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His Quest for Immortality

Chem X- The Chemistry of The First Emperor of China
His Rein
His Quest for Immortality
The Emperor's Necropolis
The Terracotta Warriors
Chemists in a big world
I am
My China Project
My family and friends
About Me
My town
A day in my life

What lengths will the great leader go to to seek what he wants?

Master Lu- "A True Man can enter water without getting wet, enter fire without getting burned, soar over the clouds and air, and endure as long as heaven and earth."
Emperor- "I long to become a True Man.  From now on I will refer to myself as True Man and will not call myself zhen."


A Background.

As the years of the emperor's life started to wane and his tomb started to reach completion the idea of a grand after-life was no longer enough. As he would always end up doing, he started to want more. He didn't just want to be remembered forever. What he wanted was to live forever. He wanted to become an immortal.

He started to travel all around the country seeking those who could help him to achieve his most ultimate goal. He no longer trusted his court and began to consult doctors, and took steps that would hopefully help him attain immortality.

What his doctors prescribed to him might seem far fetched to us in our time and society, but it was something long believed in China to increase longevity. What they prescribed was sex with multiple partners. However, this seemed to have an opposite effect. As you can imagine he was progressing in the years and this only deteriorated him further. He seemed to notice this and looked for alternative options. One includes a far and mysterious island, and the other includes consuming a dangerous element one would find in the tool shed, or out in the garden.


Mercury Laced Pills and The Alchemists.

The idea of sex with multiple partners that the alchemists had prescribed to the emperor was not working to his satisfaction, so they devised a new technique that was believed to be a winner. He started to take pills laced with mercury. Yet another idea that seems completely radical to our modern minds. Especially to those in our chemistry class considering what we have learned about mercury in, which more than likely sparks the question of how exactly he consumed the pills, and mercury. Its widely known that mercury in its naturally occurring form can not be absorbed by the human body and more specifically, the digest ional track. So how was he able to absorb the mercury? Well it is unknown how, or at least to me, as I could not find the information. However, I would expect that information of that nature, and this occurring so long ago, to be under lock and key by the emperor, and I‘d imagine that only him and the alchemists would know of the process. I would even suspect that the emperor himself didn't know/understand the process in which they altered the mercury, or at least in detail. What I can tell you is that the alchemists somehow made soluble compounds that they knew were easy to digest. How exactly they did it is a mystery.

As the years passed the emperor started to lose more of his grasp on reality. In those next five years he increased his doses of mercury pills to quicken the results he expected to come, as his alternate option didn't seem to be materializing any time soon. But the more and more he consumed the pills the deeper of a grave he was digging himself. The pills, like the first method prescribed, were having the opposite effect on his body.


As is seen today in mercury poisoning, the longer the emperor took the mercury laced pills, the signs of their poisoning him stared to let themselves be known. He started to lose sight of reality. He developed tremors, with the greatest toll being on his mind. Purely because of who he was and what he had done, he was already paranoid, and the mercury laced pills heightened his paranoia and added delusions to his impediments. He became even more confrontational, talkative, aggressive, he thought everyone was watching him, and they were. After all he was the emperor and it was to be expected. But he interpreted that the reason they were watching him was to know his schedule to make plans to assassinate.

Adding to that a man by the name of Master Lu told the emperor that the reason why the elixirs had not been found was because there were entities blocking their path. That the emperor was not a "Pure Man", and that if he were one the evil spirits could be avoided. To do that no one could know where he was at any given time. His whereabouts had to be kept a secret, and if anyone was to tell them to another it was ordered that he be immediately executed. The emperor started to travel in secret, and built many homes so he would not sleep in any one for two nights in a row. The people advising him knew he was not well and that his mind was deteriorating. For a time most were afraid of him and what he night do next, so they humored him and fulfilled his requests. It was some who realized that there was some wiggle room with the emperor in which they could use to their advantage. Qin Shi Huangdi eventually became a total paranoid and trapped by his delusions.

I mentioned before that when the men and women that the emperor had sent to find the immortal islands and elixirs had been found, their story was that they had been stopped by a race of giant fish protecting the islands from intruders, and that when the emperor heard this he decided to take it into his own hands. After he had a dream about a sea-god in human form, he thought it to be himself and ordered that a special crossbow be made for him to hunt the giant fish with. In 210 he is supposed to have traveled to the island of Zhifu that was off the coast and hunted the giant fish. This was a sign to those closest to the emperor that the man they had known, their great leader and tormentor was gone.

