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How Ying Zheng Became the First Emperor

Ying Zheng was a wise man, he knew well that if he wanted to annex other six countries, he should first deal with internal problems. Both Lv Buwei, the Prime Minister of the Qin Dynasty, and Lao Ai, the lover of his mother, threatened his paramount rights and position in different ways, so Ying Zheng executed the two men at the age of only 22. Then he conquered the six countries. However, before the Qin State was strong enough to conquer the other six states, Ying Zheng had to do some preparations.

Step-by-Step Preparations

Ying Zheng belived that the other six states were his stongest enemies. If they want to defeated the strongest enemies, he had to make his own state strong enough and sweep out some small threats.

Establish the System to Make Lands Really in Emperor’s Possession

Before the Qin Dynasty, the organization of officials in every state was in a mess, so after the unification, Ying Zheng decided to adopt the system of Three Councillors and Nine Ministers.

The “three councillors” refer to grand commandant( the chairman of the Military Commission), prime minister( premier of the state council) and grandee secretary (procurator-general). All of them were male and they were directly under the jurisdiction of the emperor. They were also called chancellor, which was not an official name but an informal term.

Following them were nine ministers, managing everything from military to daily chores. This system had been working until the Sui Dynasty when it was superseded by the system of Three Councils and Six Boards which we will talk about later.

The prefectures system was similar to our current division of provinces and cities. Before the Qin Dynasty, under feudal system, the state’s land was nominally belong to the emperor , however in fact, it was divided and allotted to various governors and possessed by their generations.

After the implementation of prefectures system, the land was really in the emperor’s possession, he just sent officials to manage prefectures for him and they were not allowed to pass them on to the son. Thus, it marked the beginning of centralization.

Both the systems were not created by Ying Zheng, it was just because of him that they were established.

Unify Weights and Measures, Character and Currency

During the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, 500 grams of the Zhao State was equal to 400 grams of the Wei State. Chu people couldn’t understand Qin’s contract and the currencies of different states were not the same. Therefore, it was extremely difficult for people of different states to trade with each other.

Worse still, they had pathways with different width, which hindered communication between states. So the first emperor of the dynasty unified weights and measures, character and currency, and also ordered to constructed paths with same width starting from Xianyang to all parts of the state. From then on, the state realized unification in essence.

Conquer Baiyue in the South and Huns in the North

Conquer Baiyue in the South

We will talk the south first. After the Yue State was destroyed by the State of Chu, its remnant forces fled to the wilderness of the south. After integrating local ethnic minorities, they established many small states, which were found in Zhejian, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong and Guangxi, and were known as Baiyue.

At that time, the southern area did not belong to the Qin State. However, Ying Zheng finally conquered all of these places and merged them into his territory so the area became a part of China.

In order to facilitate warfare, Ying Zheng also attached great importance to infrastructure construction, such as digging canal which benefited not only generation at that time but also future generations.

Conquer Huns in the North

Speaking of the north, during the Warring States Period, states in the Central Plains were caught in turmoil and did not notice that a tribe in the north, the Huns, had crossed the border to the south as far as the Hetao area of the Yellow River taking advantage of the turmoil.

So after the unification, Ying Zheng commanded general Meng Tian to take 300,000 troops to expel the Huns back to the north.

Burn Books and Bury Scholars

Burn Books about Confucianism

When it comes to burning books, it seems that Chancellor Li Si should be to blame. At that time, there were two groups of people, one was Legalism, the other was Confucianism.

Ying Zheng prefered Legalism, so if the Confucians wanted to be trusted by the emperor, they must tried their best to please him. Once, they questioned the prefectures system and suggested the emperor that he should divide the land and allot to his sons.

After hearing this, Li Si became angry and suggested that the emperor should burn down the history books of the former states that had imprisoned the mind, thus causing many classics in China to be set on fire.

However, the emperor was a scapegoat for cultural losses. Because the books he burned were all from the mundane world, and the imperial palace also contained a backup for research. The real initiator of the catastrophe was Xiang Yu, as he burned the whole palace (Many researches say that it was not Xiang Yu who burned the palace but the ignorant masses.)

Bury Scholars of Confucianism

Ying Zheng dreamed of having elixir so that he would never grow old. Therefore, he ordered a group of alchemists to make elixir of life for him. The alchemists knew it was impossible, but they had no choice but to pretend to do so.

One day, two alchemists escaped from the palace and said something disrespectful to the emperor. So he ordered to search those who spoke ill behind his back.

Some scholars were coward. They were all afraid to be executed, so they reported each other immediately after the order releasing. Finally, 460 people, not just Confucians, were caught and all of them were buried alive.

Ying Zheng devoted his entire life to the state, dreaming of longevity. His dream was broken when he died at fifty years old in Hebei in that summer.


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