Qin Er Shi

Huhai (胡亥)
Emperor of China
Reign October 210 – October 207 BCE
Predecessor Qin Shi Huang
Successor Ziying
Born 229 BCE
Died 207 BCE (aged 22)
Full name
Regnal name
Qin Er Shi (秦二世)
Temple name
House Qin Dynasty
Father Qin Shi Huang
Qin Er Shi
Chinese 秦二世
Literal meaning Qin second generation

The Second Emperor of Qin (Chinese: 秦二世; pinyin: Qín Èrshì; Mandarin: [tɕʰǐn ɑ̂ɻ ʂɨ̂]; 229 – October 207 BCE) was the son of Qin Shi Huang and the second emperor of China's Qin dynasty. He ruled from 210 to 207 BCE.


Huhai (胡亥) was the personal name of the Second Emperor. Its Old Chinese pronunciation has been reconstructed as *Ga-gə.[1]

Although his parentage was questioned by many historians including Sima Qian,[2] they accepted Qin Er Shi as a member of the Kingdom of Qin's House of Ying. The clan name of their branch of the dynasty was Zhao (). Although he is sometimes known as "Ying Huhai" according to the practice of modern Chinese names, the ancient custom was not to combine the names in this way: his personal name never appears in combination with Ying, Zhao, or Qin.[3][4]

His regnal name Qin Er Shi () means "Second Generation of the Qin". It is a contraction of Qin Ershi Huangdi (皇帝), the "Second-Generation Emperor of the Qin". The name followed the nomenclature established by the First Emperor, who envisioned an empire that would last for ten thousand generations and for his successors to bear the aspiration in their reign names. The practice ended abruptly with the third emperor Ziying (子婴), when Qin dynasty was overturned by Chu and Han.

Qin Er Shi was condemned by the Eunuch Chancellor Zhao Gao after his death and was denied a royal burial. He did 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 BCE (Julian Calendar) at the palace in Shaqiu prefecture (沙丘平台).[5][6][7] His announcement of his death was withheld until the entourage, which was accompanied by Premier Li Si and the imperial court, returned to the capital Xianyang two months later.[6]

The eldest son Fusu was supposed to be elected as the next emperor.[8] However, Premier Li Si and the Chief Eunuch Zhao Gao conspired to kill Fusu in order to get rid of Fusu's favorite General Meng Tian, who was their court rival.[8] They were afraid that if Fusu was enthroned, they would lose their power.[8] Li Si and Zhao Gao forged a fake edict by Qin Shi Huang ordering both Fusu and General Meng to commit suicide.[8] Their plan worked, and the younger son Huhai acceded the throne to become the Second Emperor later known as Qin Er Shi (秦二世).[6]

Second Emperor of Qin dynasty

In the first year of reign in 210 BCE, Huhai was made the Second Emperor of Qin at the age of 21 years.[9] Qin Er Shi depended on eunuch Zhao Gao so much so that he acted as a puppet emperor, with the eunuch as puppeteer.[10] 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.[2] Six imperial princes were killed at Tu (杜).[2] 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!).[2][3] All three brothers cried and drew their own swords to commit suicide.[2] 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.[2]


Bandits and brigands grew in numbers from different directions to attack the Qin. Military leaders such as Chen Sheng de-legitimized the rule of Qin Er Shi by claiming Fusu should have been the one made ruler.[11] One of the immediate revolt attempts was the 209 BCE Dazexiang Uprising.[12] They rebelled in the territory that was formerly Chu state, claiming they were restoring Chu to greatness.[13]

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.[14] Later an envoy reported about the rebellion in court. The emperor was enraged, and the envoy was punished.[2] 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.[2]

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.[2] They suggested the construction of Epang palace (阿房宫) be suspended and that the burden of tax was too heavy.[2] The emperor then questioned their loyalty.[2] 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.[2] Li Si was put in prison, and then killed via the five pains punishment.[2][13] 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.[15]

Horse and deer test

On 27 September 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.[2][16] The emperor laughed and said "Is the chancellor perhaps mistaken, calling a deer a horse?"[2] 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.[2]

Qin dynasty collapse

Tomb of Qin Er Shi

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 fifteen years after its establishment.[10] A son of Fusu, Ziying (子婴), was made "king of Qin state" with a reduced title. Ziying soon killed Zhao Gao and surrendered to Liu Bang one year later.


The tomb of the Second Qin Emperor is located in central Xi'an, near the Wild Goose Pagoda. It is much less elaborate than that of the First Qin Emperor and does not have a terracotta army.

The name of the emperor, Er Shi (二世), is included in the popular Cantonese term, Er Shi Zu (二世祖).[17] 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.

The incident of the horse-deer has been cited as the etymology of the Japanese word baka, "fool".


  1. Baxter, William & al. "BaxterSagart Old Chinese Reconstruction Archived April 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.", pp. 4950. 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty in English translated. [1996] (1996). Sima, Qian. Burton Watson as translator. Edition: 3, reissue, revised. Columbia. University Press. ISBN 0-231-08169-3, ISBN 978-0-231-08169-6. pg 35.
  3. 1 2 Wikisource. Records of the Grand Historian, Chapter 6. (Chinese)
  4. Wikisource. Records of the Grand Historian, Chapter 7. (Chinese)
  5. O'Hagan Muqian Luo, Paul. [2006] (2006). 讀名人小傳學英文: famous people. 寂天文化. publishing. ISBN 986-184-045-1, ISBN 978-986-184-045-1. p16.
  6. 1 2 3 Sima Qian. Dawson, Raymond Stanley. Brashier, K. E. [2007] (2007). The First Emperor: Selections from the Historical Records. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-922634-2, ISBN 978-0-19-922634-4. pg 15 - 20, pg 82, pg 99.
  7. 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.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Tung, Douglas S. Tung, Kenneth. [2003] (2003). More Than 36 Stratagems: A Systematic Classification Based On Basic Behaviours. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-4120-0674-0, ISBN 978-1-4120-0674-3.
  9. 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 0-231-08169-3, ISBN 978-0-231-08169-6. pg 64-70.
  10. 1 2 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 0-231-10939-3, ISBN 978-0-231-10939-0.
  11. Liang, Yuansheng. [2007] (2007). The Legitimation of New Orders: Case Studies in World History. Chinese University Press. ISBN 962-996-239-X, 9789629962395. pg 7.
  12. Liang, Yuansheng. [2007] (2007). The Legitimation of New Orders: Case Studies in World History. Chinese University Press. ISBN 962-996-239-X, 9789629962395. pg 5.
  13. 1 2 Sima, Qian. Nienhauser, William H. [1994] (1994). The Grand Scribe's Records. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34021-7, ISBN 978-0-253-34021-4. p 158-160.
  14. Haw, Stephen G. [2007] (2007). Beijing a Concise History. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-39906-7. p 22 -23.
  15. 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 0-231-08169-3, ISBN 978-0-231-08169-6. pg 192.
  16. 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 0-521-24327-0, ISBN 978-0-521-24327-8. p 84.
  17. Singtao. "Canada toronto edition Singtao news April 18, 2007 Archived April 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.." 旅居隨筆. Retrieved on 2009-04-02.
Qin Er Shi
Born: 229 BCE Died: 207 BCE
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Qin Shi Huang
Emperor of China
Qin Dynasty
210–207 BCE
Succeeded by
Qin San Shi
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