Book Burnings

A Brief History of Biblioclasm

A Hitler Youth Book Burning Event

For as long as people have been writing things down there have been other people who have wanted to destroy their work. Iconoclasts have sought to rewrite history in this way for millennia, first by destroying tablets, then scrolls, and then books. Biblioclasm is part of an age-old style of repression of ideas that seeks to brainwash the masses through reeducation based on disinformation. Since at least the time of the Qin Dynasty in ancient China, the preferred method of destruction has been a public book burning ceremony. The way I see it, this is the worst kind of censorship of all because it involves the attempted eradication of memes, which is a form of genocide, more specifically, it’s a kind of ethnocide. This typically proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question. In any event, the intentional destruction of cultural heritage is a crime against humanity, and it must be treated as such. To better understand why this is, here’s a look back on some of the biblioclastic blunders that I’m talking about.

3rd century BCE:

Beginning in 213 BCE, the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang ordered that most of the existing books be burned so that scholars wouldn’t be able to compare him to any previous rulers. As such, owning the Book of Songs or the Classic of History became a capital offense, punishable by death. The event caused the loss of many philosophical treatises of the Hundred Schools of Thought. In fact, the only bamboo books that weren’t burned were those on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the State of Qin. This also furthered the ongoing reformation of the writing system that had been put in place by removing examples of obsolete scripts. Then, at the end of the Qin Dynasty, the national records in Epang Palace were destroyed by fire as well.

7th century CE:

Unbeknownst to many, although some of the papyrus scrolls that belonged to the Library of Alexandria were accidentally burned by the Romans in the 1st century, most of them survived. However, more books were burned in the 5th century by Christians, and then the rest of the scrolls were finally destroyed by fire at the hands of Muslims in the 7th century. At the height of the Library, there were several hundred thousand scrolls, but in the end, they were reduced to ashes. It’s truly impossible to understand just how much of the collective knowledge of our species was lost in those heinous book-burning fiascos. Humanity would undoubtedly be much better off and a lot further ahead than we are now if that information had not been lost.

15th century CE:

In the 1430s, Itzcoatl ordered the destruction of the Aztec historical codices, because it was as he said: “not wise that all the people should know the paintings”. So, among other purposes, this allowed the Aztec nation to develop a state-sanctioned history and mythology. It’s so fucking sad! I swear every time that biblioclasts destroy more literature, part of our humanity goes away with it. Still, certain people just don’t want the truth to get out, for one reason or another, and Itzcoatl was no exception. This kind of blatant denial can and does have widespread negative impacts on society, with long-lasting public policies based on extremely detrimental disinformation and misinformation.

16th century CE:

In 1562, bishop Diego de Landa oversaw the burning of Mayan codices. Each codex was a folding book made from the inner bark of certain trees which was far more durable and produced a much better writing surface than papyrus scrolls. So, the Mayan hieroglyphic script manuscripts could have lasted much longer than the texts from ancient Egypt, but most of the books were burned. The codices were fearfully destroyed by the conquistadors and Catholics because they were the sacred products of professional scribes working under the patronage of deities like the Maize God and the Howler Monkey Gods. It was the cultural genocide of the Maya, through forced religious conversion, but the Europeans did it to the Native Americans anyway.

20th century CE:

The burning of Jaffna Public Library happened in Sri Lanka in 1981. This was a catastrophic event in the civil war there. That year an organized mob of Sinhalese origin went on a rampage and burned down the building down along with all of the books inside. It was undoubtedly one of the most violent examples of biblioclasm in the 20th century. At the time of its destruction, Jaffna Public Library was one of the biggest in Asia, containing over 97,000 manuscripts. It was originally built in many stages starting from 1933, from a modest beginning as a private collection which slowly built up over time, but on the night of May 31 to June 1, it was all destroyed in a blazing inferno.

Fortunately, in the modern world, there are lots of copies of many different books all around the world, but it’s still terrifying whenever they’re burned or even just banned. As a perfect example of what I mean, the FDA had no business burning Wilhelm Reich’s books, and the 2010 Qur’an burning controversy was absolutely shameful. More to the point, the Nazis were proud book burners, and their disgraceful behavior has become infamously emblematic of a harsh and oppressive regime which is seeking to censor or silence any aspect of a nation’s culture. That’s because, on May 10th of 1933, German students burned tens of thousands of books nationwide to show their support for Hitler. Think about it. So much has already been lost, and there’s still a whole lot left that we could lose, but we don’t have to. Plus, what good could ever really come from Christians burning a bunch of novels about Harry Potter, or Amazon refusing to sell specific books for one reason or another? The bottom line is that I don’t want to live in a future where all the e-books get deleted or whatever, so the burning and banning really needs to end, once and for all.

An Eclectic Autodidact Polymath Writer and Researcher

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