1. Confucianism: Respect for family, hardwork and education
  2. Taoism: Keeping your life simple
  3. Buddhism: Respect for other property and all life
  4. Legalism: All power to the legal ruler


                       HANDOUT OF SELECTED QUESTIONS

                       The Three Doctrines & Legalism

  1. A student knows that they are failing a class. Students from each of
     these doctrines know they will be in trouble when their parents find
     out. How do they handle this situation? (see student responses #1

  2. A student's friends smoke and are trying to get them to start. How do
     they handle this situation? (see student responses #2 below)

  7. A student sees an opportunity to take something they have really
     wanted, without being caught. How should that student act? (see student
     responses #7 below)

                              STUDENT RESPONSES
             Here are my kids answers to 3 of these questions.

                  To questions 1, 2, & 7 in handout above.

 Confucianism        Taoism             Buddhism           Legalism
 1. Inform parents.  1. Not worry about 1. Try to          1. Inform
 Apologize for not   it and hope the    improve. If they   parents, expect
 living up to        problem will       don't improve,     and accept
 standards           go away. (Taoists  accept punishment  punishment.
 expected; promise   more probably      gracefully.
 to try and do       would try to
 better              recognize why they
                     are failing, and
                     do something to
                     change their
                     behavior if it
                     would make them

 2. Inform whoever   2. Announce        2. Help them to    2. Inform the
 was smoking that    pleasantly         try and stop       principal.
 their behavior was  that smoking would smoking.
 wrong, report this  make them unhappy
 action to the       because its bad
 principal, avoid    for your health.
 these people
 until they
 corrected their
 wrong doing.

 7. Would not take   7. Would not take  7. Would not take  7. Would not
 it. It's against    it. They would     it. Respect other  take it. It's
 the rules.          have feelings      people's           against the law.
                     about it that      property.
                     might complicate
                     their life.



Legalism (Chin. :fajia) is a political philosophy dating to the Warring
States period. It was not a formal "school" of thought, but a body of
thought touching on common problematiques. Key thinkers in this tradition
were Lord Shang, who emphasized techniques for enriching the state and
strengthening the military; Li Si, who emphasized penal laws and strict
accountability; Shen Buhai, who developed techniques of bureaucratic
control; and Shen Dao, who discussed the "mystery of authority."


Lesson 6: Part 3: Ch'in Empire

Reading Assignment

Stavrianos, chapter 7; Barraclough, pages 28-29

Lesson Objectives

At the end of this part of the lesson you should be able to

* understand the ideological basis of the first Chinese empire;

* trace the process of empire-building of the Ch'in;

* discuss the political and economic reforms of Shih Huang-ti; and

* determine the legacy of Ch'in rule in Chinese history.

Key Names and Terms

Shih Huang-ti
Great Wall
book-burning edict


In this part of the lesson you will study the original Chinese empire built
by the Ch'in ruler, Shi Huang-ti, and trace his imperial career. The Ch'in
rule stood for order and dominance, but it was a thoroughly oppressive
regime. Despite its brutal totalitarianism, the Ch'in dynasty created the
first empire and imperial institutions in China that would persist for
thousands of years. First, you will see the process of the rise of the
Ch'in, the political ideology of the state, and how they unified China.
Then, you will see what kind of polity they established, and the reforms and
public works they undertook, and to what purposes. After having studied the
nature of Ch'in government and economy, you will have a look at the reasons
of their quick downfall. Finally, you will examine the impact of the Chin
dynasty on the later history of China.

Study Notes

Origins of State

The Ch'in state, with its core in the mountain-girded Wei River valley (in
modern Shensi), was originally a small, poor, outlying dependency of the
Chou feudal kingdom of China. The first among the Chinese to use the long
iron sword, the crossbow, and cavalry (instead of chariots), the Ch'in
developed a strong peasant army and constantly fought the barbarian nomads
on its frontiers. The Ch'in became a legalist state as a result of the
policies of rule instituted between 356 B.C.E. and 338 B.C.E. by the prime
minister Shang Yang, author of the Book of Lord Shang, and the founder of
Legalist thought.

