From a lesser family of the state of Chu, where he became a scholar and minor functionary of the provincial government. Developed a philosophy early on that circumstances, rather than moral codes, dictate behavior. Took up politics as means of realizing that aim, while studying with a well-known Confucian thinker. Also was a noted calligrapher to go with his other talents. Seeing he would not be able to advance in his native region, and feeling his failure would affect all scholars, he moved to the powerful state of Qin, and made an extremely favorable impression on its young king, Zheng (Kim Il Sung), in giving him a blueprint on how to unify all the Warring States of China of the time. Zheng lured other scholars to his kingdom, while also embarking on a program to assassinate those of a similar intellectual ilk who remained where they were, so as to have a dominating brain trust. He worked closely with the king in his desire to conquer and unify all the states under one sovereign, through his cogent analyses and arguments, including having his own non-Qin origin not held against him, when the latter was thinking of expelling all foreigners.
He helped manipulate elements during Zheng’s steady conquest of rival states over the next several decades, so that by 221, China had been unified under one ruler, who became its First Emperor, with himself as his chief minister. Always conscious of his status, with no desire to share it with any other scholarly rivals.
As soon as Qin Shih became emperor, he showed his organizational skills in helping create a highly effective bureaucracy, while also systematizing and standardizing weights, measures and the written ideographic language so as to help implement the unification of northern China. Also wrote the first Chinese language primer towards that end.
Having centralized Chinese thought of the time, he implemented a program of burning all texts that contained conflicting political his/story so that the present could not be compared with the past, including key Confucian material, despite his having been originally educated in that mode of thought. A host of scholars and priests were also buried alive as part of the wholesale destruction of the past. Following the death of the emperor in 210 on a visit away from the capital, he, along with the chief eunuch, Zhao Gao (Kim Jong il), refused to allow the former’s elder son to succeed him, for fear of being replaced by his faction.
Using a forged document, they had the son commit suicide in favor of a younger brother ruling. Zhao Gao then insinuated himself with the Second Emperor, so as to be his sole adviser, and in the process, charged the aged chancellor with treason.
After being tortured, he admitted to the counterfeit accusation and was executed by his own invented method, called “the Five Pains.” Had his nose cut off, then a hand and foot severed, before being castrated, and finally cut in half.
Cerebral, competitive, conspiratorial, highly manipulative and largely amoral, seeing all ends justifying any means. Bureaucrat extraordinaire lifetime of placing pragmatics over morals and scruples, in order to serve as one of China’s most effective and far-reaching prime ministers, only to fall victim to someone even more unscrupulous than himself, as a prelude to his making ethical Christianity central to his succeeding lives, so as to repair his sense of higher ethics.