Qin dynasty Great Wall
Unification and the First Great Wall
|The Great Wall after the unification of China by the Qin state (221-206 B.C.).|
As far back as 25 centuries ago, the northwestern part of China was ruled by the stateof Qin, the most powerful of the WarringStates. The name of Qin spread to the west,and became the name by which China wasknown by those beyond its western frontier.In the sib to 4th centuries B.C. the ancientPersian hymn of Farwardin referred toChina as "Cheene", and the name "Sinim"was mentioned in lsaiah in the Hebrew OldTestament. Both "Cheene" and "Sinim"were apparently renderings of the name Qinin the respective languages. Later, when thename spread into india it became "China",which appeared in the lst century Hinduepics Mahabharata and Ramayana, "China"being a transliteration of Qin.
The state of Qin went through a period ofdrastic political reform starting in 365 B.C.,which in a large measure accelerated thetransition of the social system from slaveryto feudalism. This reform was pioneered byShang Yang, one of the most eminentfigures of ancient China.
Backed by his sovereign, Duke Xiao ofQin, Shang Yang launched an all-out assaulton the decadent slave system. Starting withthe watchword "Break away from the oldcourse", he enforced a system of land tenancy, standardized the nation's weights andmeasures and reformed the state administration and personnel system. Particular emphasis was placed on developing agricultureand building a powerful army. He made itlaw that thos.e who turned out above-averageyields of grain and textiles be exempted oftheir corvee (unpaid labour due to a feudallord from his vassal), while those who wereengaging in business activities on the side,or who were impoverished through laziness,were made slaves along with their families.
|Ruins of Qin dynasty beacon towers in Guyuan, Ningxia.|
One legendary anecdote tells how ShangYang managed to win the people's confidence before enforcing his reforms. Heordered a 30-foot long wooden pole to beplaced at the southern gate of the capitalcity, and put up a notice declaring thatanyone who moved it to the northern gatewould be rewarded with ten pieces of gold.People were distrustful of the intention ofthe notice, and none dared to try to claimthe reward. Next day Shang Yang increasedthe reward to fifty pieces of gold. Cautiously,one man moved the pole as requested--andreceived the promised award. News soonspread that Shang Yang was true to hisword, and this assured the speedy enforcement of his reform programme.
|The Qin dynasty Great Wall in Xiji county, Ningxia, still in good condition.|
Shang Yang's reforms had the support ofthe upstart landed class, but they met withfurious opposition from the slave-owningnobility, who deliberately sabotaged the reform plan. Shang Yang dealt with themruthlessly. Historical records show that asmany as 700 were executed in one day aloneby the side of the River Wei, so that "thewater turned red, and the wilderness wasresonant with wails of griep'. Moreover,those who dared to criticize the reform wereexiled to remote regions.
The whirlwind reforms carried out byShang Yang proved fruitful. With a rapidlydeveloping economy and a powerful army,Qin became a state unrivalled in wealth andstrength, readying itself for the conquest ofthe other six states, all politically backward,and establishing a giant feudal empire.The year 249 B.C. found China on theeve of national unification. One year laterQin had a new prime minister, Lu Buwei,one of China's noted thinkers and politi cians, who authored and edited the classicalencyclopaedia Lu Shi Chun Qiu (MasterLu's Spring and Autumn Annals).
|The Qin dynasty Great Wall five kilometres north of the county seat of Guyuan, Ningxia. The wall here is more than ten metres tall, and is strengthened with tail mamian (platforms attached to the wall). This section of the wall was also used by the Han and Ming dynasties.|
During his administration Lu Buwei consolidated the ideological base and government set-up of the feudal system. Qin continued to grow in strength, rapidly enlargingits domain in wars with rival dukedoms.
In 246 B.C. Prince Ying Zheng, at theage of 13, was made king of Qin, and a newchapter in China's history was begun. Theadolescent king relied on Lu Buwei, whomhe treated as a father. Clinging to power, LuBuwei endeavoured to impose on the kinghis political doctrine based on simultaneousapplication of both Confucianism and legalism as outlined in his book Lu Shi ChunQiu. His plan was to keep the state under hispermanent control.
