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Great Qin

9th century BC–207 BC
Location of Qin
CapitalQuanqiu (Chinese: 犬丘)
Qinyi (Chinese: 秦邑)
Qian (Chinese: )
Pingyang (Chinese: 平陽)
Yong (Chinese: )
Jingyang (Chinese: 涇陽)
Yueyang (Chinese: 櫟陽)
Xianyang (Chinese: 咸陽)
Common languagesOld Chinese
Chinese folk religion
Ancestor worship
• Established
9th century BC
• Founded by Feizi
860 BCE?
221 BC
• defunct
207 BC
Currencyancient Chinese coinage
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Zhou dynasty
Qin dynasty
Eighteen Kingdoms
Today part ofChina
"Qin" in seal script (top) and regular (bottom) Chinese characters

The Qin (/ɪn/ chin; Chinese: ; pinyin: Qín), or as officially the Great Qin, was one of the ancient Chinese states during the Zhou dynasty. Traditionally dated to 897 BC,[1] it took its origin in a reconquest of western lands previously lost to the Rong; its position at the western edge of Chinese civilization permitted expansion and development that was unavailable to its rivals in the North China Plain. Following extensive "Legalist" reform in the fourth century BC, Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States and unified the seven states of China in 221 BC under Qin Shi Huang. It established the Qin dynasty, which was short-lived but greatly influenced later Chinese history.


See also: Timeline of the Warring States and the Qin dynasty


Bronze mold for minting banliang coins, Warring States period (475–221 BC), State of Qin, from an excavation in Qishan County, Baoji, Shaanxi province

According to the 2nd century BC historical text Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, the Qin state traced its origin to Zhuanxu, one of the legendary Five Emperors in ancient times. One of his descendants, Boyi, was granted the family name of Yíng by Emperor Shun. During the Xia and Shang dynasties, the Yíng clan split in two: a western branch that migrated across the Ordos Plateau to Quanqiu (Chinese: 犬丘, or "Hill of the Quanrongs" in present-day Lixian in Gansu), and an eastern branch that settled east of the Yellow River in modern Shanxi. The latter became the ancestors of the rulers of the later Zhao state.[2][3]

The western Yíng clan at Quanqiu were lords over the Xichui ("Western March") region west of Mount Long and served as a buffer state for the Shang dynasty against invasions by the Western Rong barbarians. One of them, Elai, was killed defending King Zhou of Shang during the rebellion led by Ji Fa that established the Zhou dynasty. The Yíng clan was however allied with the politically influential marquesses of Shen, whom the Zhou monarch relied upon heavily to manage the Rong people and was thus allowed to retain their lands and continued serving as an attached vassal under the Zhou dynasty. Feizi, a younger son of Elai's fourth-generation descendant Daluo, impressed King Xiao of Zhou so much with his horse breeding skills, that he was awarded a separate fief in the valley of Qin (present-day Qingshui and Zhangjiachuan County in Gansu) northeast of Quanqiu, and his seat was named Qinyi (in present-day Qintingzhen, Qingshui County). Both branches of the western Yíng clan lived in the midst of the Rong tribes, sometimes fighting their armies and sometimes intermarrying with their kings.[2][4]

It has been suggested by scholars such as Annette Juliano and Arthur Cotterel that having a horse-breeder as their ancestor may imply that the Yíng family had a partial connection to nomadic tribes. As late as 266 BC, it was remarked by a noble of Wei that they shared customs with the Rong and Di tribes; the Central Plains states seemed to hold Qin culture and other peripheral states like Yan and Chu in low regard, due to the marginal location of their states. Qin was the second state after Zhao to adopt cavalry tactics from the nomads. Following the collapse of Zhou Dynasty, the Qin state absorbed cultures from two of the Four Barbarians from the west and north, which made the other warring states see their culture in low esteem.[5][6] However, the Qin state was sensitive to the cultural discrimination by the Central Plains states and attempted to assert their Huaxia identity. This could be seen in an unusual statute of Qin Law, where mixed ethnicity offsprings were all categorised as Huaxia, as well as in their preference for importing recruits from the neighbouring state of Jin.[7]

