The Legendary Tale of China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huang

Let’s face it, mortality is scary and no one wants to die in this world. This has led to a quest for immortality for thousands of years by humans till even today. Attachment to the material world, relations, and loved ones are some of the reasons that make death our biggest fear. The fear of being completely obliterated from the world into nothingness. This is why many of us do not want to die!

And His Bizarre Quest for Immortality

Qin Shi Huang was the most powerful ruler of ancient China, responsible for building the Great Wall. Known for his victories in Battle, he was the first emperor of United China and created the magnificent terracotta army of soldiers which is a spectacle even today. But was he happy? The answer is a big NO; he was constantly haunted by the specter of his own mortality so much so that this emperor’s quest for immortality became legendary for the things he did in trying to achieve it.

10. He ordered all his scholars to make an elixir for immortality

He started his crazy mission by burning all the literature of history, poetry and politics so that people would not know anything of the past and wanted them to concentrate on just preparing the elixir for youth and life. He even employed several alchemists to create a magic potion and when they failed he ensured they suffered severe punishment. He ruthlessly buried 460 scholars ALIVE!

elixir for immortality

9. He sent 6000 virgins to the mountains of Heaven

His quest for immortality was definitely pushing him to the edge as he travelled to Zhifu Island where he met a man who claimed to know the secret of eternal life. His name was Xu Fu. He promised that the elixir was in the mythical Penglai Mountains, home of the great 8 immortals and the pathway to God. But according to Xu Fu, these immortals would demand a sacrifice of 6000 virgins. Unfortunately the king complied with the con man’s wishes and supplied him with 6000 virgins. Once XU Fu set sail with the Emperor’s given fortune, he never returned. The story is regarded as true because on Shifu island the emperor etched the words “ arrived at FU and carved the stones “ which can be still be seen today.

mountains of Heaven

8. He forbade anyone using the first-person pronouns

When the king was convinced that he was on his way to becoming an immortal God, he rejected his old title of “king” and adopted a new title called “Huangdi” which roughly translates in to GOD. He also made an official rule that no one would call him by his first-person pronoun “Zhen” and every Chinese had to call themselves “WO” which meant “worthless body”. All nobles had to bow and accept his suzerainty. He soon declared that he was to be called “the True Man”- a title which announced that he was already immortal.

Qin Shi Huang

7. Decoys rode his horses

The emperor had to remain alive till Xu Fu came back with the elixir. Since it was dangerous considering the many attempts on his life, he put decoys in his royal carriages. His rival Zhang Liang wanted him dead and plotted his death by towing a 72.5 kg hammer on top of a hill and dropping it on the royal carriage which killed everyone inside. The emperor though wasn’t travelling in his c carriage but in a common one at the back of it. Zhang Liang escaped with the help of his strongman Gan Ba.

Decoys rode his horses

6. He traveled through tunnels

In later years he stopped going outside completely and created a labyrinth of tunnels for his free and secure movements. These tunnels were connected to the royal place and were a mile long. Surrounded by ten buildings, there was a majestic elevated walkway that crossed over a river and was designed to look like Milky Way shining in the sky. He was afraid of assassins waiting for him outside the castles. The emperor’s quest for immortality increased to the level of insanity.

Chinese king

5. A Meteor fell prophesying his death

Legend has it that a year before the unfortunate emperor died, a meteor fell to earth inscribed the words “The First August the Emperor Will Die and his land will be divided”. The Emperor did not believe it as a heavenly sign but the handiwork of common men after the rock had landed. He demanded the identity of the man or his wrath would fall on everyone. When no one owned up he brutally killed all the people of the nearby area and eerily called musicians to play songs of his immortality.

Meteor fell prophesying his death

4. He Fought a Sea Monster for Immortality

The impatient emperor sailed off to Zifu Island to find Xu Fu, who assured the gullible king that he had found the way to the Pengali Mountains but it was blocked by a great sea monster. The Emperor who could not wait any longer got his team of warriors and archers to kill the monster, but this time he took Xu Fu along. The Emperor found that the so called sea monster was nothing but a whale which he killed. Xu Fu had no excuse left and had to bring back the elixir of immortality or face the consequences. Xu FU instead boarded his ship with 6000 virgins and escaped to Japan never to return back and stayed in hiding till his death.


Fought a Sea Monster for Immortality

3. Emperor poisoned himself

Cheated by Xu Fu, Qin Shi Huang again employed his entire alchemist team to come up with potions and medicine that would keep him healthy and alive. He drank everything he was offered including a bottle of mercury! His court had assured him the vial of mercury would keep him alive but instead it ironically killed him at a relatively young age of 49. AT the time he was on a tour of his kingdom. So ended the emperor’s quest for immortality forever. His officers, worried about the public outrage about his death, concealed it for months while his advisor sent out instructions claiming they were the Emperor’s. Ultimately his body was sent home hidden in a cart of rotting fish.

vial of mercury

2. He was the God Ruler of hell

Even though his quest for immortality failed miserably, he refused to be a mere peasant in his afterlife. He started working on his tomb before he was the emperor of China. By the time he died he had forced 700, 000 enslaved laborers to create his majestic tomb. His tomb contained replicas of palaces, towers, jewels, flowing rivers and of course the army of terracotta soldiers, which he created in case he had to fight all the 6 states which may rise up against him in the afterlife and hell. His own tomb was to be discreetly placed amidst bushes and laurels, seeded with grass so that no one can notice it and the workers who made his tomb had to seal themselves alive and die to protect the secret .Pretty gruesome!

God Ruler of hell

1. He had no successor

Since Qin Shi Huang had no plan of dying ever, he never bothered to write a will or name a successor. Now with no clear successor, the nation erupted in chaos. His oldest son Fu Su was the obvious choice but political intrigue made his second son HuHuai, the new emperor. Fu Su was forced to commit suicide. Li Si the late Emperors advisor who has conspired against Fu Su also became the victim of palace intrigue and was executed in a gruesome manner.

Qin Shi Huang had dreamt of ruling his kingdom for 10,000 generations but after his death, it did not even last 3 years!

 Qin Shi Huang


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