Qin's wars of unification

Qin's wars of unification
Qin's wars of unification
Part of Warring States Period
Date 230 BC – 221 BC
Location China
Result Qin victory; Unification of China under the Qin Dynasty
Qin state Han state
Zhao state
Dai state[1]
Yan state
Wei state
Chu state
Qi state
Commanders and leaders
Ying Zheng Han An
Zhao Qian
Zhao Jia
Wei Jia
Yan Xi
Mi Yuan
Tian Jian
600,000[citation needed] 1,000,000[citation needed]

Qin's wars of unification were a series of military campaigns conducted during the late 3rd century BC by the Qin state against the other six major states (Han, Zhao, Yan, Wei, Chu, Qi) in China. By the end of the wars in 221 BC, Qin had unified most of China and also conquered some lands south of the Yangtze River. The territories annexed by Qin became the homeland of the Chinese nation and formed the basis of the Qin Dynasty.



China in the Warring States Period. Many of the smaller states, such as Ba and Zhongshan, had been conquered by the time of Ying Zheng's reign. In particular, Ba and Shu were conquered by Qin, Zhongshan by Zhao, Lu by Chu, and Song by Wei and Qi

Over the course of the Warring States Period, the Qin state had evolved to become the most powerful of the seven major states in China. In 238 BC, Ying Zheng came to the throne of Qin after eliminating his political rivals, the chancellor Lü Buwei and the Marquis of Changxin, Lao Ai. With help from Li Si, Wei Liao and others, Ying Zheng formulated a plan for conquering the other six major states and unifying China.[2] The key steps in the plan were: ally with Yan and Qi, hold down Wei and Chu, conquer Han and Zhao; using the strategy of "ally with distant states and attack nearby ones" and focus on annexing each state individually.


Conquest of Han

Han was the weakest of the Seven Warring States and had already been subject to many previous attacks by Qin, which caused it to be drastically weakened further. In 230 BC, the Qin army led by Interior Minister Teng (內史騰) moved south, crossed the Yellow River and conquered Zheng (鄭; present-day Xinzheng, Henan), the capital of Han, within one year. King An of Han surrendered and Han was annexed by Qin. The territory of Han was reorganized as Yingchuan Prefecture (潁川郡)[2] of the Qin empire, with its capital city at Yangzhai (陽翟; present-day Yuzhou City, Henan).[3]

Conquest of Zhao

In 236 BC, Qin used the opportunity to send two separate forces to attack Zhao, while Zhao was invading Yan. The Qin army led by Wang Jian conquered the Zhao territories of Eyu (閼與; present-day Heshun County, Shanxi), Liaoyang (撩陽; present-day Zuoquan County, Shanxi), while a separate Qin force under the command of Huan Yi (桓齮)[4] and Yang Duanhe (楊端和) captured Ye (鄴; present-day Ci County, Hebei) and Anyang (安陽; present-day Anyang County, Henan). Zhao lost nine cities and its military strength decreased.[5]

Two years later, Qin planned to attack Han, but feared that Zhao might render support to Han, so it sent an army under Huan Yi's command to attack Zhao's Pingyang (平陽; southeast of present-day Ci County, Hebei) and Wucheng (武城; southwest of present-day Ci County, Hebei).[5] More than 100,000 casualties were sustained and the Zhao army was defeated, with its commander Hu Zhe (扈輒) being killed in action.[6] In 233 BC, Huan Yi's force crossed Mount Taihang and conquered the Zhao territories of Chili (赤麗) and Yi'an (宜安), both in southeast of present-day Shijiazhuang, Hebei.[5]

In 232 BC, the Qin forces split into two groups to attack Fanwu (番吾; present-day Lingshou County, Hebei) and Langmeng (狼孟; present-day Yangqu, Shanxi), but were defeated by the Zhao army led by Li Mu at the Battle of Fanwu.[5] Huan Yi fled to the Yan state to escape punishment for his defeat.[5] However, the Zhao forces also sustained heavy losses and could only retreat to defend the capital city of Handan.

