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The Origins of Imperial China (221 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.). Ster Finley AP World History Seminar Period 2. Table of Contents. Geography Politics Economics Religion Social Organization Intellectual Aspects Summary Key Terms.

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The origins of imperial china 221 b c e 220 c e

The Origins of Imperial China(221 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.)

Ster Finley

AP World History Seminar

Period 2

Table of contents
Table of Contents

  • Geography

  • Politics

  • Economics

  • Religion

  • Social Organization

  • Intellectual Aspects

  • Summary

  • Key Terms

Note- Key Chapter phrases, issues, and ideas are in bold. Key terms are underlined


Table of Contents


  • Chinese empires were located in the same general area as early Chinese societies: East and Southeast Asia

  • The Qin state took over, followed by the Han, and extended control over all of eastern China and extensive territories to the West

  • Northern plain and the Yang zi River Valley were united under the Qin, the first Chinese empire

  • Han people preferred regions suitable for the kind of agriculture they had practiced in the eastern river valleys, pushing nomadic populations out of the northern frontier


Table of Contents


  • Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 B.C.E.)

    • Shi Huangdi (First Emperor) unified Ancient Chinese states

    • The main tax (% of annual harvest) funded luxurious lifestyles of the royal court, military units, and daily tasks of officials

    • Government periodically conducted a census of inhabitants

    • Imposed standard weights, measures, coinage, uniform law code, and a common system of writing

    • Qin rule did not last long, and were replaced by the Han people around 206 B.C.E.

    • Population was centered around the North China Plain and the Yellow River Valley

    • Shi Huangdi created a totalitarian structure that subordinated the individual to the needs of the state

  • Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.)

    • Established by Liu Bang, who may have been born a peasant

    • Hanrule maintained political system of Qin

    • By Han, population centered around Yang zi river

    • Like Romans, government depended on a large population of free peasants to contribute taxes and services to the state

    • Han Chinese people were the main population, and expanded at the expense of other ethnic groups

    • Han dynasty expanded using military force


Table of Contents


  • Agriculture produced the wealth and taxes that supported the institutions of imperial China

  • Chinese capitals Chang’an and Luoyang had large populations to support

  • As intensive agriculture spread in the Yangzi Valley, the need to transport southern crops to the north spurred construction of canals to connect Yangzi and Yellow rivers

  • During prosperous times, the government collected and stores surplus grain that could be sold at reasonable prices in times of shortage

  • In the intervals between seasonal agricultural tasks, every able-bodied man donated one month of labor a year to public works projects

  • Han people preferred regions suitable for the kind of agriculture they had practiced in the eastern river valleys

  • China’s most important export commodity was silk


Table of Contents


  • Both Qin and Han people followed hierarchical structure of Confucianism

  • Like early Romans, the Chinese believed that divinity resided within nature rather than outside and above it, and they worshipped and tried to appease the forces of nature

  • Feng Shui, astrological rituals, and shrines to the nature spirits were common elements of religion

  • Mandate of Heaven still applied, with the emperor being the Son of Heaven

Social organization

Table of Contents

Social Organization

  • Qin applied stringent rules of Legalism, Han balanced it out with Confucianism

  • As the Han Chinese expanded into new regions, they took along their social organization

  • Basic unit of society was still the family (living generations and ancestors)

  • Family was living, self-renewing organism

  • Role of women is hard to pinpoint, but Confucian ethics stressed impropriety of women participating in public life

  • Under Confucianism, people saw themselves as part of an interdependent unit rather than as individual agents

  • Each person had a place and responsibilities within the family hierarchy, based on his gender, age, and relationship to other family members

  • As part of their strategy to weaken the rural aristocrats and exclude them from political posts, the Qin and Han emperors allied themselves with the gentry- the class next in wealth below the aristocrats.

  • The Gentry was made up of moderately prosperous landowners, usually men with education and valued expertise much like the Roman equites

Intellectual aspects

Table of Contents

Intellectual Aspects

  • Chinese tradition recognized the importance of technology for the success and spread of Chinese civilization, crediting legendary rulers of the distant past with the introduction of major technologies

  • The advent of bronze tools around 1500 B.C.E. helped clear the forests and open land for agriculture on the North China Plain

  • In the succeeding centuries, the crossbow and the use of cavalry helped the Chinese military repel nomads from the steppe regions.

  • The Qin began and the Han rulers continued an extensive program of road building

  • Population growth and increasing trade gave rise to local market centers

  • For a long time the fact that silk cocoons are secreted onto the leaves of mulberry trees by silkworms was a closely guarded secret that gave the Chinese a monopoly on the manufacture of silk


Table of Contents


  • The Qin Empire emerged rapidly because many of the elements for unification were already in place. Shi Huangdi looked back to the precedents of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. The Qin applied strict legalism, while the Han balanced it with Confucianism. Large armies maintained social order and defended the frontiers. An administrative bureaucracy staffed by educated civil servants kept records and collected taxes to support the military and government. China eventually succumbed to a combination of external pressures and internal divisions, however its imperial tradition and the class structure were eventually restored and lasted to the 20th Century B.C.E.

Key terms

Table of Contents

Key Terms

  • Qin-one of the Warring states located in the Wei Valley, which took over all of China and established the first empire in 221 B.C.E.

  • Shi Huangdi- founder of the Qin Empire

  • Han- the dynasty succeeding the Qin, which ruled china from 206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.

  • Chang’an- China’s first capital city, which had an immense population to support

  • Gentry- the class in wealth below the aristocrats, closely aligned with the emperors as part of a strategy to weaken the rural aristocrats