Li Si

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Depiction of Li Si

Li Si ( Chinese  李斯 , Pinyin Lǐ Sī , W.-G. Li Ssu ; * approx. 280 BC , † 208 BC ) was the Chancellor of the State of Qin and the First Emperor of China after the establishment of the first imperial dynasty .

Li was born in Chu State and learned the principles of governance from Xunzi . Han Fei was his classmate, and Li considered him more capable than himself. He began his career as a junior civil servant in Chu, but then moved to Qin, where he hoped to implement his ideas of an efficient state. He reached Qin in 247 BC. Shortly after the death of King Zhuangxiang and was subordinate to the then Qin Chancellor Lü Buwei . He encouraged the Qin king to strive for the unification of all Chinese states under his leadership. Qin envoys succeeded in persuading some states to submit to Qin through persuasion, threats or bribes. In 237 BC However, Li was threatened with expulsion from Qin after a visitor from Han planned a plot in 246 and after 238 BC. BC Lao Ai was exposed with an attempted coup. Li Si argued that foreigners were instrumental in the rise of Qin and that it was therefore absurd to buy goods from other countries but to do without capable people from abroad. With that he convinced the king to keep him busy.

The chancellor was a supporter of legalism . This philosophy focuses all power on the ruler. The ruler ruled by law and control, and all activity was directed towards strengthening the state. Morality was rejected as “not necessary”, instead wages and punishment were propagated. The right of inheritance should be abolished and unproductive industries (trade, intellectual activity) eradicated. As Qin was preparing to conquer the other Chinese states, Li Si advised the king to take action against Han first, as this would also weaken other empires. In 233, Li visited Han State. Qin pressured Han until Han dispatched Fei to Qin. Li warned the king that Han Fei would always be loyal to Han State and that he could not be made work for Qin; However, he could not be sent back to Han either. The Qin king had Han Fei imprisoned for this reason, and Li Si is said to have persuaded him to poison himself.

After the unification of China and the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, Li Si was appointed Chancellor (丞相). He played a decisive role in the politics of the Qin Empire. Among other things, he opposed the plan to divide the Qin Empire into units that members of the imperial family should head and whose titles should be inheritable. Instead, he suggested officers who could be called at any time. Li Si accompanied the First Emperor on at least one of his inspection trips. The idea of ​​putting up stone tablets praising the emperor's accomplishments probably goes back to Li Si. He advised the emperor to follow the teachings of Shen Buhai and Han Fei . Li Si implemented Han Fei's proposed ban on books that glossed over the past and initiated the book burning of 214 BC. And (as a calligrapher ) the reformer of the Chinese script . He had measures, weights and standards standardized, e.g. B. with coins, weapons or wagons. The private possession of guns was banned, various border walls were torn down, but the construction of the Great Wall began . A large network of roads was created, post stations were set up, irrigation canals were dug, and penalties were reduced. Li Si advised the emperor against a campaign against the Xiongnu because of the high costs.

When the First Emperor died, Li Si tried to hide his death from fear of rioting. The eunuch Zhao Gao himself developed ambitions for power and tried, contrary to the wishes of the late emperor, to put his second son Huhai on the throne instead of Fusu . Huhai raised taxes for the purpose of building palaces and heightened penalties. Li Si protested against this policy and warned the Second Emperor of Zhao Gao's ambitions. Li Si was then imprisoned and charged with planning a rebellion with his son Li You . The self-defense that he wrote was ineffective because Zhao Gao intercepted it on the way to the emperor. In the end, Li Si admitted his guilt and was killed in 208 BC. Executed in the market place of the Qin capital Xianyang by cutting at the hip . Li Si s relatives were also killed.


  • Derk Bodde : China's first unifier: a study of the Ch'in dynasty as seen in the life of Li Ssu (280? -208 BC) . Brill, Leiden 1938.

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Michael Loewe : A biographical dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin periods: (221 BC - AD 24) . Brill, Leiden 2000, ISBN 90-04-10364-3 , pp. 228-230 .
  2. ^ David Shepherd Nivison : The Classical Philosophical Writings . In: Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy (Eds.): The Cambridge History of Ancient China . Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-521-47030-8 , pp. 800 .
  3. ^ David Shepherd Nivison: The Classical Philosophical Writings . In: Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy (Eds.): The Cambridge History of Ancient China . Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-521-47030-8 , pp. 808 .