DK History: China's First Empire
China was a collection of kingdoms ruled by rival dynasties (powerful families) until 221 BC, when one king conquered the others and became the first emperor. The name “China” comes from his title, Qin Shi Huangdi, which means “first emperor of Qin.”
Qin Shi Huangdi defeated his rivals and united China with the help of armies of soldiers like the TERRACOTTA WARRIORS who guard his tomb. China was also united by new laws enforcing the same system of writing, weighing, and measuring.
In north China, farmers cut terraces on steep hillsides, to grow millet and wheat. In south China, they dug irrigation ditches and invented machines to carry water from rivers, to grow rice in flooded fields. By AD 2, the Chinese population numbered 57 million.
Around 2500 BC, Chinese farmers discovered how to rear silkworms and unwind the fine thread of their cocoons. Women wove the thread into shimmering fabric and colored it with brilliant dyes. To preserve the value of silk, the Chinese government tried to keep the processes involved in making it a secret.
When Qin Shi Huangdi died in 210 BC, his body was buried with over 7,000 life-size warriors made of terracotta (baked clay). There were also foot soldiers, horses, and chariots. The underground tomb took 700,000 slave laborers 36 years to build.
The terracotta warriors were designed to guard the emperor’s body, and serve his spirit in life after death. The tomb entrance was defended by crossbows, set to fire automatically if robbers broke in. The Chinese buried all important people with food and drink, and killed servants to care for them.