Qin Dynasty: Religion, Art & Culture

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  • 0:03 The Qin Influence
  • 0:43 Culture
  • 2:06 Family Life & Culture
  • 2:52 Qin Religion
  • 3:32 Artistic Expressions
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeffery Keller

Jeff has taught US and World History at the high school and college levels for nearly ten years and has a master's degree in history.

The Qin dynasty was one of China's shortest-lived dynasties, lasting only 15 years. Yet, it was also one of the most influential. In this lesson, you'll learn about the religion, art, and culture of the Qin dynasty.

The Qin Influence

Imagine ruling a nation in which many languages are used for writing and speaking. The challenges of governing such a place would be enormous. This was the situation that the Qin Emperor Shi Huangdi found himself in upon taking the throne of his newly created empire. Shi Huangdi rose to power during the Period of the Warring States, a time during which many different regions of China were in constant conflict as small warlords tried to dominate each other. Shi Huangdi ended these feuds by conquering each of the states one at a time, and in the process, founding a dynasty that spanned from 221 B.C.E. to 206 B.C.E.

Culture

Although the boundaries of the Qin Dynasty didn't compare to the boundaries of modern China, the new empire was nevertheless more unified than it had ever been before. However, it was still culturally diverse, particularly in terms of language. Shi Huangdi quickly set out to rectify this. He created not only a standardized written language, but also the foundation for modern Chinese nationality. By creating one written script for all of China, the new emperor made it easier to communicate with his subjects.

Ultimately, the Qin Dynasty made many contributions to Chinese society, but its influence on intellectual endeavors was limited. Shi Huangdi was highly suspicious of anything that might challenge his authority, especially the teachings of Confucius. Confucius taught the need for patience, virtue, and a benevolent and well-meaning leader, an idea that ran counter to the strict authoritarianism of the Qin Dynasty.

Confucian scholars were faced with three options: conform, go into hiding, or face execution. Many were arrested and imprisoned. Many Confucian texts were burned while others were put in collections restricted to only a few government officials. Philosophers who opposed Confucianism were known as Legalists. They believed in the need for strict rules of law and harsh punishments doled out by a leader with absolute power.

Family Life & Culture

One of the hallmarks of Qin society that endures even today is a focus on the importance of the family. China was a patriarchal society, meaning that males held more sociocultural influence than females. Upper-class families often emphasized the role of the extended family as well, meaning that aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were often very close-knit and sometimes even shared a residence.

The father was to rule his family just as the emperor ruled the kingdom. He would set expectations and organize the responsibilities of his family members. For lower class families, both the family and the village had important responsibilities. Village leaders set expectations and made sure that individuals met their obligations.

Qin Religion

Social class and family connections greatly influenced religion, too. People in previous dynasties had believed in many gods and goddesses, and this belief continued during the Qin dynasty. However, unlike the Greeks or Romans who gave their many gods and goddesses long descriptions and characteristics, the Chinese didn't concern themselves with such things for the most part.

Ultimately, religious focus was on finding the good life. For upper-class individuals, this came through obedience to the government and by venerating their ancestors. Rituals were also important to spirituality and could come in many, diverse forms, including military exercises and special meals.

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