In 842 BC, the nobles revolted against the corrupt King Li of Zhou in a coup known as the "Countrymen's Riot" (Chinese: 國人暴動), overthrowing him the following year, and the country subsequently fell into political turmoil. The Xirong tribes used the opportunity to rebel against the Zhou dynasty, attacking and exterminating the senior branch of Yíng clan at Quanqiu, leaving the cadet branch at Qinyi the only surviving Yíng clan in the west. After King Xuan of Zhou ascended the throne in 827 BC, he made Qin Zhong, Feizi's great-grandson, the commander of his forces in the campaign against Xirong. Two years later in 822 BC, Qin Zhong was killed in battle and was succeeded by his eldest son Duke Zhuang. To commemorating Qin Zhong's loyalty, King Xuan summoned Duke Zhuang and his four younger brothers and gave them 7,000 soldiers. The Qin brothers successfully defeated the Rong and recovered their lost patrimony formerly held by the deceased branch of Yíng clan, and King Xuan formally awarded them the territory of Quanqiu. Duke Zhuang then moved his seat from Qinyi to Quanqiu, and had three sons. When he died in 778 BC, his eldest son Shifu wanted to stay fighting the Xirong and avenge their grandfather, turning down the succession, so his second son Duke Xiang ascended as the clan leader. Soon afterwards in 777 BC, Duke Xiang married his younger sister Mu Ying to a Rong leader called King Feng (Chinese: 豐王), in an apparent attempt to make peace. The following year he moved the Qin capital eastward from Quanqiu to Qian (Chinese: , in present-day Long County, Shaanxi), but Quanqiu soon fell to the Rong again after he left. His older brother Shifu, who led the defence of Quanqiu, was captured by the Rong but was released a year later.

In 771 BC, the Marquess of Shen collaborated with the Zeng state and the Quanrong nomads, attacked and sacked the Zhou capital Haojing, killing King You of Zhou and ending the Western Zhou dynasty. Duke Xiang led his troops to escort King You's son King Ping to Luoyi, where the new capital city of the Eastern Zhou dynasty was established. In gratitude of Duke Xiang's service, King Ping formally enfeoffed Duke Xiang as a feudal lord and elevated Qin from an "attached state" (Chinese: 附庸; pinyin: fùyōng, a minor state with limited self-rule under the authority of another liege lord) to a major vassal state with full autonomy, and further promised to permanently grant Qin the lands west of Qishan, the former heartland of Zhou, if Qin could expel the Rong tribes that were occupying it. The following generations of Qin rulers were encouraged by this promise, and they launched several military campaigns against the Rong, eventually expanding their territories far beyond the original lands lost by the Western Zhou dynasty.[2][8] The Qin state therefore viewed the Zhou rulers King Wen and Wu as their predecessors, and themselves as the legitimate inheritors of their legacy.[9]

Spring and Autumn period

Belt plaque in the shape of a standing wolf, characteristic of nomadic artifacts of southern Ningxia and southeastern Gansu, with characteristic Qin-style surface decorations. Made in China for probable nomadic consumption. 4th century BC.[10][11]

Because their main concern was the Rongs to the west, Qin's interaction with other states in central China remained minimal throughout the Spring and Autumn period (722–481 BC), except with its immediate eastern neighbour Jin, a large vassal of the Zhou. Qin maintained good diplomatic relations with Jin through intermarriages between the royal clans, but relations between both sides had also deteriorated to the point of armed conflict on occasions.

During the early reign of Duke Mu of Qin, the Jin state was a formidable power under the leadership of Duke Xian of Jin. However, after the death of Duke Xian, Jin plunged into a state of internal conflict as Duke Xian's sons fought over the succession. One of them won the contention and became Duke Hui of Jin, but Jin was struck by a famine not long later in 647 BC and Duke Hui requested aid from Qin. Out of goodwill due to his marriage to Duke Hui's half-sister, Duke Mu sent relief food supplies and agricultural equipment to Jin. However, when Qin was struck by famine the next year, Duke Hui refused to reciprocate with help, leading to the diplomatic deterioration between Qin and Jin and a war breaking out in 645 BC, which ended with Duke Hui being defeated and captured. Duke Mu later released him back to Jin after the latter agreed to cede land and sign an alliance.

During the battles with Jin, Duke Mu overheard that one of Duke Xian's exiled sons, Chong'er, was taking refuge in the Chu state. After consulting his subjects, Duke Mu sent an emissary to Chu to invite Chong'er over and supported him in his challenge and eventual defeat of his brother Duke Hui. After Chong'er become the new ruler of Jin as Duke Wen, he was more grateful to Duke Mu and relations between the two states improved. With his eastern front stable, Duke Mu used the opportunity to launch military campaigns against the Rong tribes in the west.

Bronze door knocker, Xianyang Palace

In 630 BC, Qin and Jin agreed to wage war on the state of Zheng, but Duke Mu was lobbied by the Zhen emissary to abandon the alliance. In 627 BC, Duke Mu planned a secret attack on Zheng, but the Qin army retreated after being tricked into believing that Zheng was already prepared for Qin's invasion. By that point Duke Wen had died and his personal alliance with Duke Mu no longer stood, and his successor Duke Xiang ordered an ambush for the retreating Qin army. The Qin forces were defeated at the Battle of Xiao (near present-day Luoning County, Henan) and suffered heavy casualties, and all three of its generals were captured. Three years later, Qin attacked Jin for revenge and scored a major victory. Duke Mu refused to advance further east after holding a posthumous funeral service for those killed in action at the Battle of Xiao and went back to focus on the traditional policy of expanding Qin's dominance in the west. Duke Mu's achievements in Qin's western campaigns and his handling of foreign relations with Jin earned him a position among the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn period.

