Mythos 77 – Qin Shi Huangdi

 

Very little of the Chinese mytho-history exists, due to the destruction of libraries and scholars during the rule the first Qin emperor Huangdi around 2,250 years ago. Qin Shi Huangdi (秦始皇) was the King of the state of Qin during the end of the Waring States Era of Chinese history. Qin Shi Huangdi eventually conquered the other states and declared himself the first Emperor (huángdì); new title he’d created from the legendary ancestor of all Han (Chinese) people: Huángdì. The title was intended to appropriate the prestige of the Yellow Emperor (黄帝),(1)Jeaneane D. Fowler (2005) An Introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism: Pathways to Immortality, Page 132 whose cult was popular in the Warring States period as he was considered to be a founder of Chinese civilization.

China During the Waring States Period

During Qin Shi Huangdi’s reign, his generals greatly expanded the size of the Chinese empire, campaigning south they conquered the Yue (Cantonese) peoples of Hunan and Guangdong, campaigning to the west they conquered the Ordos Loop from the Xiongnu, who had conquered the Indo-European Ordos culture a century earlier. Qin Shi Huang also worked with his minister Li Si (李斯) to enact major economic and politic reforms aimed at the standardization of the diverse practices of the earlier Chinese states.(2)William J. Duiker, et al. (2006) World History: Volume I: To 1800, 5th Edition, Page 78 This process also led to the banning and burning of many books and the execution of scholars. This era is therefore also know as the time of the ‘Burning of Books and Burying of Scholars.’ His public works projects included the unification of diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army. He ruled until his death in around 2,200 years ago (210 BC) after a futile search for an elixir of immortality.(3)Ren Changhong, et al. (2000) Rise and Fall of the Qin Dynasty

According to the Records of the Grand Historian of Sima Qian (司马迁), a court historian of the Han dynasty, after Qin Shi Huangdi unified China in around 2,200 years ago (221 BC), his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing intellectual discourse to unify thought and political opinion:

Chancellor Li Si Said: “I, your servant, propose that all historians’ 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.- Sima Qian (4)Sima Qian (109 BC) Records of the Grand Historian, Chapter 6

Qin Shi Huangdi's Terracotta Army

Qin Shi Huangdi’s Terracotta Army

As a result of the ‘Burning of Books and Burying of Scholars,’ there is a lack of records within China from before this date. It is well established the Chinese writing long precedes this time, as oracle bones with Chinese writing have been dug up in graves dating back to 3,200 years ago,(5)William G. Boltz (2003) “The Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System,” American Oriental Series Volume 78, Page 31 and before that a system of pictographic symbols known as the Jiahu Symbols was in use since at least 8,600 years ago.(6)X Li, et al. (2003) “The earliest writing? Sign use in the seventh millennium BC at Jiahu, Henan Province, China,” Antiquity, Volume 77, Number 295, Pages 31–44 Archaeologists have discovered signs of civilization in China, such as pottery vessels, dating back at least 20,000 years.(7)Xiaohong Wu, et al. (2012) “Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China,” Science, Volume 336, Pages 1696-1700 What remains of Chinese pre-history and mythology is fragmentary, and largely based on the I Ching and the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian from circa 2,100 years ago. The accuracy of this document has been widely questioned throughout the centuries, as it could not be independently verified by other documents. Since the discovery of oracle bones listing the names of kings earlier than Qin Shi Huangdi, the general opinion on Records of the Grand Historian has shifted as related by the noted historian and sinologist Joseph Needham in 1954 AD:

It was commonly maintained that Ssuma Chhien [Sima Qian] could not have adequate historical materials for his account of what had happened more than a thousand years earlier. One may judge of the astonishment of many, therefore, when it appeared that no less than twenty-three of the thirty rulers’ name were to be clearly found on the indisputably genuine Anyang bones. It must be, therefore, that Ssuma Chhien [Sima Qian] did have fairly reliable materials at his disposal—a fact which underlines once more the deep historical-mindedness of the Chinese—and that the Shang dynasty is perfectly acceptable.- Joseph Needham (8)Joseph Needham (1954) Science and Civilization in China: Volume 1, Introductory Orientations, Page 88

References   [ + ]

1. Jeaneane D. Fowler (2005) An Introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism: Pathways to Immortality, Page 132
2. William J. Duiker, et al. (2006) World History: Volume I: To 1800, 5th Edition, Page 78
3. Ren Changhong, et al. (2000) Rise and Fall of the Qin Dynasty
4. Sima Qian (109 BC) Records of the Grand Historian, Chapter 6
5. William G. Boltz (2003) “The Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System,” American Oriental Series Volume 78, Page 31
6. X Li, et al. (2003) “The earliest writing? Sign use in the seventh millennium BC at Jiahu, Henan Province, China,” Antiquity, Volume 77, Number 295, Pages 31–44
7. Xiaohong Wu, et al. (2012) “Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China,” Science, Volume 336, Pages 1696-1700
8. Joseph Needham (1954) Science and Civilization in China: Volume 1, Introductory Orientations, Page 88