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The Faults of the Qin Dynasty I

Yi Jia 1 (200 B.C.-168 B.C.)

    King Xiao of the State of Qin occupied the stronghold of Han-gu Gate and the lands of the State of Yong. He defended his territory tenaciously with his generals as he waited for the opportunity to overthrow the Zhou Empire. King Xiao wanted to roll up the lands under heaven like a mat 2, conquer the world, sweep up the four seas, and annex all the surrounding wastelands. He was assisted by his prime minister, Shang. Within the State of Qin, they established the law, devoted themselves to farming and weaving, and built up defensive infrastructure. Their foreign policy was based on the Horizontal Alliance 3: they made the kings of other states distrust each other. In this way the State of Qin easily obtained the lands west of the Yellow River.

    After King Xiao died, King Hui and King Wu inherited his legacy and followed his will. In the south, they acquired Han-zhong 4. In the west, they captured the States of Ba and Shu. In the east, Qin obtained the fertile lands of the State of Wei and occupied its strategic points. The kings of the other six states in China now feared the State of Qin. These six states signed the treaty of alliance and strove to weaken Qin. They were willing to give up their treasure and fertile lands in order to recruit talented people who could resist Qin's aggression by establishing the Vertical Alliance 5 to unite the six states. At that time, there was Sir Meng-chang 6 in the State of Qi, Sir Ping-yuan 7 in the State of Zhao, Sir Chun-shen 8 in the State of Chu, and Sir Xin-ling 9 in the State of Wei. These four prime ministers were wise, kind, considerate, and trustworthy. They respected wise men and put talented people in important positions. They broke the Horizontal Alliance and established the Vertical Alliance. They gathered the troops of the States of Han, Wei, Yan, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Song, Wei 10, and Zhong-shen 11, and built a united army. In these nine states of China, there were politicians like Yue Ning 12, Shang Xu 13, Qin Su 14, and He Du 15 to design their strategies. There were diplomats like Ming Qi 16, Zui Zhou 17, Zhen Chen 18, Hua Zhao 19, Huan Lou 20, Jing Zhe 21, Li Su 22, and Yi Yue 23 to exchange opinions about strengthening their alliance. There were great generals like Qi Wu 24, Bin Sun 25, Tuo Dai 26, Liang Ni, Liao Wang 27, Ji Tian 28, Po Lian 29, and She Zhao 30 to command their troops. In 318 B.C., the States of Yan, Han, Zhou, Wei, Qi, and other smaller states, had lands ten times as large as those of the State of Qin and a united forces of a million soldiers. They attacked Qin's Han-gu Gate. Qin's army opened the gate to meet them head-on. The troops of the nine states lost their confidence, and fearing the onslaught, fled. Qinís army did not shoot a single arrow; the troops of the nine states defeated themselves. Consequently, the Vertical Alliance disintegrated. The nine states competed to cede their territory to bribe Qin. This appeasement allowed Qin to have the strength to chase the fleeing troops. In the end, Qin's army killed a million soldiers. Shields floated in a sea of blood. Qin took advantage of this opportunity to bully all the states in China. The strong states surrendered and the weak ones submitted to being made vassal states. Qin continued to enjoy its superpower status through the reigns of six kings 31. However, the last two kings, Xiao-wen and Zhuang-xiang, enjoyed their emperorship for so short a period that Qin did not have time to expand its territory 32. Therefore, during the reigns of these last two kings, China was temporarily at peace.

