Top Ten Achievements of the Qin Dynasty

The History of the Chinese empire began from the Qin dynasty. It lasted for 15 years, 221 to 206 BC. Qin Shi Huang, the emperor, made remarkable changes that were ahead of his time.  

He was a megalomaniac and was known for his ruthless suppression of speech, which eventually led people to rebel. Yet, China benefited from his legacy even until this day.

The Qin dynasty marked the end of the Warring States period (656- 221 BC) and the middle kingdom’s Unification.  It achieved many well-known feats, including the standardisation of China’s writing system and planning to build the outstanding work of architecture, The Great Wall of China. [1]

These are the top ten achievements of the Qin dynasty.               

10. The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army - 20th Century
The Terracotta Army – 20th Century
Source: Wikimedia Common

The Terracotta Army is a popular discovery of the 20th century. This construction project inaugurated to serve the glory of the first Qin emperor. The statues substituted for human sacrifices which served as an army in his afterlife.[2]

The builders and artisans were buried with the tombs to keep secrets of the art pieces. That is how these pits remained a secret until it was tracked down by local farmers after 2000 years, in 1974.    

9. Inventions of Advanced Weaponries

Crossbow developed during the Qin Dynasty
Crossbow developed during Qin Dynasty

The Qin military developed the crossbow and was the first army in China to replace bronze swords with iron. These were powerful compared to the composite, traditional bows. The Qin dynasty had the most advanced weaponry of the time. [3]

In the Terracotta Warriors pits excavation, archaeologists found 40,000 weapons including arrowheads, crossbows, spears, and battle-axes. Among them was a 2,200-year-old crossbow, which alone was twice as powerful to a modern-day assault rifle.  

8. The Zhengguo Canal

Original Zhegguo Canal's sketch
Original Zhegguo Canal’s sketch
Source: Wikimedia Common

Canals held China together, politically and culturally. China’s canals controlled flood, irrigation and most importantly, transportation.

The rival state of Han planned to drain Qin’s resources by engaging them in a grand construction project during the warring states period.

They sent Zheng Guo, a water engineer, to advise them on it. He brought the initiation of constructing the canal, which was named ‘Zhengguo’ after him. [4]

Later, Guo switched sides and the plan backfired to the Han state when the canal was completed in 246 BC.

It irrigated 27,000 square kilometres of additional agricultural land and helped Qin with resources to increase the size of its already powerful armies. 

Today, the Zhengguo Canal is considered a great hydraulic engineering project.

7. Engineering of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System

An image of Dujiangyan Irrigation System, Sichuan China
An image of Dujiangyan Irrigation System, Sichuan China
Source: Wikimedia Common

The Dujiangyan Irrigation System is a wonder in the development of Chinese science which is still in use today. This system is the only surviving, oldest, no-dam irrigation system in the world.[5]

The Chinese engineer Li Bing, who was also the administrator of Qin’s state, initiated and oversaw the irrigation system’s construction. He is a cultural icon in China today.

In ancient times, the Sichuan Province suffered from floods and droughts frequently.

That is why the project of the irrigation system received great support from the local people. It was successful in making the province a productive agricultural area when it was constructed around 256 BC. 

Even today, the system irrigates over 5,300 square km of land. 

6. Construction of the Lingqu Canal 

People visiting the world heritage - Lingqu Canal of China
People visiting the world heritage – Lingqu Canal of China

Water transportation is fairly more efficient than land transportation. People naturally tried to utilize as much of the waterways as possible in the past. 

Qin Shi Huang ordered constructing a canal connecting the Xiang and the Li rivers to attack Baiyue tribes in the south in 214 BC. This order led to the formation of the Lingqu canal, which is 36.4 km long. 

Architecture Shi Lu designed the canal to also be water conservation by diverting up to a third of the Xiang’s flow to the Li. It then got called the Magic Canal, which is also known to be the world’s oldest contour canal today. [6]

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lingqu Canal is one of the three great ancient Chinese engineering products, followed by the Great Wall and Dujiangyan Irrigation System.

