|Type of paper:||Book review|
|Categories:||History Personality World Historical literature|
The reviews below are for the book named "The First Emperor by Sima Qian" which is translated by Raymond Dawson. The book follows the story of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor-the founder of the Qin Dynasty. Qin dynasty was established in 221BC. Before that, its predecessor was Zhou. The family originated by the state of Qin which was among the many small feudal states into which China was divided between 771 and 221 BCE. Rulers of Qin began to centralize power between the end of the second century and middle third century. In 246BC, the boy, king Ying Zehng came to throne completed the conquests and created the Qin Empire in 221BC, after 25 years; and proclaimed himself Qin Shi Huangdi the first sovereign Emperor of Qin. Upon his death, The Qin Dynasty was, however, short-lived. It was eventually succeeded by Han dynasty.
I agree with Sima Qian's beliefs the grand historiographer, who lived a century after the first emperor; that a worthy dynasty is the one that puts benevolence and priority over violence and cruelty, as did the Han dynasty. He illustrates that a noble regime has a popular rule and has the support of its people. Qin dynasty's first emperor was an opportunistic man who favored violence over benevolence. As a result, the first emperor's rule was unpopular. This can be seen from the events that followed his death, which triggered an uprising in the empire. Since the next Emperor, Qin Er Shi, was not as capable as his father, revolts quickly erupted (Lewis, 2015). One immediate revolution was the Daze village uprising led by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang. Everything that was built by the first emperor therefore crumbled in a brief period.
Today, historical books regard First Emperor 'the man who made China that is, the pioneer who brought Chinese culture together in terms of territory, currency, written language. Sima Qian helps on his book what we need to remember, that the First Emperor wasn't the founder of an imperial tradition that would last 2000 years. The image created by Sima Qian of the First Emperor is that he was an unpopular Qin opportunist. He accounts for this by simply stating that the Qin leaders were in the right place at the right time, a theme fully developed in the biography of Li Si, the chief minister of Qin. According to Cunrui (2018), while in his home in Shanghai Li Si observed that timid rats stayed in the restrooms while the brave rats fearlessly occupied the granary. Their circumstances shaped their behavior, and the trick was to recognize the opportunity and take full advantage of it. The king took this message to heart, grabbed the opportunity, completed the empire and promoted Li Si to its highest office (Xiong, 2018).
This book has significant contributions to the field of Chinese studies. It has mainly explained the exact origin of China which is entirely believable because this information comes from Sima Qian, an official of the Han court, a court that defeated the fifteen-year Qin dynasty less than a hundred years earlier. His historical records have cleared certain biasness about the First Emperor, for instance, the one of him being the maker of China. The book has not only explained how certain tourist attractions in China came to be but also teaches the ancient Chinese of engineering. It is covered in the fourth chapter of the book, the builder of the great wall in the North, the wall currently known as the high wall of China. The Emperor ordered the construction of this was for immense defense. In the South, in 214 BC the Emperor began the project of a major canal to transport supplies to the army. This canal allows transport between north and south China (Hammond, 2018).
In my opinion, the book is incredible. Sima Qian is an excellent writer, and Raymond Dawson does a great job translating his work. It is without a doubt written impeccably. It can be seen from the choice of words; the vocabularies are satisfyingly loud. One of its striking features is how it has a natural flow right from the birth of the Emperor till the death. Every event is well accounted for with useful explanations, take for instance the rise of Li Si. The turns of events are well argued as well, for example, the quick the fall of the Qin Empire. The book has logically accounted for every event with useful explanations, as I had mentioned earlier, this aspect makes the book have clarity. An essential element of the book that has intrigued me is the fact that it is written in a narrative format rather than an academic history book. This feature makes it such a captivating story. Every chapter brings out the urge of wanting to know more. I could barely put the book down once I began reading because it captivates you unbelievingly intensely. The volume includes a section of explanatory notes, an index in the back and a new preface and introduction that helps understand the book further. I would recommend this book to anyone, no one specific because I feel like this is the type of manual that can be read by absolutely anyone because it is just very entertaining reading. I will, however, highly recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese history.
An important lesson from the book in my point of view is that a leader needs to be very strategic in his leadership because this determines his rule. It implies that the first thing a leader needs to do if to find ways of winning their people as it is known from time immemorial that all absolute power comes from the people. The leader, therefore, needs to choose his key advisors wisely. It is because a leader never actually rules by himself; a majority of decisions are based on his advisors' opinions and takes. Appropriate advisors tend to gear the king towards working in the best interest of the people who then ensures the power of the leader is protected. From the book we see the opposite, The first Emperor key advisor, Li Si the prime minister, was only driven by what was in it for him, therefore never actually worked in favor of the people of Qin dynasty this explains why the people were quick to revolt the Qin's rule when the opportunity presented itself and why Li Si did not want the Emperor's death known, as the First Emperor's rule was very unpopular. The First Emperor strained relationship with people can also be illustrated by the fact that there had been two attempted assassinations on his life twice.
I would have, however, wished to learn why his quest for immortality, the warfare and his exacting laws are now often treated as necessary evils and personal quirks leading to the much higher prize of unification from the book. In addition to that, I would have appreciated it if the book explained why the recent documentaries and books dubbed him as the man who made China.
Lewis, Mark E. "Early imperial China, from the Qin and Han through Tang." Fiscal Regimes and the Political Economy of Premodern States (2015): 282-307.
Xiong, Victor Cunrui, and Kenneth J. Hammond. Routledge Handbook of Imperial Chinese History. Routledge, 2018.
Yu-Ning, Li. The First Emperor of China. Routledge, 2017.
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