    After King Zheng 33 inherited the throne, he continued to enjoy the remaining prestige of the six kings and cracked his long whip to control China. He annexed the two States of Zhou 34, conquered China's other states 35, and declared himself Emperor of China. He carried a scepter and a sword to cudgel people. His might shook the Four Seas. In the south, after his troops captured Bo-yue 36, he divided the region into two counties: Gui-lin and Xiang. The kings of Bo-yue became captives and entrusted their lives to their jailers. Then Emperor Zheng ordered General Tian Meng to build the Great Wall to defend Qin's territory 37. General Meng forced the Huns to move 200 miles to the north. The Huns did not dare come south to pasture their horses. Their soldiers did not dare bend their bows to take revenge. Power made Emperor Zheng so arrogant that he abolished the doctrines of great emperors, and burned all the philosophy books in order to keep people ignorant 38. Furthermore, he destroyed strongholds and killed talented people. After confiscating all the weapons from the common people in China, his guards gathered them in Xian-yang City, and melted the sharp blades to weaken the peopleís armed might, and to provide enough metal for twelve bronze statues. Then the emperor built his capital on Hua Mountain and used the Yellow River as his moat. Given the city's elevation and the moatís depth, his defense could be considered very strong. Experienced generals and strong bows garrisoned strategic points. Loyal guards and crack troops displayed their powerful weapons. Who would dare fight against them? After conquering China, Emperor Zheng believed that the mountain passes around the capital 39 were as good a defense as a gold wall a thousand miles long, and that his dynasty would last countless generations.

    After Emperor Zheng died, his remaining prestige still shook the neighboring countries. In contrast, She Chen 40 was a farmer's helper and the son of a man who used a broken pottery container as his window and grass ropes as his door hinges. Chen was also a criminal who was sentenced to a remote border to serve as a soldier. His talent was below average. He had neither the wisdom of Confucius and Di Mo 41, nor the wealth of Zhu Tao 42 and Dun Yi 43. Chen joined the army and rose from humble beginnings to lead a few hundred fatigued soldiers in revolt against Qinís troops. Chen's forces cut trees to make their weapons, and used their poles as flags. Then all the people in China gathered to respond to their call, carrying food and following them like their shadows. The heroes of Mountain East 44 all rose in revolt and destroyed the Qin dynasty.

    Under Qinís rule, China was neither small nor weak. The defense of Han-gu gate and the State of Yong remained strong. The social status of She Chen was not as respected as that of the Kings of Qi, Chu, Yan, Zhou, Han, Wei, Song, Wei, or Zhong-shan. The handle of a hoe or rake is not as sharp as a lance or spear. A group of exiled soldiers 45 could not have competed with the united force of the nine states. The strategy and deployment of Chen's force were not as good as those of the armies of the above states. However, Chen's force led to the demise of the Qin dynasty, whereas the nine states had been destroyed by Qin. If we compare the military power of Chenís force with that of the states of Mountain East, the two cannot be mentioned in the same breath. However, Qin, which originally occupied merely one state of China, was able to conquer China and force the other eight states 46 to pay homage to it within little more than one hundred years. The Six States became its home and Han-gu Gate its palace. Later, only one man rebelled, but the result was that Qin's ancestral temples 47 collapsed, and the emperor was killed and became the laughingstock of China. Why? This was because Qin's policy was not based in virtue and morality. This failure caused Qin to switch from an offensive stance to a defensive one.




1 Yi Jia was a native of Lo-yang City during the Western-Han dynasty. When he was young, he mastered all schools of philosophy. When he was in his twenties, Emperor Wen gave him the position of "Learned Scholar". A little more than a year's time, he was promoted to be an advisor of the emperor. In that role, he proposed the following to Emperor Wen in a letter:
"First, after a new emperor inherited the throne, he should choose a name to represent the years of his reign. Second, the colors of clothing should be assigned to represent oneís rank. Third, the government should establish the codes of law. Fourth, the government should popularize rites and music."
Emperor Wen desired to break a rule to promote Jia, but met with opposition from the powerful generals, Bo Zhou and Ying Guan. In 176 B.C., Yi Jia was demoted to be the tutor of the King of Chang-Sha. When he crossed the Xiang River, it reminded him that Yuan Qu was wise but was sent into exile. Their similar suffering motivated him to write a famous poem to mourn Qu. In less than two years, Emperor Wen summoned him back to the palace and appointed him to be the tutor of King Huai of Liang. In June 169 B.C., King Huai fell from a horse and died. Yi Jia thought he was responsible for the king's death, so he often wept sadly. Gradually, he became sick. In 168 B.C., Jia died at the age of thirty-three.

