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Records of the Grand Historian

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Records of the Grand Historian

Sima Qian's presentation of the Qin dynasty begins with a fast paces, somewhat vague timeline of the many kings, dukes, and descendents who preceded his era. The culmination of events depicts constant war between many factions, most often in extreme violence. The early kings never seemed to rule for long, and were often subject to to revolts from feudal lords.

The Qin appeared to gain prominence around the time the Rong attacked the Zhou capital and forces led by Duke Xiang, a Qin warlord, who succeeded in rescuing the Zhou. In order to avoid the harassment from the Rong, the Zhou moved their capital west to Luo Yang and the Qin assumed the previous capital. (Sima Qian, pp. 5)

The heir of Duke Xiang, Duke Wen, traveled to the confluence of the Qian and Wei rivers, and sought the divination of the tortoise shell which influenced his decision to build a town and take up residence in the area. It was in this time period where historians began to keep a record of events, and also recorded evidence of the extreme penalties imposed on criminals, namely the laws stating a criminal's three sets of relatives would be put to death alongside him. This time period also saw more military conquests, more territory, and more wealth for the Qin. (Sima Qian, pp. 5,6)

The next notable ruler, Duke Mu, also had great influence on the Qin's development. After accomplishing a victory against the powerful Jin, Mu used persuasive tactics such as music and other spoils to gain tactical knowledge from a Rong official, and eventually getting him to defect to the Qin. Soon after, Mu proved victorious over the Rong and extended the Qin territory greatly, becoming overlord of the Western Rong. (Sima Qian, pp. 15-17)

Following the rule of Duke Mu, the Dukes Ligong, Zao, and Jian all allowed the Qin to deteriorate, becoming disassociated with the alliances of the feudal lords in the central states. It was under the direction of Duke Xiao when the Qin would become prominent again. His rule was characterized by kindness, exemplified in his rewards for fighting men for their accomplishments, assisting orphans and widows, and promising a bright future for the Qin. He passed laws putting more emphasis on agriculture, imposed penalties, and awards for those who would fight and die in battle. Many victories in battle followed and Duke Xiao succeeded in bringing the Qin back to prominence. (Sima Qian, pp. 23-25)

King Zhao Xiang, who reigned over the Qin for 56 years, also led the Qin to success and prosperity, briefly attaining the title of emperor before decimating the Zhou, amongst other feudal states. Shortly after, the Zhou people fled to the east, and the Qin assumed their wealth and territory. This is acknowledged as the end of the Zhou dynasty. (Sima Qian, pp. 32)

The First emperor of the Qin dynasty was King Zheng, who ascended to the throne at thirteen years old. By the twenty-sixth year of his rule, The Qin succeeded in bringing all of the states under its rule. The Kind is quoted as saying "Thanks to the help of ancestral spirits, these six kings have all acknowledged their guilt and the world is in profound order. Now if some change in title is not carried out, there will be no way to celebrate these achievements and make them known to later generations. Let deliberations be held on an imperial title." Thus King Zhou became the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. (Sima Qian, pp. 35, 42)

Changes made by the first emperor include changing the times of the courts celebrations, making all clothing, flags etc. the color black. He standardized the number six, making official caps six inches, six feet to one pace, and carriages were six feet long and drawn by six horses. The First Emperor assiduously applied the law, and refused to pardon crimes committed far in the past. (Sima Qin, pp. 42)

The First Emperor's administration was divided into thirty-six provinces, each provided with a governor, a military commandant, and a superintendent. This lessened the chances of having any one provincial leader from leading an uprising, and promoted a system of checks and balances. Weapons were confiscated and melted down into bells and ornaments. All weights and measures were standardized, gauges of wheeled vehicles

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