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By Cindy Jenson-Elliott

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The road was intended to facilitate the military and colonial conquest of the Ordos. Public works projects on such a massive scale could be undertaken only by an empire that could command the labor of millions of people beholden to the emperor. Qin Shi Huangdi’s public works projects were not limited to those with public and military benefit, however. Obsessed with a desire to find the secrets of immortality, in 212 BCE the emperor ordered the construction of his own tomb, an enormous underground building populated by an army of seven thousand life-size terra-cotta clay soldiers.

Instead of always telling the emperor what he wanted to hear, they gave him their honest opinions and their best advice. As a result, Taizong’s bureaucracy was well run and well organized. The country was divided into governmental regions, much like states, counties, and cities. The largest of these regions were called circuits 53 and were administered by commissioners. Circuits were divided into prefectures governed by prefects and again subdivided into districts ruled by magistrates. Each had a built-in system of checks and balances to prevent misuse of power.

A corps of bureaucrats was chosen to run the government based on the results of this exam. The testing system allowed individuals on the bottom of the social ladder to rise to the top through hard work and study. A new class of scholar-officials grew into a powerful political force in the subsequent centuries of Chinese history. The Wrath of an Emperor I n his zeal to create a new society, Qin Shi Huangdi was not always respectful of what had come before, particularly in the way of scholarship.

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