Summary of events
Year Event
230 BC
228 BC
  • Zhao was conquered by Qin
225 BC
  • Wei was conquered by Qin
223 BC
  • Chu was conquered by Qin
222 BC
221 BC

In the following two years, Zhao was struck by an earthquake and suffered from a severe famine. In 229 BC, Qin took advantage of the situation when Zhao was suffering from natural disasters to launch a two-pincer attack from north and south on Handan, capital of Zhao. Three Qin armies embarked from Shangdi (上地; present-day northern Shaanxi), Jingxing (井陉; present-day Jingxing County, Hebei) and Henei (河內; present-day Xinxiang, Henan), respectively led by Wang Jian, Jiang Lei (羌瘣) and Yang Duanhe, to coordinate the attacks on Handan.[5] Li Mu and Sima Shang (司馬尚) were put in command of the Zhao army and Li Mu ordered his troops to build defensive structures and avoid direct confrontation with the Qin invaders. The Qin forces were unable to advance further and both sides reached a stalemate.[5]

The Qin state bribed Guo Kai (郭開), a minister in Zhao, to sow discord between King Qian of Zhao and Li Mu. The king doubted Li Mu's loyalty and ordered Li to hand over his command of the Zhao army to his deputies Zhao Cong (趙蔥) and Yan Ju (顏聚), but Li refused and the king's suspicions increased. The king sent his men to take Li Mu by surprise and capture him and Li was killed later.

In 228 BC, after learning that Li Mu had been replaced by his incompetent deputies, the Qin forces attacked and defeated the Zhao army, capturing Dongyang (東陽; present-day east of Mount Taihang), while Zhao Cong was killed in action and Yan Ju escaped after his defeat.[5] Seven months later, the Qin forces conquered Handan and captured King Qian, bringing an end to the Zhao state's existence.

Prince Zhao Jia, older brother of King Qian, escaped to Dai (代; present-day Yu County, Hebei) with remnant forces and proclaimed himself "King of Dai". In 222 BC, Dai was conquered along with Yan by the Qin army, led by Wang Ben, and Zhao Jia was captured.[2]

Conquest of Yan

In 228 BC, after the fall of Zhao, the Qin army led by Wang Jian stationed in Zhongshan and prepared for an offensive on Yan. Yan minister Ju Wu (鞠武) proposed to King Xi to form alliances with Dai, Qi and Chu, and improve relations with the Xiongnu in the north, in order to counter the Qin invaders.[7] However, Crown Prince Dan of Yan thought that the strategy of forming alliances was unlikely to succeed, so he sent Jing Ke to assassinate Ying Zheng, the king of Qin. Jing Ke went to Qin by pretending to be an envoy, bringing with him a map of Dukang[8] and the severed head of Fan Wuji,[9] a turncoat Qin general. The assassination attempt failed and Jing Ke was killed.

In 226 BC, using the assassination attempt as an excuse, Ying Zheng ordered Wang Jian to lead an army to attack Yan, with Meng Wu serving as Wang Jian's deputy. The Qin forces defeated the Yan army and Yan's reinforcements from Dai in a battle on the eastern bank of the Yi River (易水), and captured Ji (薊; present-day Beijing), capital of Yan.[7] King Xi of Yan and his son, Crown Prince Dan, led their remaining forces on a retreat to Liaodong (present-day Liaoning). The Qin army led by Li Xin (李信) pursued the retreating Yan forces to the Yan River (衍水; present-day Hun River, Liaoning) and emerged victorious in the battle, destroying the bulk of the Yan military. King Xi had Crown Prince Dan killed later and sent his son's severed head to Qin, as a token of peace. Qin accepted the offer and did not attack Yan for the next three years.

