12. China’s Great Emperor
Chin Shi Huang (259 – 210 BC), “First Emperor of Chin”, started off as ruler of the Chinese state of Chin – one of several rival kingdoms in China’s Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). He ascended the throne as a child, and in his teens, he wrested power from the regents and courtiers who had governed during his minority. To consolidate his power, the young monarch massacred palace plotters who sought to usurp his prerogatives. He then went on the warpath, pushed back the northern barbarians, defeated and conquered all other Chinese states by 221 BC, and consolidated them under his rule.
Once he accomplished all that, he declared himself the First Emperor of a united China. Shi Huang’s upside was that he was the first to unify the core of China into a single realm. His downside was that he was a megalomaniacal monster. It was a downside that invited karma to pay him an unwelcome visit. To consolidate his newly conquered empire, he standardized the currency, weights and measures, and introduced a system of government known as Legalism, based on strict laws and harsh punishments. He ended feudalism, which had produced centuries of warfare, and replaced it with a centralized, bureaucratic and meritocratic government.