The Qin Dynasty, despite its brief duration, had a long background. As early as the eighth century B.C., the state arose in the Wei Valley, where the Zhou had earlier commenced political life. The Qin simultaneously absorbed two ways of life. Over five centuries, its kings slowly expanded their domains. By 221 B.C., they had conquered all China as it then existed. What practices kings had earlier practiced over their limited domains were now put into effect throughout the Chinese empire.
The emperor of the Qin Dynasty, known as Shi Huangdi, wanted to brush away old kingdoms and establish precedent through the creation of a new imperial structure. His programs emphasized conformity and centralization. Maintaining a great bureaucracy, he divided China into many counties grouped into several dozen provinces, each with a military governor, civil administrator, and lesser supervisory officials. The emperor also shifted populations about China according to work projects and military necessity. The state maintained public works, built canals, and operated an efficient network of roads.
In his external programs, Shi Huangdi expanded China’s frontiers. In the north he consolidated earlier sections of the Great Wall into one continuous fortification. In western campaigns, the emperor contained the Huns active on China’s borders for a long time. He then expanded his borders south, where no strong peoples blocked Chinese emigration and military campaigns. By 214 B.C., Qin troops had penetrated into northern and central Vietnamese coastal and valley areas. Their action foreshadowed almost twenty-two centuries of Chinese overriding interest or involvement in the southern neighbor.
Although Shi Huangdi had believed that his empire would last for ten thousand generations, it died with him. In the succession struggles that ensued, he was killed, and a new dynasty assumed the mandate of heaven.