In 222 BC, the Qin army led by Wang Ben invaded Liaodong and destroyed the remnant forces of Yan and captured King Xi, annexing the Yan state completely.[10] The former territories of Yan were divided into the Yuyang (漁陽), Beiping (北平), Liaoxi (遼西) and Liaodong (遼東) prefectures of the Qin empire.[7]

Conquest of Wei

In 225 BC, the 600,000 strong Qin army led by Wang Ben conquered more than ten cities on the northern border of the Chu state, as a precautionary move to guard the flank from possible attacks from Chu while Qin was invading Wei.[11] Wang Ben then led his forces northward to attack and besiege Daliang (大梁; northwest of present-day Kaifeng, Henan), capital of Wei. As Daliang was situated at the concourse of the Sui and Ying rivers and the Hong Canal, its geographical location placed it in a defensive position that is hard for Qin to attack. Besides, the moat around Daliang was very wide and all the five gates of the city had drawbridges, making it even more difficult for Qin forces to penetrate the city. The Wei troops used the opportunity to strengthen their fortifications and defenses.[11]

Wang Ben came up with the idea of directing the waters from the Yellow River and the Hong Canal to flood Daliang and succeeded after besieging Daliang for three months.[11] Daliang was heavily flooded and the Wei forces sustained more than 100,000 casualties, including civilians. King Jia of Wei surrendered and the Wei state was annexed by Qin.[12] Qin established the prefectures of Dang (碭) and Sishui (泗水) in the conquered Wei territories.[11]

Conquest of Chu

In 224 BC, Ying Zheng called for a meeting with his subjects to discuss his plans for the invasion of Chu. Wang Jian said that the invasion force needed to be at least 600,000 strong, while Li Xin (李信) thought that less than 200,000 men would be sufficient. Ying Zheng dismissed Wang Jian's idea and ordered Li Xin and Meng Wu to lead the army to attack Chu,[13] while Wang Jian retired from state affairs on the excuse that he was ill.

The Qin armies scored initial victories as Li Xin's force conquered Pingyu (平輿; north of present-day Pingyu County, Henan) and Meng Wu's force captured Qinqiu (寢丘; present-day Linquan County, Anhui). After conquering Yan (鄢; present-day Yanling County, Henan), Li Xin led his army westwards to rendezvous with Meng Wu at Chengfu (城父; east of present-day Baofeng County, Henan). The Chu army, led by Xiang Yan (項燕), had avoided using its main force to resist the Qin invaders, in wait for an opportunity to launch a counterattack.[13] The Chu forces followed Li Xin's army secretly at high speed for three days and three nights, before launching a surprise offensive and defeating the Qin army.[13] Li Xin's defeat was deemed as the greatest setback for Qin in its wars to unify China.

Upon learning of Li Xin's defeat, Ying Zheng visited Wang Jian in person and invited him back, putting Wang in command of a 600,000 strong army as he had requested earlier, with Meng Wu serving as Wang's deputy. As Wang Jian was aware that Ying Zheng might doubt his loyalty because he wielded too much military power, he frequently sent messengers back to the king, requesting for rewards for his family in order to reduce the king's suspicions.

In 224 BC, Wang Jian's army passed through the south of Chen (陳; present-day Huaiyang, Henan) and made camp at Pingyu. The Chu armies, led by Xiang Yan, used their full strength to launch an offensive on the Qin camp but failed.[13] Wang Jian ordered his troops to defend their positions firmly and avoid advancing further into Chu territory.[13] After failing to lure the Qin army to attack, Xiang Yan ordered a retreat and Wang Jian seized the opportunity to launch a surprise counterattack. The Qin forces pursued the retreating Chu forces to Qinan (蕲南; northwest of present-day Qichun County, Hubei), where Xiang Yan was killed in action[14] in the ensuing battle.[13]

In 223 BC, Qin launched another attack on Chu and captured Shouchun (壽春; present-day Shou County, Anhui), capital of Chu. King Fuchu of Chu was captured and the Chu state was annexed by Qin.[13][15] The following year, Wang Jian and Meng Wu led the Qin army to attack the Wuyue region (covering present-day Zhejiang and Jiangsu) inhabited by the Baiyue, and captured the descendants of the royal family of Yue.[15] The conquered Wuyue territories became the Kuaiji Prefecture (會稽郡) of the Qin empire.

