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Another Miracle by Qin Shi Huang, 50 Lane “Highways” Constructed More Than 2,000 Years Ago

The 50-bu “highway” constructed by Qin Shi Huang was wide enough for 50 cars to run on at the same time. (Image: NTD)
The 50-bu “highway” constructed by Qin Shi Huang was wide enough for 50 cars to run on at the same time. (Image: NTD)

The Great Wall is known as a wonder of the world, but that was not the only miracle created by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China (259-210 B.C.). In fact, he also constructed amazing “highways” in the same period of time, however, it’s not known to many people.

As to the reasons why Qin Shi Huang constructed these highways and how long they were, Dr. Zhang Tianliang, the host of New Tang Dynasty TV’s “Chinese History Show” explains:

After Qin Shi Huang unified China in 221 B.C., he started to construct roads in the following year. With Xianyang as a center, he constructed three very long “highways.”

  • The first one was from Xianyang to ​​Yan and Qi, namely, Shandong and Hebei Provinces today.
  • The second one was from Xianyang to Wu, which is the Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces today.
  • The third one was from Xianyang to Chu, which is the Hubei Province today.

In other words, Qin Shihuang constructed several big roads stretching from Xianyang to the Bohai Sea, the East China Sea, Hubei Province, and Inner Mongolia, in the eastern, southeastern, southern, and northern directions respectively.

(Image: NTD)

Qin Shihuang constructed several big roads stretching from Xianyang to the Bohai Sea, the East China Sea, Hubei Province, and Inner Mongolia, in the eastern, southeastern, southern, and northern directions respectively. (Image: NTD)

The “highways” were of a very high quality. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, the width of each highway was 50 bu (Chinese paces). As 1 bu equals to 6 chi (Chinese foot) and 1 chi is about 0.32 m, 1 bu (1.92 m) is about the width between two wheels of modern cars.

In other words, the 50-bu “highway” was wide enough for 50 cars to run on at the same time.

These roads were constructed with a very solid and compacted soil base that was rigorously rammed, so they could be sturdy. There was an special lane in the middle of these roads that was exclusively for the emperor’s use only. Other lanes on the two sides could be used by officials, military personnel, and ordinary people.

In addition, there was a huge tree in every 3 zhang (10 m). So these roads were indeed very magnificent.

In addition to the three highways to the directions of east, south, and north, Qin Shi Huang also constructed various roads leading to the areas resided by ethnic minority groups, such as in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, etc. In fact, these places are basically situated in mountainous areas.

For instance, the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau is very mountainous and the Sichuan basin is surrounded by mountains. Therefore, it’s a very complicated and dangerous project to construct roads in such mountainous areas.

The narrowest stretch of the road constructed between Sichuan’s Yibin and Dianchi Lake in Yunnan was only 5 chi wide, and it was only for pedestrian use.

After completion of the road construction projects, Qin Shi Huang began his nationwide inspection tour. Many people think that Qin Shi Huang’s going ahead with these big projects was unrealistic. In fact, it was not so.

As an old Chinese saying goes: “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” If it took several months to go to the palace to consult the emperor for something, it would be over one year after it was rectified by the emperor. It’s for this reason that there was the so-called autonomy system in ancient China.

During the Zhou Dynasty, the feudal system was first implemented. Since some places were too far away to be ruled by the emperor in person, some reliable officials were entrusted to rule those places. As a result, there were many feudal states in the past. But Qin Shi Huang decided to abolish the feudal state system, and instead he established the prefecture and county system.

To ensure the central government’s control over local governments and facilitate the delivery of imperial edicts to military troops, these highways thus became indispensable infrastructure.

In fact, before Qin Shi Huang constructed these roads, he had taken into consideration the effectiveness of these highways, that is, the unification of all the states.

Research by Monica Song and Kathy McWilliams

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