Qin Shi Huangdi, named Ying Zheng, also known as Emperor Qin Shi Huang (c. 259 - 210 BCE), was the first emperor of China. Before becoming the Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang was the prince of the Qin state, before eventually succeeding his father as king. He managed to take advantage of the Warring State Period to seize control and became the first king to eventually unify and rule over the whole nation of China. The title Huangdi was created by him after he managed to unify China. “Huang” came from “San Huang” (The legendary three emperors), while “Di” came from “Wu Di” (The five sovereigns). The new title was meant to signify the fact that Qin Shi Huang has surpassed all Chinese leaders before him. The “Shi” in his title means “first” to highlight of his achievement of being the first to rule over all of China collectively.
Forbes magazine defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”
Other than being the first to unify China by strategic conquering of the neighbouring states. Once unified, he built a strong economic China with many standardization and reforms. He is also known for building The Lingqu Canal, which further boost the agriculture and economy in China. Lastly, he developed a strong military and defence for his empire in building and The Great Wall of China. By not just unifying but by structuring the culture, society and landscape of the country, Qin Shi Huang is arguably the greatest leader in world history.
Warring states and unification
Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s rise to power began from a turbulent time in Chinese history known as the Warring States Period. The time period is known as such due to the Seven Warring States being in competition with each other for power. Each state would try to annex neighbouring states in order to widen their rule. The Qin state where Emperor Qin Shi Huang was king would eventually emerge victorious, managing to defeat and unite all other states under its rule.
The end of the Warring States Period signaled the start of the Qin Dynasty. The State of Qin’s victory came from superior tactics and battle strategy, often waiting until an enemy state is weakened before sweeping in to deal the final blow. A notable figure that played a large role in this victory is the Qin state’s minister and advisor named Shang Yang. Shang Yang often advises the Emperor when to make a move in order to gain tactical advantage and helped empower the Qin state to gain an upper hand.
After uniting the nation of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang established a united governmental system in China. Other than consolidating the government, the Emperor also standardized the currency and modes of measures (weight, height, length, currency, etc.). Doing so allows for easier economic practises such as buying and selling, especially between people who come from different states. These changes allow the citizens of China to finally act and identify as members of one country. By unifying and standardizing all the units and currency, he created a huge impact on China architecture, trade, and economy for all of Chinese history.
The Lingqu Canal
In 214 BCE, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the Lingqu Canal in Xing’an County to be built. The Lingqu Canal, flowing at 36.4km, connects two of China’s largest river basins – Yangtze River Basin and Pearl River Basin. Not only was the canal built for the purpose of transporting grain, it was also an irrigation project that developed Xing’an agriculturally and it aided in flood control. Gradually, the canal facilitated trade between Middle and South China. For 2000 years, it was the main route for water transportation between Lingnan and Central China. It served as an exemplary canal technology of ancient China that demonstrated the Asian hydraulic technology. Most importantly, the Lingqu Canal helped to unify the North and South when Emperor Qin Shi Huang conquest Baiyue and Lingnan regions. This helped to maintain stability in the Southern part of China.
Through this, Emperor Qin Shi Huang caused the agriculture in China to flourish and even until now, China remains the top in agricultural output as a nation. Irrigation also reduced floodings and reduced damage caused by natural disasters around the rivers.
Great wall of China
All that being said, the peace wouldn’t have been kept if not for good defence system from other nations and threats. Around the year 221 BCE, Emperor Qin Shi Huang started to build the Great wall of China to defend from the Huns from the north (towards inner Mongolia). He rebuilt and connected the walls from parts of the walls that was already built during the warring states times by the six other states. He also extended the walls to cover Lintao (west) to Liaodong (east). Thus, the great wall of China is also called ‘Wanli Changcheng’ (The ten thousand miles wall). The Great wall was not just a tool of war and a military structure, it was also a structure that defined the culture of China and kept the culture within China unaffected by the nomadic tribes (or barbarians) on the other side of the wall.
The great wall of China is now one of the seven man-made wonders of the world and is also listed as an UNESCO world heritage site. The building of the great wall was not just an almost impossible architectural feat, it is also a permanent imprint of the futuristic, strategic thinking of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Hence, it was one of the great legacies of his, showing his military planning skills and how he created an eternal work of art along the mountains of China. It also shaped a lot of Chinese culture and differentiated it from the culture of other regions that was considered barbaric at that time.
With all these achievements, we believe that Emperor Qin Shi Huang is the greatest leader because his actions not just lasted for his time in history, every major decision he made created a lasting social-economic impact in the future of China and even the world.