40 Interesting Qin Shi Huang Facts

by Sankalan Baidya
qin shi huang facts

Known as a capable administrator and yet a brutal tyrant, Qin Shi Huang was the first person to unify all of China under one single banner. This made him the first emperor of unified China. He has a very interesting life story that oscillates between visionary achievements and tyrannical eccentricities, between great reforms and extreme paranoia. Let us learn 40 interesting Qin Shi Huang fact and understand how he became China’s first emperor and how he eventually died.

Interesting Qin Shi Huang Facts: 1-10

1. Qin Shi Huang’s original name was Ying Zheng. He was born in 259 BCE in Qin state. He was the son of the King of Qin.

2. Back then (when he was born), the whole of China was divided into 7 states that used to engage in military conflicts very frequently. So common was the war between these states that the period became popular in annals of history as Warring States Period.

3. However, there were rumors that Zheng was actually the son of Yiren Zheng (father of Ying Zheng) and a concubine.

4. After the death of Yiren Zheng (aka King Zhuangxiang of Qin), Ying Zheng became the king of Qin. But at that time, Ying was only 13 years old with Lü Buwei (a rich merchant from State of Wey) acting as regent Prime Minister.

5. By the age of 22, Ying Zheng took over the full control of Qin and started dreaming of unifying whole of China by conquering the rest of the 6 states.

6. The vision of unified China led Ying Zheng to start a series of conquests. One of the smaller and weaker states at that time was the State of Yan. Yan was small and was of no match to Qin.

7. Tormented by Ying Zheng’s military assaults of Yan, Prince Dan of Yan plotted an assassination of King Ying Zheng. However, the attempt failed and after 5 years of battles, Qin finally conquered Yan.

8. During the first assassination attempt, the man who was in charge of assassinating Ying Zheng was Jing Ke. Jing Ke was captured and finally executed.

9. One of the close friends of Jing Ke was Gao Jianli who was renowned as a skilled lute player. Gao wanted to avenge the execution of his friend Jing Ke and one day when King Ying Zheng summoned him to play lute, he came prepared with a heavy lead ball hidden in his lute.

10. One of palace members of King Ying Zheng knew Gao from pervious associations and when he saw Gao, he immediately identified Gao as an associate and friend of Jing Ke. Once, Gao’s intent was clear, King Ying Zheng had his eyes removed because he did not want to execute a skilled musician.

Interesting Qin Shi Huang Facts: 11-20

11. King Ying Zheng, after having Gao’s eyes removed, kept Gao in court and allowed him to play lute. Over time, the King became fond of Gao and allowed him to get closer, unaware of the fact that Gao was still plotting to assassinate him.

12. Taking advantage of the closeness to the King, Gao attempted to hit the King with his lute that was attached to the lead piece. Gao missed and later he was executed by the King.

13. King Ying Zheng’s major military conquests ended with defeat of the most formidable opponent State of Chu in year 223 BCE.

14. State of Qin defeated the 6 rival states of China in following order:

  • State of Hán – defeated by State of Qin in 230 BCE.
  • State of Zhào – defeated by State of Qin in 228 BCE.
  • State of Yan – defeated by State of Qin in 226 BCE.
  • State of Wei – defeated by state of Qin in 225 BCE.
  • State of Chu – defeated by State of Qin in 223 BCE.
  • State of Qi – defeated by State of Qin in 221 BCE.

15. King Ying Zhen’s military conquests ended completely in 221 BCE but when he defeated State of Zhào, he had already assumed the name Qin Shi Huang. ‘Shi Huang’ literally means ‘First Emperor’.

16. With the defeat of the 6 rival states, China was unified. This is when a piece of jade known as He Shi Bi was converted into Imperial Seal. This Imperial Seal was later handed over from one emperor to another over generations.

17. After becoming the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang became fully aware of the fact that administrative reforms were necessary to avoid chaos. The first thing he did was complete abolition of feudalism.

18. The whole of the new empire was divided into several administrative units which included (in order): commanderies, districts, counties, hundred-family units. The concept of a native region like Chu or Qi was completely wiped out.

19. State appointments (prior to unification of China) were based on hereditary rights. This was no long the case. Imperial appointments were now made based on merits and not hereditary rights.

20. Once administrative reforms were put in place, Qin Shi Huang turned his attention to economic reforms. He introduced a single currency for the newly unified China and also introduced standardized measurement units for weight and length. These economic reforms made economic activities smoother.