Legalism and the Ch'in State

The Legalist (or Fa Chia) school of socio-political thought separated
statecraft from ethics, advocated royal tyranny and docility of the masses,
sought to make the state absolute, and was opposed to the contemporary
philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism. Legalism sought to reform political
and social institutions so that the sovereign could exert complete dominance
over all subjects through reward and punishment. This cynical and pragmatic
ideology emphasized (1) absolute royal authority over subjects, whose only
duty was to serve the state; (2) statecraft to control and utilize ministers
and people efficiently and totally; and (3) supremacy of the impersonal law
that made no discrimination and enforced correct conduct by severe
punishment. Improvement in agriculture and success in war were held to be
the twin key of a Legalist state to hegemony over others.

Soon the ruthless Legalist kingdom of Ch'in emerged as the most efficient
and regimented state of its time in East Asia. Its inhabitants were
disciplined and hard-working, its agriculture was improved by great
irrigation projects, its rule of law was stringent, its administration
rational, and its ministers and officials served the state by dint of their
merit and job performance. All intellectual dissent or political resistance
was harshly suppressed, and the pursuit of leisure, learning, entertainment,
and the arts by the people actively discouraged.

This Legalist state was divided into administrative districts. The
government was centralized and the hereditary nobles were replaced by a
bureaucracy as administrators and by the peasantry as owners of land. Being
a militaristic society, all able men who were not farmers (paying very high
revenues) were drafted into the army as conscripts; the peasantry also
served the labor gangs (in the public work undertakings) or the military
during the off-seasons.

After having built the foundation for a strong state, Shang Yang ultimately
fell out of royal favor. Although finally as a captured rebel, he perished
by the same laws he had made, his intellectual and political legacy outlived
him. Not only Legalism remained the official ideology of the Ch'in, but the
powerful Ch'in state also was in a position to embark upon a career of
gradually subjugating its neighboring kingdoms.

At first, the Ch'in conquered the fertile states in the Ch'engtu plain (in
modern Szechwan) in 316 B.C.E., and built irrigation projects on the Wei and
the upper Yangtze River valleys. Increasing considerably, in this way, its
territories and resources, the Ch'in became a front-ranking Chinese state by
the turn of the century. However, the program of conquest was accelerated
and completed toward the end of Ch'in dominance in Chinese history.

Shih Huang-ti

The greatest Ch'in ruler was Ch'eng, a megalomaniac with great ambition and
energy, who succeeded to the throne in 247 B.C.E. He appointed the Legalist
thinker Li Ssu his prime minister in 237 B.C.E., and together they made the
state powerful enough so that in 230 B.C.E. it was poised to launch
large-scale aggression to build an empire. The Chou dynasty had already
fallen in 256 B.C.E., and there remained seven contenders to the Ch'in for
the mutual war for hegemony in the region. Beginning in 230 B.C.E., the
Ch'in ruler, in a series of campaigns, crushed all his rivals, including his
strongest one, the Ch'u, in 223 B.C.E. The Ch'in unified eastern China in
221 B.C.E., and although they were soon to depart from the stage of history,
the imperial unity in China continued, without interruption, until 220 C.E.

The triumphant Ch'eng, on unifying northern China and the Yangtze plains,
became the emperor of China, declared himself the Son of Heaven, and assumed
for himself the title of Shih Huang-ti, or the First Emperor. He decreed
that since his house would last for all times to come, his successors were
to be designated not by titles but by dynastic numerals (Second Emperor,
Third Emperor, etc.). Although his own line lasted only for fifteen years,
one should note that the Western name for China was derived from the Ch'in
dynasty (the Chinese call themselves Han tsu, or "People of Han," after the
Han rulers), and that the emperors of China retained the title of Huang-ti
until imperial rule was abolished in 1912 C.E.

Ch'in Empire

Under its first emperor, as the Hsiung-nu (the forerunners of the Hun)
Empire in the north proved too powerful, imperial China sought to expand in
the south. The borders of China were extended southward by the defeat and
absorption of the kingdom of Yue in 214 B.C.E., reaching, in the process,
the Canton delta on the South China Sea and even the Red River delta in
northern Vietnam. In the north, the Ch'in Empire stretched from southern
Manchuria in the east, along the Great Wall to the Ordos bend of the Yellow
River. The empire, however, did not include Korea in the northeast, Kansu in
the northwest, Kweichow and Yunnan in the southwest, and Kiangsi and Fukien
in the southeast.

