By conquering much of the western states during the Warring States Period (476 BC - 221 BC), the Qin came to power in 221 B.C. The effect is somewhat dramatic. It unified much of China for the first time.
After his ascent to power, Zheng, the leader of the Qin, changed his name into Shi Huangdi. Shi Huangdi, First Emperor, is name previously reserved to deities. This act of Zheng thus set the Chinese tradition of naming their leader as emperors instead of kings.
The Qin did not waste their superior military strength compared with the rest of the warring states. They consolidated their power by imposing a centralized government, with the emperor as the main bureaucrat. The political positions however, are not hereditary.
Qin sometimes was referred to as Ch'in. Later, perhaps, this was corrupted prolonged oral translation and eventually, gave birth to the name of China. The Qin made many advancement that set the political administrative tradition for later dynasties.
By centralizing the government, they divided the whole controlled area into 36 commanderies headed by a civil governor, a military commander, and an imperial inspector. The areas were subdivided further into counties. These leaders had to report to the Emperor in writing, thus paving the way for historians to refer to this as a legalist form of government.
The achievement of this dynasty is remarkable. The Qin standardized the spoken and written language of China, which where in varied forms during Warring States Period. To a greater degree, this was accomplished out of the great need of the political administration to communicate in a uniformed language.
The standardization of measurements was also brought by this need. The cartwheels naturally made ruts in the road, and these furrows had to be of the same width, for other carts to be able to travel. Axle length then was necessary to be made uniformly for carts to travel and the only to make sure uniformity is through a standard measurement throughout the empire. The basic social unit, at least in the imperial capital, is a group composed of five to ten families, with responsibility over the individual members including punishment for offenses.
Numerous public works projects were also undertaken. One of these is the fortification of the wall in the north from remnants of the previous walls erected by the feudal lords that divided the former warring six states. This proved to be effected against invading barbarians and instrumental in pushing the Qin territory up the northern areas.
Roads and canals were also built throughout the territory. This includes the palace for Shi Huangdi. This dynasty is also famous for their terra cotta army, found in the burial site of the Emperor Shi Huangdi.
The entire terra cotta army consisted of about 6,000 pottery soldiers. By the looks of it, this was intended to protect the tomb from raiders. Some authors propose that these soldiers are replacement for the actual number of people who were originally buried with the emperors of the Qin dynasty alive.
The highly centralized new government though, was proved to be too much for the people, with its rewards and punishments, to stay in power. Even the former nobilities had lost their former positions, which later, will be instrumental in several revolts initiated by disgruntled individuals. Shi Huangdi, in general, was not a popular leader throughout the territory.
The public works and heavy taxes were proved too much for the people. Not to mention the discontent of the nobilities transplanted from their local areas to the capital. This was followed by conscription to the military of the young people. Shi Huangdi also tried to control his subjects' minds.
Advanced as he was compared with earlier warring feudal lords by advocating a centralized government, Shi Huangdi nevertheless banned all books that advocated different forms of government. He ordered the burning of the writings of the great philosophers belonging to the One Hundred Schools. About 400 military and political opponents were executed.
Shortly, after First Emperor's death in 210 BC, the Qin dynasty started to fell apart. Shi Huangdi?s son, after a short period of time in power as the Second Emperor, was quickly overthrown. Few years after the original leader died, widespread revolts by discontented peasants, disgruntled descendents of warring states nobilities, and even political prisoners had spread like wild fire with all of China.
From the ascension to power of Qin Shi Huangdi until his death is a period no more than two decades. A short lifespan compared with other dynasty in China. However, Qin Dynasty was arguably, with its new concept of centralized government, had left a legacy that would run deep in terms of influence on all other much later dynasties in China. It is this political pattern by the Qin that will mold the Chinese imperial court system for the next two thousand years.