Confucianism In Li Sia's The First Emperor

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“Since his pursuit of what he desires is unremitting, I therefore say he is a menace,” Li Si once said, in regards to Zhao Gao (Sima 46). Li Si, the first Prime Minister under the Second Generation Emperor, was not wrong in this declaration. Zhao Gao was manipulative and conniving. He appeared to use whatever aspects of different beliefs would get him closer to his desired goal, whether it was Legalism: a school of thought “strongly in favor of war as a legitimate means of strengthening the power of the state and imparting discipline to the people” (Morton 43), which he most often utilized, or Confucianism: a school of thought focused on “casuistry and family values” (Sima xxv), such as filial piety. Upon reading The First Emperor, by Sima …show more content…
Impacted by the First Generation Emperor and his advisor’s, Li Si, Legalist practices, Zhao Gao developed a leaning toward their execution of government. The tendency toward ruthless law actions is clearly displayed during the time of the First Generation Emperor with the burning of the books, “the Songs, the Documents, and the sayings of the hundred schools of thought” (29), and having the “more than 460[people] who had infringed the prohibitions… buried alive” (xvi). This prohibition and ruthless execution of the law was aimed toward curbing Confucianism and promoting Legalism, advocating the one who ruled under such beliefs. In this, promoting the one ruling and putting down possible descent through law and authority, Zhao Gao learns. Zhao Gao displays what he learned from Legalism in his advancing and defending of the Second Generation Emperor’s ascent to the throne. Accordingly, Zhao Gao …show more content…
He may not have been purposefully conscious of this, but he did adhere and manipulate filial piety, “[a] virtue often stressed by Confucianists” (Morton 38), as obedience/submission of a son to one’s father in return for their father’s care and concern. The first time he manipulated this Confucian ideal was when he tricked Fusu, the true heir to the First Generation Emperor’s throne, into killing himself. He, and his co-conspirators, stated that Fusu, “[b]eing a son but not behaving in a filial manner is to … dispatch himself” (Sima 35). Clearly, Zhao Gao, though not working entirely alone, manipulated Fusu’s duty to his father to make him commit suicide. In helping Huhai become the Second Generation Emperor, and having been the young man’s tutor (33), Zhao Gao became a father figure to Second Generation as First Generation was to Fusu. As a result, Second Generation saw him as more credible and never appeared to doubt Zhao Gao in comparison to Li Si. Exemplifying this is when Li Si tried to inform Second Generation of Zhao Gao’s corruption and greed, resulting in Second Generation defending Zhao Gao, saying, “Through loyalty he has obtained access to me, and through good faith he has preserved his position” (45). Clearly Second Generation believed in Zhao Gao’s loyalty to him, which can be seen as care and concern

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