9th Grade New York


This inquiry leads students through an investigation of the actions, policies, and laws of Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin dynasty, 220–210 BCE. By investigating the compelling question “Did Emperor Shi Huangdi improve China?” students evaluate whether Shi Huangdi’s policies and practices ultimately hurt or helped Chinese society. By investigating historical sources, students will assess the extent to which the measures Shi Huangdi took to unify China (politically, geographically, and culturally) ultimately improved Chinese society and, if so, for whom. It is important to note that this inquiry will require prerequisite knowledge of historical events and ideas. Teachers should introduce the inquiry after students have studied classical China and established Chinese philosophies including Confucianism, Daoism, and legalism.


Compelling Question:

Did Emperor Shi Huangdi Improve China?

Staging the Question:

Discuss what photographs of the Terra-cotta Army and the Great Wall of China communicate about the ruler responsible for them.

Supporting Question How did Shi Huangdi unify China politically?

Formative Task List the actions Shi Huangdi took to unite the former Warring States.

Sources Source A: Map of the Warring States period in China
Source B: Excerpt from “The Five Vermin”
Source C: “Memorial on Annexation of Feudal States”


Supporting Question How did Shi Huangdi’s reforms standardize society?

Formative Task Write a summary of the laws and reforms passed by Shi Huangdi that unified China through standardization.

Sources Source A: Image bank: Objects showing the accomplishments of Shi Huangdi


Supporting Question To what extent did Shi Huangdi’s treatment of opponents diminish his success?

Formative Task Develop a claim supported by evidence about the extent to which Shi Huangdi’s harsh treatment of his opposition diminished his success.

Sources Source A: “Memorial of the Burning of the Books”
Source B: Excerpt from The Records of the Grand Historian
Source C: Killing the Scholars and Burning the Books

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Did Emperor Shi Huangdi improve China? Construct an argument that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and historical evidence while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Have students create a Great Wall of China. Each student would complete a “brick” that represents different elements of this time period for China.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Investigate how suppressing freedom of speech affects a society.
Assess: Research current policies of suppression of freedom of speech in China and individuals who are currently imprisoned for criticizing the Chinese government (e.g., Chinese poet and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo).
Act: Write a letter to Cao Jianming (through the PEN American Center website) asking for Liu Xiaobo’s release from prison or write a letter to the editor explaining a position on the freedom of speech using Liu Xiaobo or another person as an example. Either letter should discuss how limiting speech has affected Chinese expression.