To begin our story, we must first comment on the death of the Qin Shi Huang's first son, Fusu. Fusu had been tricked by both Zhao Gao and Li Si, a name you'll remember if you've read about the First Emperor, to make a fake will in Qin Shi Huang's name. When the First Emperor discovered this, as you can imagine, he wasn't the least bit pleased, and Fusu was forced to commit suicide for his heinous act. This lead to the crowning of Qin Er Shi (Literally "2nd Qin") by Zhao Gao and Li Si. Their intent was to have an emperor that was easy to control and thus magnify their own power.
This worked out magnificently for the two of them. In fact, a little too well Li Si would soon discover. Qin Er Shi was the type of man who failed miserably at everything. He had no consideration for the peasants, no consideration for the army, and didn't care about anything that was beyond his palace. Perfectly controlled by both Li Si and Zhao Gao.
It was at this point of time that the First Emperor's cruel acts towards the populace begin to have detrimental effects on his dynasty. Peasant revolts started appearing en masse, and quite a few cities were taken from the Qin into the hands of the rebels. Qin Er Shi had called Li Si to explain why the people were revolting, and more importantly how to put the rebels down. Li Si's response was to use "yan li zhi guo" or use "excessive force to cure the country". Li Si's rationale was that the more strict laws being forced on the population, the less likely they were to revolt.
Qin Er Shi agreed with Li Si and started utilizing the same heavy handed tactics that his father used to suppress the peasants. In the emperor's palace, officials would be arrested while in the emperor's presence and then marched outside where they were beheaded by the executioners. Their crime? None. Qin Er Shi ordered them killed only so that the "yan li zhi guo" concept of control was enforced. This way, many officials lost their lives when they themselves had committed no crime other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This caused the officials to stop reporting things to the emperor in fear of being executed. The one in charge of the executions? Zhao Gao of course.
Both Zhao Gao and Li Si now had full control of the court. However, this balance was something Zhao Gao was very paranoid about. Zhao Gao knew that there was a possibility that Li Si could turn on him, and with Li Si's high position within the court, turn Qin Er Shi's opinion against him. After careful consideration, Zhao Gao decided on a path that would make him one of the most hated villains in China's long history.
One day, Zhao Gao entered the inner palace of Qin Er Shi and asked the emperor this question.
"Your Highness is the Son of Heaven, but does your Highness realize what this responsibility means?"
This question troubled the emperor and after a long time of thinking, he asked Zhao Gao for the answer. Zhao Gao's answer was along the lines of this.
"Since you are the Emperor and the Son of Heaven, what right do the officials have to meet with you? Commoners should not be able to see a deity, and is that not what your Highness is? From now on, enjoy yourself in your inner palace. We officials will take care of this country for you, for that is our duty and we would never shirk from it."
Qin Er Shi, upon hearing this, was overjoyed. The 2nd emperor of Qin never did enjoy his meetings the officials, and thought of it as boring and stupid. Now with Zhao Gao's reassurance, Qin Er Shi stopped court meetings all together, and instead, spent all his time in his inner palace with his concubines and servants. All court matters and functions were left in the hands of Zhao Gao.
A few days later, Zhao Gao went to visit Li Si, who was at his home. Zhao Gao held a conversation with Li Shi regarding the emperor's recent actions. Li Si, now while having caused countless deaths with his decrees regarding the strict enforcement of laws, was still a man dedicated to the country and to the Qin dynasty. Having read reports of increased rebel activity, the former top advisor of the now deceased Qin Shi Huang complained to Zhao Gao about Qin Er Shi suspending court meetings. Zhao Gao replied back to Li hi that he would wait on the emperor and when Qin Er Shi had time on his hands, he would report to Li Si and allow the official to consult with the emperor. Li Si was immensely pleased with this idea and thought of Zhao Gao as an exemplary servant of Qin.
After a couple of days, Zhao Gao sent a eunuch to Li Shi telling him that Qin Er Shi was ready to receive him. Li Si hurried to the palace gates, expecting to have a private meeting with the emperor, and asked the palace guards to report to the emperor. Qin Er Shi was at this time enjoying his hedonistic lifestyle and was greatly annoyed at Li Si’s request. He ordered Li Shi to return to his home and come back tomorrow.
