Qin (Chinese: 秦; Wade–Giles: Ch'in; Old Chinese: *[dz]i[n]) was an ancient Chinese state during the Zhou dynasty. 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 3rd century BC, Qin emerged as one of the dominant powers of the Seven Warring States and unified China in 221 BC under Shi Huangdi. The empire it established was short-lived but greatly influential on later Chinese history.
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."
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According to the 2nd century BC historical text Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, the Qin state traced its origin to one of the Five Emperors in ancient times, named Zhuanxu. One of his descendents, Boyi, was granted the family name of "Ying" (嬴) by King Shun. During the Xia and Shang dynasties, the Ying split in two: a western branch in Quanqiu (present-day Lixian in Gansu) and another branch that lived east of the Yellow River. The latter became the ancestors of the rulers of the Zhao state.
The western Ying at Quanqiu were lords over the Xichui, the "Western March" of the Shang. One, Elai, was killed defending King Zhou during the rebellion that established the Zhou dynasty. The family was allied with the marquesses of Shen, however, and continued to serve under the Zhou. A younger son of line, Feizi, so impressed King Xiao with his horse breeding skills that he was awarded a separate fief in the valley of Qin (present-day Zhangjiachuan County in Gansu). Both lines of the western Ying lived in the midst of the Rong tribes, sometimes fighting their armies and sometimes intermarrying with their kings.
In 771 BC, the Marquess of Shen formed an alliance with the Zeng state and Quanrong nomads, and they attacked and captured the Zhou capital Haojing, killing King You of Zhou. Duke Xiang of Qin led his troops to escort King You's son King Ping of Zhou to Luoyi, where the new capital city of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty was established. In recognition of Duke Xiang's efforts, King Ping formally enfeoffed Duke Xiang as a feudal lord, and elevated Qin from an "attached state" (附庸, fuyong) to a major vassal state. King Ping further promised to give Qin the land west of Qishan, the former heartland of Zhou, if Qin could expel the Rong tribes that were occupying the land. The future generations of the Qin rulers were encouraged by this promise, and they launched several military campaigns on the Rong, eventually expanding their territories to beyond the original lands lost by the Western Zhou Dynasty.
The Qin viewed the Zhou rulers Wen and Wu as their predecessors and themselves as inheritors of their legacy.
Qin's interaction with other states in eastern and central China remained minimal throughout the Spring and Autumn period (722–481 BC), except with its neighbour Jin, a large, mainstay vassal of the Zhou. Qin maintained good diplomatic relations with Jin and there were also marriages between members of the royal clans of both states, but relations between both sides had also deteriorated to the point of armed conflict before.
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 and Duke Hui requested aid from Qin. Duke Mu of Qin sent relief food supplies and agricultural equipment to Jin. However, Qin was struck by famine later and by then, Jin had recovered and it turned to attack Qin. Qin and Jin engaged in several battles over the next few years.
During the battles with Jin, Duke Mu heard that one of Duke Xian's sons, Chong'er, was in exile in the Chu state. After consulting his subjects, Duke Mu sent an emissary to Chu to invite Chong'er to Jin, and Qin helped Chong'er defeat Duke Hui and Chong'er became the new ruler of Jin, with his title as "Duke Wen". Duke Wen was grateful to Duke Mu and relations between Qin and Jin improved. Qin used the opportunity when its eastern front was stable, to launch military campaigns against the minority tribes in the west.
In 627 BC, Duke Mu of Qin planned a secret attack on the State of Zheng, but the Qin army retreated after being tricked into believing that Zheng was prepared for Qin's invasion. Duke Wen had died and his successor, Duke Xiang of Jin, ordered his troops to lay an ambush for the retreating Qin army. The Qin forces were defeated in an ambush by Jin at the Battle of Yao near present-day Luoning County, Henan Province and suffered heavy casualties. Three years later, Qin attacked Jin for revenge and scored a major victory. Duke Mu refused to advance east further after holding a funeral service for those killed in action at the Battle of Yao, and focused on the traditional policy of expanding Qin's borders in the west. Duke Mu's achievements in the western campaigns and his handling of foreign relations with Jin earned him a position among the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn period.
During the early Warring States period, as its neighbours in east and central China 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 was equipped with natural defenses, with Hangu Pass (函谷關; northeast of present-day Lingbao, Henan province) in the east and Tong Pass (潼關; present-day Tongguan County, Shaanxi province) in the west. 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 Qin territories west of the Yellow River.
Despite suffering losses in the battles with rival states such as Wei, the Qin rulers actively pursued legal, economic 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, Wei Yang (later renamed to Shang Yang) successfully conducted a series of reforms in Qin with the support of Duke Xiao, despite facing strong opposition from several Qin politicians. Direct primogeniture were abolished, with all slaves granted citizenship rights. Many were resettled in new clusters focusing on increasing agricultural output. Meritocracy was practised 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.
