shi Huang toured his new empire, inspecting the newly subordinated regions. Well constructed paths led to various regions in China, which facilitated the swift mobilization of his military forces. These wide paths were said to allow the passage of four horse-drawn wagons in parallel. They radiated from the capital to remote counties in the outer fringes of the empire.

To counter harassment from the Xungnu pastoral nomads in the north, Qin Shi Huang ordered the connection of the Long Walls along the northern borders of various former warring states. The final line of fortifications extended over 3,000 miles, known today as the Great Wall of China. It took 400,000 young, strong laborers many years to complete this work. The Great Wall has since been overbuilt by following generations, and now stands taller and more solidly constructed than in Qin Shi Huang's reign.

Qin Shi Huang continued to offer preferential treatment to intellectuals and created an official doctoral position for them. These doctoral positions were titular and did not carry power and associated responsibilities. It did however signify their scholarly achievements, and is equivalent to the modern-day PhD degree. Whenever there was a vacancy in the government, these doctoral scholars were the likely candidates to fill the position.

These intellectuals came from a myriad number of schools known as 100 Schools, including Taoism and Confucianism. Some were male witches who claimed that they could locate deities or find recipes for immortality. It was not uncommon that the intellectuals would discuss or even dispute over social and political issues. When the discussion or dispute got in the way of existing policies, Qin Shi Huang would silence them. Some doctoral scholars would continue to critique the contemporary policies and political affairs, which would result in even harsher orders from Qin Shi Huang.

In 213 BC, Qin Shi Huang issued an order to bury alive 460 doctoral scholars. He also ordered the destruction of all historical archives of earlier states, privately held works of 100 Schools, including the Confucian school, and other books with the exception of the Qin Historical Archive, books on medicine, fortune telling, agriculture, National Doctoral copies of Classic of Poetry and Classic of History. Decrees were also issued to prohibit the discussion of the Classic of Poetry and the Classic of History to rule out any possible reflection on contemporary politics via the indirect discussion of historical events. Violators were prosecuted to the fullest extent of law, which included death penalties.

Paper was not invented back then and all books were written on bamboo pieces, tied with thin ropes. Education was not widespread at that time and highly educated scholars were few in number. Consequently, the burning of bamboo books and burying of scholars have been passed down in history as a vivid description of Qin Shi Huang’s reign.