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« Why We Need Chinese Philosophy | Main | The Northern Wei Dynasty Comes to Williamstown »

June 11, 2012


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it is a lot easier for me to imagine rulers beguiled by art and the astounding feelings generated by it than to imagine afterlife cravings for being well-served ..

sometimes the contemporary intellect imposes beliefs on distant times that jar, with the projection of an insecurity that is at odds with the deeply secure nature of people who rise to leadership positions ..

I agree. Difficult to imagine in this day and age someone worrying about who will wait on them after they're dead. On the other hand, Chinese people burn fake money (and more recently, fake iPads) during grave sweeping holidays for their predecessors to enjoy, so the concept of providing for the afterlife lives on. Insisting on, and planning for, the burial of grave figures may belie a certain degree of selfishness by today's metrics, but burying servants alive seems extremely difficult to justify despite the multi-generational divide.

Granting your argument, I still confess to more sympathy for the man than I read here. The numbers he saved by ending the Warring States quagmire, pretty much once and for all, and the political and cultural legacies of the centralized bureaucracy and the unified writing system, among other things, arguably kept China from going the way of Europe after the Roman Empire--that Humpty Dumpty is currently failing once again to put itself together again, while China suffers no such disunity in no small measure because of Qin Shihuangdi.

The stone inscriptions recorded by Sima Qian in the Shi Ji suggests Qin was more Confucian and Daoist, too, than is commonly thought. The Cambridge History of Ancient China has a fascinating section on the possibilities of character assassination and fabricated interpolations of Qin's most "monstrous" actions that is very worth the read.

If anything, I fault his Terra Cotta Warriors excess for its superstition. A wiser ruler would have taken a page from Confucius and been content, to paraphrase, with "knowing what can be known, and knowing what can't be known"--and from what I gather, it was the influence of something like an early (?) form of Huang-Lao Daoism that beguiled Qin with its immortality claptrap.

I wonder, too, if it's true that Qin was ingesting mercury in search of that immortality, if it didn't make him somewhat insane, which might also account for the megalomania.

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