Spring and Autumn period, Qin state, acroterion with deer and roe deer, ca. 770-475 BC, from Doufu, Baoji (Provincial institute of archeology of Shaanxi).

In 506 BC, King Helü of Wu defeated Chu in the Battle of Boju and captured the Chu capital Ying (present day Jingzhou). Helü's advisor Wu Zixu, who was previously forced into exile by the already deceased King Ping of Chu and craved vengeance for the brutal execution of his father and brother, exhumed the King Ping's corpse and lashed it posthumously. This was a great humiliation for the Chu state, so Shen Baoxu, a Chu official and a former friend of Wu Zixu, travelled to the Qin court and pleaded for assistance from Duke Ai of Qin to recover the capital. After Duke Ai initially refused to help, Shen spent seven days crying in the palace courtyard, and Duke Ai was eventually moved by his devotion and agreed to send troops to assist Chu. The famous poem named "No Clothes" (Chinese: 無衣; pinyin: Wú Yī), recorded in the Classic of Poetry, was a battle hymn personally composed by Duke Ai to boost the morale of the Qin troops. In 505 BC, the Qin and Chu armies jointly defeated Wu in several battles, allowing King Zhao of Chu to be restored and return to the recaptured capital.

Warring States Period

Early decline

During the early Warring States period, as its neighbours in the Central Plains began rapidly developing, Qin was still in a state of underdevelopment and decline. The Wei state, formed from the Partition of Jin, became the most powerful state on Qin's eastern border. Qin mostly relied on natural defenses such as the Hangu Pass (Chinese: 函谷關; northeast of present-day Lingbao, Henan) and Wu Pass (Chinese: 武關, in present-day Danfeng County) in the east, to protect its Guanzhong heartland. Between 413 and 409 BC during the reign of Duke Jian of Qin, the Wei army led by Wu Qi, with support from Zhao and Han, attacked Qin and conquered some Qin territories west of the Yellow River. Mozi (460–390) did not list the Qin among the powerful states.[12]

Legalist reforms

Qin before the conquest of Sichuan, fifth century BC

After suffering losses in the battles with rival states such as Wei, the Qin rulers actively pursued legal, economic and social reforms. When Duke Xiao came to the throne of Qin, he issued an announcement calling forth men of talent (including scholars, administrators, theorists and militarists) from other states to enter Qin and help him with his reforms, promising rewards of high offices and lands in return.

Among these foreign talents, Shang Yang successfully conducted a series of Legalist reforms in Qin with the support of Duke Xiao, despite facing strong opposition from conservative Qin politicians. Direct primogeniture was abolished, with all commoners granted citizenship rights. Many were resettled in new clusters focusing on increasing agricultural output. Meritocracy was practised throughout, especially in the military, with soldiers and officers receiving due rewards according to their contributions, regardless of their backgrounds. However, tough and strict laws were imposed as well, with draconian punishments being meted out for the slightest of offences, and even the nobility and royalty were not spared. After decades, the reforms strengthened Qin economically and militarily, and transformed it into a highly centralized state with an efficient administrative system.

The Taerpo horserider, a Qin state terracotta figurine from a tomb in the Taerpo cemetery () near Xianyang in Shaanxi Province, 4th-3rd century BCE. This is the earliest known representation of a cavalryman in China.[13] The outfit is of Central Asian style, probably Scythian,[14] and the rider with his high-pointed nose appears to be a foreigner.[13] King Zheng of Qin (246–221 BCE) is known to have employed steppe cavalry men in his army, as seen in his terracotta army.[15]

After Duke Xiao's death, King Huiwen became the new ruler of Qin and he put Shang Yang to death by chariot-tearing on charges of treason, but some believed that the king harboured a personal grudge against Shang because he was harshly punished for a minor infraction in his adolescence under Shang's reformed system. However, King Huiwen and his successors retained the reformed systems and they helped to lay the foundation for Qin's eventual unification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC. Shang Yang's theories were further elaborated later by Han Fei, another Legalist scholar who combined Shang's ideas with those of Shen Buhai and Shen Dao, that would form the core of the philosophies of Legalism. Qin rose to prominence in the late third century BC after the reforms and emerged as one of the dominant superpowers of the Seven Warring States.

Animated map of the Warring States period[16]


Qin's power continued growing in the following century after Shang Yang's reform, owing the success to the industriousness of its people. The Qin kings authorized many state development projects, including large public works such as irrigation canals and defensive structures.

