Chinese Stories/Calling a deer a horse

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When Qin Shihuangdi died of illness in Shaqiu, there were three persons with him: Li Si, Zhao Gao, and Ying Huhai. Li Si was the left hand man of Qin Shihuangdi, who had helped the emperor defeat his enemies and rule China. Huhai was the second son of the late emperor. Zhao Gao was a lowly eunuch. Zhao Gao suggested killing Fusu by faking a letter from the late emperor and letting Huhai become the next emperor. Li Si, who was concerned whether Fusu would support him, accepted. Huhai, who was unwise, accepted as well. This is the story of how Zhao Gao came to power.

The story[edit]

Zhao Gao was a man who was hungry for power. After declaring Huhai Qin Er Shi, he decided to control the entire government. The man brought a deer to a meeting. He showed that deer in front of the emperor and the officials, and said it was a great horse. The emperor, who regarded Zhao Gao as a teacher and therefore trusted him completely, thought it was a deer, and many officials thought so too. Some were afraid of Zhao Gao, but seeing that Qin Er Shi also regarded it as a horse, said nothing. Others agreed to its being a horse. Zhao Gao murdered the officials who remained silent or called it a deer.

Zhao Gao later killed Li Si with the method of execution that Li Si invented himself. Then Zhao Gao killed Qin Er Shi and declared Ziying emperor when Liu Bang arrived at the capital. When Xiang Yu arrived, Ziying killed Zhao Gao and surrendered, thus ending the reign of the Yings as well as Zhao's rule.


Nowadays, the idiom 指鹿為馬 is widely used to describe a situation where a person falsely identifies a situation in order to deceive others. This is an example sentence:


Which translates to:

That is not a symbol of democracy at all; political party so-and-so is simply trying to call the deer a horse to deceive us.