burning of books and burying of scholars

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burning of books and burying of scholars
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{| style="float:right; width:222px; margin:0 0.! style="color:#black; background:#f8eaba; font-size:100%; text-align:center;"|Qin dynasty
thumbQin Empire in 210 BCE
{{color box|#574c46}} Qin region{{color box|#8f8279}} Outlying regions)

|gr=fernshu kengru|j=fan4-syu1 haang1-jyu4|y=fàhn-syū hāang-yùh|tl=hûn-tsu khenn-lûbun s-ta kʰˤreŋ nyu}}}}The burning of books and burying of scholars ({{zh|t=焚書坑儒|s=焚书坑儒|p=fénshū kēngrú}}) refers to the supposed burning of texts in 213 BCE and live burial of 460 Confucian scholars in 212 BCE by the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty of Imperial China. The event caused the loss of many philosophical treatises of the Hundred Schools of Thought. The official philosophy of government ("legalism") survived.Modern scholars doubt the details of the story in the Records of the Grand Historian—the main source—since Sima Qian, the author, wrote a century or so after the events and was an official of the Han dynasty, which could be expected to portray the previous rulers unfavorably. While it is clear that the First Emperor gathered and destroyed many works which he regarded as subversive, two copies of each school were to be preserved in imperial libraries. These were destroyed in the fighting following the fall of the dynasty. It is now believed that there likely was an incident, but they were not Confucians and were not "buried alive".{{sfnp|Goldin|2005|p=151}}{{sfnb|Nylan|2001|pp = 29–30}}{{sfnb|Kern|2010|pp = 111–112}}

Traditional version{| style"float:right; width:260px; margin:0 0 1em 1em;"

! style="color:#black; background:#f8eaba; font-size:100%; text-align:center;"|Ancient Chinese book events
|'[1]' Book burning of the First Qin Emperor'[2]' Wang Mang's capital Chang'an was attacked and the imperial palace ransacked. Mang died in the battle and, at the end, forces burned the national library of Weiyang Palace. '[3]' At the end of the Han dynasty, the Three Kingdoms dissipation of the state library by upheavals that resulted from the Wei (魏), Shu (蜀), and Wu (吳) contests'[4]' At the end of Yang-Jia turbulence, dissipation of the state library by the upheavals of Western Jin.'[5]' Emperor Yuan of the Liang dynasty surrounded by the Western Wei army in his castle; Yuan set fire to the collection of national records.

Punishing of the scholars

According to the Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), after Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, unified China in 221 BCE, his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing intellectual discourse to unify thought and political opinion. {{mdash}}Shiji Chapter 6. "The Basic Annals of the First Emperor of Qin" thirty-fourth year (213 BC)}}Three categories of books were viewed by Li Si to be most dangerous politically. These were poetry (particularly the Shi Jing), history (Shujing and especially historical records of other states than Qin), and philosophy. The ancient collection of poetry and historical records contained many stories concerning the ancient virtuous rulers. Li Si believed that if the people were to read these works they were likely to invoke the past and become dissatisfied with the present. The reason for opposing various schools of philosophy was that they advocated political ideas often incompatible with the totalitarian regime.{{sfnp|Chan|1972|pp=105–107}}


The extent of the damage to Chinese intellectual heritage is difficult to assess, for details have not been recorded in history. Several facts, however, indicate that the consequences of this event, although enduring, had not been extensive. First, it is recorded in Li Si's memorial that all technological books were to be spared. Secondly, even the "objectionable" books, poetry and philosophy in particular, were preserved in imperial archives and allowed to be kept by the official scholars.{{sfnp|Chan|1972|p=106}}Of the various categories of books mentioned, history suffered one of the greatest losses of its ancient time. Extremely few state history books before Qin have survived. Li Si stated that all history books not in the Qin interpretation were to be burned. It is not clear whether copies of these books were actually burned or allowed to stay in the imperial archives. Even if some histories were preserved, they possibly would have been destroyed in 206 B.C. when enemies captured and burnt the Qin imperial palaces in which the archives were most likely located.{{sfnp|Chan|1972|p=107}}

Later book burnings

At the end of the Qin, the Epang Palace's national records were destroyed by fire. Tang dynasty poet Zhang Jie ({{zh|c=章碣}}) wrote a poem (titled 焚书坑, Fen Shu Keng, "Pits for Book-burning") about the policy of destruction by both the Qin dynasty and the rebels (of which Liu Bang and Xiang Yu were the examples cited as they entered the capital city Xianyang one after the other.):{{cquote|As the smoke from burning bamboo and silk clears, the empire is weakened.(The) Hangu Pass and the Yellow River guard the domain of Qin Shi Huang in vain.Pits of ash were not yet cold, disorder reigned east of the Xiao Mountains.As it turned out, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu could not read.{{Hidden begin|title=Original Chinese text}}竹帛烟销帝业虚,zhu2 bo2 yan1 xiao1 di4 ye4 xu1关河空锁祖龙居。guan1 he2 kong1 suo3 zu3 long2 ju1坑灰未冷山東亂,kēng huī wèi lĕng shān dōng luàn劉項原來不讀書.liú xiàng yuán lái bù dú shū{{Hidden end}}}}

