Qin Shi Huangdi: Facts & Tomb

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Did you know that Ancient China was made up of several warring states? This lesson explains the major accomplishments of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as well as the impressive tomb he's buried in.

Ancient China

Take a moment to think about China today. You may know that it is the largest country in Asia. Perhaps you can recall some facts about the role that communism has played in the country's history during the 20th century. But did you know that in the 200s B.C., China was broken into small states? A large, unified China as you know it today did not exist before Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.

Zhao Zheng Becomes Qin Shi Huangdi

Zhao Zheng was born around the year 259 B.C., nearly 2,300 years ago, in the Qin state. At this time, China was broken into about seven different warring states. Of them, Qin was the most powerful. Through a series of fortunate events and some political wiggling, Zhao Zheng found himself on the Qin throne at just 13 years of age. Think about your life at 13...were you mature enough to run your own country or make decisions regarding war? The odds are, you probably weren't, and neither was Zhao Zheng. Until he reached the age of 25, the Qin state was governed by various advisers.

In 238 B.C., Zhao Zheng officially assumed control of Qin. For 17 years, he worked tirelessly to bring the other six Chinese states under Qin control. By 221 B.C., he had achieved his goal: China was unified as a single state for the first time in its history. At this point, Zhao Zheng changed his name to Qin Shi Huangdi. 'Qin' represents the name of the dynasty he founded, while 'Shi Huangdi' means 'First Sovereign Emperor'. According to Qin Shi Huangdi, his dynasty would last for '10,000 generations'. A generation is roughly 20 years, so that means he believed his dynasty would last for about 200,000 years. In reality, the Qin Dynasty fell apart in less than 20 years.

Reforms of Qin Shi Huangdi

Shi Huangdi was a smart man and knew that he needed to consolidate power if he wanted to rule over all of China. One of his first acts as emperor was to abolish the system of feudalism in China; no longer would peasants and lesser nobles pay tribute to powerful lords. At the same time, he also required all rich and powerful families to move to the Qin capital. This way, he could keep an eye on them! Shi Huangdi also divided his new empire into 36 different military districts as a way to prevent uprisings and control the people.

The emperor Qin Shi Huangdi is also given credit for many other reforms that vastly improved China. He created a system of standardized weights and measures, kind of like how the U.S. weighs things in pounds and measures things in inches (or feet or yards, etc.). He also standardized the country's language and created a codified set of laws. Instead of being passed by word of mouth, the laws were written down for all to read. Finally, he also made vast improvements to China's infrastructure by building new roads and canals to make transportation easier.

The End of Qin Shi Huangdi

Shi Huangdi was a very superstitious man. He believed in things like magic and was constantly in search of some sort of elixir that would help him live forever. Confucian scholars that lived in Shi Huangdi's court disliked his beliefs, leading to constant conflict between them. Increasingly, He became increasingly paranoid… there were at least three different assassination attempts on his life. He spent his days living in vast palaces far away from the common people. Shi Huangdi died some time around the year 210 B.C., just shy of turning 40 years old.

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