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Warring States and a Balance of Power Failure

Around 500 BCE the North China Plain was fragmented. There were as many as 148 territories ruled by a warlord — not much different from the warring lords of Europe during its Middle Ages. The warlords attempted a balance of power. They combined against anyone of them perceived as becoming too big of a threat. But it didn't work. By the year 476 BCE the tendency of the bigger powers to absorb the smaller powers had reduced the surviving warlords to something like seventeen. It was what would be called the Warring States Period (animated map).

One of the powers was Qin (pronounced ch ee n), on the west side of the North China Plain. Qin was seen by other powers as inferior because of the many Tibetan and Turkish people that it had absorbed. Positioned as it was in the West, Qin was a thoroughfare for trade with the tribal peoples farther west in Central Asia. Trade contributed to Qin's wealth.

Qin had a chief minister, Shang Yang, who organized the kingdom for warfare. He was interested in incentives, including rewards for the brave. He held to a political philosophy called Legalism. It held Confucianism to be a waste of time. He encouraged trade and work, including making of cloth for export. He threatened slavery for any able-bodied man not engaged in a useful occupation. He encouraged growth by offering immigrants virgin land and exemption from military service, and many came to Qin, increasing its manpower and food production, which helped strengthen Qin militarily.

The ruler of Qin was an innovator. He strengthed his army with commoners. He divided his realm into units administered by officials in the place of nobles. Record keeping of available resources was begun. New administrative techniques were introduced such as record keeping, standard measures and coinage and preventions against tax evasion.

Qin in 314 BCE won a military victory over nomadic herdsmen to its north. In 311, Qin expanded southward against more nomadic people and founded the city of Chengedu. Qin's ministers were afraid that if they didn't defeat other powers on the North China Plain these other powers would combine against it, and in 230 BCE Qin began defeating these powers militarily. In the year 221 the Warring States Period is said to have ended. Qin's ruler went to a sacred mountain, Dai Shan, and there, it is said, he recieved the Mandate from Heaven to rule the "entire world." He took the name Shi-huang-di (di signifying emperor) – China's first emperor.

CONTINUE READING: Emperor Gaozu to Emperor Wen, 206-157 BCE

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