Qin (state)

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(Redirected from State of Qin)
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Missing image
The Qin empire in 210 BC, during the Qin Dynasty.

Qin or Ch'in (Wade-Giles) (秦) (778 BC-207 BC) was a state during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods of China. It eventually grew to dominate the country and unite it for the first time, after which it is referred to as the Qin Dynasty. The royal surname is Ying (嬴).

Qin was for a long time the most powerful state in China for centuries before it eventually brought all of the seven states together (Qi, Chu, Han, Yan, Zhao, Wei and Qin itself) under the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huangdi, literally the First Emperor - prior to ascending to the imperial throne he was known as Qin Ying Zheng). Its power was on the rise from the moment the Zhou King (who was nominally China's ruler) ennobled the Qin leader, making him a Duke after Qin troops provided an escort for the King as he fled from a barbarian army that had sacked the capital in 771 BC.

The Qin continued to grow in power over the ensuing centuries owing to the extraordinary industriousness of its peoples. The Qin Dukes put in place many projects to enhance their state including many large public works such as irrigation canals and large defensive walls. In addition the Qin were a semi-barbarian people, believed to be descended from the non-Chinese Jong tribe of the steppes. These factors caused a distinct unease amongst the fully Chinese states and from the beginning Qin found itself faced by potential enemies on all sides.

The most significant event in the history of the Qin prior to the third century BC was the advent of Shang Yang. Shang Yang was a firm believer in the philosophies of Han Fei Zi who is believed to have first proposed the ideology known as Legalism. Legalism advocates the belief that all people are fundamentally equal and that stringent laws and harsh punnishments are required to keep them in order. Shang Yang became prime minister of the Qin under the rule of Duke Xiao and gradually began transforming the state into a vigorously regulated machine, the sole purpose of which was the elimination of all rivals. Shang Yang swept away the aristocracy and implemented a meritocracy - only those who achieved could reach high places and birth privellege was reserved exclusively for the ruler of the state. In doing this Shang Yang made many enemies and after the death of Duke Xiao he was sought after and eventually killed. However Shang Yang's Legalist reforms had obvious virtues and no subsequent ruler was foolish enough to undo the changes.

One of the most obvious results of this program of reform was that in the military. Previously the army had been controlled by nobles and constituted of feudal levies. Now generals could come from any part of society providing they had sufficient skill. In addition troops were highly trained and diciplined. Most of all, however, Qin's army instantly swelled to enormous size and had the full backing of the state. The result of numerous public works projects aimed at boosting agriculture had made it possible for the Qin to maintain and supply a standing force of over a million troops - a feat that no other state (apart, perhaps, from the other semi-barbarian kingdom of Chu) could match. All this was an incredible change - such revolutionary alterations to the accepted method of warfare not occurring in Europe until the time of the French Revolution - two thousand years later. Wielding this massive force the Qin gradually subjugated the smaller neighbouring states and their rulers took the title of King, rather than Duke from the rule of Huiwen onwards.

In 260 BC a horrified China realised the full magnitude of the Qin reforms to the very nature of warfare. All vestiges of aristocratic plesantry had vanished in favour of raw efficiency. After the Battle of Changping the Qin generals ordered the execution of some 400,000 POWs from the neighbouring kingdom of Zhao.

It was in the middle of the third century that the Qin began a massive new project which ultimately made their position of pre-eminence unassailable. The Kingdom of Han was somewhat afraid of easterly Qin expansion, possibly at its own expense. So the Han King attempted to destroy Qin not with his armies, for they were vastly inadequate, but with a hydraullic engineer. The Qin had made their penchant for constructing large-scale canals evidenced by the Min River irrigation scheme. The idea behind the dispatch of the engineer Cheng Kuo to the Qin court was to convince the King of Qin to pour resources into an even larger canal. The Qin agreed to construct the canal, but, unfortunately for the Han, their plan back-fired. Although it did indeed delay the Qin advance at the same time it failed to overstretch Qin resources and after the so-called Chengkuo Canal's completion in 246 BC all losses were recouped in addition to a vast surplus. Qin became one of the most fertile states in China because of this and could raise hundreds of thousands of additional troops as a result of increased agricultural yield.