Interesting Qin Shi Huang Facts: 21-30

21. Qin Shi Huang also introduced several infrastructural improvements that included building networks of canals and roads throughout China, thereby improving trade and travel.

22. He also started the building of the Great Wall of China. Of course the wall was never completed during Qin Dynasty rule and took over 1,500 years more to be finally completed during the Ming Dynasty between 1368 and 1644 CE.

23. Yet another important reform by Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the introduction of a standardized way of writing. Before he became emperor, there were several styles of writing which created serious communication problems.

24. While new reforms were definitely a reflection of Qin Shi Huang being a very skillful ruler and administrator, he also had his own set of eccentricities stored deep inside him. He wanted the history of China to being with him. So, he ordered complete destruction of previously written books.

25. Scholars were required to destroy and burn books that spoke about the history of nation before Qin Shi Huang. Those scholars who did not listen were executed.

26. Yet another really cruel move by Qin Shi Huang was that of outlawing all forms of religion. He simply wanted people of unified China to be obedient and loyal only and only to the government.

27. A third assassination attempt was made on Qin Shi Huang’s life in 230 BCE after the state of Han was defeated. A Han aristocrat wanted revenge and hired an assassin to kill Qin Shi Huang. This aristocrat sold everything he had to hire the assassin and build a metal cone weighing about 97 kilograms.

28. The two men (the aristocrat and the assassin) hid themselves on mountains along the route that the emperor was supposed to take. When the emperor was traveling through the route, the assassin rolled down the cone and it managed to shatter the first chariot but the emperor was on the second chariot. Traveling on the second chariot was actually the emperor’s plan to avoid any assassination attempt and the plan really worked.

29. During his later years of life, the emperor started searching to the fabled elixir of life. He wanted to become immortal because he feared death. The fear of death was partly because of the multiple assassination attempts and also because of eccentricity.

30. The emperor was so afraid of death and evil spirits that he had a series of underground tunnels built by the workers, each of which led to over 200 different palaces he owned. He believed that traveling through tunnels will keep him hidden from the eyes of his enemies and also from evil spirits.

Interesting Qin Shi Huang Facts: 31-40

31. It is said that in 211 BCE, a meteor crashed at Dōngjùn at lower reaches of Yellow River. Someone supposedly inscribed on the rock the following words: The First Emperor will die and his land will be divided.

32. As expected, the words reached his ears and he immediately sent out men to check out the rock and to run a full-scale investigation about the prophecy was run by the imperial secretary.

33. It is said that the rock was found and it indeed had the inscriptions. So, the emperor had the stone burned and pulverized.

34. People of the surrounding area were thoroughly questioned and when no one confessed, every single person in the nearby area was executed.

35. In 210 BCE, on September 10 (according to Julian Calendar), Qin Shi Huang was on a tour to Eastern China and was stationed at his palace at Shaqiu prefecture. The emperor never made it to capital Xianyang which was at a distance of 2 months of journey by road from Shaqiu.

36. It is said that he died because of ingesting mercury pills. So how did he ingest the mercury pills? These pills were actually given to him by his alchemists to become immortal. Yes, he had alchemists working to create something that would keep him alive forever.

37. The news of Qin Shi Huang’s death was suppressed to prevent an uprising. Only a few people knew about the death including Prime Minister Li Si, emperor’s second son Ying Huhai, emperor’s favorite eunuch Zhao Gao and a few other people.

38. Li Si and Zhao Gao feared that if emperor’s elder son Fusu become emperor, they would lose power. So, they forged a letter from Qin Shi Huang which asked Fusu and Fusu’s favorite general Meng Tang to commit suicide. This worked. Both Fusu and Meng Tang killed themselves and Ying Huhai was placed on throne where he assumed the title Qin Er Shi or Second Generation Qin.

39. Ying Huhai was not really a capable ruler and under his rule, a number of uprisings and revolts eventually led to the collapse of the Qin Empire within just 3 years.

40. One of the weirdest things that Qin Shi Huang did was he ordered the construction of his own tomb. Some of the ancient records say that about 700,000 men were put to work. The tomb was meticulously made had replicas of scenic towers and palaces, 100 rivers made of mercury, wonderful objects and rare utensils and more… 6000 terracotta warriors were also made with intricate details and were colored using Han Purple. They were all full-sized models and were supposed to protect the emperor from evil spirits and dangers in his afterlife.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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