Another set of days passed, and Li Si was beginning to lose hope that Qin Er Shi would ever meet with him, when Zhao Gao sent another messenger to him, telling him that the emperor today would be free, and would be eager to listen to Li Si. Li Si hurriedly arrived at the palace gates and was again turned away by the guards, rebuked by the emperor for interrupting his self-indulgence. This happened again for a third time. And it was then that Zhao Gao started spreading slander about Li Shi to the emperor.
Qin Er Shi was at first not sure about the truth in Zhao Gao’s statement. After all, Li Si had stood with his father through thick and thin, and was a man not inclined to treachery. Soon however, the weak willed son of the first emperor began to doubt Li Shi. As for Li Si, he soon realized Zhao Gao’s betrayal and sent a detailed list of Zhao Gao’s crimes as a petition to Qin Er Shi.
The emperor, upon reading the petition told the servants around him,
“Zhao Gao is a man full of virtue and worthiness. He handles court affairs effortlessly, and has kept me happy all this time If I cannot trust him, who can I trust?”
Nevertheless, Qin Er Shi had Zhao Gao ordered into his presence. Upon hearing of the petition against him, Zhao Gao adopted a pitiful stance and told Qin Er Shi that he would face death without fear, but alas, who would serve the emperor with him dead? The second emperor upon hearing this, believed in Zhao Gao and was enraged at Li Si for attempting to slander such a loyal and filial servant. (Funny how it’s the opposite way around eh?)
It didn’t take long for Qin Er Shi to order Li Si to be arrested and dragged off to the dungeons. Li Si was beaten to an inch of his life by the Qin soldiers managing the prison. Such was the extent of his beating that the places where the thick wooden staves used on him were devoid of skin, and revealed human muscle. Li Si was dragged to a mock trial headed by none other than Zhao Gao. There, Zhao Gao blamed the rebel incursions, the decay of the empire, and everything that was currently wrong with the dynasty as well as everything that in the future that could be wrong on Li Si. Li Si’s continued pleas of innocence were ignored.
With the consent of the emperor, Zhao Gao ordered the complete extermination of Li Si and his entire family. That day, hundreds of Li Si’s kinsmen as well as Li Si himself was marched to the outskirts of the capital. There, the executioners used a punishment devised by Li Si himself. They first cut off Li Si's nose. Then, both his arms were hacked off. Finally, the death blow to the neck was given. Li Si’s body was then chopped into unrecognizable pieces. The rest of his family suffered a less gruesome, but still terrible fate. All of them were beheaded on the spot. So ended Li Si, the great advisor to the First Emperor of China.
With Li Si’s death, Zhao Gao became even more powerful. He was elevated to the position of prime minister by the clueless Qin Er Shi. Civil and military matters were all decided by him, and all the court officials as well as generals were forced to kowtow before him. As for Qin Er Shi, all of his powers as the emperor was effectively in Zhao Gao’s hands. He was nothing more than a puppet ruler. However, Zhao Gao was still afraid of officials plotting against him, so he arranged for a way to discover those that were against him.
One day, before Qin Er Shi and the gathered officials, Zhao Gao reported that he had acquired a fine horse and wished to give it to the emperor. Qin Er Shi, pleased with this offer, ordered the horse to be brought it. A servant brought in a deer.
Qin Er Shi laughed heartedly and said to Zhao Gao, “Why Prime Minister, that is no horse, it’s a deer!”
Zhao Gao lowered his head and replied: “Your Highness, even your dragon eyes must sometimes be at fault. Why, this is plainly a horse!”
The second emperor thought that Zhao Gao meant this to be a joke and said to the assembled officials: “Very well! The Prime Minister says that it is a horse, and I say that it is a deer. Will the officials offer their opinions on whether this animal is a horse or a deer?”
This question struck the officials dumb. This animal was of course a deer, but saying that it was a deer would go against Zhao Gao’s wishes, but then again, saying that it was a horse would be lying to the emperor. Seeing this hesitation, Zhao Gao became enraged and spoke angrily to the assembled officials.
“Let the assembled officials see, those four sturdy legs, the proportion of its body, long ears and short tail, if this isn’t a horse, then what is it?”
Some of the officials hurriedly went forth and told Qin Er Shi that the animal was indeed a horse. Others stuttered out that it was certainly not a deer. Still others did not say anything at all. The second emperor, upon hearing these comments, actually believed that he was indeed staring at a horse, and his eyes must have been at fault the first time. Zhao Gao arrogantly left the court and it is no surprise then, that a few days later, he had the officials that had said nothing arrested and executed on made up charges.