2 This phrase says that he wished he could conquer the world as easily as rolling up a mat.

3 Qin was in the west of China, while the other six states of China were in the east. Any alliance between Qin and one of the other six states was called a Horizontal Alliance.

4 Han-zhong included present day southern Shaanxi Province and northern Hubei Province. In 312 B.C., Qin defeated the State of Chu. The land that Qin acquired from Chu was established as Han-zhong County.

5 The other six states in China extended from north to south. The six states signed a treaty of alliance to resist Qin's aggression. This alliance was called the Vertical Alliance.

6 Sir Meng-chang, Wen Tian, was the grandson of King Wei of the State of Qi and the son of Ying Tian, the Duke of Jing-guo. Sir Meng-chang was the prime minister of the State of Qi and was granted feudal lands in Pi. He provided food and housing for 3000 retainers.

7 Sir Ping-yuan (flat land), Sheng Zhao, was the son of King Wu-ling of the State of Zhao and the brother of King Hui-wen. He was prime minister for King Hui-wen and King Xiao-cheng, and was granted feudal land in Flat Land. He was very hospitable and provided food and housing for several thousand retainers.

8 Sir Chun-shen, Xie Huang, had been the prime minister of the State of Chu for more than twenty years. He was granted feudal lands in Chun-shen. He provided food and housing for more than 3000 retainers.

9 Sir Xin-ling, Wu-ji, was the youngest son of King Zhao of the State of Wei. He treated talented scholars with due honor, and provided food and housing for 3000 retainers.

10 There were two different states whose names sounded the same.

11 Han, Wei, Yan, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Song, Wei, and Zhong-shen were names of states. All the kings of Han, Wei, Yan, Wei, and Zhong-shan had the same surname, Ji. Han first established its capital at Ping-yang (Lin-fen City of Shanxi Province). Later, they moved it to Zheng (Xin-zheng City of Henan Province). Wei initially established its capital at An-yi (Xia City of Shanxi Province). Later, they moved it to Da-liang (Kai-feng City of Henan Province). The capital of Yan was Ji (Ji City of Hebei Province); the capital of Wei was Di-qiu (Pu-yang City of Hebei Province); the capital of Zhong-shan was present day Ding County of Hebei Province. The surname of the kings of Zhao was Zhao. The capital of Zhao was Han-dan (Han-dan City of Hebei Province). The surname of the kings of Qi was Tian. The capital of Qi was Lin-zi (Lin-zi City of Shandong Province). The surname of the kings of Chu was Qian. The capital of Chu was Ying (Jiang-ling City of Hubei Province). The surname of the kings of Song was Zi. The capital of Song was Shang-qiu (Shang-qiu City of Henan Province).

12 Yue Ning was from Zhong-mou City in the State of Zhao.

13 Shang Xu was a native of the State of Song.

14 Qin Su was from Lo-yang City in the State of East Zhou. He studied with Master Gui-gu (the Man from the Ghost Valley). During King Xian's reign, he traveled throughout the Six States to persuade their kings to establish the Vertical Alliance, the purpose of which was to unite the Six States to resist Qin's aggression. Later, Su became the leader of the Vertical Alliance and carried the prime ministerís seals of the Six States. The King of the State of Zhao made him Duke of Wu-an.

15 He Du was from the State of Zhou. He presented a proposal for national security to King Zhao-wen.

16 Ming Qi was an official of the State of East Zhou. Later, he became an official of the State of Han, then of the State of Chu.

17 Zhui Zhou was the son of King Cheng of the State of East Zhou. He was originally an ambassador to the State of Qin and later served the King of the State of Qi.

18 Zhen Chen was a native of the State of Xia. He was first an official of the State of Qin, then became an official of the State of Chu. He Advised King Huai not to be greedy for Qinís land. However, the king did not follow his advice and was at last deceived by Qin.