Conquest of Qi

In 224 BC, Tian Jian succeeded to the throne of Qi and was assisted in running state affairs by his mother. The Qin state bribed Hou Sheng (後勝), chancellor of Qi, to dissuade the king of Qi from assisting the other states in countering invaders from Qin.[16] In 221 BC, Qi was the only remaining state in China that had not been annexed by Qin. Qi only realized then that Qin posed a great threat and hurriedly mobilized its armies to the western frontier to defend against an invasion by Qin, even though its military was not well equipped and morale was low.[16]

In the same year, Ying Zheng used Qi's rejection of a meeting with Qin's envoy as an excuse, to order Wang Ben to lead an army to attack Qi. Wang Ben's force avoided direct confrontation with the Qi armies on the western border of Qi, and advanced into the heartland of Qi via a southern detour from Yan. The Qin forces met with little resistance as they passed through Qi territories and eventually arrived at Linzi (臨淄; north of present-day Zibo, Shandong), capital of Qi. The Qi forces were caught by surprise and King Tian Jian of Qi surrendered to Qin without a fight[15] after persuasion from Hou Sheng. The annexed territories of Qi became the Qi (齊) and Langya (琅邪) prefectures of the Qin Empire.[16]


In 221 BC, after the conquest of Qi, Ying Zheng proclaimed himself "Qin Shi Huang" (秦始皇; First Emperor of Qin) and founded the Qin Dynasty. The Qin empire was divided into 36 prefectures, with Xianyang as the capital city. Qin Shi Huang created a centralized state and empire that would become the bedrock of future Chinese dynasties. Although the Qin Dynasty lasted for 16 years only, its influence and impact on Chinese history lasted for centuries to come.[17]

In 209 BC, during the reign of Qin Er Shi (son and successor of Qin Shi Huang), the Daze Village Uprising erupted under the leadership of Chen Sheng, to overthrow the Qin Dynasty, due to the oppressive and tyrannical rule of the Qin emperors. Although the uprising was crushed by imperial forces, several other rebellions also started consecutively all over China in the next three years. The last Qin ruler, Ziying, surrendered to Liu Bang's rebel force in 206 BC, bringing an end to the Qin Dynasty. Several of the rebel forces claimed to be restoring the former states that were annexed by Qin and numerous pretenders to the thrones of the former states emerged. The most prominent one, Xiang Yu, a pretender to the throne of Chu, declared himself "Hegemon-King of Western Chu", and sacked the Qin capital of Xianyang after it fell in 206 BC.


  1. ^ A minor state established in 228 BC by the remnant forces of the fallen Zhao state.
  2. ^ a b c Li and Zheng, page 184
  3. ^ (Chinese) Qin's conquest of Han on Hudong Baike
  4. ^ Believed to be Fan Yuqi
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h (Chinese) Qin's conquest of Zhao on Hudong Baike
  6. ^ Derk (1987), 27
  7. ^ a b c (Chinese) Qin's conquest of Yan on Hudong Baike
  8. ^ Dukang is the most fertile land in Yan and Crown Prince Dan pretended to cede the land to Qin as part of a fake peace treaty, and to win Ying Zheng's trust so that Jing Ke can get closer to him and assassinate him.
  9. ^ Fan Wuji is believed to be Huan Yi, the Qin general who fled to Yan to escape punishment after his defeat during Qin's conquest of Zhao.
  10. ^ Li and Zheng, page 185-187
  11. ^ a b c d (Chinese) Qin's conquest of Wei on Hudong Baike
  12. ^ Li and Zheng, page 187
  13. ^ a b c d e f g (Chinese) Qin's conquest of Chu on Hudong Baike
  14. ^ Some accounts claimed that Xiang Yan committed suicide after his defeat.
  15. ^ a b c Li and Zheng, page 188
  16. ^ a b c (Chinese) Qin's conquest of Qi on Hudong Baike
  17. ^ Li and Zheng, page 214-217


  • Sima, Qian; Shiji
  • Li, Bo; Zheng Yin (Chinese) (2001) 5000 years of Chinese history, Inner Mongolian People's publishing corp , ISBN 7-204-04420-7,
  • Bodde, Derk. (1987). "The State and Empire of Qin." In Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe (eds.), The Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. – A.D. 220, 20–103. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521243270.

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