Burning of books and burying of scholars
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Burning of books and burying of scholars (traditional Chinese: 焚書坑儒; simplified Chinese: 焚书坑儒; pinyin: fénshū kēngrú; literally "burning of books and burying (alive) of (Confucian) scholars") is the purported burning of writings and slaughter of scholars during the Qin Dynasty of Ancient China, between the period of 213 and 210 BC.
"Books" at this point probably referred to writings on bamboo strips which were then bound together This contributed to the loss to history of many philosophical theories of proper government (known as "the Hundred Schools of Thought"). The official philosophy of government ("legalism") survived.
The "Burning of books and burying of scholars" was part of what is known as "the Fires of Qin". The Qin emperor died in 210 BC and national chaos ensued. However, despite the lack of a functioning central government to pursue this policy, what happened was further destruction of historical materials: the Qin capital city was sacked and burned in 207 BC, destroying official copies of works which had been retained in the imperial library and official archives, together with the Qin's own approved literary records. Together with the deaths of many scholars in these few years, the "burning of books and burying of scholars" resulted in an incalculable loss to the history of China, and to human knowledge in general.
According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, unified China in 221 BC, his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing the intellectual discourse to unify all thoughts and political opinions. This was justified by accusations that the intelligentsia sang false praise and raised dissent through libel.
Li Si proposed that all histories except those written by the Qin historians be burned so that they would not be available to the public; those in the imperial archives would be exempt. And he proposed, moreover, 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 war, medicine, agriculture and divination.
Burial of the scholars
After being deceived by two alchemists while seeking prolonged life, Qin Shi Huangdi ordered more than 460 scholars 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 Confucian scholars, Fusu counseled that, with the country newly unified, and enemies still not pacified, such a harsh measure imposed on those who respect Confucius would cause instability. 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.
Few scholars today believe that Sima Qian's account of the book-burning in the Records of the Grand Historian—the source of our knowledge about this event—reflects what actually happened, although no competing theories have appeared.
- Book burning
- Destruction of Four Olds
- Heinrich Heine: "Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings."
- Literary Inquisition
- Cultural Revolution
- In Chinese: "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 BC). 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.
- 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.)
- See Victor H. Mair, Nancy S. Steinhardt, and Paul R. Goldin, The Hawai'i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (University of Hawai'i Press, 2005): 151. See also Michael Nylan, The Five "Confucian" Classics (Yale University Press, 2001).
- The Burning of the Books
- Jing Liao, A historical perspective : the root cause for the underdevelopment of user services in Chinese academic libraries, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol.30, num. 2, pages 109-115, March 2004.