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Edict of Second Emperor of China, 210 BCE
Qin dynasty (221–207 BCE)
L. 9.9 cm, W. 7 cm
Excavated in Jinan in front of the Shandong Provincial Library
Collection of Shandong Provincial Museum
(cat. #21)


The First Emperor of China, Qin Shihuangdi (r. 221–210 BCE), died in 210 BCE after unifying the country in 221 BCE and consolidating his power. His son ascended the throne at age twenty-one and ruled briefly (r. 210–207 BCE) until Liu Bang, later known as the founding emperor Gaodi, helped defeat the Qin and established the Han dynasty, which was to remain in power for over four hundred years. In 209 BCE, the Second Emperor tried to emulate his father by making a royal pilgrimage to climb the same peaks as his father and thereby link their names for eternity (see cat. no. 20). He traveled to all the stelae erected by his father and had their sides inscribed with supplementary records, in particular naming the officials who had originally accompanied the founding emperor.[1] The Shiji relates how at Mount Kuaiji he added inscriptions to the stele that the First Emperor had earlier set up. The inscription reads:

The emperor said: “These inscriptions on metal and stone were all made by the First Emperor. Now we have succeeded to the title of emperor, but since the inscriptions of metal and stone do not contain the words ‘First Emperor,’ there is a danger that after a long time has passed it may appear as though the inscriptions were made not by the First Emperor but by one of his later heirs, and this will not serve to praise his merits and accomplishments and his outstanding virtue.”[2]

The bronze in our exhibition is cast with an edict from the first year of the Second Emperor’s reign and exemplifies his attempts to enhance his own power and authority by association with the political hegemony of his father. The inscription, which is seven columns long, states that the Second Emperor decreed the standardization of measures following the actions of the First Emperor to reinforce the administrative and political unification of the country (fa duliang jin Shihuangdi wei zhi). It is one of the most important artifacts to shed light on the administrative controls and processes of the Qin government.

This plaque, now missing the top left section, was discovered during the construction of the Shandong Provincial Library in the capital city of Jinan. It has three extant extensions at the corners to attach it to another object. There is a very similar bronze of the same shape, but in a slightly larger size, in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum. It is cast with the same edict and similar calligraphy, but with a different division of characters in the vertical columns.[3] The ROM bronze is slightly convex and has similar extensions at the four corners.[4]

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. Kern, The Stele Inscriptions of Ch’in Shih-huang, p. 4.

2. Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty, translated by Burton Watson (New York: Renditions/Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 64–65.

3. The ROM bronze is in the Bishop White Collection, no. 931.13.195. Its dimensions are 10.6 x 8.1 x 0.25 cm. Its four extensions at the corners measure 1.7 cm wide and 0.6 cm high, and the perforations measure 0.45 cm in diameter at the front and 0.1–0.2 cm at the back. The object is convex with the highest point raised about 0.9 cm. Its text is identical but the division into vertical columns different: 7 columns of on average 9 characters, except the last column, which has 6 characters. The ROM bronze is not missing the top left section as in the bronze from Shandong. My appreciation to Klaas Ruitenbeek, Curator, Asian Art, ROM, for providing me with the above information.

4. The archaeological metals conservator at ROM has studied their piece and believes that it was attached to an iron object. Iron corrodes preferentially, thus protecting the bronze and explaining why the ROM bronze is in pristine condition.

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