History or his-story?
DEC 22 — Shih Huang Ti, the emperor of Qin who united the warring factions of China over 2,000 years ago, was a shrewd leader. He wanted to live forever, and thus sent Xu Fu and 100 young boys and 100 young girls in search of the elixir that will give him eternal life.
Xu Fu was a smart person. He sailed with the boys and girls to a group of Islands then called Tong Yin, which we now know by the name of Japan, and never returned.
Many Chinese believe that the Japanese might be the descendants of these groups of young boys and girls. Of course, I am no expert and I will leave this to archaeologists and anthropologists to argue it out.
What is certain is that Xu Fu’s grave is in Japan, and many of those young boys and girls and their descendents must have cross-married with the locals, and there is definitely a relation in term of genetics between the Chinese people and the Japanese.
Shih Huang Ti’s dream of getting the elixir remained just a dream. We know that everyone dies and there is no exception. So ultimately Shih Huang Ti must have realised this fact of life too.
So instead, he tried to consolidate his family’s hold on power, as he knew that his son and grandsons, like many of the second and third generations of aristocrats before, would not be as good or as “great” as himself.
He also started a project never before seen in human history at that time. He drafted millions of people, young and old, men and women alike to build a wall that stretched thousands of miles across the northern border of his empire.
That wall is reportedly the only man-made structure that is visible from space. We know it by the name of Wan Li Chang Zeng, or simply in English, The Great Wall (of China).
Hundreds of thousands died building this. This wall served to protect China from the barbarians up north, and so he thought it would help to protect his family’s reign.
Another worry was the intelligentsia. These were people who always criticised him. So how to make people obedient and loyal to him absolutely? He thought hard on this question being the clever man that he was.
What better way of trying to perpetuate his dynasty but to make all the people obedient fools? In those days, books were written on bamboo plates, and to gain knowledge was no simple feat.
So there were not many educated people. But even though this group was small, their influence was great. The peasants would look up to these educated people as guiding lights, and their views, through word of mouth carried by these peasants and simple folks, would travel fast throughout the country — even though there were no phone lines and no Internet.
Shih Huang Ti thought that if he could make all these intelligentsia disappear, there would be no more opponents to his rule or his dream of a perpetual dynasty for his descendants.
So began a mammoth task of rounding up these intelligentsia, especially those whose views were considered anti-government. He also ordered that certain books be confiscated and burned. Those books which in his mind would be able to influence people to think and question his authority and his reign.
This is one of the black marks on his reign, even though he was the one who unified China and unified Chinese writing. The latter was a feat that was of utmost importance, because despite the different dialects being spoken all over China, the unified Chinese writing served as a common identification factor for the people of China. It too had helped to nurture a homogenous culture.
The attempt to bury the intelligentsia and burn books was part of an attempt to rewrite history to suit Shih Huang Ti’s interest. We all know that he failed and failed miserably, for not many years after his death, his dynasty came tumbling down, and the Qin Dynasty was one of the shortest dynastic reigns in the history of China (221 BC to 206 BC).
For those who are more philosophical, this is perhaps a case of “Man proposes, God disposes” — and in this simple saying, there is so much wisdom for the present politicians to learn from.
Any attempt to try to hide the truth or any attempt to use unscrupulous methods to perpetuate one’s reign will fail miserably in the end.
In modern times, Adolf Hitler employed similar tactics in trying to consolidate his power. His propaganda machinery totally disregarded facts.
The person in charge of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, famously said that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Of course, the Third Reich failed and failed miserably, even though the failure had a lot to do with Hitler’s delusion of grandeur. But I suspect even Hitler had started believing the story painted by Goebbels and thus made many military as well as administrative blunders based on the false propaganda, and these blunders cumulatively weakened the resources of Germany so much that Reich’s fate was doomed.
What I am trying to say is that over the period of human history, many attempts had been made to rewrite history or to give out misinformation. Most of these attempts failed.
In Communist China, in the 50s and 60s, the failed Great Leap Forward was initially touted as a great economic success, and the Cultural Revolution a great egalitarian experiment. The Gang of Four, as we call them now, were described as the great compatriots to the Great Leader.
But with the passing of Mao Zedong and the arrest of the Gang of Four, the truth inevitably was uncovered and many victims of that egalitarian experiment, like Deng Xiao Peng, were given back their rightful places in history.
Artificial re-writing of history will not last long. It may last only as long as the ruler who patronised such writings, but as some wise person has so aptly pointed out, without peer review, history is only a story that will be rebutted and rewritten and would not be accepted as the true recording of actual events.
Those who never learn from history and try to write his-story instead are bound to repeat the mistakes!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.