China removes from school textbooks story of first anti-government uprising during the Qin Dynasty

The Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has reportedly removed from middle school textbooks references to the Dazexiang Uprising (209 BC), also known as the Chen Sheng Wu Guang Uprising (陳勝吳廣起義 / 陈胜吴广起义).

Previously the national unified middle school textbooks on Chinese language and literature, compiled by the Ministry of Education and published by state-owned People’s Education Press, featured an excerpt from the Records of the Grand Historian, a work by the Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) Chinese historian Sima Qian.


(By Calton – CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The fragment, titled Hereditary Houses of Chen She (陳涉世家 / 陈涉世家), deals with the rebellion of Chen Sheng and Wu Guang against the imperial authorities.

According to Hong Kong-based news website Mingpao, Chinese microblogging platform Weibo has blocked search results related to the removal of the Dazexiang Uprising from history textbooks.

In response to criticism from Chinese netizens, People’s Education Press has stated that the removal of the Dazexiang Uprising was implemented for academic reasons, citing the fact that the uprising will be discussed in textbooks for 7th graders.

The Dazexiang Uprising, which has been included in 8th grade textbooks since the 1960s, will be replaced by another excerpt from Sima Qian’s work which tells the story of Zhou Yafu. Zhou, a Han Dynasty General known for his strictness and discipline, put down the Rebellion of the Seven States.

The peasant rebellion led by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang against the Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BC) was an uprising that set in motion a chain of events which would ultimately result in the fall of the Qin (Li, 2012, p. 369).

In 221 BC China was unified for the first time by Qin Shihuang. He created a government bureaucracy, an army and a comprehensive taxation system according to Legalist principles. Despite his accomplishments, he failed to consolidate his dynasty due to his tyrannical and cruel policies.

Confucian scholar and poet Jia Yi (c. 200 – 169 BCE) wrote that the Qin Dynasty collapsed because “it failed to rule with humanity and righteousness and to realize that the power to attack and the power to retain what one has thereby won are not the same.”

Under Emperor Qin the peasants were required to pay two-thirds of their harvest in taxes as well as to do onerous corvees. They had to spend a month every year working on imperial infrastructure projects such as roads, canals, and palaces. Moreover, they had to perform military duties. Peasants who failed to pay their full amount of taxes and forced labour were required to extend their period of service in the army. According to Li Xiaobing, Qin Shihuang recruited over 2 million peasants to build the Epang Palace and the Great Wall and to defend the frontier.

In the Qin draft system, all male peasants had to register at the age of 21. Many of them were required to serve in the military for two years between 23 and 56 years old. Reporting late for military duties was a capital offence.

In 209 BC, about 900 peasants were conscripted to serve in the frontier troops stationed in Yuyang (near present-day Beijing). Among them were Chen Sheng, a peasant from Yangcheng area (in present-day Dengfeng County, Henan Province), and Wu Guang, a peasant from Xiayang (in present-day Taikang County, Henan Province) (Ming, 2011, p. 22).

The recruits were sent to the town of Daze. However, because of a sudden torrential downpour they were unable to continue their journey according to schedule. Knowing that they would arrive late in Yuying, and that they would face execution for not reporting for duty on time, Chen and Wu convinced the peasants to revolt against the Qin Dynasty.

The dissatisfaction of the peasants with the regime played into their hands, and they were able to capture Chenxian (Huaiyang) and Henan Province. Chen Sheng proclaimed himself King of the Greater State of Chu (Zhang Chu) (Li, 2012, p. 369; Ming, 2011, p. 22). Following the example of Chen Sheng, other parts of the Qin Empire declared their independence.

Although the state of Zhang Chu was defeated by Qin, one of the peasant leaders, Liu Bang (256–195 BC), eventually overthrew the Qin and founded the Han Dynasty (Li, 2012, p. 369).

Sources
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