But the young king did not turn out to beas acquiescent as Lu expected. He wanted torule alone. Refusing to acknowledge that"the domain under heaven belongs to itssubjects", he saw monarchical power asinviolable, enabling him to exercise absolutedictatorship. Putting great emphasis on thepower of law, he believed that severe penalties would guarantee efficient government.He could not tolerate the presence of LuBuwei.
In 238 B.C. the king was 22. By Qin lawhe was of age to be crowned and formallybegin his reign. The following year he putLu Buwei to death by forcing him to commit suicide after charging him with being incollusion with a rebellious gang.
|The remains of a Qin dynasty fort by the Great Wall in Guyuan, Ningxia.|
From then on the king assumed rigidcontrol of his state, putting the finishingtouch on a system of centralized feudalgovernment that was unprecedented. He appointed a top administrative hierarchy consisting of the best men of the time. Hissupreme military commander was Wei Liao,a great strategist; the state secretary was LiSi, a legalist of prominent political talentithe military commanders included WangJian, Wang Ben, Meng Wu and Meng Tian,all generals of rare capability. Other senioraides included Dun Ruo, Yao Jia and othersoutstanding in eloquence, military tactics orintelligence work. It was a coherent andcompetent civilian and military ruling bodymotivated mainly by legalist doctrines.
During the fifteen years between 236 and221 B.C. the powerful Qin army crushedone rival state after another. In 221 B.C.Linzi, capital of the last unconquered stateof Qi, in present-day Shandong, surrenderedwithout resistance to General Wang Ben.This finally brought to an end the divisionof China into independent local dukedomsand created an unprecedented unified multinational empire under centralized control.
|The Qin Great wall in Shenmu county, Shaanxi, has been almost completely destroyed by winds and sand, but some remnants of the wall and a conical beacon tower are still discernible.|
Having completed his conquest, YingZheng was no longer satisfied with his titleof King, thinking it unequal to his honourand dignity, so he ordered his chamberlainsto come up with a new title for him. Aftermuch deliberation the court ministers andscholars chose the word Huang, whichmeant "majestic" or "almighty". They argued that according to the classics TI'anHuang and Di Huang meant respectivelythe creators of heaven and earth, but bothwere inferior in prestige to Tat Huang,which meant "Creator of the World". Sothey suggested that Tat Huang be the king'snew appellation. This, however, only satisfied half of the sovereign's vanity. He accepted the character Huang and added to itDId which meant "master", as in the legendary Five Masters of the Earth. It was decidedthat Huang Di was to be the new designation for the ruler of China, as it impliedsuperiority to the three creators and fivemasters. The title was the equivalent ofEmperor in the West. So the king of Qinnamed himself Shi Huang Di, which meantthe First Emperor.
|The tomb of General Meng Tian.|
The First Emperor of Qin then embarkedon a series of drastic reforms, this time on anationwide scale, to consolidate his rule. Heabolished the old system of enfeoffment,restructured the bureaucracy, and dividedthe nation into prefectures, each prefecturesubdivided into counties to be governed byofficials directly responsible to the centralgovernment. He, standardized the monetarysystem, the weights and measures and thewritten language throughout the nation,connected up all the roads and dismantledthe border barriers and fortifications leftover by the now extinct dukedoms. In themeantime a programme of legislation waspromulgated to protect private ownership ofland and boost agricultural production.
However, the newly founded empire ofQin still had one formidable adversary--theHuns (Xiongnu).
The 3rd century B.C. saw rapid expansionamong the Huns and Eastern Hus (Donghu)when the dukedoms in central China werepreoccupied with civil war and didn't havethe time or energy to attend to the growingmenace of the northern tribes. While theFirst Emperor of Qin was busy securingcontrol of the empire, the Huns seized theopportunity to occupy large areas of territoryin the north, from where they made frequent military forays south, looting andpillaging and posing a constant threat to theQin empire.
In the fifth year (217 B.C.) of his newempire the First Emperor sent his crownprince, Fu Su, and a senior general, MengTian, to attack the Huns with a force of300,000. As a result a vast region south ofthe Yellow River was recaptured. The emperor set up 34 new counties in the recoveredterritory, while 30,000 households wereresettled there from the interior. Fu Su andMeng Tian were ordered to lead a regulargarrison force to deal with the Huns anddefend the area that included what is nownorthern Shaanxi, Ih Ji Banner of innerMongolia and the Yellow River Bend. Theymade their headquarters at Shangjun, thepresent-day Snide in northern Shaanxi.
