Qin Shi Huang also followed the school of the five elements, earth, wood, metal, fire and water.(五德終始說) Zhao Zheng’s birth element is water, which is connected with the colour black. It was also believed that the royal house of the previous dynasty Zhou had ruled by the power of fire, which was the colour red. The new Qin dynasty must be ruled by the next element on the list, which is water, represented by the colour black. Black became the colour for garments, flags, pennants. Other associations include north as the cardinal direction, winter season and the number six. Tallies and official hats were six inches long, carriages six feet wide, one pace (步, ) was 6 ft (1.8 m).

While the previous Warring States era was one of constant warfare, it was also considered the golden age of free thought. Qin Shi Huang eliminated the Hundred Schools of Thought which incorporated Confucianism and other philosophies. After the unification of China, with all other schools of thought banned, legalism became the endorsed ideology of the Qin dynasty, which was basically a system that required the people to follow the laws or be punished accordingly.

Beginning in 213 BC, at the instigation of Li Si and to avoid scholars’ comparisons of his reign with the past, Qin Shi Huang ordered most existing books to be burned with the exception of those on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the State of Qin. This would also serve the purpose of furthering the ongoing reformation of the writing system by removing examples of obsolete scripts. Owning the Book of Songs or the Classic of History was to be punished especially severely. According to the later Records of the Grand Historian, the following year Qin Shi Huang had some 460 scholars buried alive for owning the forbidden books. The emperor’s oldest son Fusu criticised him for this act.

Recent research suggests that the “burying of the Confucian scholars alive” is a Confucian martyrs’ legend; rather, the emperor ordered the killing (坑 kēng) of a group of alchemists after having found that they had fooled him. In Han times, the Confucian scholars, who had served the Qin loyally, used that incident to distance themselves from the failed dynasty. Kong Anguo (孔安國 ca. 165 – ca. 74 BC), a descendant of Confucius, turned the alchemists (方士 fāngshì) into Confucianists (儒 ) and entwined the martyrs´ legend with the strange story of the rediscovery of the lost Confucian books behind a demolished wall in the house of his ancestors. The emperor’s own library still had copies of the forbidden books but most of these were destroyed later when Xiang Yu burned the palaces of Xianyang in 206 BC.

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