The Emperor

and the Assassin
How closely does the movie follow the accounts given in The Records of the Grand Historian?

I. Ying Zheng (King of Qin/First Emperor)
  • What were his motives for unifying the empire?
  • Was he a filial son/faithful lover?
  • What were his accomplishments?

II. Jing Ke
  • Did the movie stick to the facts presented in his biography?
  • Did the movie capture the essence of his character (as recorded by Sima Qian)?

III. Lao Ai (Marquis Changxi)
and Lu Buwei (the Prime Minister)
In the ninth year of the king’s reign [238 BCE] someone reported that Lao Ai was not a real eunuch at all, but had constantly been engaging in secret misconduct with the queen dowager, and that she had borne him two sons, both of whom were being kept in hiding. “He and the queen dowager have agreed,” said the report, “that, when the present king passes on, one of these sons shall succeed him.”
     The king thereupon referred the matter to his officials for investigation and all the facts were brought to light, including those that implicated the prime minister Lü Buwei. In the ninth month Lao Ai and his three sets of relatives were executed, the two sons whom the queen dowager had borne were put to death, and the residence of the queen was officially transferred to Yong. Lao Ai’s followers were all deprived of their household goods and sent into exile in Shu.
     The king of Qin wanted to put the prime minister
Lü Buwei to death as well but, because he had won great distinction in the service of the former king, and because so many followers and men of eloquence came forward to speak on his behalf, the king could not bring himself to apply the death penalty. In the tenth month of the tenth year [237 BCE] of his reign the king of Qin removed Lü Buwei from the office of prime minister.
     Later...[the king] ordered Lü Buwei, the marquis of Wenxin, to leave the capital and proceed to his fief in Henan. A year or so later [235 BCE] he learned that so many of the followers and envoys of the various feudal lords were travelling to Henan to call on Lü Buwei that their carriages were never out of sight of each other on the road. Fearful that there might be some plot afoot, the king sent a letter to Lü Buwei saying, “What did you ever do for the state of Qin that Qin should enfeoff you in Henan with the revenue from a 100,000 households? What relation are you to the ruler of Qin that you should be addressed as ‘Uncle’? Be so good as to take your family and retinue and move your residence to Shu!”
Lü Buwei judged that he would only have to suffer increasing insult and, fearing the death penalty, he drank poison and died. [Records of the Grand Historian, 164-5]

Chronology of Events in the Records of the Grand Historian
  • Qin destroys the state of Zhou in 256 BCE
  • Ying Zheng (the future First Emperor) becomes King of Qin in 246 BCE
  • Lao Ai (Marquis Changxi) killed in 238 BCE
  • Lü Buwei takes poison in 235 BCE
  • The state of Han is annexed in 230 BCE
  • The state of Zhao is annexed in 228 BCE
  • Jing Ke dies in 227 BCE
  • The state of Wei is annexed in 225 BCE
  • The state of Chu is annexed in 223 BCE
  • The state of Yan is annexed in 222 BCE
  • The state of Qi is annexed in 221 BCE (completing the unification of China)

IV. Lady Zhao

  • What did Sima Qian have to say about Lady Zhao?

The contemporary global situation resembles that of the late Warring States period in many ways.
  • What parallels do you see between these two eras?
  • Based on your knowledge of Confucianism, Daoism and Legalism, what approach is most likely to usher in a new era of greater peace, prosperity and global harmony?
  • How is the case of the First Emperor of China relevant to this discussion?

Additional Resources
The Immortal Emperor
AV. 931.04 Im6f video

The First Emperor of China
AV. 931.04 C42f dvd