While continuing his campaign againstthe Huns, the emperor ordered a majorprogramme of wall construction for defence.The walls formerly built by King Zhao ofthe Qin state, and those on the northernborders of the former states of Zhao andYan, were repaired and joined up, makingan uninterrupted wall from Gansu's Lintaoin the west to Liaodong (now Liaoning) inthe east, passing on the way eastern Gansu,Guyuan in Ningxia, northern Shaanxi,southern inner Mongolia and northern Hebei. In addition, a great part of the wall wasreinforced by a second wall parallel to theexisting one j covering the section north ofLangshan and Daqingshan in inner Mongolia and along the Yanshan Mountain inHebei. As a result the total wall lengthexceeded 10,000 if'. This was the earliest10,000-li Great Wall ever built in China.
Though much of this first Great Wall hasdisappeared as a result of centuries of natural and artificial damage, it can be seen fromwhat remains of it that the wall was builtwith a variety of materials: compressed earthon the plains and loess plateaus, sand in thedesert and stones in the mountainous areas.The ruins of the second wall in the Daqingshan Mountains of inner Mongolia are 3.5metres wide at the base and one to twometres high. The section near Guyuan inNingxia is in better condition. The averageheight of existing walls built in the Qinperiod ranges from two to ten metres, and insome places they are as high as fifteenmetres. Small castles and beacon towersbuilt of earth stand in large numbers alongthe walls. The castles were barracks for thegarrison troops, while a few larger castleswith perimeters of more than three kilometres served as command posts. The beacon towers, all standing on the inner side ofthe wall, are eight to ten metres high, mostlybuilt of earth, a few of them of stones.
This line of defence, impenetrable to themounted Hun nomads, provided temporarysecurity in the north for the newly foundedQin empire.
An astounding amount of labour wentinto the construction of the walls. Judgingfrom those sections that remain in fairlygood condition, the entire wall is estimatedto have involved a total of l.3 billion squaremetres of stone and earthwork, not including the castles. The population being thenhardly more than 20 million, the workloadwould have averaged 67.5 cubic metres percapita. But this is still a far cry from theactual amount of labour expended. As manyas l.5 million men were used in the protracted construction of the imperial palacesand tombs, and another 500,000 were conscripted for garrison duties in the south.This plus the 400,000 engaged in years ofwall building and other duties would haveplunged 15 percent of the population inunpaid, round-the-year toil.
The labour force for wall constructionmainly came from the army and. the peasants. By Qin law every male citizen betweenthe ages of 15 and 60 had to do a certainamount of hard labour each year on publicservice, which made them eligible for 45years of their lives. According to recentlyunearthed records of the Qin period, boyswere duty bound to labour when they reached l.2 metres tall, but in actuality the labourforce included seven year olds. Subjects ofthe Qin empire were made to dischargecorvee duties far in excess of the legalstipulations, or of those of pre-Qin times.Dong Zhongshu, a Han dynasty scholar,pointed out that the Qin regime imposedcorvee duties "thirty times that of ancientstates". Besides servicemen and peasants,the wall builders also included jobless citizens, merchants, as well as slaves' childrenand sons-in-law living with their wives'families. Women were also recruited in thework. Moreover, prisoners accounted for asignificant portion of the labour force.
Once in 213 B.C. the First Emperor gavea banquet at his palace at which his chamberlains, much to his satisfaction, fell overeach other with ingratiating eulogies to theemperor's achievements and virtues. ButChunyu Yue, one of the high officials,bravely took the emperor to task for'refusingto follow the old established rules in makinglaws, and not sticking to the enfeoffmentsystem. Displeased at the charge, the emperor however held his temper, and ordered theofficials to debate the question. ThereuponLi Si, the prime minister, accused ChunyuYue of clinging to the past, claiming that"nothing is worth learning from the ThreeDynasties" (referring to the three successiveearlier dynasties of Xia, Shang and Zhou).He went on to attack intellectuals in general,charging that they made trouble by voicingabsurd views because they had read books.Concluding that books were the source of allevil, Li St suggested, and 4he emperorreadily assented, that all books in the empirebe burned, leaving only the HI'story of Qinand books on medicine, fortune-telling andtree-planting; that any discussion of bookknowledge in future be subject to the deathpenalty; and that "denying the present infavour of the past" be made a grave crimepunishable by the execution of the offenderalong with his entire family. The ordinancealso ruled that all who failed to burn theirbooks within thirty days would be sent tohard labour at the Great Wall. As a resultlarge numbers of scholars joined the toilingsoldiers and peasants at the wall while thenation's precious written records of accumulated knowledge went up in smoke.