One of the most obvious results of the reforms was the change in Qin's military. Previously, the army was under the control of Qin's nobles and comprised feudal levies. After Shang Yang's reforms, the aristocracy system was abolished and replaced by one based on meritocracy, in which ordinary citizens had equal opportunities as the nobles to be promoted to high ranks. In addition, military discipline was strongly enforced and the troops were trained to adapt better to different battle situations. Qin's military strength increased largely with the full support of the state. In 318 BC, the states of Wei, Zhao, Han, Yan and Chu formed an alliance and attacked Qin, but did not manage to advance beyond Hangu Pass, and were defeated by counter-attacking Qin forces. The alliance crumbled due to mistrust and suspicion and lack of coordination among the five states.[citation needed]

Apart from the effects on Qin's military, Shang Yang's reforms also increased labour for numerous public works projects aimed at boosting agriculture, and made it possible for Qin to maintain and supply an active military force of more than a million troops.[citation needed] This feat could not be accomplished by any other state, except Chu, during that time. Qin's conquests of the southern states of Ba and Shu in present-day Sichuan province also provided Qin with major strategic advantages. The lands in the new territories were very fertile, and helped serve as a "backyard" for supplies and additional manpower. It was hard for Qin's rivals to attack Ba and Shu, since the territories were located deep in the mountains upstream of the Yangtze River. At the same time, Qin's strategic position in Ba and Shu provided it with a platform for launching attacks on the Chu state, which lies downstream of the Yangtze.

Actions against Chu

Summary of major events
Year Events
c. 557 BC Qin fought with Jin
361 BC Duke Xiao became ruler of Qin
356 BC Shang Yang implemented his first set of reforms in Qin
350 BC Shang Yang implemented his second set of reforms in Qin
338 BC King Huiwen became ruler of Qin
316 BC Qin conquered Shu and Ba
293 BC Qin defeated the allied forces of Wei and Han at the Battle of Yique
260 BC Qin defeated Zhao at the Battle of Changping
256 BC Qin ended the Zhou Dynasty
247 BC Ying Zheng became ruler of Qin
230 BC Qin conquered Han
228 BC Qin conquered Zhao
225 BC Qin conquered Wei
223 BC Qin conquered Chu
222 BC Qin conquered Yan, Dai and the Wuyue region
221 BC Qin conquered Qi and unified China under the Qin Dynasty

During the reign of King Huiwen of Qin, the Chu state to the southeast became a target for Qin's aggression. Although Chu had the largest operation-ready army of all the Seven Warring States at over a million troops,[citation needed] its administrative and military strength was plagued by corruption and divided among the nobles. Zhang Yi, a Qin strategist, suggested to King Huiwen to exercise Qin's interest at the expense of Chu. Over the following years, Zhang engineered and executed a number of diplomatic plots against Chu, supported by the constant military raids on Chu's northwestern border. Chu suffered many defeats in battles against Qin and was forced to cede territories to Qin. King Huai I of Chu was furious and ordered a military campaign against Qin, but he was tricked by Zhang Yi into breaking diplomatic ties with his allies, and his angered allies joined Qin in inflicting a crushing defeat on Chu. In 299 BC, King Huai I was tricked into attending a diplomatic conference in Qin, where he was captured and held hostage until his death. In the meantime, Qin launched several attacks on Chu and eventually sacked the Chu capital city of Chen (Chinese: ; present-day Jiangling County, Hubei province). The crown prince of Chu fled east and was crowned King Qingxiang of Chu in the new capital city of Shouchun (Chinese: 壽春; present-day Shou County, Anhui province).

Wars against Zhao, Han, and Wei

Main article: Battle of Changping

In the next five decades after King Huiwen's death, King Zhaoxiang of Qin shifted his attention to the Central Plains after the victories in the south against Chu. In the early years of King Zhaoxiang's reign, the Marquis of Rang (Chinese: 穰侯) served as Qin's chancellor and actively pushed for military campaigns against the Qi state in the far eastern part of China. However, the marquis had personal motives, intending to use Qin's powerful military to gain his own fief in Qi territories, since the lands were not directly linked to Qin and would not be under the Qin government's direct administration.

King Zhaoxiang's foreign advisor Fan Sui advised the king to abandon those fruitless campaigns against distant states. King Zhaoxiang heeded this advice and changed Qin's foreign policy to adopting good diplomatic relations with distant states (Yan and Qi), while concentrating on attacking nearby states (Zhao, Han and Wei). As a consequence, Qin began to launch constant attacks on Han and Wei over the next decades, conquering several territories in its campaigns. By then, Qin's territories had expanded to beyond the eastern shore of the Yellow River and Han and Wei were reduced to the status of "buffers" from Qin for the other states in the east.

