Elixirs of Nature

How Chinese medicine uses the potency of herbs – Dustin Grinnell

In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang became the first emperor of China after conquering the warring states and unifying an immense territory. A leader of colossal vision, Qin oversaw the building of the Great Wall, constructed a national road system and standardized China’s currency. To protect him in the afterlife, the emperor spent almost forty years building a mausoleum in his imperial city of Chang’an in central China, guarded by the Terracotta army.

Obsessed with immortality, Qin commissioned alchemists to scour the country in search of an “elixir of life,” a concoction that would cure all diseases and stave off death. These alchemists brought back plants, minerals, animals, insects and metals from every corner of China. After repeatedly ingesting small silver balls of mercury, a highly poisonous metal, the emperor grew increasingly ill. On a tour of eastern China, he died of mercury poisoning, killed by the very elixir he had hoped would grant him eternal life.