January 10, 1989


Page 11

Emperor Shi Huang Ti Built For
Ten Thousand Generations

The Emperor's New Clothes
by Don Baier

The Great Wall of China.

History's Timeline, a useful book for those of us who have trouble with dates
(that is, 95% of all Americans) carries this account of the First Emperor:

The state of Ch'in in the north-west of the country was the most
powerful in China in the 200s B.C. Six other states opposed it, but the
rulers of Ch'in and their diplomats were both wily and treacherous.
They divided the other states by promises, which were not kept, and
threats, which were, so that the Ch'in received territory as peace
There is an old Chinese proverb: "To give away land to appease the
Ch'in is like putting out a fire by piling wood on it." By 221 B.C., the
Ch'in had conquered all their rivals, and their ruler, Shih Huang Ti,
became emperor. He styled himself "The First Emperor" and indeed
he was the first to rule over a united empire.
Shih Huang Ti was what the historians of Chinese culture have termed a
Legalist. According to the historian W. Scott Morton, the proponents of Legalism "maintained that the notion that men are by nature good is purely
visionary, and that the only way to establish a stable and peaceful kingdom
is by rewards and punishments." It was therefore necessary to "lay down a
complete code of laws," described by Morton as "one of the most thoroughgoing statements of totalitarianism in world history."
Consequently, under Shih Huang Ti, "when the victory was complete, all
weapons of those not in the Ch'in army were confiscated and the metal melted down."
Then, according to History's Timeline, the Emperor "reorganized the
government . . . bringing everything under his personal rule. He standardized everything he could, from the Chinese script to weights and measures
and the gauge of wagon wheels.
He had all books and records burned that did not relate to Ch'in achievements, and killed scholars who opposed him"; some were burned alive.
"Finally, he had the Great Wall of China constructed to safeguard the
country against invasion from the north," at the cost of tens of thousands of
the lives of those who died building it.
The First Emperor summed up his achievement: "I have brought order to
the mass of beings and have submitted acts and realities to the test: everything has the name which is appropriate to it."
Alas, Morton reports that "the more centralized the empire became, the more
vulnerable it was to weakness at the center. The weakness surfaced when

the First Emperor died in 210 B.C.," while "on a trip to the eastern regions to
seek the aid of Daoist magicians in securing the elixir of immortality."
The top Legalist at court, "Li Si and the chief eunuch, Zhao Gao, kept his
death secret" until they could arrange his succession by a younger son, Tsu
Ying. "Unable to continue his father's tyranny, he died in bloody rebellion"
in 206 B.C., "and the Ch'in dynasty perished with him."
Morton sums up: "Shih Huang Ti had boasted of a dynasty that would last
10,000 generations, but in fact all was over in 15 years."