Missing image
State of Qin
(small seal script, 220 BC)

By this time China's thousands of feudal fiefdoms had been reduced to just seven massive kingdoms, each one of them probably capable of matching any western nation at the time with ease. The two most powerful states were easily Qin and Chu. The latter, however, was at a disadvantage as it could not easily expand due to the buffers of strong neighbouring states. By contrast the Qin had easily managed to annex much weaker bordering states and although the Chu eventually overcame the state of Yue in the later fourth century the long campaign had seen it suffer several military reversals. Despite all this Chu remained a potential rival to the ever growing power of Qin.

The most immediate enemies facing the Qin were Zhao and Han both of which were no doubt strong, but never serious threats to the might of Qin with its vast and powerful armies. In addition there was still the shadow of the Zhou kings, still, in theory, rulers of China. In 256 BC this problem was finally ended when the king was deposed. This action sent a clear message to the other six kingdoms: the Qin intended to rule all of China.

The year 247 BC marks the beginning of the end of the Warring States period for it was in this year that a thirteen-year-old named Zheng was crowned as King of Qin. Seventeen years later Zheng began the final, epic struggle for supremacy with an all-out assault against the state of Han.

The colossal Qin army easily defeated Han and the Qin now turned towards Zhao, an empty husk ever since the devastation of its army at Chengping some thirty years prior. Zhao fell to the Qin in 228 BC, and soon after, Wei also succumbed. By this stage it looked highly likely that ultimate Qin victory grew near. However, nothing was certain. The ultimate enemy, the Chu endured.

At this point the two largest armies in the history of the world up until the French Revolutionary Wars engaged in what was the battle for the throne of all China. In 223 BC, Qin ascendancy to the throne became innevitable - the Chu were conquered.

What followed was little more than a mopping-up operation - a campaign of a few months in Yan led to that state's annexation as well. Only Qi now remained, and realising its situation was utterly untenable, it surrendered without a fight. In 221 BC, one of the most important years in China's long history, King Zheng of Qin declared not only that he was the ruler of China, but that he would take the unprecedented title (apart from in the legends of the Yellow Emperor and other mythical figures) of Emperor of China. Indeed he changed his name to Shi Huangdi, First Emperor, and dictated that all subsequent rulers of his dynasty should do the same, numbering themselves for as many generations as the Qin ruled.


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


  1. Qin Zhong (秦仲), ruled 854-822: great-grandson of Feizi
  2. Duke Zhuang (莊公), ruled 822 BC - 778 BC: Ying Ye (也), son of Qin Zhong
  3. Duke Xiang (襄公), ruled 778 BC - 766 BC: son of Duke Zhuang
  4. Duke Wen (文公)
  5. Duke Ning (寧公)
  6. Duke Chu (武公)
  7. Duke De (德公)
  8. Duke Xuan (宣公)
  9. Duke Cheng (成公)
  10. Duke Mu (穆公)
  11. Duke Kang (康公) : Ying Ying (罃)
  12. Duke Gong (共公): Ying Dao (稻)
  13. Duke Huan (桓公): Ying Rong (榮)
  14. Duke Jing (景公): Ying Hou (後)
  15. Duke Ai (哀公)
  16. Duke Hui (惠公)
  17. Duke Dao (悼公)
  18. Duke Li (厲公): Ying Ci (刺)
  19. Duke Zao (躁公)
  20. Duke Huai (懷公)
  21. Duke Ling (靈公): Ying Su (肅)
  22. Duke Jian (簡公): Ying Daozi (悼子)
  23. Duke Hui II (惠公)
  24. Duke Chu (出公)
  25. Duke Xian (獻公): Ying Shiti (師隰)
  26. Duke Xiao
  27. King Huiwen (惠文王), ruled 338 BC - 311 BC, also known as King Hui (惠王): Ying Si (駟)
  28. King Wu (武王), ruled 311 BC - 307 BC: Ying Dang (蕩)
  29. King Zhaoxiang (昭襄王), ruled 307 BC - 250 BC, also known as King Zhao: Ying Ze (则) or Ying Ji (稷)
  30. King Xiaowen (孝文王), ruled 250 BC: Ying Zhu (柱)
  31. King Zhuangxiang (荘襄王), ruled 250 BC - 246 BC: Ying Zichu (子楚)
  32. Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), ruled from 246 BC - 210 BC (as King of Qin (秦王) until 221 BC, as First Emperor (始皇帝) from 221 BC onwards): Ying Zheng (政)
  33. Qin Er Shi, ruled from 210 BC - 207 BC: Ying Huhai (胡亥)
  34. Ziying (子嬰), ruled from mid-October to the beginning of December 207 BC

fr:Qin (Etat) zh-cn:秦国


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