Ancient China Lesson Plans: The First Emperor


The First Emperor of China is one of the most famous figures in world history, and the unification of China under his rule was one of the pivotal episodes in Chinese history. What motivated him? Why was he successful? Why did he rule the way he did?

Wouldn’t it have been interesting to interview him! In reality, if someone had started asking the First Emperor such questions, that person would soon have met an excruciatingly painful death.

However, for the purposes of this exercise, students have the opportunity to put themselves in the First Emperor’s shoes, and imagine what his answers might have been. It is important that the teacher explain that the following activity is entirely artificial; it could never have happened! However, it is an interesting and valuable exercise in that it encourages students to “get behind” some key issues in the history of Ancient China.

Before the interview activity, the students should have covered the history of Ancient China. They should have an idea of the outline of its history, and know the context of the episode they are about to focus on. The best way of doing this, we believe, is through using the Ancient China Topic TimeMap. This will give students a clear “Big Picture” of Ancient Chinese history. and place the First Emperor in his historical context.

The students’ page for this activity is here.



a) Knowledge about Ancient China, and in particular about the unification of China under the First Emperor

b) Awareness of cause and consequence, and of motivation

c) Historical interpretation: the role of the famous individual

d) Critical thinking skills concerning this important historical process


Students will

a) find out about the sequence of events which led to the unification of China by the Qin

b) discover the reasons why it was Qin, and not some other state,which unified China

c) analyze the measures the First Emperor and his ministers took to impose their will upon the whole of China

d) determine the motives behind these policies

e) evaluate the effectiveness of the First Emperor’s policies

f) place the achievements of the First Emperor within the broad sweep of Chinese history

g) research the subject using the Timemaps Dynamic History Map of Ancient China and other sources

h) synthesis the information retrieved into coherent statements


Students take on the role of the First Emperor of China, being interviewed by a reporter towards the end of his career. These are the questions he is asked; students write down his responses.


Students submit their scripts as written pieces of work,


In pairs they write a script for a small play, and create a short video of the interview.

The Interview:

Q: Why did you want to unite the whole of China under your rule? Yes, you’d get a lot of glory out of it, but did it do any good to the country as a whole, do you think?

Q: Was it only your own genius that made you successful, or were there other factors too?

What was it about the frontier kingdom of Qin that led it to conquer all the others?

Q: It was a great achievement to conquer all those other kingdoms – what helped you in your campaigns, do you think? And which of the other states was hardest to conquer?

Q: After you had finished your conquests did you face opposition to your rule?

Q: What was it about the Confucian scholars that led you to persecute them?

Q: Building the Great Wall of China was a mammoth effort, and many of the workers died. What was so important about this project – was it worth the cost?

Q: Why were you so hot on standardization? Weights and measures, writing, coinage, cart wheels – you just couldn’t leave anything alone, could you! Why did you think this was so important?

Q: What was the point in building all those roads?

Q: Was it necessary to be so harsh in the way your ruled?

Q: What achievement are you most proud off?

Q: What do you expect will happen in your empire after you are gone?

Criteria for evaluation

0-4: Poor: No curiosity shown, little or no evidence of research: answers such as “Qin was stronger than the other states”;”Yes,there was opposition to Qin rule”;”I didn’t like the Confucian scholars”; and so on

5-6: Satisfactory: Shows evidence of research and a basic understanding of the issues: “Qin conquered the other states because….”, “the opposition to Qin rule came from….”,”I didn’t like the Confucian scholars because….” etc; but shows little awareness of cause and effect, of motivation, or of the fuller historical background.

7-8: Good: Shows awareness of the wider historical context, bringing in information about, e.g. Qin being a frontier state, and its experience of reforms along legalistic lines. Shows awareness of cause and effect, and of motivation.

9-10: Excellent: Shows awareness of the wider historical context, bringing in information from past centuries, such as the development of the “100 schools”, and about the nature of the Qin state. Uses inference and imagination in discussing the opposition to the Qin being based on local loyalties, and that the policies of standardization were in large part to over come this resistance; and so on. Shows a thorough awareness of cause and effect, and of the complexities of motivation.


If the students have produced videos, the class looks at some or all of the videos that have been created, and discusses them.

The teacher ends by drawing the threads together, leading a class discussion on the historical background to the unification of China under the Qin, the causes of Qin expansion, and its consequences – a) short term – what happened next? and (b) long term – for the history of China up to the present day.

To pull all the strands together, the class might discuss the question, “Was the First Emperor of China a failure or a success?” Emphasise that there is no “correct” answer – scholars have been debating this question right up to the present day!

Click here for Ancient China Lesson Plans home page