3.5 Strong Rulers Unite China

From his base in western China, the powerful ruler of the state of Qin rose to unify all of China. An ancient Chinese poet and historian described how the ruler crushed all his rivals: “Cracking his long whip, he drove the universe before him, swallowing up the eastern and the western Zhou and overthrowing the feudal lords.”

Drawing of ancient bearded Chinese man with a fierce facial expression.

Shi Huangdi was the founder of the Qin dynasty. His strong authoritarian government unified China.


  • Understand how Shi Huangdi unified China and established a Legalist government.
  • Outline why the Han period is considered a Golden Age of Chinese civilization.
  • Analyze how the Silk Road facilitated the spread of ideas and trade in China.
  • Analyze why Buddhism spread through China.

Key Terms

  • Shi Huangdi
  • Wudi
  • monopoly
  • expansionism
  • civil servants
  • warlords
  • acupuncture

Shi Huangdi Unifies China

In 221 B.C., the ruler of Qin proclaimed himself Shi Huangdi (shur hwahng dee), or “First Emperor.” Although his methods were brutal, he set up patterns in government and other areas that shaped future Chinese civilization.

The Emperor Centralizes Power

Shi Huangdi was determined to end the divisions that had splintered Zhou China. He spent nearly 20 years conquering most of the warring states. Using rewards for merit and punishments for failure, he built a strong, authoritarian government.

The emperor abolished the old feudal states and divided China into 36 military districts, each ruled by appointed officials. Inspectors, who were actually more like spies, checked on local officials and tax collectors.

Shi Huangdi forced noble families to live in his capital at Xianyang (shyan yahng), where he could keep an eye on them, and divided their lands among the peasants. Still, peasants had to pay high taxes to support Shi Huangdi's armies and building projects.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments