Shi Huangdi: The First Emperor Of China Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: China, Qin, People, Politics, History, Law, Rule, Economics

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/28

The history of China is marked with significant practices and artifacts that have enabled scholars to trace the origins of the modern political, economic, social, and cultural factors surrounding the modern people’s republic of China. The discovery of the archeological facts such as the tomb of the first emperor of China Shi Huangdi and the Terracotta army dating back to over two thousand years have particularly given a new interest in exploring and discovering the history of Chinese rulers who had helped the country acquire the modern from of political leadership. This paper therefore, gives a detailed history of Shi Huangdi who is believed to be the first emperor of China including his personal traits and accomplishments including the techniques he used to unify different states or kingdoms into a solitary state of Qin. The paper also outlines some of Shi Huangdi’s perception and personality traits such as his paranoid fear of death, his quest to find solution that will declare him immortal, and the beliefs to be the ruler in the afterlife

History of Shi Huangdi

Emperor Shi Huangdi was born in the state of Qin as Ying Zheng in 259 BC. By the age of thirteen, Zheng succeeded his father who was the ruler of the Qin state but assumed the ruling power from his premier at the age of twenty two. Being an aggressive and ambitious leader since his young age, Zheng assumed the power with the main motive of conquering his rival states and create a vast and unified Qin kingdom where he was supposedly to become the sovereign leader. With the aid of Qin’s strong economic, political, and military power, Zheng succeeded in defeating his rivals and conquering all the neighboring states and subsequently, crated a unified kingdom of Qin in 221 BC while he was only thirty eight years old. This is what was historically referred to as the Qin Dynasty and it lasted from 221 BC to 206 BC.
As a result of his successful unification of the kingdom of china, Zheng regarded himself as the most successful ruler and as such, he named himself Shi Huangdi which means ‘the first Sovereign Emperor’ (Tompkins, 2011). He also choose the name Huangdi to relate himself to the famous Chinese emperor Huangdi (circa 2696–2598 BCE) also known as the Yellow Emperor who had unified and ruled China, in addition to being believed to be immortal.
The existence of legalism (Fajia) form of ruling in the Qin state is one of the factors that helped emperor Huangdi unite and rule all the other kingdoms he had acquired which included Yan, Wei, Han, Qi, Chu, and Zhao (Zaharia, 2014). Initially, these states were ruled differently and sometime they were involved in rivalries and wars, some of the factors that weakened their military, political and economic powers, thus enabling Zheng to overpower them with ease. In addition, Qin military men used barbaric measures in their battles which helped them win the wars. This was in contrast to the Chinese fighting etiquette that all other states observed keenly.
Having exercised the rule of legalism as the Qin ruler, emperor Huangdi had no difficulties in establishing law and order that presented the emperor as the supreme leader of the entire China territory. With the help of his chief legal advisor Si Li, carried the Qin legalism rules and practices to the new Qin Dynasty and introduced its practices to all the newly acquired parts of the empire with hopes that the kingdom would last forever. Legalism rule in this case involved giving the government the sovereign power to rule its people while instilling strict rules and regulations that ensures that the rulers’ power is unquestioned.
The resultant unification of the China territories resulted to all the people obeying the orders of the sovereign emperor, failure to which they faced severe punishment particularly after the introduction of reward and punishment rule. Some of the strict measures that the king undertook were burning of all the books written by different Aristocratic writers, except those that talked about farming and economic growth (Kinoshita, 2008).
Other than exercising barbaric ways to punish those who opposed him, Shi Huangdi is historically remembered of his psychological traits and obsessions, one being the excessive fear of death. His form of rule was criticized by many and as a result, assassination attempts were made against him for at least three times but they all failed. In addition, the hopes to rule forever led to the rise of new obsession by the emperor to find a cure that would render him immortal.
This involved the emperor summoning several magicians and sending them to various regions to seek the elixir of immortality. This was particularly after a series of failed assassinations that made the King’s paranoia for the fear of death intensify (Zaharia, 2014). However, despite his efforts to find solution and herbs that would render him immortal, Emperor Shi Huangdi died still on his way to seek immortality, after a prolonged illness in 210 BC, leading to the subsequent fall of the Qin dynasty in 206 BC.
