Friday, July 25, 2008

China's First Emperor

He would become an emperor more powerful than Napoleon … capture more territory than Alexander the Great… create the largest army the world has ever seen … destroy all enemies ... and become the greatest conqueror of all. It happened in 240 B.C., a thousand years before the West knew his immense realm even existed. He was Chin Shi Huang Di, the ruler of the Kingdom of Qin, who defeated six states to create an empire that lasted for more than 2,000 years – China!

The three-hour special China’s First Emperor tells the epic story of how Chin Shi Huang Di rose to absolute power in just a decade, creating an empire and laying the groundwork for the China we know today. Lavishly produced in China and co-produced with CCTV, China’s national television network, China’s First Emperor premieres Monday, August 4th, at 9pm on History.

Chin Shi Huang Di declared himself a living god and ruled his empire with tyrannical might. His reign brought advances such as standardized currencies, weights and measures, unified written and spoken language and transportation systems. In battle, too, he was centuries ahead of his time – creating assembly lines (two millennia before Henry Ford) to mass-produce precision-crafted swords, arrows and other weapons. Qin soldiers used crossbows fitted with bronze triggers for increased power and speed that European archers didn’t come close to until ten centuries later.

The long shadow of the Qin Dynasty is still visible today in the Great Wall of China to the north, and the army of 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors and horses that guard his empire in the afterlife. In addition, China is named for him.

The wars to unify China took a terrible toll, claiming the lives of over 1.2 million men. But the threats from the Huns from the north and from the Viets from the south made warfare a way of life. Even within the empire, Chin Wang had powerful enemies. His citizens grew tired of war, conscripted labor, and laws that dictated every detail of their lives. Chin Wang’s most vicious enemy was himself.

Fear for his own and his empire’s safety helped drive Chin Shi Huang Di into severe paranoia. He sent out his spies and became homicidally intolerant of criticism. For speaking up against him, he exiled scores of scholars to years of hard labor at the Great Wall—itself a death sentence—and ordered hundreds of others buried alive. He also burned scores of books, destroying centuries of Chinese thought. In the end, many believe, he became so obsessed with his own immortality he poisoned himself while trying to find a potion to achieve eternity.

Yet, in a way, he lives on, guarded by that terracotta army he ordered built to guard his final resting place. The tomb remains sealed to this day.

China’s First Emperor is based on interviews with leading experts from China, Europe and the United States, including Zhang Wenli and Yuan Zhongyi of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, Jeffrey Riegel of UC Berkeley, Robin Yates of McGill University, Wu Rongzheng of Beijing University, Michael Puett of Harvard University, Hans van Ess of the University of Munich and Jens Peterson of the University of Copenhagen. The film includes original footage of the unearthing of the terracotta army and the necropolis in which it was found—a massive project which began in 1974 and still continues.