The year 211 B.C. saw the death of theFirst Emperor of Qin--eminent politician,tyrant, creator of China's earliest 10,000-hGreat Wall--a man whose reign combinedimmortal contributions with unprecedenteddisasters. He died, ironically, on his wayback from a trip to the Shandong coast inquest of a drug reputed to give immortality.
As a precaution against any commotionlikely to be caused by the emperor's death,Prime Minister Li St decided to hush up thenews. He placed the royal corpse in a wellventilated sleeping carriage and kept it supplied with food and drink while the partysped towards the capital.
In the meantime a plot was hatched toseize the throne, with eunuch Zhao Gao asthe chief conspirator. Zhao had been thetutor of Hu Hai, the emperor's youngestson, and therefore had his favour.
Opposing him were General Meng Tianand Crown Prince Fu Su, who had collaborated successfully in beating the Huns andconstructing the Great Wall. From a lineageof eminent military men, Meng Tian rendered outstanding service in crushing Qi,the last rival state that stood in the way ofthe First Emperor's national conquest. Uponthe founding of the empire, Meng Tian ledhis 300,000 troops against the Huns, forcingthem to withdraw 350 kilometres to thenorth. He was mainly responsible for theconstruction of the Great Wall, and hisbuilding policy, taking the topography intoconsideration and making good use of natural barriers, was applauded by later strategists. So awe-inspiring had been the name ofMeng Tian that "the Huns dared not drivetheir horses south, nor dared any to bend hisbow in revenge". To give his army moremobility in war and in' its defence of theGreat Wall, Meng Tian had built a 900kilometre highway from the Qin capitalXianyang (northwest of present-day Xi'ancity) all the way up to the present Baotou. Itwas known as Zhidao, or Straight Highway.
The late emperor had placed great confidence in Meng Tian. If Fu Su succeeded tothe throne Meng Tian was sure to rise topower, which would have been catastrophicfor Zhao Gao, who had long been Meng'sfoe. Therefore Zhao Gao conspired with LiSt, and the two formed a plot to kill Fu Suand Meng Tian and place Hu Hat on thethrone. In his will the emperor explicitlydirected Crown Prince Fu Su to hasten tohis funeral at Xianyang and take over thethrone. This request was distorted by theconspirators into a false command to Fu Suto kill himself on charges of dereliction ofduty and lack of filial piety, with a similardirective to Meng Tian, who was to commitsuicide for "disloyalty as a courtier".
By then both Fu Su and Meng Tian wereat Shangjun (now Snide, Shaanxi). Whenthey received the forged edict Fu Su wasready to obey it. Meng Tian was sceptical,and advised the prince to investigate thematter before taking the fatal step. Rejectingthis advice, Fu Su meekly ended his ownlife, while Meng Tian, who disobeyed the"order", was imprisoned.
All the while Zhao Gao, Li St and theirprotege prince Hu Hat, in order to concealthe truth and kill time while waiting to learnof the fate of their victims, deliberatelydiverted the hearse from Hebei to innerMongolia before returning to Xianyang. Itbeing summer, the corpse began to decay, sothey placed 100 catties of abalone in thehearse to disguise the stench. Reports of FuSu's death and Meng Tian's arrest reachedthem before they arrived back at Xianyang,so the emperor's death was announced andHu Hat was put on the throne as the SecondEmperor of Qin (Qin Er Shi). He lost notime in putting Meng Tian to death, alongwith his brother Meng Yi and others.
The people, however, did not forget thecontributions of Fu Su and Meng Tian inousting the Huns and building the GreatWall. A Fu Su platform was built at Snide inmemory of the prince, and a tomb was builtfor Meng Tian. It is said that out of love fortheir general, each of Meng Tian's soldiershauled a load of earth in his uniform tobuild the tomb. The great general is remembered to this day for what he did for China.