One of the successful historical achievements that Emperor Shi Huangdi is remembered for is the transformation of China’s political, economic and social overview. After unifying Chinese territories, he went ahead and introduced a common currency which was coins made of copper, standardized weight and lengths as a way of easing trading activities as well as unified taxation laws as a way f creating equality among all the Chinese people.
In addition, he standardized writing as the primary aim of improving communication among the people and this resulted to the invention of a common language that has existed even to the current China. A standardized writing further improved trade and interpretation of the emperor’s laws. Among the greatest achievement was the initiation of the construction of the Great Wall of China. This was essentially initiated as a way of blocking external attackers as well as a form of unifying the kingdom.
Another greatest achievement that Shi Huangdi accomplished was the successful unification of different feudalist kingdoms or states into a unitary state of Qin that has existed even to the modern day and is reflected by the People’s Republic of China. He achieved this by sending massive army to different states and after conquering it, he made sure that a new palace was built to represent his authority in the newly acquired territory. After conquering all the states, the emperor demolished all the walls that had separated the kingdoms and collected all the weapons that were possessed by individuals.
This was a way of creating unity among all the people in the kingdom and to prevent any form of armed revolution against the new legalism government (Tompkins, 2011). In addition, Shi Huangdi introduced the previous laws and regulations that were enforced by the previous Qin rulers his acquired territories in addition to introducing new laws that every citizen had to follow. Failure to follow the emperor’s rules led to subsequent death penalty and many Chinese people suffered this fate including his own parent. Included
Despite being a successful ruler, the way Emperor Huangdi administered his ruling is termed as barbaric and oppressive, thus the subsequent collapse of the Qin Dynasty immediately after his death. The legalism rule rendered the king all the rights to do whatever he wished to do and as a way of enforcing his authority and power, Huangdi executed or exiled any person who contradicted him. This involved executing his mother and a man who was perceived to be his biological father.
In addition, he ordered the execution of hundred of writers as well as the burning of all the books that contained the history of China.
The introduction of death penalty to anyone who disobeyed his laws is one of the traits that rendered Shi Huangdi a barbaric and ruthless leader despite his efforts to unify and strengthen the social and economic grounds of the Chinese people. Despite his efforts to become immortal, Huangdi was against religious teachings although he practiced some immortal beliefs of Daoism including his efforts to visit various villages and offer sacrifices as a way of uniting his people. He strongly detested Confucianism since their teachings contradicted his liberal beliefs of leadership.
The success and failures of Shi Huangdi provides a vivid picture of the history of the Chinese people, including the origin of their modern day social, economic, and political structure. This is achieved by reviewing some of the methods that Huangdi introduced to boost the political unity and rule as well as improve the economic well-being of all the Chinese people within the kingdom. In addition, this history is carried on after the discovery of the King’s mausoleum that consists of thousands of artifacts defining the Chinese history. This has promoted the preservation of historical facts that enables different people to trace their culture and beliefs.
Getting to know history of the origin of legalism that was intensified by emperor Huangdi also helps us to understand the existence of the current form of government through different dynasties that succeeded the famous Qin Dynasty. This is because; the current form of government is characterized by the use of both legalism and Confucianism in addition to China having a common form of communication that was introduced by the first Emperor.


Kinoshita, H. (2008). “The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army”. Asian Affairs, Vol. 38(3), 371-376. Retrieved from
Portal, Jane (2007). The First Emperor, China's Terracotta Army. England: British Museum Press.
Thorp, R. L. (2008). (The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army, and: The Terracotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation, and: The First Emperor of China (Review)”. China Review International, Vol. 15(3), 411-416.
Tompkins, E. (2011).”Opposites Attract: The Fusion of Confucianism and the Qin Dynasty’s Legalism in the People’s Republic of China Today”. Honors Theses. Paper 8. Retrieved from
Zaharia, D. Et al. (2014). “Great Reformers: Psychological Analysis of Their Personality Justinian, Julius Caesar And Shi Huangdi”. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences Vol. 140, 212 – 220.

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