After Duke Xiao's death, King Huiwen became the new ruler of Qin and he put Shang Yang to death on charges of treason, but some believed that the king harboured a personal grudge against Shang because he was harshly punished under Shang's reformed system in his adolescence for a minor infraction. 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, 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 3rd century BC after the reforms and emerged as one of the dominant superpowers of the Seven Warring States.
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.
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. 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.
During the reign of King Huiwen of Qin, the Chu state, to the southeast of Qin, became a target for Qin's aggression. Although Chu had the largest operationally-ready army of all the Seven Warring States at over a million troops, 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 (陳; 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 (壽春; present-day Shou County, Anhui province).
|Summary of major 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|
In the next five decades after King Huiwen's death, King Zhaoxiang of Qin shifted his attention to northern China after Qin's victories in the south against Chu. In the early years of King Zhaoxiang's reign, the Marquis of Rang (穰侯) served as Qin's chancellor and he actively pushed for military campaigns against the Qi state in the far eastern part of China. However, the marquis had his personal motives, as he intended to use Qin's powerful military to help him conquer a fief in Qi territories, since the lands were not directly linked to Qin and would not be under the Qin government's direct administration.
Subsequently, King Zhaoxiang's foreign advisor, Fan Sui, advised the king to abandon those fruitless campaigns against distant states. King Zhaoxiang heeded Fan's 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 (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 of Qin 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. 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.
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.
In the middle of the 3rd 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.
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.
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 and 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") and founded the Qin Dynasty, becoming the first sovereign ruler of a united China.
Before Qin unified China, each state had its own customs and culture. According to the Yu Gong or Tribute of Yu, composed in the 4th or 5th 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.
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.
|Title||Name||Period of reign||Relationship||Notes|
|?–858 BC||son of Daluo, fifth generation descendant of Elai||enfeoffed at Qin by King Xiao of Zhou|
|Marquis of Qin
|857–848 BC||son of Feizi||noble title given by later generations|
|847–845 BC||son of Marquis of Qin|
|844–822 BC||son of Gongbo|
|821–778 BC||son of Qin Zhong||noble title given by later generations|
|777–766 BC||son of Duke Zhuang||first ruler to be granted nobility rank|
|765–716 BC||son of Duke Xiang|
|715–704 BC||grandson of Duke Wen||often mistakenly called Duke Ning (秦寧公)|
|703–698 BC||son of Duke Xian|
|697–678 BC||son of Duke Xian|
|677–676 BC||son of Duke Xian, younger brother of Duke Wu|
|675–664 BC||son of Duke De|
|663–660 BC||son of Duke De, younger brother of Duke Xuan|
|659–621 BC||son of Duke De, younger brother of Duke Cheng|
|620–609 BC||son of Duke Mu|
|608–604 BC||son of Duke Kang|
|603–577 BC||son of Duke Gong|
|576–537 BC||son of Duke Huan|
|536–501 BC||son of Duke Jing|
|Duke Hui I
|500–492 BC||grandson of Duke Ai|
|491–477 BC||son of Duke Hui I|
|476–443 BC||son of Duke Dao|
|442–429 BC||son of Duke Li|
|428–425 BC||son of Duke Li, younger brother of Duke Zao|
|424–415 BC||grandson of Duke Huai||alternative title Duke Suling (秦肅靈公)|
|414–400 BC||son of Duke Huai, uncle of Duke Ling|
|Duke Hui II
|399–387 BC||son of Duke Jian|
|386–385 BC||son of Duke Hui II||alternative titles Duke Chu (秦出公), Shaozhu (秦少主), and Xiaozhu (秦小主)|
|Shixi or Lian
師隰 or 連
|384–362 BC||son of Duke Ling||alternative titles Duke Yuanxian (秦元獻公) and King Yuan (秦元王)|
|361–338 BC||son of Duke Xian||alternative title King Ping (秦平王)|
|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|
|310–307 BC||son of King Huiwen||alternative titles King Daowu (秦悼武王) and King Wulie (秦武烈王)|
|Ze or Ji
則 or 稷
|306–251 BC||son of King Huiwen, younger brother of King Wu||alternative title King Zhao (昭王)|
|250 BC||son of King Zhaoxiang||known as Lord Anguo (安國君) before becoming king|
|250–247 BC||son of King Xiaowen||alternative title King Zhuang (秦莊王); original name Yiren (異人)|
|246–210 BC||son of King Zhuangxiang||King of Qin until 221 BC; First Emperor of Qin Dynasty from 221 BC|
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 the story of the life of Qin Shi Huang and the unification of China.
Qin is a playable faction in the PC game Oriental Empires by Iceberg Interactive.
Qin is represented by two stars, Theta Capricorni (pinyin: Qín yī; literally: "First Star of Qin") and 30 Capricorni (pinyin: Qín èr; literally: "Second Star of Qin"), in Twelve States asterism. Qin is also represented by the star Delta Serpentis in asterism Right Wall, Heavenly Market enclosure (see Chinese constellation).