Qin: The Warring States
In the space of a few centuries, Qin has risen from semi-barbarous origins to become a major power among the Warring States. Its rise to power has been so swift and so complete that it is now ready to achieve the great project of Tian Xia, the union of all things under Heaven, by the annexation of all the lands of the Zhongguo.
At the beginning of the Warring States period, Qin was still a very backward state in nearly all fields. Whereas the other states had carried out bold reforms, Qin remained laden down with anachronisms and apparently unable to progress. All this changed with Duke Xiao, who appointed as his prime minister Shang Yang, a native of Wei, and ordered him to make Qin into a state able to rival, or even surpass, any other. The reforms which followed shook the land to its foundations and went beyond those adopted in any other state of the Zhongguo. The nobility was uncere- moniously stripped of its power and replaced by a merito- cracy based on the real talents of individuals rather than the circumstances of their birth. The centralization of the admi- nistration was swift, and the new class of state officials accelerated the modernization of Qin. The tax system was overhauled, and movements of population led to the culti- vation of lands formerly left idle. The peasantry gained in status, and lands confiscated from the nobles were distribu- ted among peasants and landowners. Agriculture and trade were encouraged through financial rewards for farmers and merchants who met their production quotas; this encoura- ged significant immigration from the other states to Qin, easing the labor shortage caused by the increases in cultiva- ted land and the professionalization of the army. The ranks of the army were swelled by recruitment from among the common people, and the ambitions of soldiers fired by the possibility of gaining promotion to officer rank according to the number of enemy heads cut off on the battlefield.
Yet the greatest achievement of Shang Yang was the forging of a close link between the administration of Qin and Legalist philosophy. That doctrine required that all citizens be equal before the law, and so the prime minister moved the capital in order to distance it from the still marked influence of the noble families, and devised a legal code to which all would be subject.
And so in less than ten years Qin rose from its posi- tion as a backward and barbarous state to that of major power which the other states would learn to fear. Now able to make
its voice heard in the battleground of the Zhongguo, Qin embarked on a policy of slow but inexorable territorial expansion. Its first victims were Wei, Zhao and Han, who tried repeatedly to form an alliance that might halt the relen- tless Qin war machine. Their efforts came to nothing. The powerful state of Qin also annexed the barbarian states of Shu and Ba, and with them their vast lands rich in mineral wealth.
The ambition of Qin became clear to all the other states when the powerful Western State marched on the Zhou, captured their remaining land, and brought down the last imperial dynasty. Then the unquestioned might of Qin was brought to bear against two neighboring states: first by incursions deep into Chu territory and the destruction of the capital Yingdu, and then by the massa- cre of the Zhao army in the bloody battle of Changping, where the powerful and cruel general Bai Qi ordered the execution of four hundred thousand prisoners of war.
More recently, Qin has become even more powerful under the iron rule of Lü Buwei, whose politi- cal astuteness prevented the royal line from dying out. The most severely governed of all the states, with a vast and disciplined army, Qin is ready to undertake the great project made possible by Shang Yang: the creation of a new Empire uniting all things under Heaven, or Tian Xia.
Qin is a vast land to the West of the Zhongguo and exten- ding far to the South, with a rational landscape entirely shaped by man. It has a continental, dry climate in the North and a subtropical climate in the South, in the for- mer territories of the Shu and the Ba.
The northern and western borders of the country, separating it from the barbarian steppes, are fortified by an immense network of walls and forts to protect the local
villages from raids and pillaging. The land is somewhat arid, yet the settlements are well-populated due to the exploitation of underground mineral resources and the presence of several army barracks.
The center of the country is made up of large, well-cultivated plains. The land is fertile thanks to irriga- tion channels drawing water from the Wei and the Yellow River. As far as the eye can see, the landscape appears man-made. More than in any other state, here nature has been mastered by man, and trained to serve his ends. The signs are everywhere, starting with the geometric division of fields according to a land occupation plan devised for the optimization of the amount of cultivated land. The plains are crisscrossed by straight canals interrupted only by colossal dams and locks that regulate the flow of water. Here and there the drab uniformity of the land- scape is broken by man-made lakes, and scattered throu- ghout the land are the countless towns and villages which house Qin’s significant population.
To the south of the Wei River the country is divi- ded in two by an impressive mountain range. To the far east of this range, almost at the border with Han and Wei, lies Huashan, the Sacred Mountain of the West. This holy mountain of the Taoist religion used to attract crowds of pilgrims, but since Qin has become a harsh and repressive state, the villages of the region have become ghost towns, inhabited only by exiles and hermits.
The south of Qin, formerly the lands of the Shu and Ba, became the breadbasket of the state once a new irrigation network was established to redirect the Min River and fertilize the vast and wild terrain. A massive migration plan provided the labor needed to cultivate the new arable land. As a result, the south of Qin is largely composed of cultivated fields and irrigation canals.
But the southern regions possess another key asset: the subsoil and the western mountain region are extremely rich in all manner of minerals, including iron, precious metals, jade, and coal. Entire towns have been built to draw on this mineral wealth and to house large state-run foundries supplying tools and machinery to the whole state.
On the banks of the Wei, to the east of Qin, Xianyang is along with Handan and Linzi one of the most impressive cities of all the Warring States. Home to over two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, it is almost legendary among the peoples of the Zhongguo for its magnificence and order. Xianyang is a supremely ordered city, constructed according to the recommendations of the great reformer Shang Yang and detailed plans born of the marriage of Legalist philosophy with architecture and civil engineering.
The city is divided by wide, straight streets and avenues, enabling not only the easy flow of traffic but also effective surveillance. The dimensions of the roads prevent thieves from relying on the confusion and disor- der of crowds to commit crimes and disappear. The peo- ple are watched by soldiers posted at sentry-boxes placed along the main thoroughfares of the city.
Each neighborhood is clearly defined and divi- ded from the rest of the city by a wall whose gates are clo- sed at nightfall. In the center of each neighborhood is a small square used for official proclamations and public executions. A noticeboard is provided so that all might be aware of announcements, wanted notices, and new laws: in Qin, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
The large market squares are closely watched and while many merchants are attracted by the opportuni- ties for trade that Xianyang offers, each one knows that the first rule of Qin is order, and that the riotous hustle and bustle to be found in Handan is matched here by a faint hum of activity.
There are no bad neighborhoods in Xianyang: criminals and vagabonds are simply arrested and either conscripted or sent to forced labor camps. The Qin capi- tal therefore has the lowest crime rate in all the Zhongguo.
Xianyang is dotted with impressive palaces and grand houses, which serve both as the private residences of the notables of the state and as offices for its sprawling bureaucracy. These miniature cities are closed to all except officials and those citizens required to attend by the administration.
To the newly-arrived traveler, Xianyang is an impossibly beautiful and unusually tranquil city, but one with a slightly unsettling feel. In time, the too-perfect order that prevails becomes vaguely threatening, and eventually even the most serene soul will fall prey to fee- lings of paranoia…