The Qin Dynasty (Figure 3) was the first imperial dynasty of China, lasting from 221 to 206 BC. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the 4th century BC, during the Warring States Period. In the mid and late third century BC, the Qin accomplished a series of swift conquests, first ending the powerless Zhou Dynasty, and eventually destroying the remaining six states of the major states to gain control over the whole of China, resulting in a unified China.
During its reign over China, the Qin Dynasty achieved increased trade, improved agriculture, and revolutionary developments in military tactics, transportation and weaponry. Despite its military strength, however, the Dynasty did not last long. When the self-proclaimed first Emperor, Qin Shihuang, died in 210 BC, his son was placed on the throne by two of the previous emperor's advisers, in an attempt to influence and control the administration of the entire dynasty through him. The advisors squabbled among themselves, however, which resulted in both their deaths and that of the second Qin emperor. Popular revolt broke out a few years later, and the weakened empire soon fell to a Chu lieutenant, who went on to found the Han Dynasty. Despite its rapid end, the Qin Dynasty influenced future Chinese empires, particularly the Han, and the European name for China is thought to be derived from it.
Architecture from the Warring States Period had several definitive aspects. City walls, used for defense, were made longer, and indeed several secondary walls were also sometimes built to separate the different districts. Versatility in federal structures was emphasized, to create a sense of authority and absolute power. Architectural elements such as high towers, pillar gates, terraces, and high buildings amply conveyed this.
Qin Shihuang developed plans to fortify his northern border, to protect against the nomadic Mongols. The result was the initial construction of what later became the Great Wall of China, which was built by joining and strengthening the walls made by the feudal lords. These walls would be expanded and rebuilt multiple times by later dynasties, also in response to threats from the north.
The written language of the Qin was logographic, as that of the Zhou had been. As one of his most influential achievements in life, prime minister Li Si standardized the writing system to be of uniform size and shape across the whole country. This would have a unification effect on the Chinese culture for thousands of years. He is also credited with creating the "lesser-seal" style of calligraphy, which serves as a basis for modern Chinese and is still used in cards, posters, and advertising.
In 221 BC, Qin Shihuang conquered all of the states and governed with a single philosophy, Legalism. Legalism encouraged severe punishments, particularly when the emperor was disobeyed. Individuals' rights were devalued when they conflicted with the government's or the ruler's wishes, and merchants and scholars were considered unproductive, fit for elimination. One of the more drastic measures employed to accomplish the eradication of the old schools of thought was the infamous burning of books and burying of scholars incident, which almost singlehandedly gave the Qin Dynasty a bad reputation among later scholars. The First Emperor, in an attempt to consolidate power, ordered the burning of all books on non-Legalist philosophical viewpoints and intellectual subjects. All scholars who refused to submit their books were ordered to be executed.
Qin Shihuang made vast improvements to the military, which used the most advanced weaponry of the time. The sword was invented during the Warring States Period, first made of bronze and later of iron. The crossbow had been introduced in the 5th century BC and was more powerful and accurate than the composite bows used earlier (Figure 2). It could also be rendered ineffective by removing two pins, which prevented enemies from capturing a working crossbow.
Another project built during Qin Shihuang's rule was the Terracotta army, intended to protect the emperor after his death (Figure 1). The Terracotta army was inconspicuous due to its underground location, and was not discovered until 1974. It consists of more than 7,000 life-size tomb terracotta figures of warriors and horses buried with Qin Shihuang in 210–209 BC. The figures were painted before being placed into the vault, and the original colors were visible when the pieces were first unearthed; however, exposure to air caused the pigments to fade, so today the unearthed figures appear terracotta in color. The figures are in several poses including standing infantry and kneeling archers, as well as charioteers with horses. Each figure's head appears to be unique, showing a variety of facial features and expressions as well as hair styles.