History Lessons

Qin Shi Huangdi

No one lives forever

China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, was obsessed with acquiring immortality after several assassination attempts.

Although he managed to escape each unscathed, Qin was fearful of death and sought the fabled elixir of life, which he thought would allow him to live forever.

To that end, he visited Zhifu Island (in today’s Shandong) – known as the Mountain of Immortality – three times. On his third tour, one of the search parties returned and presented the monarch with a five-character message that was said to be written by the Immortals. The note predicted that Qin’s demise would be brought about by Hu.

Hu was another name for Hun, the barbarian tribes that lived beyond China’s northwest frontier.

So when the Emperor returned to the capital, he sent 300,000 men to clear the Huns from the area. After this had been accomplished, he ordered the army to build a great wall to keep the nomads out for good (this later became the Great Wall).

The emperor, still obsessed by fears of his own death, fell prey to anyone who promised him eternal life.

In the end he was to die of a mercury overdose, having consulted court scientists and doctors who had promised that taking mercury pills would render him immortal.

The lesson? Andy Grove, of Intel fame, once said that only the paranoid survive. But in Qin’s case it seems to be the opposite.


© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Exclusively sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.