Now, one of the things that we have been neglecting are the rebellions that have been springing up and spreading like wildfire through the country. At the head of the most powerful armies in defiance to the Qin dynasty was Liu Bang and Chu Ba Wang. Both had the Qin armies on the run and were rapidly approaching the capital. Qin Er Shi had no clue that this was happening, as Zhao Gao had suppressed reports of the uprisings and withheld the information from the emperor.
However, the plan to keep the emperor completely ignorant of the outside world was not foolproof. Qin Er Shi soon learned of the invading Han and Chu armies from his servants who were discussing the impending crisis. Qin Er Shi had Zhao Gao dragged into his presence, and chastised the eunuch severely. Zhao Gao pleaded for his life and told the emperor that he was only in charge of the empire’s inner workings, and could not be held responsible of what happened outside the palace. The befuddled Qin Er Shi, thinking that there was some merit in Zhao Gao’s words, ordered him home.
Realizing that now with the country in crisis, and an emperor that now could not be kept under control, Zhao Gao ordered his brother and son in law into the capitol in charge of a thousand household troops. There, they stormed the palace and cut down the guards. Upon hearing news of this, Qin Er Shi desperately called for his servants to protect him. To his great dismay however, they all fled, leaving the emperor with one faithful servant.
Qin Er Shi turned to his last remaining servant and asked the eunuch frantically: “Why didn’t any of you tell me Zhao Gao would betray me? Now what do I do?!?”
The eunuch replied tearfully: “If I had told your Majesty of this news earlier, not only would you not believe me, but I would be dead as well!”
Having nowhere to go, the second emperor of the Qin dynasty, Qin Er Shi drew his sword and killed himself. He was twenty three years old, and had reigned for only three years.
With the Son of Heaven dead, Zhao Gao needed another ruler he could easily manipulate. He decided on a brother of Qin Shi Huang, Gong Zi Ying. He had the Emperor’s Imperial Jade Seal transferred to Gong Zi Ying and thus, Gong Zi Ying became the third emperor of Qin’s short history. (Zhao Gao stole the seal when he learned of Qin Er Shi’s death from his brother and son in law) Now, Gong Zi Ying was no Qin Er Shi. He possessed everything the second emperor lacked. Gong Zi Ying realized that if Zhao Gao could kill Qin Er Shi without retribution, then he himself would be of little use to the eunuch if things turned out awry.
He had wanted to discuss his situation with others, but knew immediately that his court officials and the servants near to him were all under the sway of Zhao Gao. He instead turned to his two sons, and they were in deep discussion regarding how to deal with the treacherous Zhao Gao when they were interrupted by the same faithful eunuch that had stayed with Qin Er Shi for the last minutes of his life. This eunuch (whose name I can’t pronounce for the life of me), warned Gong Zi Ying of Zhao Gao’s traitorous ways.
The third emperor of Qin, realizing that his eunuch was trustworthy, devised a strategy to get rid of Zhao Gao.
Now, Zhao Gao had set a date for Gong Zi Ying to ascend the throne, and it was that day the plan was sprung into motion. Zhao Gao waited impatiently for Gong Zi Ying’s arrival and was increasingly frustrated as each minute ticked by. Finally, he sent a servant to inquire why the emperor was so late. The servant returned and worriedly told Zhao Gao that the emperor was suddenly sick. Infuriated, Zhao Gao strode briskly to the inner palace to demand the emperor attend the ascension ceremony. He saw Gong Zi Ying sitting at a table and had barely strode in when three broad swords, wielded by the eunuch and Gong Zi Yi’s two sons smote him dead on the ground.
With Zhao Gao’s tyranny over, Gong Zi Ying ordered the court officials to the inner palace and pointed to Zhao Gao’s still bleeding corpse. The officials bowed before the emperor and suggested that Zhao Gao’s family all be put to the death as well. This, Gong Zi Ying approved, and Zhao Gao’s brother and son in law, as well as hundreds of his servants and family members were all put to the death.
This ends the tale of an extremely interesting story that became a widely used idiom in Chinese language. The phrase, “zhi lu wei ma” quite literally means, “to point at a deer and think of it as a horse” and refers to a deliberate untruth for ulterior motives. As for Gong Zi Ying and his sons, well, that’s a different tale and ties in with Liu Bang and Chu Ba Wang.
Edited by Aurelius, 19 September 2009 - 12:26 AM.