Education About Asia: Online Archives

The Contingency of China’s Imperial Unity: Assassins Attack the First King of Qin

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Four films made recently in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) dwell on the circumstances of China’s creation as a unified imperial state during the third century BCE. As the instructor of a one-semester Chinese history introductory survey of the imperial period (221 BCE to 1911 CE), I use the films to introduce the course and raise questions about state power, unity, and legiti acy in early Chinese history. Supplemented by two short reading assignments, the films orient students within the vast panorama of Chinese history by zooming in on a single colorful character, King Ying Zheng of Qin, whose conquests of other kingdoms ended a five-century “Warring States” period and allowed him to declare himself the “First Emperor” of a glorious new dynasty that would rule “all under Heaven” for “ten thousand generations.”