On March 29, 1974, a couple of workers were digging a water well on the east side of Mount Li outside of the city of Xi’an. The workers uncovered a single terracotta figure and called the government authorities who investigated the matter. Soon, government archeologists were sent to the site. The unearthed great clay army that has baffled modern day craftsmen, intrigued archeologists, and amazed the general public. Before this discovery, no one knew about the First Emperor of China. Forty years later, we know a good deal about his legacy.
Ying Zheng was born in 259 BCE to the King of Qin and his concubine. In 246 BCE, he took the throne at only thirteen. By the time he thirty-eight, he had unified the seven warring states involved in the Warring States Era. These territories included Qin, Han, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Yan, and several minor states. He took on the name Qin Shi Huang Di and is known as the First Emperor of Qin and also as the First Emperor of China. Only a year after his conquest, 210 BC, he died. The dynasty he created only lived for another four years. All that we know of the First Emperor is from The Grand Scribe's Records, written by an astrologer who died around 85 BCE.
All that we know of the First Emperor is from The Grand Scribe's Records, written by an astrologer who died around 85 BCE. Because the fall of a dynasty was so regarded as weakness and a disproval from Heaven, records of the time portrayed the Emperor in a negative light. One story that circulated for centuries was that Qin Shi Huang Di wasn't his father's child at all, but that of a merchant. This merchant, who became the Prime Minister of Qin, happened to also be the Emperor of Qin's friend. The merchant impregnated a concubine and, with his encouragement, made the Emperor fall in love with her. This story is thought to have been inserted into the records with malicious intent.
Also included in The Grand Scribe's Records, was information about assassination attempts. In 227 BCE, an assassin was sent from one of the northern states. This was the first of three unsuccessful attempts. These attempts were made because of the First Emperor's ruthlessness. By 221 BCE, over a million men had been killed or taken prisoner. The First Emperor’s response to the matter was simply, “Insignificant as I am I have raised troops to punish the rebellious princes; and thanks to the sacred power of our ancestors all six kings have been chastised as they deserved, so that at last the empire is pacified” (Wood, 25).
Historians believe that the laws of the Qin dynasty were quite cruel based on documents found in Qin Shi Huang Di’s tomb. These records listed agricultural, hunting, and other regulations. For example, if commoners lost control of their dogs and the dog killed an animal outside of hunting season, the dog would be killed, skinned, and their fur would be sent to the government. Many forms of punishment for menial crimes or mishaps by government officials ranged...