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Burning of the books and burying of the scholars (traditional Chinese: 焚書坑儒simplified Chinese: 焚书坑儒pinyin: Fénshū Kēngrú) is a phrase that refers to a policy and a sequence of events in the Qin Dynasty of Ancient China, between the period of 213 and 206 BCE. During these events, the Hundred Schools of Thought were pruned; legalism survived. One side effect was the marginalization of the thoughts of the school of Mozi and the survival of the thoughts of Confucius.

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Book burning

According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, unified China in 221 BCE, his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing the freedom of speech, unifying all thoughts and political opinions. This was justified by accusations that the intelligentsia sang false praise and raised dissent through libel.

Beginning in 213 BCE, all classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought — except those from Li Si's own school of philosophy known as legalism — were subject to book burning.

Qin Shi Huang burned the other histories out of fear that they undermined his legitimacy, and wrote his own history books. Afterwards, Li Si took his place in this area.

Li Si proposed that all histories in the imperial archives except those written by the Qin historians be burned; that the Classic of Poetry, the Classic of History, and works by scholars of different schools be handed in to the local authorities for burning; that anyone discussing these two particular books be executed; that those using ancient examples to satirize contemporary politics be put to death, along with their families; that authorities who failed to report cases that came to their attention were equally guilty; and that those who had not burned the listed books within 30 days of the decree were to be banished to the north as convicts working on building the Great Wall. The only books to be spared in the destruction were books on medicine, agriculture and prophecy. [1]

Burial of the scholars

After being deceived by two alchemists while seeking prolonged life, Qin Shi Huang ordered more than 460 alchemists in the capital to be buried alive in the second year of the proscription, though an account given by Wei Hong in the 2nd century added another 700 to the figure. As some of them were also Confucius scholars Fusu counselled that, with the country newly unified, and enemies still not pacified, such a harsh measure imposed on those who respect Confucius would cause instability.[2] However, he was unable to change his father's mind, and instead was sent to guard the frontier in a de facto exile.

The quick fall of the Qin Dynasty was attributed to this proscription. Confucianism was revived in the Han Dynasty that followed, and became the official ideology of the Chinese imperial state. Many of the other schools had disappeared.

Popular culture

The same event occurs in the Hong Kong television drama A Step into the Past - but with an alternative motive. In order for Zhou Pan (Ying Zheng, the fake Qin Shi Huang) to keep the true identity confidential, he must "parricide" his master Xiang Shao Long; however, killing Xiang will also terminate himself as well because Xiao is the "cause" for being the king. Without Xiang's existence, the "effect" of being King will cease to exist. Therefore, Qin Shi Huang decided to get rid of the evidence of the existence of Xiang Shao Long by decreeing that the name Xiang Shao Long shall never be mentioned again, and as a result burned books and buried scholars.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In Chinese: "丞相李斯曰:「臣請史官非秦記皆燒之。非博士官所職,天下敢有藏詩、書、百家語者,悉詣守、尉雜燒之。有敢偶語詩書者棄市。以古非今者族。吏見知不舉者與同罪。令下三十日不燒,黥為城旦。所不去者,醫藥卜筮種樹之書。若欲有学法令,以吏为师」", from Shiji Chapter 6. “The Basic Annals of the First Emperor of Qin,” thirty fourth year (213 BCE). English translation: Chancellor Li Si Said: "I, your servant, propose that all historian's records other than those of Qin's be burned. With the exception of the academics whose duty includes possessing books, if anyone under heaven has copies of the Shi Jing, the Classic of History, or the writings of the hundred schools of philosophy, they shall deliver them (the books) to the governor or the commandant for burning. Anyone who dares to discuss the Shi Jing or the Classic of History shall be publicly executed. Anyone who uses history to criticize the present shall have his family executed. Any official who sees the violations but fails to report them is equally guilty. Anyone who has failed to burn the books after thirty days of this announcement shall be subjected to tattooing and be sent to build the Great Wall. The books that have exemption are those on medicine, divination, agriculture and forestry. Those who have interest in laws shall instead study from officials.
  2. ^ In Chinese: "於是使御史悉案問諸生,諸生傳相告引,乃自除。1犯禁者四百六十餘人,皆阬之咸陽,使天下知之,以懲後。益發謫徙邊。始皇長子扶蘇諫曰:「天下初定,遠方黔首未集,諸生皆誦法孔子,今上皆重法繩之,臣恐天下不安。唯上察之。」", from Shiji chapter 6. English translation: The first emperor therefore directed the imperial censor to investigate the scholars one by one. The scholars accused each other, and so the emperor personally determined their fate. More than 460 of them were buried alive at Xianyang, and the event is announced to all under heaven for warning followers. More people were internally exiled to border regions. Fusu, the eldest son of the emperor, counselled: "The empire just achieved peace, and the barbarians in distant areas have not surrendered. The scholars all venerate Confucius and take him as a role model. Your servant fears if Your Majesty punish them so severely, it may cause unrest in the empire. Please observe this, Your Majesty." (1Punctuation and therefore translation is ambiguous here. Punctuation given here reflects the 1959 Zhonghua Shuju (中華書局) edition.)

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