When Qin Shi Huang died while away from the capital, Li Si and the chief eunuch Zhao Gao suppressed the late emperor’s choice of successor, which was Fusu. At that time Fusu was close to Meng Tian. If Fusu became the next emperor there was a high chance Meng Tian would replace Li Si as prime minister. Fearing a loss of power, Li Si decided to betray the dead Qin Shi Huang. Li Si and Zhao Gao tricked Fusu into committing suicide, and installed another prince, Huhai as the second emperor with the title Qin Er Shi (229 BC – 207 BC) in his place.
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.
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. The emperor laughed and said “Is the chancellor perhaps mistaken, calling a deer a horse?” 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. —> This event later becomes a famous idiom. The Chinese idiom “point to a deer and call it a horse” (指鹿为马, pronounced zhĭ lù wéi mă) refers to confounding right and wrong, deliberately misrepresenting the truth, or distorting the facts for ulterior motives.
Zhao Gao convinced the new emperor to install his followers in official positions while he get rid off the old officers who had worked under Qin Shihuang.
Meanwhile 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. One of the immediate revolt attempts was the 209 BCE Dazexiang Uprising. They rebelled in the territory that was formerly Chu state, claiming they were restoring Chu to greatness.
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. Later an envoy reported about the rebellion in court. The emperor was enraged, and the envoy was punished.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.
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.They suggested the construction of Epang palace (阿房宫) be suspended and that the burden of tax was too heavy. The emperor then questioned their loyalty. 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. Zhao Gao betrayed Li Si and charged him with treason. Qin Er Shi, who viewed Zhao Gao as his teacher, did not question his decision. Zhao Gao had Li Si tortured until he admitted the crime. In 208 BC Zhao Gao had Li Si executed by way of waist chop (腰斩).
Li Si – Qin Shihuang Prime Minister believed in a highly bureaucratic system, Li Si is considered to have been central to the efficiency of the state of Qin and the success of its military conquest. He was also instrumental in systematizing standard measures and currency in post-unified China. He further helped systematize the written Chinese language by promulgating as the imperial standard the small seal script which had already been in use in the state of Qin. In this process, variant glyphs within the Qin script were proscribed, as were variant scripts from the different regions which had been conquered. This would have a unifying effect on the Chinese culture for thousands of years.[a] Li Si was also the author of the 仓颉篇 Cangjiepian, the first Chinese language primer of which fragments still exist.
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.
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. A son of Fusu, Ziying (子婴), was made “king of Qin state” with a reduced title.
Ziying (his birth is unknown, died January 206 BC) was the third and last emperor of the Qin dynasty. He ruled over a fragmented Qin Empire for 46 days from mid-October to early December in 207 BC. Ziying is mentioned in historical records as the son of Fusu, the eldest son of Qin Shi Huang. However,some historian suggested that he was probably one of Qin Shi Huang’s brothers. The Records of the Grand Historian does not specify Ziying’s age and implies that he had at least two sons, whom he consulted. According to some historian analysis, because Qin Shihuand died when he was 50, so Fusu should be around 30s, which make the maximum possible age of Ziying when he assassinated Zhao Gao was 19. Therefore, his sons would have probably been around the ages of 1–2, and hence it was not possible for him to consult them. It seems more likely that Ziying was an uncle of Qin Er Shi (and hence a brother of Qin Shi Huang) instead of Fusu’s son. Some other historians have also suggested that Ziying might be a son of Chengjiao, Qin Shi Huang’s younger half-brother. However, with the latest archaeology discovery of an ancient tomb which is believed to be the tomb of Qin Sanshi Huangdi – Ziying is now believed to be the son of Qin Shihuang, which make him a half brother of Huhai.
Ziying was the only person within the Qin imperial court to defend and try to persuade Qin Er Shi against the wrongful executions of Meng Tian and Meng Yi. As soon as he took power He lured Zhao Gao, the regent who forced Qin Er Sh to commit suicide, into a trap and killed him.
Ziying later surrendered to Liu Bang, the leader of the first group of rebel forces to occupy Xianyang, the Qin capital. He was eventually killed along with his family by another rebel leader, Xiang Yu.