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The Great Wall of China
(Vạn Lý Trường Thành)


The early wall construction is attributed to the first emperor of China, Tần Thủy Hoàng, who conquered the other states and unified China in 221 BC.

Tần Thủy Hoàng (259-210 BC) was an extraordinary man, a giant in his times, and it would be rash to deny him any of the supernatural powers with which he is credited. He understood the dynamics of power. He built an empire that lasted two millennia (221-210 BC), and a Wall that streches for thousands of miles. Those are not an ordinary mortal's accomplishments. Although the dynasty fell apart four years after his death, many aspects of its system of government endured in imperial China for more than 2,000 years.

Tần Thủy Hoàng was born Qin Zheng in Qin, a state in northern China. At age 13, he succeeded his father, Qin Zichu, king of Zhuang Xiang, as ruler of the Qin state and took the title King Zheng (sometimes spelled Cheng). At the time he ascended the throne, Qin was the strongest of China's seven so-called Warring States, which were remnants of the Zhou (Chou) dynasty, a feudal regime that ruled China from around 1027 BC until 256 BC. Over the centuries, nobles had become rulers of independent kingdoms and had taken up arms against one another. Beginning in the 4th century BC, the Qin rulers who preceded King Zheng implemented reforms designed to strengthen the government of the Qin state. Military and administrative appointments, which had previously been determined by noble birth, were now decided by merit. Farmers, no longer enslaved servants, were allowed to own their land, and production increased. The Qin government strictly enforced laws issued by the rulers, and for this reason it is often described as Legalist.

Although King Zheng had ascended the throne in 247 BC, officials from his father's government continued to rule the Qin state until Zheng was declared of age in 238 BC. Upon assuming control, Zheng began planning the conquest of the other six states. In 230 BC Qin defeated Han, the weakest of the states, and within nine years it had conquered the others.

In 221 BC King Zheng, having completed the unification of China by military force, proclaimed himself Qin Shihuangdi/Tần Thủy Hoàng Ðế (First Qin Emperor). As the first ruler to govern a truly unified China, Qin Shihuangdi imposed an extraordinary series of measures designed to reinforce the authority of the central government. A new system replaced feudal kingdoms with 36 (later 42) jun (provinces) that were run by appointed officials. To facilitate trade and communication, the government standardized weights and measurements and created a uniform writing system for the Chinese language. The regime maintained tight control over information by destroying books or removing them from circulation (books about agriculture, divination, and medicine were exceptions), and by putting hundreds of dissenting scholars to death. The government also built an extensive network of new roads and canals to improve communication and transportation. To protect China's northern frontier, the government constructed fortifications, thereby creating a precedent for the later network of walls that became known as the Great Wall (Vạn Lý Trường Thành).

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