Qin Shi Huang: A Complex Figure in History's Judgment
The image of Qin Shi Huang as a tyrant has been stuck for over two thousand years. However, in recent years, a discovery of the "Yunmeng Qin Bamboo Slips" in a tomb in Hubei has provided an opportunity for Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who has faced criticism for over two thousand years, to potentially redeem his reputation.
In 2015, an archaeological team made a significant discovery in an ancient tomb located in Hubei. They unearthed a collection of two hundred thousand bamboo slips dating back to the Qin Dynasty. These bamboo slips, attributed to a low-ranking official named "Xi," were revealed to contain records of laws and regulations from that era.
Figure 1 - "Xi" Figurine
The recently unearthed Qin Dynasty bamboo slips have provided valuable insights that challenge long-standing perceptions. Among the content, there is a specific passage that documents the military regulations of the Qin Dynasty. This discovery sheds new light on our understanding of the military practices during that time.
Figure 2 - Qin Dynasty Bamboo Slips
According to the records, the recently discovered Qin Dynasty bamboo slips outline the consequences for being late on duty. If an individual arrives late within three to five days, they would receive verbal criticism. If the delay extends to six to ten days, a fine would be imposed. Moreover, for those who are more than ten days late, a more substantial fine is enforced. These regulations provide insight into the strict disciplinary measures implemented by the Qin Dynasty.
One notable provision mentioned in the records pertains to the use of armor during military operations under rainy weather conditions. Interestingly, it states that during such circumstances, all penalties would be waived. This compassionate approach stands in sharp contrast to well-known historical accounts, such as the case of Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, who were sentenced to death for being delayed due to rain. The provision reveals a more lenient perspective towards the impact of weather conditions on soldiers' ability to fulfill their duties, challenging previous perceptions and shedding new light on the Qin Dynasty's policies.
The recently discovered laws and regulations of the Qin Dynasty revealed a comprehensive scope, encompassing various aspects of governance, including some surprisingly humane provisions. For instance, individuals who were shorter than 1.3 meters were exempt from mandatory military service, recognizing the physical limitations they might face. Furthermore, the laws stipulated that each family must have at least one male member present at home to fulfill the responsibility of caring for the family. Additionally, the regulations addressed concerns related to the welfare of the elderly, indicating a degree of societal awareness and support for the aging population. These provisions shed new light on the Qin Dynasty's governance and challenge previous assumptions, offering a more nuanced understanding of their approach to social issues.
Notably, under the "Farm Law", there is a provision that states, "while residing in agricultural fields, one must not indulge in alcoholic beverages," which forbids drinking alcohol while engaged in farming activities. There are also regulations in place during the second month of spring, prohibiting the hunting of birds, disturbing bird nests, cutting trees, and fishing in rivers without proper authorization. These laws demonstrate the meticulousness of the legal system at that time, as they encompassed various aspects such as agricultural water management, forest conservation, and the care of livestock, highlighting the comprehensive nature of governance during the Qin Dynasty. This insight adds to our understanding of the dynasty's efforts to enact responsible governance and foster harmony between human activities and the environment.
These findings contribute to a gradual restoration of his true image and shed light on aspects of his reign that were previously misunderstood or misrepresented. By examining these documents, we can gain a deeper understanding of Qin Shi Huang's rule and reassess his historical significance.
To challenge the widely held beliefs about Qin Shi Huang, it is important to address the stories of book burning, the burying of scholars, and Meng Jiangnu's weeping for the Great Wall. These narratives were not originally associated with Qin Shi Huang but were attributed to him by later generations of scholars and writers. It is necessary to reevaluate these accounts and consider alternative perspectives to gain a more accurate understanding of Qin Shi Huang's reign.
During Qin Shi Huang's reign, there was indeed a campaign to burn books and bury scholars, which aimed to promote ideological and cultural unity. However, it is important to note that while many Confucian texts were destroyed, numerous medical and agricultural books were actually preserved. The term "burying scholars" originally referred to the killing of around four hundred Jianghu figures, but over time, it was exaggerated to claim the deaths of over a thousand individuals, despite the lack of historical records supporting such claims.
The story of Meng Jiangnu weeping for the Great Wall originated from an ancient composition during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. It portrayed a general's sacrifice and his grieving wife. As time passed, the story evolved and during the Western Han Dynasty, it incorporated the wife's tears flooding a city in honor of her husband. The tale became associated with Qin Shi Huang's Great Wall construction in the Tang Dynasty. Later reinterpretations connected Meng Jiangnu's story to the wives of famous generals, emphasizing her tears' impact on the Great Wall. The connection between Meng Jiangnu and Qin Shi Huang was created by subsequent scholars and storytellers, adding depth to the narrative.
The Qin Dynasty records revealed that even criminals working on the construction of the Great Wall received wages. They were paid eight coins per day, which provided them with a good income to support their families. In other words, they were well compensated for their work.
To conclude, the discovery of the Qin Dynasty bamboo slips serves as a crucial turning point in our understanding of Qin Shi Huang's reign. It emphasizes the importance of revisiting historical sources and questioning long-held assumptions, enabling us to gain a deeper and more accurate understanding of one of China's most influential rulers.