With ‘The First Emperor’ dead, the hunt was on to find a second. Shi Huang’s eldest son was an obvious choice, but the first transfer of power was anything but predictable. In an extremely suspicious turn of events, the dead emperor’s will requested that the throne go to his younger son instead. In addition, the formally favoured older son should not only step aside for his little brother but should commit suicide too, just to make things easier.
You may suspect that the person with the most to gain, the new emperor elect ‘Er Shi’, might be the one pulling the political strings here. However it’s far more likely that Er Shi’s mentor and tutor Zhao Gao was the brain behind the sudden ‘discovery’. A master manipulator, Zhao Gao easily guided Emperor Er Shi’s hand on all important decisions prior to and during his reign. Er Shi was so impressionable and easily swayed by his tutor that he was soon convinced to stop seeing many of his staff entirely, instead having information of any kind need to first pass through none other than Zhao Gao himself.
While blissfully unaware and enjoying his reclusive new lifestyle, Er Shi had no idea that the Qin empire was beginning to crumble all around him. This illusion of a utopian China where the population loved the Qin unconditionally was so strictly enforced that if anyone dared to confront Er Shi with the facts of his situation, they would be branded traitors, liars and sentenced to death along with their entire family.
When eventually things got so out of hand that the truth came out, Er Shi’s fate was already sealed. He furiously demanded the capture and execution of Zhao Gao, but these requests fell on deaf ears, thanks to Zhao Gao employing one weird trick that emperors hate.
One day, Zhao Gao brought a deer into the palace grounds and presented it to the emperor, casually mentioning that the beast before him… was a horse.
When the emperor corrected him, saying it was, in fact, a deer, all the surrounding court officials faced a dilemma. Contradict Zhao Gao, or stick to the truth and call a deer a deer.
If you would have assured the emperor that he wasn’t crazy, and identified the animal as a deer, i’m afraid to tell you that you failed Zhao Gao’s test. For contradicting him you would find yourself quickly sentenced to execution for vague and tenuous crimes, leaving only those loyal to the traitorous mentor employed in the palace.
So with the empire falling, Zhao Gao at large and his staff turned against him; Er Shi was cornered by palace guards and given the order to commit suicide.
In the chaos that followed Zhao Gao quickly installed Er Shi’s nephew to the throne in an attempt to rule through a puppet emperor, but the damage was too severe and the Qin dynasty was destroyed.
Now it was the turn of the conquerers to rule, as a much more successful Dynasty moves into town, beginning with Han Gaozu.