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Before the second century BC seven independent states vied for hegemony in the period called 'Warring States'. In 247 BC King Zheng came to the throne and he led the western-most state of Qin to one military victory after another until total conquest was achieved in 221 BC. King Zheng subsequently declared that he ruled 'All Under Heaven' and took an ambitious new title for himself, qin shihuangdi 'First Emperor of Qin'. The title of Emperor was previously reserved only for the sage-rulers of myth. Thus with the first unification of China, the Imperial Age - which would last more than twenty-one centuries - began.
The First Emperor was determined to impose uniformity throughout China by maintaining standardisation. The central government at the capital Xianyang dispatched officials and officers to administer and control the conquered territories with penalties and regulations. Criticism of the government was forbidden and education was provided solely for the purpose of training officials. Thus when the Prime Minister Li Si complained that scholars were using ancient texts to criticise the government, the First Emperor ordered all books but practical manuals to be burnt and recalcitrant scholars to be buried alive.
Even law-abiding people were subject to onerous labour service, and conscripts were put to work to grand public works, such as the building of roads, canals and imperial tombs. Several hundred thousand were drafted to build the Great Wall, later to become one of the most famous symbols of China. Such grand works gave the First Emperor the confidence to say that his dynasty would last "ten thousand generations". In truth it lasted only eleven years. Two years after his death in 210 BC, a group of conscripts revolted (
known as The Revolt of Chen Sheng and Wu Guang)and began a wave of rebellion. (See Major Events for details.)
Above graphic courtesy of CNTO.org