The seat of this sprawling empire was the old Ch'in capital of Hsien-yang in
the Wei River valley. It was connected by newly constructed roads and canals
to the provinces of the empire. In a splendid city dominated by the imperial
palace, the emperor ordered a lavish mausoleum for himself on nearby Mount
Li. Beside the still unexcavated royal tomb, archaeologists have unearthed,
in three huge pits, several thousand larger than life terra-cotta (hard,
reddish-brown, unglazed pottery) soldiers with horses and weapons, each
sculpted with individualized features. This elaborate ceramic army was
designed to protect the First Emperor in his afterlife.

The Great Wall

Similar extensive public works necessitated exorbitant taxation on all and
the forced conscription of millions of workers, and, according to popular
legends, many of them died to build the imperial walls and roads, canals,
and monuments. Earlier kingdoms had constructed many long, massive walls as
frontier defenses. To ward off the intrusive barbarians from the arid Inner
Mongolian steppes, the emperor rebuilt the Great Wall along the mountains of
northern China. Now Shih Huang-ti's most spectacular project was to repair
and enlarge the segments into one linked wall of stone and earth, with
fortifications, gates, and watch-towers. The wall, as it stands now, fifteen
hundred miles long, is the reconstructed and developed structure built by
the Mings in the fifteenth century. The wall, in Ch'in times, ran from
northwestern Korea westward across the upper loop of the Yellow River;
another wall ran from it across Shensi southeastward to eastern Kansu.

The Great Wall is regarded as the largest single construction project ever;
it is the only object built by humans visible from the moon. Curiously
enough, it was not very effective in preventing depredations from beyond.
Waves of armed nomads would sometimes bypass it or bribe local garrisons to
open the gates. The nomads could not be converted into settled farmers, and
after years of indecisive warfare, Shih Huang-ti discarded his policy of
expansion, and relied more on his walled frontier.

Administration and Economy

The Ch'in Empire was a centralized, totalitarian state into which the
institutions, laws, and policies of the original Ch'in state were inducted
by the emperor and his Legalist prime minister, Li Ssu. The emperor
possessed absolute power over all affairs of the state; he had all the
former princes and provincial nobles leave their estates and assemble at his
court. Thus he compelled nearly all wealthy families, nobles and merchants,
to settle in and around the capital, parceled out estates to them, and built
for them replicas of their ancestral temples. He abolished feudalism and
existing land tenures, distributing all lands of the aristocracy among the
peasants. Land henceforth could be freely bought and sold, and fallow lands
were reclaimed by extensive irrigation works. Increased grain production and
weaving of silk textiles were encouraged by the state.

The empire was divided into forty regional civil and military units or
commanderies, each under a governor, appointed on the nonhereditary basis of
loyalty and merit. The old states were broken up into smaller administrative
units so as to prevent the revival of their old power. The governors
maintained order in the commanderies, enforced laws stringently, and
extracted taxes and forced labor on behalf of the emperor; the commanderies,
in their turn, were divided into districts administered by bureaucrats. All
fortresses were destroyed and all weapons of the warriors in the countryside
were melted so as to make any possible resistance against the imperial
authority useless.

The first census in Chinese history helped the Ch'in to calculate precisely
the revenue and labor available for military campaigns and public works. In
order to maximize revenue, every single household was considered as a single
unit of tax collection. To that purpose, primogeniture (the social rule by
which the eldest son inherits the all estate and status of his deceased
father) was abolished, residence of two adult males in the same house was
forbidden, and slavery (except for minor domestic servants) was prohibited.
Also, to prevent individuals building up wealth and power through marriages,
daughters were disallowed to inherit property.