Starting from 265 BC, Qin launched a massive invasion on Han and forced Han to cede its territory of Shangdang (Chinese: 上黨; in present-day Shanxi province). However, Han offered Shangdang to Zhao instead, which led to a conflict between Qin and Zhao for control of Shangdang. Qin and Zhao engaged in the three-year-long Battle of Changping, followed by another three-year siege by Qin on Zhao's capital city of Handan. The conflict at Changping was deemed as a power struggle, as both sides pitted their forces against each other not only on the battlefield, but also in the domestic context. Although Qin had an abundance of resources and vast manpower, it had to enlist every man above the age of 15 for war-related duties, ranging from front-line service to logistics and agriculture. King Zhaoxiang even personally directed his army's supply lines. The extent of mobilization and the exhaustion in the aftermath was not seen in world history for another 2,000 years, until this concept of total war re-entered the stage during World War I.[citation needed] Qin's eventual victory in 260 BC was attributed to its use of schemes to stir up internal conflict in Zhao, which led to the replacement of Zhao's military leaders.

Bronze tiger-shaped tally. The Tiger Tally was a kind of special token granted to the commander to confer military authority and legitimize orders.

Following the Qin victory at the Battle of Changping, the Qin commander Bai Qi ordered the 400,000 prisoners-of-war from Zhao to be executed by burying them alive. Subsequently, the Qin forces marched on the Zhao capital city of Handan in an attempt to conquer Zhao completely. However, the Qin troops were unable to capture Handan as they were already exhausted and also because the Zhao forces put up fierce resistance. King Xiaocheng of Zhao offered six cities to Qin as a peace offer and King Zhaoxiang of Qin accepted the offer after being persuaded by Fan Sui. Within Zhao, many officials strongly opposed King Xiaocheng's decision to give up the cities and subsequent delays caused the siege on Handan to be prolonged until 258 BC. Meanwhile, Bai Qi was consecutively replaced by Wang Xi, Wang Ling and Zheng Anping as the Qin commander at the siege.

In 257 BC, Qin was still unable to penetrate Handan after besieging it for three years, and Zhao requested aid from the neighbouring states of Wei and Chu. Wei was hesitant to help Zhao initially, but launched an attack on Qin after seeing that Qin was already exhausted after years of war. The Qin forces crumbled and retreated, and Zheng Anping surrendered. The combined forces of Wei and Chu continued to pursue the retreating Qin army and Wei managed to retake part of its original lands that were lost to Qin earlier.

Infrastructural works

In the middle of the third century BC, Zheng Guo, a hydraulic engineer from the Han state, was sent to Qin to advise King Zhaoxiang of Qin on constructing irrigation canals. Qin had a penchant for building large-scale canals, as evident from its Min River irrigation system. King Zhaoxiang approved Zheng Guo's idea on constructing an even bigger canal. The project was completed in 264 BC and the canal was named after Zheng. Qin benefitted from the project as it became one of the most fertile states in China due to the good irrigation system, and also because it could now raise more troops as a consequence of increased agricultural yield.


Main article: Qin's wars of unification

State of Qin
(bronzeware script, c. 800 BC)

In 247 BC, the 13-year-old Ying Zheng became king of Qin after the sudden death of King Zhuangxiang. However, Ying Zheng did not wield state power fully in his hands until 238 BC, after eliminating his political rivals Lü Buwei and Lao Ai. Ying formulated a plan for conquering the other six states and unifying China with help from Li Si and Wei Liao.

In 230 BC, Qin attacked Han, the weakest of the Seven Warring States and succeeded in conquering Han within a year. Since 236 BC, Qin had been launching several assaults on Zhao, which had been devastated by its calamitous defeat at the Battle of Changping three decades ago. Although Qin faced strong resistance from the Zhao forces, led by general Li Mu, it still managed to defeat the Zhao army by using a ploy to sow discord between King Qian of Zhao and Li Mu, causing King Qian to order Li Mu's execution and replace Li with the less competent Zhao Cong. Zhao eventually fell to Qin in 228 BC after the capital city of Handan was taken. However, a Zhao noble managed to escape with remnant forces and proclaim himself king in Dai. Dai fell to Qin six years later.

State of Qin
(small seal script, 220 BC)

After the fall of Zhao, Qin turned its attention towards Yan. Crown Prince Dan of Yan sent Jing Ke to assassinate Ying Zheng but the assassination attempt failed, and Qin used that as an excuse to attack Yan. Yan lost to Qin at a battle on the eastern bank of the Yi River in 226 BC and King Xi of Yan fled with remnant forces to Liaodong. Qin attacked Yan again in 222 BC and annexed Yan completely. In 225 BC, the Qin army led by Wang Ben invaded Wei and besieged Wei's capital city of Daliang for three months. Wang directed the waters from the Yellow River and the Hong Canal to flood Daliang; King Jia of Wei surrendered, and Wei was conquered.

