Ch'in (chĭn) [key], dynasty of China, which ruled from 221 B.C. to 206 B.C. The word China is derived from Ch'in, the first dynasty to unify the country by conquering the warring feudal states of the late Chou period. King Cheng took the title Shih Huang-ti or Shi Huangdi [ first august emperor ] in 221 B.C. and began to consolidate the new empire. In matters of state he was counseled by Li Ssu (d. 208 B.C.), a scholar of the Legalist school of philosophy, which emphasized the need for strict laws in social and political relations and for obedience to state authority. Under Shih Huang-ti, Ch'in extended the empire W to Guizhou, N to Gansu, and S to Tonkin in what is now Vietnam, and made the capital Xianyang (near modern Xi'an, Shaanxi prov.) the most splendid city of China; it is speculated that much of the Great Wall was built during his reign. To govern the vast empire, Ch'in abolished feudalism, instituted a centralized government that was the model for later unifying dynasties, established uniform laws, weights, and measures, standardized the written language, and built a network of roads and canals that converged on the capital. Ch'in Shih Huang-ti has been regarded as a brutal autocrat by many since he is said to have imposed harsh laws, levied heavy taxes, tolerated no criticism, and burned all books except the useful ones on medicine and agriculture. Shih Huang-ti died in 210 B.C. and was succeeded by a weakling son. Overburdened peasants revolted and overthrew the Ch'in dynasty in 206 B.C. Soon after, the Han dynasty came to power in China.
See D. Bodde, China's First Unifier (1938, repr. 1967); D. Twitchett and M. Loewe, ed., The Cambridge History of China (Vol. 1, 1986).
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