The Qin Dynasty was the fourth dynasty of Ancient China. It came after the fall of the Zhou Dynasty when the Qin armies overtook the capital by military conquest.
Compared to the Zhou Dynasty (which was the longest running dynasty in Ancient China) the Qin era was very short. It only lasted 15 years in total.
However, it had a great impact on Chinese culture in those fifteen years – even the name of the country, “China,” comes from the name Qin!
While the Zhou Dynasty was significant because of the huge number of wars it faced (in the Warring States period, which ran from 426-221 BC) the Qin Dynasty was instead marked by its return to peace.
The Qin Dynasty brought unity to China in just 15 years where the Zhou Dynasty had failed to across centuries and established a new system of law and order to aid the nation’s cultural development.
This emphasis on law and order was known as “legalism,” and its observance contributed greatly to China’s new era of peace.
The practice of legalism meant that people had to obey the law first and foremost; strict obedience to state laws became the most important part of Chinese society, even more important at the time than being loyal to the emperor.
This idea of state policy was devised by a man named Shang Yang, who came to China from abroad early in the Qin Empire.
Other important aspects of this government were their collectivization” program – meaning that farms were controlled by the government, and farmers were given a fixed wage and stable flow of trade in exchange for their crops.
The term “collectivization” also referred to the belief that the people of China all shared responsibility for upholding law and order with one another.
If a person broke the law, then their neighbors or any witnesses to the crime were legally required to tell the authorities.
If it was found that somebody did not report a crime they should have, they would be executed.
Another key principle of the Qin Empire was the belief that the more a person contributed to the state, the more important their life was.
Those who contributed the most to the government (in terms of money, inventions, cultural developments, etc.) were highly rewarded, while those who did not were forced to work as slaves.
The Qin Empire was responsible for some of the most significant landmarks remaining in China today.
For example, the Qin Empire oversaw projects such as the construction of the Great Wall of China (one of the Seven Wonders of the World,) the digging of the Grand Canal, and the developments of a road network which eased trade and travel within the country.
The Qin Dynasty is also the dynasty which oversaw the construction of China’s Terracotta Army – 8,000 terracotta statues of soldiers built to guard Emperor Shi Huangdi in the afterlife.
The Terracotta Army is a very famous tourist site in China today!However, legalism had negative effects on China as well.
Since fear and control were so important to Qin rule, it was believed that if people were kept uneducated, things would run more smoothly. This meant that the work of writers was very heavily censored in the time of the Qin Empire.
Many books were burned (and banned) during the Qin’s time in power, and mass execution of scholars, writers and philosophers were carried out in 212 BC to destroy the knowledge they possessed. Because of this, very few books from the time remain.
The Qin Dynasty came to an end in the year 206 BC, when the Qin authority was overthrown in the capital of Xianyang.
The Han Dynasty was the next to follow, but the impact of legalism would have far-reaching effects for the Han Leader Liu Bang’s reign. Although the Qin Dynasty was short-lived, it was hugely influential.