In 224 BC, Qin prepared for an attack on Chu, its most powerful rival among the six states. During a discussion between Ying Zheng and his subjects, the veteran general Wang Jian claimed that the invasion force needed to be at least 600,000 strong, but the younger general Li Xin thought that 200,000 men would be sufficient. Ying Zheng put Li Xin in command of the Qin army to attack Chu. The Chu defenders, led by Xiang Yan, took Li Xin's army by surprise and defeated the Qin invaders. The defeat was deemed as the greatest setback for Qin in its wars to unify China. Ying Zheng put Wang Jian in command of the 600,000 strong army as he had requested and ordered Wang to lead another attack on Chu. Wang scored a major victory against the Chu forces in 224 BC and Xiang Yan was killed in action. The following year, Qin pushed on and captured Chu's capital city of Shouchun, bringing an end to Chu's existence. In 222 BC, the Qin army advanced southward and annexed the Wuyue region (covering present-day Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces).

By 221 BC, Qi was the only rival state left. Qin advanced into the heartland of Qi via a southern detour, avoiding direct confrontation with the Qi forces on Qi's western border and arrived at Qi's capital city of Linzi swiftly. The Qi forces were taken by surprise and surrendered without putting up resistance. Following the fall of Qi in 221 BC, China was unified under the rule of Qin. Ying Zheng declared himself "Qin Shi Huang" (meaning "First Emperor of Qin"), founded the Qin Dynasty, and became the first sovereign ruler of a united China.

Culture and society

Model of the Site of Xianyang Palace, palace of the capital of the Qin state
Bronze lance head, Qin

Before Qin unified China, each state had its own customs and culture. According to the Yu Gong or Tribute of Yu, composed in the fourth or fifth century BC and included in the Book of Documents, there were nine distinct cultural regions of China, which are described in detail in this book. The work focuses on the travels of the titular sage, Yu the Great, throughout each of the regions. Other texts, predominantly military, also discussed these cultural variations.[17]

One of these texts was The Book of Master Wu, written in response to a query by Marquis Wu of Wei on how to cope with the military threat posed by competing states. Wu Qi, the author of the work, declared that the government and nature of the people were reflective of the terrain they live in. Of Qin, he said:

The nature of Qin's troops is to disperse so that each unit fights their own respective battles.

— Wuzi, Master Wu

The people of Qin are ferocious by nature and their terrain is treacherous. The government's decrees are strict and impartial. The rewards and punishments are clear. Qin soldiers are brave and high in morale so that they are able to scatter and engage in individual combat. To strike at Qin's army, we must entice various groups with small benefits; the greedy will abandon their general to give chase. We can then capitalize on this opportunity by hunting each group down individually and then capturing the generals that have been isolated. Finally, we must array our army to ambush their commander.

— Wuzi, Master Wu

According to Wu, the nature of the people is a result of the government, which is in turn a result of the roughness of the terrain. Each of the states is expounded upon by Wu in this manner.[18]

Following a visit to Qin in 264 BC, the Confucian philosopher Xun Kuang noted that Qin society was "simple and unsophisticated" and their people stood in awe of their officials but was completely devoid of Confucian literati.[19] Though disliked by many Confucians of its time for "dangerously lacking in Confucian scholars," Confucian Xun Kuang wrote of the later Qin that "its topographical features are inherently advantageous," and that its "manifold natural resources gave it remarkable inherent strength. Its people were unspoiled and exceedingly deferential; its officers unfailingly respectful, earnest, reverential, loyal, and trustworthy; and its high officials public-spirited, intelligent, and assiduous in the execution of the duties of their position. Its courts and bureaus functioned without delays and with such smoothness that it was as if there were no government at all."[20]

In his Petition against driving away foreigners (Chinese: 諫逐客書), Li Si mentioned that guzheng and percussion instruments made of pottery and tiles were characteristic of Qin music.


See also: Rulers of Qin family tree

List of Qin rulers based on the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, with corrections by Han Zhaoqi:[21]

