In 361 BC, Duke Xian of Qin dies. His son Ying Quliang becomes Duke Xiao of Qin, inheriting a state so poor and war-torn that "the dogs don't shit there," sneered upon by the more powerful and cultured six states to the east. And he's willing to pay any price to save his people from destruction.
This is not the Qin you may be familiar with.
Meanwhile, a certain brilliant, ambitious minor official in the state of Wei finds himself looking abroad for employment options. He's full of grand, dangerous ideas for reform, and he's looking for a ruler willing to use him to his full potential. They call him Wei Yang at the time, but years later, for his services, Ying Quliang will enfeoff him as Lord Shang.
Based on the book series by Sun Haohui, which covers the entire rise and fall of Qin, The Qin Empire takes a rare sympathetic view at Legalism, Shang Yang's reforms, and the state of Qin. There's a second season, and more in the works, (loosely) following the later books.
Tropes appearing in this work:
- Adorkable: Just about everyone falls into this category at some point in the show.
- Big Eater: Wei Yang.
- Big, Screwed-Up Family: Subverted with the Ying family. Sure, the relationships between certain members can get a bit homicidal, but that never keeps the family from being pretty damn effective as a political unit.
- Cain and Abel: A complicated version springs up between the Ying brothers and Wei Yang.
- Child Soldiers: Pre-reforms Qin is so desperate for soldiers that it sends children and old men to the front lines. According to the novel, Ying Quliang himself joined the army as a common soldier at the age of twelve.
- Cool Sword: Ying Qian's Tianyue sword. Also the Ying family's ancestral Sword of Duke Mu.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Hilariously subverted with the black-robed rulers of Qin, who are, for once, the protagonists.
- Played straight with Wei Yang, who always wears white, the color of death, light, and purity.
- Corruption of a Minor: Poor Ying Si.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Wei Yang is sentenced to be torn apart by chariots, although Bai Xue poisons him first to spare him in the show.
- Doorstopper: The first two seasons are 51 episodes each, and covering all the books will probably take 300+ episodes total. The novels themselves count— 5 books divided over 9 volumes.
- Enfante Terrible: Ying Si, primed by his uncle and detonated by Gan Long.
- Holding Hands: Ying Quliang and Wei Yang do this a lot. Subverted heartbreakingly in the later episodes after Ying Quliang dies and Wei Yang collapses under the strain of having to break his own laws. He instinctively reaches up for a hand that isn't there anymore.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Dear god, Ying Quliang and Wei Yang. They trust each other unconditionally, sacrifice everything for each other's sakes, and fight hand in hand for twenty years to reform Qin. When Ying Quliang dies, Wei Yang is holding his hand.
- Historical-Domain Character: Most of the main characters except the love interests.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: This is one of the few adaptations where Lord Shang gets this. Instead of his typical portrayal as a smug asshole who gets his just rewards, The Qin Empire shows him to be a fierce reformer who genuinely (and correctly) believes that Legalism is the only way to save Qin and leash the evil tendencies in people's hearts, and ultimately sacrifices himself to preserve his reforms.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Gan Long and the nobles. Pang Juan actually doesn't get as bad a case of this as he typically does, since the focus of this work isn't on his treatment of Sun Bin.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Wei Yang can't find refuge at an inn because his own laws forbid innkeepers from accepting travellers who don't have official identifying passes.
- Humans Are Bastards: Wei Yang's philosophy.
- Karma Houdini: Gan Long and the other nobles, at least until the second season.
- Magnetic Hero: Ying Quliang is so beloved by his people and ministers that his death creates a massive crisis of state.
- Old Retainer: Hei Bo.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Every battle that Duke Xian fights against Wei costs Qin a little more of its strained food supplies and manpower.
- On a larger scale, Qin succeeds in uniting China, but sows the seeds of its own annihilation in the process.
- Spell My Name with an "S": There are two states of Wei at this time, spelled identically in pinyin down to the tones. Wei Yang was born in one of them (the less prominent one, often spelled Wey for clarity in English works) and worked for the other. To make things more confusing, the Wei in Wei Yang's name is the same character as the name of his birth state, but is never spelled Wey.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Ying Yingyu and Bai Xue. Xuanqi does this in the books, too.
- Warrior Prince: Ying Quliang and Ying Qian. Wei Yang technically counts too, since he's related to the royal house of Wey/Wei, and later the Ying family by marriage.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Ying Si seems to be at once jealous of Wei Yang for claiming a greater share of Ying Quliang's esteem than him and of Ying Quliang for claiming a greater share of Wei Yang's esteem than him.
- Wise Prince: Ying Quliang. Surprisingly, Ying Qian and Ying Si also show this eventually.