Some moved on that and started to make plans for an empire that didn't include Qin Shi Huangdi as its emperor anymore. It was in fact on that trip that planning for a new rule took place. It was on the voyage back from the islands that the emperor died quietly in his carriage. He was only fifty years old. China had lost its maker, when he met his.


I've mentioned before that one option presented to/devised by the emperor to obtain immortality involved a far and mysterious island. The name of that island would be the Peng Lai Islands of which the emperor knew the legend of. Its said to be the ever-lasting home of immortals who were suppose to posses two kinds of elixirs that kept their immortality intact. Qin Shi Huangdi had to get his hands on those elixirs. He would go to the tops of high mountains to pray to his god(s) that his quest would come to a swift end bearing the prizes that he was seeking.

To acquire these elixirs the emperor put Xu Fu in charge of the voyage to the legendary islands. He was given a small army of young adults, even teenagers of both genders to assist in finding the elixirs and bringing them back to administer to the emperor. This was also the point in time where he took his first course in mercury pills, to hopefully sustain him until the elixirs could be brought back.

This all might seem extremely farfetched but to the ancient Chinese it was a viable solution, and this belief should not be mistaken as ignorance in any way, shape or form.

Days, months, even years passed and there was still no product of the voyage or any word from Xu Fu or the many who went to assist him. Soon the emperor sent others to find them and they eventually did. They were somewhere hiding out, and when they were found they claimed that during their voyage they were attacked by races of giant fish that were protecting the island and they couldn't get through.

The emperor heard this when he had been on the mercury pills for quite some time now so he excepted the story as true.

Mercury, The Element.


The Chinese alchemists knew liquid mercury to be the only substance known to them that could dissolve the eternal and incorruptible gold. They thought that is was a mystical substance that held great and supernatural powers that if consumed would be passed on to the body. Hence the emperor's consumption of the mystical element.

Mercury is a transitional element that is found in its ore cinnabar in nature. It is the only metal element that is a liquid at room temperature. It is sometimes referred to as quicksilver, and its symbol in Hg. The atomic number is 80 and its atomic mass is 200.59. It is located in the periodic table in group 12, period 6, in the d-block. It is a fair conductor of electricity and alloys easily with many metals such as gold, silver, and tin.

Mercury has been known to men for centuries, as is why we see it in ancient China.

Mercury's Effects on The Mind and Body.

Five years had passed when the mercury had started to take effect on the body of the emperor. It had started to build up in his system and had started to reek havoc on his health.

Earlier I mentioned the fact that mercury in its natural form cannot be absorbed by the human body, and I found information backing that idea, in that mercury in the form in which the emperor is thought to have taken it ,and its effects on health aren’t generally considered or discussed when referring to mercury poisoning. After all, who in our modern times would alter mercury for ingestion? The form most discussed in mercury poisoning is mercury gas. Since that does not pertain to the emperor in particular I will not discuss that option in detail.

However some information presented when talking about mercury poisoning by mercury gas, does relate to what is said to have happened to the emperor.

Since the emperor took steady increments of mercury and no great amount at one time there would have been no immediate effects, only long term ones.

As far as the effects mercury can have on the digestional track its generally unknown and presumed to be none since mercury can't be absorbed by the human body. There is speculation of it building up in the liver and therefore altering it, but no reports of this particular speculation have been brought to anyone's attention, so there is nothing to support it. Even with the mercury gas, that has been seen as going after a person's lungs and brain, and not their other bodily operations.

Yet it is most predominately seen as taking a hold on a person's nervous system and turning a person's body into a chaotic mess. This is sometimes referred to as "Mad hatter's Disease" dating back to mercury's use in making felt hats. Maybe we have found where the story of Alice in Wonderland has come form. Maybe Alice is really Qin Shi Huangdi looking for the elixirs of immortality….

The most classic signs of mercury poisoning are; fine tremors in the hands, arms, legs, eyelids, tongue, and the whole body. They are known to become more pronounced and to progress as more mercury is absorbed over time.

Mercury is also seen to effect the kidneys, the heart by raising its blood pressure, and in the eyes causing a grayish-brown or yellow discoloration. One might speculate that this would have sealed people's perceptions on the emperor as being crazy.

In the end the mercury would prove to have no supernatural powers. The death of the emperor is said to be of natural causes but you can't help but wonder when he would have died without the added help of the mercury laced pills. In the end he was just like any other mortal who meets his/her maker.

Click here to go to the Emperor's home page.

Cilck here to learn about the Emperor's time of rule.

Click here to absorb the knowledge there is about the Emperor's necropolis.

Click here to learn about the Terracotta Warriors.

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That's all for now folks!

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