Title Name Period of reign Relationship Notes
Ying Feizi ?–858 BC son of Daluo, fifth generation descendant of Elai enfeoffed at Qin by King Xiao of Zhou
Marquis of Qin
unknown 857–848 BC son of Feizi noble title given by later generations
unknown 847–845 BC son of Marquis of Qin
Qin Zhong
unknown 844–822 BC son of Gongbo
Duke Zhuang
Qi 821–778 BC son of Qin Zhong noble title given by later generations
Duke Xiang
Kai 777–766 BC son of Duke Zhuang first ruler to be granted nobility rank
Duke Wen
unknown 765–716 BC son of Duke Xiang
Duke Xian
Li 715–704 BC grandson of Duke Wen often mistakenly called Duke Ning (秦寧公)
Chuzi I
703–698 BC son of Duke Xian
Duke Wu
Shuo 697–678 BC son of Duke Xian
Duke De
Jia 677–676 BC son of Duke Xian, younger brother of Duke Wu
Duke Xuan
Tian 675–664 BC son of Duke De
Duke Cheng
Zai 663–660 BC son of Duke De, younger brother of Duke Xuan
Duke Mu
659–621 BC son of Duke De, younger brother of Duke Cheng
Duke Kang
620–609 BC son of Duke Mu
Duke Gong
608–604 BC son of Duke Kang
Duke Huan
603–577 BC son of Duke Gong
Duke Jing
576–537 BC son of Duke Huan
Duke Ai
Ji 536–501 BC son of Duke Jing
Duke Hui I
Ning 500–492 BC grandson of Duke Ai
Duke Dao
Pan 491–477 BC son of Duke Hui I
Duke Ligong
Ci 476–443 BC son of Duke Dao
Duke Zao
Xin 442–429 BC son of Duke Li
Duke Huai
Feng 428–425 BC son of Duke Li, younger brother of Duke Zao
Duke Ling
Su 424–415 BC grandson of Duke Huai alternative title Duke Suling (秦肅靈公)
Duke Jian
Daozi 414–400 BC son of Duke Huai, uncle of Duke Ling
Duke Hui II
Ren 399–387 BC son of Duke Jian
Chuzi II
Chang 386–385 BC son of Duke Hui II alternative titles Duke Chu (秦出公), Shaozhu (秦少主), and Xiaozhu (秦小主)
Duke Xian
Shixi or Lian
師隰 or
384–362 BC son of Duke Ling alternative titles Duke Yuanxian (秦元獻公) and King Yuan (秦元王)
Duke Xiao
361–338 BC son of Duke Xian alternative title King Ping (秦平王)
King Huiwen
337–311 BC son of Duke Xiao alternative title King Hui (惠王); first Qin ruler to adopt the title of "King" in 325 BC
King Wu
310–307 BC son of King Huiwen alternative titles King Daowu (秦悼武王) and King Wulie (秦武烈王)
King Zhaoxiang
Ze or Ji
306–251 BC son of King Huiwen, younger brother of King Wu alternative title King Zhao (昭王)
King Xiaowen
250 BC son of King Zhaoxiang known as Lord Anguo (安國君) before becoming king
King Zhuangxiang
250–247 BC son of King Xiaowen alternative title King Zhuang (秦莊王); original name Yiren (異人)
Shi Huangdi
246–221 BC son of King Zhuangxiang King of Qin 246–221 BC; Emperor of the Qin dynasty 221–210 BC

In popular culture

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The events during the reigns of Duke Xiao, King Huiwen, King Wu and King Zhaoxiang are romanticised in a series of historical novels by Sun Haohui. The novels are adapted into the television series The Qin Empire (2009), The Qin Empire II: Alliance (2012) and The Qin Empire III (2017).

The Japanese manga "Kingdom," by Hara Yasuhisa, tells a fictionalised story of the life of Qin Shi Huang and the unification of China with some references to the era of Duke Mu.

A Step into the Past tells about a 21st-century Hong Kong VIPPU officer who travels back in time to the Warring States period of ancient China. He is involved in a number of important historical events that leads to the first unification of China under the Qin dynasty. The series' first original broadcast ran from 15 October to 7 December 2001 on the TVB Jade network in Hong Kong.

Qin in astronomy

Qin is represented by two stars, Theta Capricorni (pinyin: Qín yī; lit. 'First Star of Qin') and 30 Capricorni (pinyin: Qín èr; lit. 'Second Star of Qin'), in Twelve States asterism.[22] Qin is also represented by the star Delta Serpentis in asterism Right Wall, Heavenly Market enclosure (see Chinese constellation).[23]



