Qin Er Shi

Qin Er Shi
Ying Huhai (嬴胡亥)
Ancestral name (姓): Ying (嬴)
Clan name (氏): Zhao (趙)
Given name (名): Huhai (胡亥)
Qin Er Shi (秦二世)
Dates of reign: Oct. 210 BC–beg. Oct. 207 BC
Dates are in the proleptic Julian calendar

Qin Er Shi (Chinese: 秦二世; pinyin: Qín Èr Shì; IPA: [tɕʰǐn ɑ̂ɻ ʂɨ̂]; 229 BC – beginning October 207 BC), literally Second Emperor of Qin Dynasty, personal name Huhai, was emperor of the Qin Dynasty in China from 210 BC until 207 BC.



Huhai's father the First Emperor was born in the State of Zhao when his father was a hostage. Hence Huhai also adopted Zhao as his clan name.[1] The name Huhai (胡亥) does not appear in the Records of Grand Historian with either the Zhào (趙) or Qín (秦) name. Though 秦二世 appears many times in Chapter 6 and 7.[2][3] The royal house of Qin did not carry the practice of the establishment of the Zhou Dynasty, so the First Emperor does not have a temple name.

Ascension to throne: Second Emperor conspiracy

The First Emperor Qin Shi Huang died during one of his tours of Eastern China, on September 10, 210 BC (Julian Calendar) at the palace in Shaqiu prefecture (沙丘平台), about two months away by road from the capital Xianyang.[4][5][6] Eventually, after about two months, Li Si and the imperial court were back in Xianyang, where the news of the death of the emperor was announced.[5] After his death, the eldest son Fusu was supposed to be the next emperor.[7]

Li Si and the chief eunuch Zhao Gao conspired to kill Fusu because Fusu's favorite general was Meng Tian, whom they disliked.[7] They were afraid that if Fusu was enthroned, they would lose their power.[7] So Li Si and Zhao Gao forged a fake letter from Qin Shi Huang saying that both Fusu and General Meng must commit suicide.[7] The plan worked, and the younger son Huhai became the Second Emperor later known as Qin Er Shi (秦二世).[5]

Second Emperor of Qin dynasty

Puppet emperor

In the first year of reign in 210 BC, Huhai was made the Second Emperor of Qin at the age of 21 years old.[1] He depended on eunuch Zhao Gao so much so that the eunuch acted as a puppet emperor.[8] After one of the tours, Zhao Gao suggested he examine the governors and military commandants and punish those who are guilty of some crime. By doing so he can do away with those who disapprove of the emperor's actions.[1] Six imperial princes were killed at Tu (杜).[1] The emperor then went on further to punish people for petty crimes. The emperor's brother Jianglu (將閭) and two other brothers were imprisoned. A messenger was then sent to read them a death sentence. Jianglu looked to the heavens, and cried out loud three times that he did not commit any crime (天乎!吾無罪!).[1][2] All three brothers cried and drew their own swords to commit suicide.[1] Zhao Gao said that the Second Emperor was young, and as the Son of Heaven, his own voice must never be heard and his face must never be shown. Accordingly the emperor remained in the inner palaces, and consulted only with Zhao Gao. Because of this, the high ministers rarely had the opportunity to see the emperor in court.[1]


Bandits and brigands grew in numbers from different directions to attack the Qin. Military leaders such as Chen Sheng de-legitimize the rule of Qin Er shi by claiming Fusu should have been the one made ruler.[9] One of the immediate revolt attempts was the 209 BC Daze Village Uprising.[9] They rebelled in the territory that was formerly Chu state, claiming they were restoring Chu to greatness.[10]

Overall Qin Er Shi was not able to contend with nationwide rebels. He was not as capable as his father. Many revolts against him quickly erupted. His reign was a time of extreme civil unrest, and everything that worked for the First Emperor had crumbled away within a short period.[11] Later an envoy reported about the rebellion in court. The emperor was enraged, and the envoy was punished.[1] After this, all other envoys reporting about uprisings would later say the bandits were being pursued and captured. Without any need to worry, the emperor was pleased.[1]

Death of ministers and generals

The bandits and brigands continued to grow in numbers. Chancellor Feng Quqi, Li Si and general Feng Jie came forward to complain that the Qin military could not hold off the increasing number of revolts.[1] They suggested the construction of Epang palace (阿房宫) be suspended and that the burden of tax was too heavy.[1] The emperor then questioned their loyalty.[1] All three of them were handed to law officials who subjected them to examinations to see if they were guilty of other crimes. Feng Quqi and Feng Jie committed suicide so they would not have to endure the disgrace.[1] Li Si was put in prison, and then killed via the five pains punishment.[1][10] Zhao Gao continued to push the emperor to find associates with loyalty and punish those who show disloyalty with more severe penalties. Meng Yi and other chief ministers were executed. Twelve of the princes were executed in a market place in Xianyang. Ten princesses in Du were executed and their bodies were torn apart.[12]

