Qin Shi Huang Di
A long time ago, China was crazy. During the Warring States Period, dudes like Sun Tzu and other guys were running around killing each other and the area that we now know as China was actually composed of six or seven different states that were all trying to conquer one another. There was near-constant war, and nobody was really able to get control of what the hell was going on.
Well one day the king of the state of Qin decided he was sick of all this stupid bullshit, so he put together a hugeass army and kicked the nuts of all the other states, uniting everyone under the Kingdom of Qin in 221 BCE. It was the first time that anyone had accomplished this feat, and it was so momentous that Western jackasses from that point on started calling the country "China". If you are like a lot of people and have no fucking clue how you get "China" from "Qin", it's because in Chinese-English transliteration the letter "q" is pronounced as a "ch". Holy crap, I'm so smart it almost hurts my brain sometimes.
Since there wasn't a whole lot going on outside of the seven kingdoms, most Chinese people believed that the King of Qin had conquered the entire world. In honor of this achievement, Qin Shi Huang Di gave himself the title of "Emperor" or "Son of Heaven". In fact, Qin Shi Huang Di isn't even his real name - it just means "The First Emperor of China" - but he was such a super badass that he demanded that people only refer to him by that title for the rest of time. Since he was so kickass, everyone listened.
Anyways, besides being a total assbeater with an unstoppable juggernaut of an army that crushed seven other nations, Qin Shi Huang Di was also a diabolical madman. He was like obsessed with finding the secret to immortality so he could rule China forever, leading expeditions out to find the legendary Islands of the Immortals and doing all kinds of awesome crap like eating mercury pills and drinking fire.
Once in charge, Qin Shi Huang Di made life a little easier for the rest of China. He standardized all the measurments, roads, writing and other stuff so that it wouldn't be so fucking confusing to travel around the country there. He built some wooden walls which would become the basis for the Great Wall of China, one of the greatest and most balls-out construction projects in human history. Sure, he was oppressive, tyrannical and brutal, but he was also pretty damn efficient and he laid the groundwork for a Chinese national identity that has lasted upwards of two thousand years.
He was also totally paranoid. Early in his reign, some jerk assassin named Jing Ke tried to stab Qin Shi Huang with a fan and even though Qin managed to whip out his sword and kill the shit out of Jing, he was pretty much untrusting of anyone from that point on. His paranoia led him to relocate the leaders of each of the states he conquered to live in the capital of Qin so that he and his men could keep an eye on them. He had royal food tasters try everything before he ate it. He rarely came out in public. He burned scholarly works that disagreed with his philosophy of Legalism and buried Confucian scholars alive so that they wouldn't fuck with him. While there's really nothing cool about burning books and executing scholars, you sort of have to respect the fact that Qin Shi Huang was willing to go that extra mile to ensure the longevity of his reign.
It didn't really work though. After he died his son was an incompetent asshole and everyone had enough of Qin's shit. They overthrew him and installed the Han Dynasty, which would be a golden age in Chinese history made possible by the unification of the country in 221 BCE. But that's what happens sometimes.
Qin Shi Huang Di was buried in a hugeass tomb he had constructed before his death. The tomb was designed in the exact layout of China with flowing mercury as the rivers and had a Terracotta army of earthenware soldiers, chariots and horses stationed to protect his spirit in the afterlife. Every one of the six foot tall terracotta warriors had an individual face and unique equipment, and all were hand-made and painted by skilled artisans employed/enslaved by the Empire. The full number of warriors entombed to protect Qin Shi Huang is not known, as many of the sections of the tomb still remain unexcavated, but it is believed to be in the range of about 7,000. That's a pretty insane undertaking, and the fact that he built an entire life-size full-scale army of model soldiers is totally Badass of the Week-worthy.
I took this shot of Qin Shi Huang Di's tomb when I was in China.
It's hard to grasp how massive this shit is just by looking at pictures though.
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