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Qin Dynasty

Historians often refer to the period from Qin Dynasty to the end of Qing Dynasty as Imperial China. Though the unified reign of the Qin (秦) Emperor lasted only 12 years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang (咸陽/咸阳) (close to modern Xi'an). The doctrine of legalism that guided the Qin emphasized strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor. This philosophy of Legalism, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing it in peace time. The Qin presided over the brutal silencing of political opposition, including the event known as the burning and burying of scholars. This would be the impetus behind the later Han Synthesis incorporating the more moderate schools of political governance.
The Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang.

The Qin Dynasty is well known for beginning the Great Wall of China, which was later augmented and enhanced during the Ming Dynasty (明朝). The other major contributions of the Qin include the concept of a centralized government, the unification of the legal code, written language, measurement, and currency of China after the tribulations of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods. Even something as basic as the length of axles for carts had to be made uniform to ensure a viable trading system throughout the empire
The encarta has the following to say about the Qin dynasty
The Qin government was totalitarian, based on the philosophy of Fajia (Legalism), which placed absolute power in the hands of the ruler, who governed by means of strict laws and harsh punishments. Practical reformers and scholars such as Shang Yang (d. 338 bc) and Han Fei (280?-233 bc) saw Legalism as a way to create a highly efficient, albeit ruthless, administrative apparatus. Qin Shihuangdi ruled by absolute control and took severe actions to eliminate all possible challenges to his authority. Intellectuals who criticized Qin politics were executed. Confucian scholars who condemned the Qin for inhumanity and injustice were purged. It is said that around 400 scholars who criticized the Qin government were buried alive. All books and histories of the empire other than those having to do with agriculture or medicine were burned. Anyone who wished to learn received a standardized basic education taught by government staff. This anti-intellectualism ran counter to the atmosphere of free learning that had prevailed in the Qin state during the Warring States period. To reduce the threat of insurrection, descendants of the ruling houses of the six conquered states were forced either to relocate to the capital or be exiled. All weapons owned by private citizens were confiscated; the metal from these weapons was used to cast the gigantic metal statues and bells that adorned the imperial palace.
Microsoft Encarta 2009. 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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