19 Hua Zhao was a native of the State of Chu. The King of Chu ordered him to be his ambassador to the State of Yue.

20 Huan Lou was the prime minister of the State of Wei and later became the prime minister of the State of Qin.

21 Nian-sun Wang says that Jing Zhe was the prime minister of the State of Wei. He was mentioned as Qiang Zhe in The History of the State of Wei. However, Yu-sheng Liang suspects that Jing Zhe was Zhang Zhe in The History of the State of Zhao. No one is certain whose opinion is correct.

22 Li Su was the younger brother of Qin Su and an official of the State of Qi.

23 Yi Yue was from Ling-shou City of the State of Wei. He served King Zhao of the State of Yan as a deputy minister. Later, he was promoted to army commander. He led the united forces of the States of Zhao, Han, Wei, and Yan in their attack on the State of Qi, and captured more than seventy cities.

24 Qi Wu was a native of the State of Wei. He was well versed in military tactics. He first served the State of Lu. Later, he became the general of King Wen of Wei. He defended the land west of the Yellow River so that the State of Qin would not dare invade eastward. During King Wu's reign, he was defamed and fled to the State of Chu. King Dao of Chu appointed him to be his prime minister. After King Dao died, his maternal relatives, who hated Wu, had him killed.

25 Bin Sun was a native of the State of Qi. He was the descendent of the military expert, Wu Sun. He and Juan Pang studied with Master Gui-gu. Later, Pang became a general of the State of Wei. He was jealous of Sun's talent, so he summoned Sun to Wei and amputated his feet. The King of Qi sent people to bring Sun to Qi and appointed him to be his general. Before long Sun defeated Pang at Ma-ling City and shot him to death.

26 Tuo Dai was a general of the State of Chu.

27 Liao Wang rose to power before Liang Ni did. Both of them were well versed in military tactics. For their stories, see LŁ's Spring-fall.

28 Ji Tian was a general of the State of Qi. His troops attacked and defeated the State of Wei three times.

29 Po Lian was a famous general of the State of Zhao. During King Hui-wenís reign, Lian led his troops in an attack on the State of Qin and defeated them soundly.

30 She Zhao was a general of the State of Zhao. His army inflicted great damage to the troops of the State of Qin. The military achievement made him Duke of Ma-fu.

31 The six kings refer to Xiao, Hui-wen, Wu, Zhao-xiang, Xiao-wen and Zhuang-xiang.

32 The reign of King Xiao-wen, the son of King Zhao-xiang, lasted one year. The reign of Zhuang-xiang, the son of King Xiao-wen, lasted four years.

33 Emperor Zheng was the son of King Zhuang-xiang. In 221 B.C., King Zheng unified China. He considered himself as virtuous as the Three Mythical Emperors (Fu-xi, Shen-nong, and Emperor Huang) and thought that he contributed more to China than the Five Legendary Emperors in prehistoric China (Tai-hao, Emperor Yan, Emperor Huang, Shao-hao, Zhuan-xu). Therefore, he declared himself Emperor I of China and abolished the old system that assigned a proper posthumous name for an emperor based on his work. He hoped that his descendants would inherit the throne for countless generations.

34 Emperor Kao of the Zhou dynasty offered his younger brother, King Huan, the land of Henan (northeast of present day Lo-yang City). During Emperor Nanís reign, King Hui, the grandson of King Huan, made his eldest son the King of the State of West-Zhou, whose capital was Lo-yang City, and made his youngest son the King of the State of East-Zhou, whose capital was Gong City. In 255 B.C., King Zhao-xiang of the State of Qin destroyed West-Zhou. In 249 B.C., King Zhuang-xiang of Qin destroyed East-Zhou. Therefore, the destruction of the two States of Zhou did not occur during Emperor Zhengís reign.

35 Emperor Zheng conquered the state of Han in 233 B.C., Zhao in 231 B.C., Wei in 227 B.C., Chu in 226 B.C., Yan in 225 B.C., and Qi in 224 B.C..

