In the 26th year of King Zheng’s reign (221 BC), the state of Qin conquered the last remaining state, Qi, and unified China, establishing the Qin Dynasty. After unification, Qin gained a large number of iron weapons from the eastern regions and acquired ironworking technology from the central plains, which accelerated the transition to iron weapons.
An order to destroy all weapons throughout the country, what was the reason behind it?
According to the “Records of the Grand Historian” in the chapter “Basic Annals of Emperor Qin Shi Huang,” in the same year that the six states were unified, Emperor Qin Shi Huang issued an order to destroy weapons: “Collect all the weapons in the country and gather them in Xianyang. Melt them down to make bells and make twelve gold men, each weighing several hundred catties.” This was an unprecedented record of large-scale weapon destruction in Chinese history.
The weapons destroyed in this campaign were all bronze weapons. Why were so many bronze weapons destroyed? The immediate purpose was to prohibit private possession of weapons by the common people, to prevent uprisings by the people and remnants of the six states, and at the same time, it indicated that there were already sufficient iron weapons to equip the army, hence the excess bronze weapons could be destroyed. Emperor Qin Shi Huang implemented a series of measures to maintain the unity and authoritarian rule of the country, and confiscating weapons from all over the country was one of the measures, effectively prohibiting weapons among the common people, “weakening the rebellious people.”
The action of Emperor Qin Shi Huang to confiscate weapons throughout the country seems to have been thorough, as evidenced by the fact that the peasant uprising army at the end of the Qin Dynasty initially had no formal weapons in their hands. The uprising led by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang could only rely on “chopping trees to make weapons and raising poles as flags, gathering support from all over the country and winning supplies to sustain the movement.”
At the time, the rulers also said, “Chen She used a few hundred scattered and disorganized soldiers and shouted with all his might, without using bow and spear.” This indicates that they were actually helpless due to the lack of weapons. Chen Shixin in the preface of “Shaolin Staff Method: The Explanation of the Ancestral Style” said, “Chen She wielded his staff with great courage. Chen Sheng and Wu Guang were initially in great difficulty. Where were the ancient military laws and regulations?” The “staff” here refers to a wooden staff. However, Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s ultimate goal of “prohibiting weapons and weakening the people” was not achieved, as the peasant rebel army only had wooden staffs, while the Qin army had “unmanned defenses, unbarred passes, long spears unused, and strong crossbows not shot,” ultimately leading to the downfall of the Qin Dynasty.
Prohibition of weapons among the common people while martial training in the court, the Qin Dynasty’s military power upgraded
The martial training activities within the Qin Dynasty’s military continued. During the process of unifying China, the Qin state had established a massive army with exceptional combat capabilities, consisting of “one million soldiers in armor, one thousand chariots, and ten thousand cavalry.” After the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, General Meng Tian led a 400,000-strong army to guard the northern frontier and defend against the Xiongnu.
The excavation of the Terracotta Army Pit No. 1 in the Qin Emperor’s Mausoleum, which began in 1974, unearthed more than 6,000 pottery warriors resembling the Qin imperial guards and over 4,000 pottery horses pulling war chariots. It has also been determined that Pit No
. 2, which has not yet been excavated, contains warrior figures and pottery horses numbering close to ten thousand, forming four different branches of infantry, crossbowmen, chariots, and cavalry. They held bows, crossbows, bronze knives, swords, spears, and halberds, facing east with great majesty. Through the Qin army’s weaponry, we can catch a glimpse of the martial training conditions of that time.
The main change in the weaponry of the Qin Dynasty’s military after unification was the accelerated transition from an era dominated by bronze weapons to an era dominated by iron weapons. As early as the late Warring States period, with the advancement of science and technology, iron weapons had already entered the historical stage. The main forces of the major feudal states in the central plains had gradually begun to replace bronze weapons with new weapons such as iron spears, iron halberds, iron knives, iron swords, iron staffs, iron armor, and iron daggers. At that time, compared to other regions, the Qin army’s iron weapons were far less developed.
However, the transition from bronze weapons to iron weapons was a long historical process, and in the Qin Dynasty, it was only accelerated rather than completed.