  1. ^ The Cambridge History of China: Volume 1, The Ch'in and Han Empires Google Books
  2. ^ a b c Sima Qian. 秦本纪 [Annals of Qin]. Records of the Grand Historian (in Chinese). Guoxue. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  3. ^ Han (2010), 340–42
  4. ^ Han (2010), 345–47
  5. ^ Juliano, Annette L. (1991). "The Warring States Period—The State Of Qin, Yan, Chu, And Pazyryk: A Historical Footnote". Notes in the History of Art. 10 (4): 25–29. doi:10.1086/sou.10.4.23203292. JSTOR 23203292. S2CID 191379388.
  6. ^ Pines, Yuri (2005–2006). "Biases and Their Sources: Qin History in the Shiji" (PDF). Oriens Extremus. 45: 10–34. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2020-06-23.
  7. ^ YAU Shun-chiu (2012–13). "The Political implications of minority policy in Qin Law". Early China. 35/36: 277–89.
  8. ^ Han (2010), 349–53
  9. ^ Woolf, Greg (2007). Ancient civilizations: the illustrated guide to belief, mythology, and art. Barnes & Noble. p. 227. ISBN 978-1-4351-0121-0.
  10. ^ Bunker, Emma C. (2002). Nomadic Art of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes: The Eugene V. Thaw and Other Notable New York Collections. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 123, item 95.
  11. ^ Bunker, Emma C. (2002). Nomadic Art of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes: The Eugene V. Thaw and Other Notable New York Collections. Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 24–25.
  12. ^ Yuri Pines 2013. p5 Birth of an Empire
  13. ^ a b Khayutina, Maria (Autumn 2013). "From wooden attendants to terracotta warriors" (PDF). Bernisches Historisches Museum the Newsletter. No.65: 2, Fig.4. Other noteworthy terracotta figurines were found in 1995 in a 4th-3rd century BCE tomb in the Taerpo cemetery near Xianyang in Shaanxi Province, where the last Qin capital of the same name was located from 350 to 207 BCE. These are the earliest representations of cavalrymen in China discovered up to this day. One of this pair can now be seen at the exhibition in Bern (Fig. 4). A small, ca. 23 cm tall, figurine represents a man sitting on a settled horse. He stretches out his left hand, whereas his right hand points downwards. Holes pierced through both his fists suggest that he originally held the reins of his horse in one hand and a weapon in the other. The rider wears a short jacket, trousers and boots – elements of the typical outfit of the inhabitants of the Central Asian steppes. Trousers were first introduced in the early Chinese state of Zhao during the late 4th century BCE, as the Chinese started to learn horse riding from their nomadic neighbours. The state of Qin should have adopted the nomadic clothes about the same time. But the figurine from Taerpo also has some other features that may point to its foreign identity: a hood-like headgear with a flat wide crown framing his face and a high, pointed nose. Also in Khayutina, Maria (2013). Qin: the eternal emperor and his terracotta warriors (1. Aufl ed.). Zürich: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. p. cat. no. 314. ISBN 978-3-03823-838-6.
  14. ^ Duan Qingbo (January 2023). "Sino-Western Cultural Exchange as Seen through the Archaeology of the First Emperor's Necropolis" (PDF). Journal of Chinese History. 7 (1): 26 Fig.1, 27. doi:10.1017/jch.2022.25. S2CID 251690411. In terms of formal characteristics and style of dress and adornment, the closest parallels to the Warring States-period Qin figurines are found in the Scythian culture. Wang Hui 王輝 has examined the exchanges between the cultures of the Yellow River valley and the Scythian culture of the steppe. During a 2007 exhibition on the Scythians in Berlin, there was a bronze hood on display labeled a "Kazakh military cap." This bronze hood and the clothing of the nomads in kneeling posture [also depicted in the exhibition] are very similar in form to those of the terracotta figurines from the late Warring States Qin-period tomb at the Taerpo site (see Figure 1). The style of the Scythian bronze horse figures and the saddle, bridle, and other accessories on their bodies are nearly identical to those seen on the Warring States-period Qin figurines and a similar type of artifact from the Ordos region, and they all date to the fifth to third centuries BCE.
  15. ^ Rawson, Jessica (April 2017). "China and the steppe: reception and resistance". Antiquity. 91 (356): 386. doi:10.15184/aqy.2016.276. S2CID 165092308. King Zheng of Qin (246–221 BC), who was to be the First Emperor (221–210 BC), took material from many regions. As he unified the territory, he employed steppe cavalry men in his army, as we now recognise from the terracotta warriors guarding his tomb (Khayutina 2013: cat. no. 314), whose dress resembles that of the steppe leaders known to the Achaemenids and Parthians (Curtis 2000: front cover), but he proclaimed his conquest in the language of the Central Plains: Chinese. The First Emperor must have had advisors who knew something of the seals, weights and measures of Central Asia and Iran (Khayutina 2013: cat. nos 115–17), and also retained craftsmen who had mastered Western technologies and cast bronze birds for his tomb in hitherto unknown life-like forms (Mei et al. 2014). He also exploited mounted horsemen and iron weaponry originally from the steppe, and agriculture and settlements of the Central Plains, turning to the extraordinary organisation of people and manufacturing from this area to create a unified state. This could only be achieved by moving towards the centre, as the Emperor indeed did.
  16. ^ "MDBG", Sökord: 战国策
  17. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 12
  18. ^ Lewis 2007, p. 13
  19. ^ Twitchett & Loewe 2008, pp. 47–48.
  20. ^ John Knoblock Xunzi p.29 ("Qiangguo," 16.6).
  21. ^ Han (2010), 478–479
  22. ^ (in Chinese) AEEA (Activities of Exhibition and Education in Astronomy) 天文教育資訊網 2006 年 7 月 4 日
  23. ^ (in Chinese) AEEA (Activities of Exhibition and Education in Astronomy) 天文教育資訊網 2006 年 6 月 24 日