36 Bo-yue included an area currently occupied by Vietnam and the following Chinese Provinces: Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, and Guangxi. Bo-yue was the place where the Yue people lived. Because the Yue people were divided into many nationalities, Chinese called them Bo-yue (Bo means hundred). In 214 B.C., Qin's army captured the lands of Bo-yue, Lu-liang, etc al., and divided the reign into Gui-lin (forest of laurel trees) and Xiang (elephant) Counties. Gui-lin County included the northern part of present day Guangxi Province. Xiang County included the southwestern part of present day Guangdong Province, the southern part of present day Guangxi Province, and all of present day Vietnam.

37 In 214 B.C., General Tian Meng led 300,000 soldiers to expel the Huns to the north, and recover formerly held lands south of the Yellow River. After accomplishing this mission, he divided the recovered region into forty-four cities. In 213 B.C., Emperor Zheng ordered General Meng to build the Great Wall.

38 In 213 B.C., Emperor Zheng ordered the Official Historian to burn all the Chinese history books except those about the Qin dynasty. This was because the emperor believed that history only inspired scholars to criticize government policies. He also decreed, "Anyone who does not have a position of 'Great Scholar', but has books must report them to the royal guards; the guards must collect and burn them."

39 "The mountain passes around the capital" refer to Han-gu Gate in the east, Wu Gate in the south, San Gate in the west, and Xiao Gate in the north.

40 She Chen, a.k.a. Sheng, was a native of Yang City during the Qin dynasty. He was a farmer's helper, but was ambitious when he was young. In July 209 B.C., he was ordered to report to Yu-yang City (Mi-yun [dense clouds] County in Hebei Province) to serve as a lieutenant whose mission was cultivating wasteland. He had to report there before a certain date. Otherwise, he would be sentenced to death. However, when he arrived at Do-ze (great lake) Village, he encountered a rain storm. The road was closed. He thought he would definitely miss the due date. Therefore, he, Guang Wu, and other soldiers rose in revolt against Qin. In order to recruit the old elite troops of the extinct State of Chu, he changed his name to "Zhang-chu (Zhang means expand)".

41 Di Mo was a philosopher of the State of Song during the Warring States Period. He promoted "love without distinction".

42 Zhu Tao was Li Fan from the State of Yue during the Spring-fall period. After he helped King Gou-jian of Yue destroy the State of Wu, Fan went into business in Tao City (northwest of present day Fei-cheng County in Shandong Province). He also changed his name and called himself Mr. Zhu Tao.

43 Dun Yi was originally a poor scholar from the State of Lu during the Spring-fall Period. He studied economics with Zhu Tao. Then he went to Yi-shi (shi means family) County (present day An-ze County in Shanxi Province) and pastured cattle. Within ten years, his wealth could compete with a kingís.

44 Qin's old base was to the west of Hua Mountain. Therefore, people called "the Six States to the east of Hua Mountain" Mountain East. "The heroes of Mountain East" refers to the old generals of the six extinct states.

45 Due to their crimes, they were exiled and became border guards. Consequently, they were called exiled soldiers.

46 Yu-gong (Yu's Taxes), the most ancient Chinese geography book, says, "Emperor Yu divided China into nine states: Yong (Northern part of Shaanxi Province, northwestern part of Gansu Province, and all of Qinghai Province), Yan (part of Shandong and He-bei Provinces), Ji (part of Hebei and Shanxi Provinces, the part of Henan Province north of the Yellow River, and the part of Liaoling Province west of the Liao River), Qing (part of Shandong Province), Hsu (Hsu City of Jiangsu province, Yan City of Shandong Province, as well as Su and Si Counties of Anhui Province), You, Yang (part of Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Fujian Provinces), and Jing (all of Hunan and Hubei Provinces, Zun-yi and Chong-qing Cities of Sichuan Province, Si-nan and Shi-qian, Tong-ren, Si Cities of Guizhou Province, Quan County of Guangxi Province, and Lian and Lian-shan Counties of Guangdong Province)."

47 The chapter titled "The Royal System" in Protocols says, "An emperor must build ancestral temples. The temple of the emperor who founded the dynasty is in the center. The temples of Emperor II, IV, VI, ľ (even numbers) are to its left; the temples of Emperor III, V, VII, ľ (odd numbers) are to its right."