Horse and deer test

On September 27, 207 BC eunuch Zhao Gao tested his power against the emperor's. He presented a deer to the Second Emperor, but called it a horse.[1][13] The emperor laughed and said "Is the chancellor perhaps mistaken, calling a deer a horse?"[1] Then the emperor questioned those around him. Some remained silent, some aligned with Zhao Gao, and said it was a horse. Zhao Gao executed every official who called the deer a deer.[1]

Qin dynasty collapse

Although Qin was able to suppress most of the nationwide rebellions, they still caused serious damage. Qin's manpower and supplies were greatly reduced. Finally Qin was decisively defeated in the Battle of Julu. Qin Er Shi foolishly tried to have the Qin general responsible Zhang Han killed, which led to the surrender and later live burial of 200,000 Qin troops. In total Qin lost over 300,000 men. Even then Qin Er Shi didn't take the defeat seriously, as he thought Qin had much more spare troops. Finally a daring and loyal eunuch told Qin Er Shi the truth. In shock, Qin Er Shi tried to capture Zhao Gao and held him responsible.

Zhao Gao however had expected that Qin Er Shi would ask him to take the blame. Therefore, Zhao Gao conspired with his loyal soldiers to force the emperor to commit suicide.

Surrounded and with no means of escape, Qin Er Shi asked the loyal eunuch why he didn't speak the truth earlier. The eunuch replied that it was Qin Er Shi himself who decided to execute anyone who would tell him the truth.

In 207 BC, the Qin dynasty collapsed after 15 years since its establishment.[8] A son of Fusu, Ziying, was made "king of Qin state" with a reduced title. Ziying soon killed Zhao Gao and surrendered to Liu Bang one year later.

Popular culture

The name of the emperor, Er Shi (二世), is included in the popular Cantonese term (二世祖).[14] The phrase is a negative term describing spoiled children raised by wealthy parents, growing up with little or no moral values, or any forms of necessary daily life skills.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty in English translated. [1996] (1996). Ssu-Ma, Ch'ien. Sima, Qian. Burton Watson as translator. Edition: 3, reissue, revised. Columbia. University Press. ISBN 0231081693, 9780231081696. pg 35.
  2. ^ a b Wikisource Records of the Grand Historian Chapter 6
  3. ^ Wikisource Records of the Grand Historian Chapter 7
  4. ^ O'Hagan Muqian Luo, Paul. [2006] (2006). 讀名人小傳學英文: famous people. 寂天文化. publishing. ISBN 9861840451, 9789861840451. p16.
  5. ^ a b c Sima Qian. Dawson, Raymond Stanley. Brashier, K. E. [2007] (2007). The First Emperor: Selections from the Historical Records. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199226342, 9780199226344. pg 15 - 20, pg 82, pg 99.
  6. ^ Xinhuanet.com. "Xinhuanet.com." 中國考古簡訊:秦始皇去世地沙丘平臺遺跡尚存. Retrieved on 2009-01-28.
  7. ^ a b c d Tung, Douglas S. Tung, Kenneth. [2003] (2003). More Than 36 Stratagems: A Systematic Classification Based On Basic Behaviours. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1412006740, 9781412006743.
  8. ^ a b Theodore De Bary, William. Bloom, Irene. Chan, Wing-tsit. Adler, Joseph. Lufrano, John Richard. [2000] (2000). Sources of Chinese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600. Edition: 2, illustrated. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231109393, 9780231109390.
  9. ^ a b Liang, Yuansheng. [2007] (2007). The Legitimation of New Orders: Case Studies in World History. Chinese University Press. ISBN 962996239X, 9789629962395. pg 7.
  10. ^ a b Sima, Qian. Nienhauser, William H. [1994] (1994). The Grand Scribe's Records. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253340217, 9780253340214. p 158-160.
  11. ^ Haw, Stephen G. [2007] (2007). Beijing a Concise History. Routledge. ISBN 978041539906-7. p 22 -23.
  12. ^ Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty in English translated. [1996] (1996). Ssu-Ma, Ch'ien. Sima, Qian. Burton Watson as translator. Edition: 3, reissue, revised. Columbia. University Press. ISBN 0231081693, 9780231081696. pg 192.
  13. ^ Twitchett, Denis. Fairbank, John King. Loewe, Michael. The Cambridge History of China: The Ch'in and Han Empires 221 B.C.-A.D. 220. Edition: 3. Cambridge University Press, 1986. ISBN 0521243270, 9780521243278. p 84.
  14. ^ Singtao. "Canada toronto edition Singtao news April 18, 2007." 旅居隨筆. Retrieved on 2009-04-02.
Second Emperor of Qin
Born: 229 BC Died: 207 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Qin Shi Huang
Emperor of China
Qin Dynasty
210 BC – 207 BC
Succeeded by
Qin San Shi

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