China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors

Frances Wood

St. Martin's Press

Unifier or destroyer, law-maker or tyrant? China’s First Emperor (258-210 BC) has been the subject of debate for over 2,000 years. He gave us the name by which China is known in the West and, by his unification or elimination of six states, he created imperial China. He stressed the rule of law but suppressed all opposition, burning books and burying scholars alive. His military achievements are reflected in the astonishing terracotta soldiers—a veritable buried army—that surround his tomb, and his Great Wall still fascinates the world.

Despite his achievements, however, the First Emperor has been vilified since his death. China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors describes his life and times and reflects the historical arguments over the real founder of China and one of the most important men in Chinese history.


Read an Excerpt

China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors
1The Heart of a Tiger or WolfBorn in 259 BC, the son of the King of Qin and a concubine, the First Emperor was given the name Zheng, which means 'upright' or 'correct', although since he was born in the first month of the Chinese year, a month which bears the same name, he may have been named for the month as well as for the significance of the word.1The state of Qin had, for over a century before his birth, been promoting new ideas of centralized bureaucracy (instead of the feudal rule of local aristocrats) and of law, with rules and regulations


Praise for China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors

Praise for China's First Emporer and His Terracotta Warriors

‘Wood’s book is a readable introduction to a ruler who has been hailed both as his country’s founding father and vilified as a ruthless tyrant.’ – Sunday Times

‘Fascinating book’ – Mail on Sunday

‘great knowledge, lightly worn.’ Literary Review

‘wry, concise and authoritative.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘timely, and as sensible as it is concise.’ The Independent

‘Frances Wood presents a different portrait China's First Emporer, offering good reasons why myths of cruelty and megalomania should not be entirely believed.’ Metro

‘Essential reading and a colourful insight into a world in the making.’ – The Good Book Guide

‘a timely digest of English-language scholarship on the subject.’ – The Times

‘Wood’s thorough analysis of the history is heightened by sensuous descriptions that, along with poems, recipes and other quirky details, provide a vivid evocation of life in this period.’ - Waterstones’ Books Quarterly

Praise for Did Marco Polo Go to China?

“An authoritative book…likely to rock the foundation of a basic tenet of European civilization.”—The Times (UK)

“Profound but elegant scholarship, supported by a multitude of authoritative, perplexed sources, and aided by a dry engaging wit.”— Spectator (UK)

“Wonderfully lucid.”— Economist (UK)

Praise for No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: A History of Treaty Ports

“Vivid, highly enjoyable and witty.”—Daily Mail (UK)

“A superb book.”—Evening Standard (UK)

“A first-rate account...superbly written and entertaining.”—The Times (UK)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Frances Wood

  • FRANCES WOOD is head of the Chinese department at the British Library. She is also the author of multiple books, including, Did Marco Polo Go to China?, No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: A History of the Treaty Ports, and The Silk Road.

  • Frances Wood





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    China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors

    Frances Wood



    St. Martin's Press