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(221 – 206 BC)

Shang (1523-1027 BC) . As the Warring States in the last years of the Chou battled one another, one western state, the Ch’in, had become a well-ordered state with a large, well-trained army.
Chou (1027-221 BC)  
Han (206 BC-AD 220)  
Three Kingdoms (220-581)  

By 230 BC the other Warring States had worn themselves down to a remaining six. Then the Ch’in armies moved eastward. Within the decade each of the six was conquered, and China was unified under Ch’in’s king. As his first act, he bestowed upon himself the title Shihuangdi, or the “First August Emperor.” In this pivotal year of 221 BC, the land took its name from this dynasty, thus the Middle Kingdom became known as China.

Sui (581-618)  
T'ang (618-907)  
Sung (907-1279)  
Yüan (1279-1368)  
Ming (1368-1644)  
Ch'ing (1644-1912)  
Opening the Door (1844-1911)  
Long Sword
c. 221- c. 1st century
Ch'in - Han Period
24 inches
long sword
The Period of Revolution (1912-1949)  
Mao's Dynasty (1949-1976)  
Raising the Bamboo Curtain (1972-1979)  
Into the Next Millennium (1979- )  
Courtesy The University of Michgan Art Museum
The First Emperor’s reign was brief but busy. In twelve years he accomplished much, standardizing the Chinese script, width of roads, weights and measures, and metal currency. He undertook monumental building projects including constructing over 4,000 miles of tree-lined imperial highways and over 2,000 miles of the Great Wall. Untold numbers of new palaces were built, including an immense edifice for his primary residence called the Nearby Palace. In the midst of all this, the First Emperor increased the size of his army with which he defended his borders and conquered new lands.
With so much toil there was bound to be trouble. These ambitious projects required the service of hundreds of thousands, and the First Emperor compelled service with brutal force, disrupting the commoners’ lives. Life at court was no better as scholars and members of court lived under the threat of death if they displeased the Emperor.
Toward the end the First Emperor turned to the mystic elements of Taoism, falling under the influence of magicians who promised life-extending elixirs and prophesied doom from a northern enemy. On a trip to inspect his kingdom he died, aged forty-nine, in the year 210 BC. His dynasty would last another four years, but his son and grandson proved unable to hold what the First Emperor had secured. Over time China would substantially enlarge and occasionally fragment, yet what the First Emperor consolidated would serve as the country the world has known for over two thousand years, and his influence would resonate through each of its dynasties.