Although modern China is a unified place that is governed by one legal system, it was not always this way. Ancient China was divided into a collection of seven states which, from 475 BCE to 221 BCE, were constantly at war. In fact, the conflict was so constant that the period was actually known as the Era of Warring States or the Warring States Period. Although there was a single sovereign, he was simply a figurehead who did not have any real power.
One of the states was the Qin state, which was located in the western part of the country. It was able to trace its origins to a man named Zhuanxu, one of five monarchs who ruled ancient China from 2514 BCE to 2436 BCE. Each of the seven states was ruled by a warlord who tried to expand their territory by annexing the land around them, carving it out from the neighboring states. These men were ruthless and used infantry and cavalry forces in a long serious of bloody conflicts.
Among these warlords was the leader of the Qin state, Qin Shi Huangdi. Born in 259 BCE, he became the ruler of the Qin state in 246 BCE. While all of the warlords were ruthless, Qin Shi Huangdi was particularly brutal. Although he took the throne at the young age of 13, he was able to thwart a series of coups and assassination attempts.
Qin Shi Huangdi was able to annex all of the seven states and bring them under his control by 221 BCE. While he ruled, Qin Shi Huangdi was able to standardize the system of units and measures used in the country. He also standardized Chinese currency as well as the length of cart axles. This made it easier to transport goods. He also worked at standardizing the Chinese script as well.
During his lifetime, Qin Shi Huangdi was constantly at war with nomadic tribes located in the north and northwest of the country. In order to keep them from invading the country, he ordered the Great Wall of China to be constructed. He used his fellow countrymen to build the wall. Many people were worked to death in order to create the wall. Today, the Great Wall of China can be seen from space.
Under Qin Shi Huangdi’s rule, many existing books were burned. He saved books dealing with topics such as astrology, medicine and divination. However, owning a copy of any outlawed texts was a serious crime. Qin Shi Huang had many scholars buried alive simply for owning copies of books he had burned. Qin Shi Huangdi was also known for brutally punishing anyone who broke the law. They were buried alive or enslaved in order to build the Great Wall or his tomb.
It is this tomb that has given Qin Shi Huangdi some of the fame that he still enjoys today. The tomb was started in 215 BCE and, according to some sources, as many as 720,000 unpaid laborers worked on its construction. Part of the tomb has been discovered and excavated. Inside, archaeologists found more than 8,000 terracotta figurines in the shape of soldiers, chariots, horses and cavalry horses. Qin Shi Huangdi died in 210 BCE at the age of 49.