Burial of the scholars

(File:Killing the Scholars, Burning the Books.jpg|thumb|Killing the Scholars and Burning the Books (18th century Chinese painting).)Tradition had it that after being deceived by two alchemists while seeking prolonged life, Qin Shi Huang ordered more than 460 scholars in the capital to be buried alive in the second year of the proscription. The belief was based on this passage in the Shiji (chapter 6):
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 was 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 punishes them so severely, it may cause unrest in the empire. Please observe this, Your Majesty."(於是使御史悉案问诸生,诸生传相告引,乃自除犯禁者四百六十馀人,皆阬之咸阳,使天下知之,以惩後。益发谪徙边。始皇长子扶苏谏曰:「天下初定,远方黔首未集,诸生皆诵法孔子,今上皆重法绳之,臣恐天下不安。唯上察之。」) Shiji vol. 6. However, he was unable to change his father's mind, and instead was sent to guard the frontier as a de facto exile. This picture is wrong because the houses, clothes, and hats that they wore are different during the Qin dynasty.
An account given by Wei Hong in the 2nd century added another 700 to the figure.


The scholar Michel Nylan observes that despite its mythic significance, the Burning of the Books legend does not bear close scrutiny. Nylan suggests that the reason Han dynasty scholars charged the Qin with destroying the Confucian Five Classics was partly to "slander" the state they defeated and partly because Han scholars misunderstood the nature of the texts, for it was only after the founding of the Han that Sima Qian labeled the Five Classics as "Confucian". Nylan also points out that the Qin court appointed classical scholars who were specialists on the Classic of Poetry and the Book of Documents, which meant that these texts would have been exempted, and that the Book of Rites and the Zuozhuan did not contain the glorification of defeated feudal states which the First Emperor gave as his reason for destroying them.{{sfnb|Nylan|2001|pp = 29–30}} Martin Kern adds that Qin and early Han writings frequently cite the Classics, especially the Documents and the Classic of Poetry, which would not have been possible if they had been burned, as reported.{{sfnb|Kern|2010|pp = 111–112}}Sima Qian's account of the execution of the scholars has similar difficulties. First, no text earlier than the Shiji mentions the executions, the Shiji mentions no Confucian scholar by name as a victim of the executions, and in fact, no other text mentions the executions at all until the 1st century AD. The earliest known use of the famous phrase "burning the books and executing the Confucians" is not noted until the early 4th century.{{sfnb|Kern|2010|pp = 111–112}}

See also






  • {{citation

| first = Lois Mai | last = Chan
| title = The Burning of the Books in China, 213 B.C.
| journal = The Journal of Library History | year = 1972
| volume = 7 | number = 2 | pages = 101–108
| jstor = 25540352
| postscript = .
  • {{citation

| first = Paul R. | last = Goldin
| chapter = The rise and fall of the Qin empire | pages = 151–160
| title = The Hawai'i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture
| editor1-first = Victor H. | editor1-last = Mair
| editor2-first = Nancy S. | editor2-last = Steinhardt
| editor3-first = Paul R. | editor3-last = Goldin
| publisher = University of Hawai'i Press | year = 2005
| isbn = 978-0-8248-2785-4
| postscript = .
  • {{citation | first= Martin | last =Kern | chapter =Early Chinese Literature: Beginnings through Western Han | pages =1–114| title =The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature | editor1=Kang-i Sun Chang |editor2= Stephen Owen | publisher =Cambridge University Press | year =2010 | isbn =9780521855587|url=weblink|ref = harv}}
  • {{citation

|title = The five "Confucian" classics
|first = Michael
|last = Nylan
|publisher = Yale University Press
|year = 2001
|url =weblink
|isbn = 978-0-300-08185-5
|ref = harv
|postscript = .
|deadurl = yes
|archiveurl =weblink" title="">weblink
|archivedate = 2014-06-11
|df =

Further reading

  • {{citation

| first = Jens Østergård | last = Petersen
| title = Which books did the First Emperor of Ch'in burn? – on the meaning of Pai chia in early Chinese sources
| journal = Monumenta Serica | volume = 43 | year = 1995 | pages = 1–52
| jstor = 40727062
| ref = none
| postscript = .
  • Wu, K. C., The Chinese Heritage (1982). New York: Crown Publishers. {{ISBN|0-517-54475X}}.

External links

{{Qin dynasty topics}}{{Censorship}}{{Media manipulation}}{{Authority control}}

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