Chin Totalitarianism

The radical reforms of the Ch'in Empire were not confined to social reforms
with an economic end. In keeping with the Ch'in vision of better, stable,
and homogenous society, laws were passed, governing almost every aspect of
life. A uniform law code was instituted, in which none was privileged; the
Chinese written script, currency, weights, and measures were standardized
for the sake of a centralized administration and increased economic
activities. The common script forged a national cultural unity to an
unprecedented degree, and is used, in a modified form, even today. Highways
and canals were built for the passage of goods, and armies, and the emperor
fixed the length of the axles of the two-wheeled carts and chariots so that
their wheels would fit into the existing furrows on the roads.

The totalitarian government even sought to control the thinking of the
population: studying and writing books were proscribed, all intellectual
dissidence was suppressed. The prime minister, Li Ssu, was behind the
emperor's policies of persecuting intellectuals, especially of Confucian and
Taoist disposition. The emperor's cruelty is legendary: he is said to have
buried hundreds of scholars alive for doubting his policies. At Li Ssu's
instigation, the emperor, in 213 B.C.E., ordered all books, except those
preserved at the imperial archives, and those that were Ch'in chronicles,
Legalist texts, government records, and manuals of agriculture, trade,
technology, medicine, and divination, to be confiscated and burned. Even
criticizing the government or talking about history, literature, and
philosophy meant being put to death along with one's family. Some books were
saved as the owners memorized them before surrendering them, or hid them
away securely until the order was rescinded by the Hans in 191 B.C.E.
However, since at that age books were few and the literate class small, the
damage to learning was considerable Another disaster for the ancient Chinese
world of learning occurred in 206 B.C.E., when during the civil war, the
Ch'in imperial library, where at least one copy of all the banned books was
preserved, was itself destroyed.


The First Emperor died in 210 B.C.E. during one of his tours in the
countryside, and soon intrigues, assassinations, and struggles for
succession broke out. The alienated and oppressed scholars and peasants, who
were growing restive under the Ch'in totalitarianism, now engaged in
widespread and massive revolts. Many loyal commanders deserted, and rebel
armies converged upon the capital, burning down the imperial palace in 206
B.C.E., and forcing the third Ch'in emperor to surrender. After four more
years of chaos and civil war, a peasant leader, Liu Pang, emerged
victorious, seized the reins of power, and established the Han dynasty.

The Legacy of the Ch'in

The Ch'in dynasty, despite unifying China, has been criticized for its harsh
laws, high taxes, forced labor, and repression of disliked ideas. Although
the first emperor innovated significant reforms and brought peace to China
from raiders and bandits, his rigid and ruthless rule was very unpopular,
and his death signaled the collapse of his dynasty. Some main features of
the Ch'in administration (like centralized bureaucracy) and their social and
economic reforms (like abolition of feudalism and standardization of
currency) were continued by the milder Han rulers. In addition to the
uniform Chinese script, the most enduring and productive legacy of the Ch'in
consisted in their engineering achievements: the Great Wall, the network of
roads and canals that unified the empire, and the extensive irrigation works
that reclaimed enormous tracts of land from drought and flood. Despite the
inhumanity of his regime, Shih Huang-ti was accorded praise as a
nation-builder of vision and enterprise by Mao Tse-tung's Communist Chinese
during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

Suggested Reading

Cotterell, Arthur. The First Emperor of China, 1981.

Study Questions

1. What are the most fundamental aspects of Legalist thought? To what extent
was the Ch'in state Legalist in ideology?

2. Assess the contribution of Shih Huang-ti and Li Ssu to the Ch'in empire.

3. Discuss the political reforms and public works projects of the Ch'in.

4. Would you consider the Ch'in empire to be a totalitarian state? Justify
your answer.

5. What, in your opinion, is the significance of the Ch'in empire in Chinese

Writing Assignment

Write an essay of not fewer than four double-spaced, typed pages, comparing
the Maurya and Ch'in empires.

Remember to review their respective positions in the histories of India and
China. Explore the similarities and differences between the policies of
Ashoka and Shih Huang-ti, and between Kautilya and Li Ssu. Also compare
their two administrative systems, official ideologies, and state policies.
Draw your conclusions on the different moral natures of the two empires.

Be sure to attach submission form 6 to your assignment
before you send it to the Department of Independent Study.