5. The First Meritocratic Administration System 

Confucianism and Meritocracy - Administration system of China
Confucianism and Meritocracy – Administration system of China

The administrative system of the Qin Dynasty shaped the basics of Chinese administration for its next 2,000 years.

Some were modified by later dynasties but kept the values of the Meritocratic Administration. This system had brought political Unification which strongly reinforced the central government. [7]

With his prime minister’s help, Qin Shi Huang, Li Si, abolished the hereditary vassal system during the Qin dynasty.

This move also avoided political chaos and replaced a new administrative arrangement.

The empire was divided into countries that were under 36 prefectures. Under each country were several towns. Also, each town was further divided into small rural units. 

This arrangement divided China into administrative units where all officials got appointed through merits. Hereditary rights and important positions started to mean less and people could be promoted without notable ancestors. 

4. The Great Wall of China’s Outline 

The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China
Source: Wikimedia Common

The oldest Great Wall of China was built in the Qin dynasty and Warring States period around 220 BC. Rammed earth and straw was used to construct it at first. Today, only little of this wall remains, but it was the precursor to China’s Great Wall. 

Modern builders today, wanting to revive eco-friendly buildings worldwide, have similar construction methods of using rammed earth that the Qin Dynasty Great Wall used. This method is fast and cheap. 

When emperor Qin unified the states in 221 BC, he ordered the destruction of the fortifications that divided his empire. These forts were built before the unification when most states built walls to defend their borders. 

Although these forts were destroyed, Qin ordered the construction of an enormous wall that would run along the northern border of China, connecting the fortifications along the northern frontier.

This wall construction would also protect them from the Central Asian warriors, who could be the northern invaders.

The Central Asian warriors were trade partners with China, but they also had conflicts between them. It would also be a defense against unwanted intruders. 

The wall was built gradually and not all during Qin’s empire, but its construction started from the dynasty itself. Today, it promotes tourism which is still beneficial to China.[8]

3. Influential Political Figures explored through the Qin Dynasty 

Li Si – Prime Minister of China during Qin Regime

Political influencers Shang Yang, and Li Si were both from the Qin dynasty. Yang was a leading statesman of Qin during the Warring States period.

He encouraged practical and ruthless warfare, but also reformed and promoted the political philosophy of legalism. It was legalism that helped in the Unification of China during the Qin dynasty. 

Confucianism and other philosophies were suppressed when the Qin had power and the dynasty governed with a single philosophy of legalism. Historically, Qin’s legalist state was designed like a war machine to succeed in a brutal war that prolonged.

It was not the best governing model for a long period of peacekeeping. That is why some scholars criticize legalism. But, it still counts to be influential in policy, administration, and legal practices in China. [9]

Li Si was a prime minister from 246 BC to 208 BC in the Qin regime. Chinese History views him as one of the most influential political figures. He standardized the code of law, units of measurements, currency to the Ban Liang coin and governmental ordinances.

Li Si is credited for playing a role in the cultural Unification of China. The Qin administration had inherited tough taxes and draconian punishments in their warring states period. Li Si also helped soothe them and made simple taxation methods. 

2. Standardization of the Writing System 

Chinese characters - Writing System
Chinese characters – Writing System
Source: Wikimedia Common

The first government standardization of the Chinese characters took place in the Qin dynasty. Before the Qin unified China, local styles of characters evolved independently for centuries. They produced the Scripts of the Six States.  

The Large Seal Script also consisted of characters that were different in different regions. For a unified government, the diversity was not appealing because it obstructed communication, trade, transportation and taxation.[10]

The Qin emperor wanted one specific script to be legalized all over China. In 220 BC, he asked his prime minister Li Si and scholars to create a particular form for everyone to know. 

Li Si then systematized the written Chinese language as the imperial standard that had already been in use in Qin’s state. The new script was then called the Small Seal Script which was again standardized by removing variant forms.

