So, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, is one of my favorite people in the world. Definitely top five. Here’s why:
Qin Shi Huang unified China after the Warring States Period in 221 BC. Before that, he was king of the state of Qin, in western China. Among his achievements, were standardizing the currency, weights, measures, and the Chinese Script. He was also said to have rejected the past, and ordered mass book burnings (not cool). Despite being a heavily bureaucratic government, they did improve transportation and the military.
Shi Huang built the Great Wall of China, which was later reconstructed and expanded during the Ming dynasty. Not much of the original portion remains. He is also famous for his city sized mausoleum and the terracotta army.
Qin Shi Huang’s greatest fear was death and as a result, he was obsessed with the thought of immortality. He even sent out a fleet of ships in search of a 1000 year old magician named Angi Sheng, who he had met in his travels, and had the elixer of life. The fleets never returned and legend says these people went on the colonize Japan. Some scholars believe that when he had ordered the book burnings and, it was to focus them on their quest for the elixer of life, and the scholars that were killed (roughly 460) were those that had failed him. It was rumored that Shi Huang’s death was due to mercury poisoning, because it was thought ingesting mercury would cause immortality. He was also deathly afraid of evil spirits, and had underground tunnels built so he could travel unseen by these spirits.
The emperor died during a tour of Eastern China, but it was kept secret out of fear of an uprising. His Prime Minister, Li Si, who was accompanying him at the time, ordered carts of rotten fish to be carried before and after the Imperial wagon to disguise the stench of decaying corpse. They even changed his clothes every day, and pulled down the shades so no one could see his face.
Despite all he accomplished and his later influence, the Qin dynasty only lasted 14 years, falling 3 years after Shi Huang’s death in 210 BC.
Book recommendations for reading challenges: