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    China Chronology

    The Burning of the Books

    213 BC


    In 213 BC, all Confucian books were burned save one copy of each which was kept in the Chinese State Library. Destroying literature and persecuting Confucians was an extension of the original plans to consolidate the Qin dynasty composed by Shi Huang (246-210 BC). They were carried out further by Prime Minister Li Si (208 BC).

    Back to "Qin Dynasty" Chronology

    Shi Huang (246-210 BC) founded the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC. This marked the end of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Shi Huang's main goal was to have a unified empire. He wanted to impose his ideals of government on other Chinese states he had conquered. This goal was to be carried out in three stages which included taking control over the state in 238 BC, defeating rivals and expanding China's borders from 230-221 BC, and organizing his conquests. For this part, he planned to institute roads, weights and measures, coins, and script. Family groups were strengthened and moral order imposed. Books were one of the biggest threats and were most likely burnt out of fear. The common people were eager to learn. To destroy their literature was to burn a bridge from common knowledge to deeper thought and introspection. By establishing intellectual conformity, Shi Huang hoped to stymie criticism of imperial rule which could lead to revolution.

    Legalism was the dominant thought of the Qin dynasty. It taught that men were evil and out of control, hence needing a strict set of laws and uniform justice to keep them in line. Legalists exalted the state wanting to bask in the glory of its power, ignoring the well-being of common people.

    Confucianism was one of the victims of Li Si's book burning. It was perhaps considered threatening to imperial leaders because it encouraged deep thought in politics and philosophy regarding economic and social changes. Confucians believed in the fundamental goodness of man, supporting rule by moral persuasion according to the concept of "Li." "Li" was enforced by society instead of the courts and education was valued as the most important aspect in maintaining order. Laws were passed simply to supplement "Li", not to take precedence over it.

    The ban on books was lifted in 191 BC, after the Qin were overthrown by the Han Dynasty.


    Cable, Monica. International Dictionary of Historic Places. Fitzroy Dearborn Publication, Chicago and London; 1995, p.109.

    Chinn, Rinn-Sup and Worden, Robert L. China: a Country Study. ed. Robert L. Worden, Andrea Matles Savada, and Ronald E. Dolan, pub. Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.; 1988. pp.10-12, 508.

    Destenay, Anne L. Nagel's Encyclopedia Guide : China. Nagel Publishing, Geneva, Switzerland; 1968. pp.109-11.

    Loewe, Dr. Michael. Cambridge Encyclopedia of China. ed. Brian Hook, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge;1991.

    Sheriff Hutton of York. Chronology of World History. G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, Rowman and Littlefield, Totowa, NJ; ed. #2. p.81.

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