There are so many kings and emperors in Chinese history that it is impossible to acquire a detailed knowledge of them all. Even the Chinese themselves find it hard to do that. For a foreign visitor to China, there is one emperor you should know. If you don't, you will be considered to be as ignorant of Napoleon Bonaparte of France or George Washington of America. You came across his name in "BOOK I Legend". He is none other than Qinshihuang. Also called the "Ancestral Long". In China he is known to every household.
Qinshihuang (256B.C.-210B.C.), monarch of the State of Qin of the Warring States Period, ascended the throne at the age of thirteen, and took over the reins of government at twenty-one. During his reign, he succeeded in putting down internal rebellions, and, externally, waged wars for unification on the other six states. It took him only ten years to wipe them out, thus putting an end to the state of chaos caused by rival principalities. This was followed by the founding of a unified centralized state, Qin. The state was divided into thirty-six prefectures with counties under their jurisdiction. Centralized leadership was strengthened, and laws, the system of weights and measures, the monetary system and the writing system were standardized. Besides, he promoted land communication, and hence the development of economy and culture. In order to resist external invasion, he had a great wall built. Qinshihuang thus became the founder of the first unified feudal dynsty in Chinese history.
To reinforce his rule, Qinshihuang practiced autocracy, imposing harsh laws and severe punishments and heavy levies and corves upon his people. Moreover, he levied war year after year and thus caused untold sufferings to the people. It is said that in 210B.C. a man, holding a round flat piece of jade in his hands, declared in the street, "The Ancestral Long will die this year." The Ancestral Long referred to the first emperor, i.e. Qinshihuang. Not long after the emperor's death, there broke out a large-scale popular uprising, and the Qin Dynasty perished in its wake.
Qinshihuang, though on the throne for a short time, had a tremendous in fluence on the Chinese nation. He laid the foundation stone for a unified Chinese nation, and is called by posterity "An Emperor of Myriads of Ages".
If you want to know what exploits he performed, go and see the Great Wall. If you want to know how imperious and self-indulgent he was, go and see the clay figures of warriors and horses buried with him in Xi'an.
There is another emperor of far-reaching influence in Chinese history, who is known as Hanwudi.
An outstanding statesman in Chinese history, Hanwudi (156B.C.-87B.C.) was one of the emperors of the Western Han Dynasty. In order to consolidate his rule, he proscribed all non-Confucian schools of thought and espoused Confucianism as the state ideology, thus pushing Confucius up into the orthodox position. If we say that Qinshihuang was the first emperor who unified China in terms of territory, then the first emperor who unified China in terms of ideology was none other than Hanwudi. For two thousand years thereafter, Confucianism had been the only one dominant school of thought under Heaven. From this one can well imagine just how great an influence Hanwudi had exerted in Chinese history.
While unifying the state ideology, Hanwudi strengthened the centralize state power and weakened local forces. He dispatched troops to attack aristocrats of the Huns, and twice sent Zhang Qian (?-114B.C.), Reception Chief of the Han court, as an envoy to the Western Regions to open the Silk Road and promote economic and cultural exchanges with the west.
Tangtaizong (599-649), named Li Shimin, was the second son of Li Yuan, the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Prior to the Tang Dynasty was the Sui Dynasty (581-618). In the last years of the Sui Dynasty, there was a state of great disturbance, and peasant uprisings broke out one after another. Li Shimin persuaded his father to revolt against the Sui regime. Later Li Yuan proclaimed himself emperor and founded the Tang Dynasty. Li Shimin led his troops putting down the feudal separatist forces across the country and seized the right of succession to the throne from his brother. Having learned a lesson from the downfall of the Sui Dynasty, he, during his reign, determined to bring great order to the country. Starting with political reconstruction of the state, he gave first priority to appointing people on their merits and seeking advice from able and worthy men, and worked out various systems and decrees favorable to the development of economy. He also advocated frugality, opposed corruption, and lightened the burden on the people. Before long the Tang Empire presented a scene of general prosperity in which people lived and worked in such peace and contentment that no one would take any articles left by the wayside and doors were not bolted at night.
After the domestic political and economic situation took favorable turn, Emperor Taizong confidently started wars to unify border areas. He properly handled his relations with various nationalities by carrying out enlightened policies towards them, keeping their practices and customs unchanged, and appointing the former leaders there is local officials. Besides, he adopted the policy of cementing relations with rulers of minority nationalities in border areas by marrying daughters of the Han imperial family to them, which he did many times. At that time, the Tufan nationality, the ancestry of the Tibetan nationality, inhabited the Tibetan Plateau. Its leader Srong-brtosan-sgam-po (c.608-650), who admired the high fame of Emperor Taizong and the advanced economy and culture of the Tang Empire, sent envoys to establish contact with the Tang court in 634. in 640, he sent envoys to the Tang court again with gold and jewellery, hoping to form an alliance by marriage. Emperor Taizong consented and married Princess Wen Cheng, a daughter of the imperial family to him.
The unification and stability in border areas and the close relations among various nationalities helped promote economic and technical interchange between the Han nationality and minority nationalities. Furthermore, political, economic and cultural contacts between the Tang Empire and foreign countries became more and more frequent. Diplomatic envoys, merchants, scholars, artists, monks and priests from Asia, Europe and Africa came to visit the Tang Empire constantly. Emperor Taizong set up special organizations and accommodations to receive them, and allowed them to stay over a long period of time and to marry Tang women. By means of exchange, a lot of strains of plants such as pepper, spinach, cardamom, tulip, etc. were brought to China in succession, and China's silk, porcelain, tea and paper were sold abroad in large quantities. It was also at this time that the paper-making technology, one of China's "Four Great Inventions", was introduced to foreign countries. Meanwhile, a large number of people of the Tang Empire visited other countries all over the world. It was from this time on that overseas Chinese began to be called "Tangren", i.e. Tang people.
Emperor Taizong ruled for twenty-three years and brought about the most prominent era of peace and prosperity in China's feudal society. For this, he is considered to be one of the most outstanding figures among China's feudal emperors.
Songtaizu (927-976), the founder of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), ascended the throne in 960. he countered the then separatist regimes with a strategy of destroying them one by one, and thus defeated his opponents one after another. In order to strengthen the centralization of state authority, he weakened the power of military commanders over armed forces, replaced military officers with civil officials to control local administration, sent special envoys to take charge of local finance, and decentralized the power of the prime minister. Having consolidated his political power, he undertook new water conservancy projects, encouraged people to open up wasteland and developed economy. His political line helped strengthen his rule over the state and ended the phase of tangled warfare and feudal separation. His policies of regarding polite letters as superior to martial arts and laying stress on guarding against internal strife served to adjust the relations between the central and local authorities and between the emperor and his subjects, and concentrate the administrative, financial and military power in the central government and eventually in the hands of the emperor himself. On the other hand, he held imperial examinations to select talented people so as to expand to the maximum the foundation of his autocratic rule, and finally set up a tall, stable and pyramid-like feudal hierarchy which enabled the Song Dynasty to last for more than ten generations.