Odds and Ends
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8 1, 10:26pm
I have done some digging into Chinese history as part of my Bachelor's and this presentation is not quite correct.
Qin Shihuangdi was in all likelihood a megalomaniac drunk on his immense power and yes, he did hunt down scholars and books.
But he was a Legalist who had been heavily influenced by the grand writer of this school, Han Feizi. Han Feizi was a decided nemesis of the Confucian school which he had already judged to be backwards and pointlessly traditionalist, around 250 BCE. He was a personal favorite and adviser to Qin Shihuangdi and the ideology he and his predecessors had pushed was what had led to the unification of China under one ruler after centuries of decay and war.
This time was known as the 100 Schools because it was a time in which many ideologies were pushed by different scholars and much of the classical body of Chinese philosophy was formed, because with warring states everyone tried to find the philosophy to give them an edge over the enemies.
The Qin had chosen wisely and went with Legalism which saw their rapid rise to power through strict laws and organisation.
But the main body of the scholarly class were Confucians, who were always looking for answers in their accounts of history which were heavily tinted by their moralist ideology which put personal piety and honoring of the traditional social order before matters of state.
This made them the natural enemy of the Legalists and thus an enemy of the draconic, excessive first Emperor who promptly tried to not only silence but eradicate the Confucian school, burning books and scholars alike.
Naturally this forever cemented the Legalist school as the villains of the story in all of Chinese history which was naturally written by the Confucians who had been reinstated as the dominant school under the Han, at which point the story of the Legalist ideology just ends.
Interestingly the Han did order a major revision of the Confucian classics that would subsequently render them relatively harmless to the Emperors.
Because, as the Chinese saying goes, the Emperor was forever Confucian on the outside, but Legalist on the inside, ruling based on the system that had been established under Qin Shihuangdi as per the specifications of Han Feizi.
Which naturally did little to stop the Confucians from painting the man who unified their lands in the worst light possible, making it very hard to discern what was true about him and what was just propaganda against him. Similar to Nero, really. But every chronicler was educated to hate him, apart from the pervasive slander.
Although some of it must be true, given the circumstances of Han Feizi's death at the order of his ruler who had feared someone else might spirit away his favorite stuttering prodigy and was manipulated into having him executed to prevent that from happening. Chinese courts were notoriously murderous games of power and influence, which ironically had been the main focus of Han Fei's studies.
tl;dr: It was not just about embellishing his legacy but about destroying his ideological and political opposition.