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Burning of the books and burial of the scholars ( ) 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.

Book burning

According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, unified Chinamarker in 221 BCE, his chancellor Li Ssu 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 Ssu'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 Ssu took his place in this area.

Li Ssu 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.

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.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 Xianyangmarker, 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.) 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.

Remembrance in literature

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 Hong Siu Long; however, killing Hong will also terminate himself as well because Hong is the "cause" for being the king. Without Hong's existence, the "effect" of being himself will cease to exist. Therefore, Qin Shi Huang decided to get rid of the evidence of the existence of Hong Siu Long by decreeing that the name Hong Siu Long shall never be mentioned again, and as a result burned books and buried scholars.

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