The Small Seal Script was introduced as a new, formalized style that has survived until now, with only minor modifications. This standardization of the Chinese writing system made it uniform throughout all of China. Further, it also had a unification effect on the Chinese culture for thousands of years more. 

1. China’s Unification for the first time in History

The situation map of Qin's War
The situation map of Qin’s War
Source: Wikimedia Common

China did not exist before the Qin dynasty. Each warring state had its language, a system of measurement, culture and political system. 

The Qin rule employed legalist ideas to subdue the Warring States when legalism was the most applicable. It helped the emperor justify carrying out harsh penalties to ‘correct’ subjects’ behaviours to further the state’s interest and solidify the government’s rule. Legalism united the seven powerful states into a single nation with a single language, a single national identity and a single set of laws. [11]

Initially, Qin was an area that traditionally gave birth to early Chinese civilization. It was located in the northwest central China plain, where the land was very fertile and had high agricultural production. It was also technologically forward for being rich in iron ore, which quickly produced high numbers of iron weapons.

Similarly, the Qin had a huge military and social advantage and did not need to bother with the traditional business of forming alliances. It only overran all its neighbours, killed their ruling houses and directly ruled them.

The emperor did not compromise with the bureaucracy, scholars or the nobility. Qin also centralized bureaucracy and abolished the noble houses, which meant that the nation would no longer suffer from Nobels rebelling and longing for power.

The combination of natural and human factors during the Qin rule helped in the Unification of China for the first time.

Related :

Conclusion

The Qin dynasty is the imperial era of China. The legacy left by Qin Shi Huang unified the Chinese people and made the dynasty stronger.

The next dynasty, Han, and the following dynasties from Qin succeeded from Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor’s initiation. His harsh leadership in unifying China is mostly criticized, but the philosophy of legalism is positively acknowledged today with the achievements made in his period. 

Qin Shi Huang formulated a complete centralized political system, which laid the theoretical foundation for the feudal rule of more than two thousand years. Although the Qin Dynasty was very short-lived, Qin Shihuang’s ruling thought, and the ruling pattern continued. Such influence is difficult to compare with any dynasty and emperor.

1. “War and Historical China.” https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/137321/20090521128690.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020

2.” China’s Terracotta Warriors – Minneapolis Institute of Art.” http://archive.artsmia.org/UserFiles/File/userfiles/education-and-resources/LAI130848_TW%20Presentation%20Materials_4-8.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

3.”The Qin Dynasty.” https://pwhiteworldhistory.weebly.com/uploads/7/6/7/6/76768455/chap_6_sec_4.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

4. “The Zhengguo Canal: from sabotage to water of life – SHINE ….” 10 Sep. 2018, https://www.shine.cn/feature/art-culture/1809101885/. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

5. “Sichuan Basin.” https://www.cnpc.com.cn/en/xhtml/pdf/21-Sichuan%20Basin.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

6. “The transport canals — the magic canal (Lingqu) | Library ….” http://boulderlibrary.net/water-engineering-in-ancient-civilizations-5-000-years-of-history/the-transport-canals-the-magic-canal-lingqu.html. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

7. “The Formation of the Qin Dynasty – ScienceDirect.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050912000804/pdf?md5=944548eb68752625f75335bf50a273da&pid=1-s2.0-S1877050912000804-main.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

8. “The Great Wall of China.” http://www.cesjds.org/uploaded/pdfs/lowerschool/edhelper_-_The_Great_Wall_of_China.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

9.”Confucianism.” http://www.mitchellteachers.org/confucius/philosophy/Confucianism_ReligionFactsWebsite.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

10.”The Chinese script.” https://international.uiowa.edu/sites/international.uiowa.edu/files/file_uploads/norman_1988_writing.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2020.

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Cite this article as: Nubhisha Upreti, "Top Ten Achievements of the Qin Dynasty," in HistoryTen, May 2, 2021, https://historyten.com/china-history/the-qin-dynasty-achievements/.
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