Later in his life, Qin Shi Huang feared death and desperately sought the fabled elixir of life, which would supposedly allow him to live forever. He was obsessed with acquiring immortality and fell prey to many who offered him supposed elixirs. He visited Zhifu Island three times in order to achieve immortality.
In one case he sent Xu Fu(徐福), a Zhifu islander, with ships carrying hundreds of young men and women in search of the mystical Penglai mountain. They were sent to find Anqi Sheng, a 1,000-year-old magician whom Qin Shi Huang had supposedly met in his travels and who had invited him to seek him there. These people never returned, perhaps because they knew that if they returned without the promised elixir, they would surely be executed. Legends claim that they reached Japan and colonized it. It is also possible that the book burning, a purge on what could be seen as wasteful and useless literature, was, in part, an attempt to focus the minds of the Emperor’s best scholars on the alchemical quest. Some of the executed scholars were those who had been unable to offer any evidence of their supernatural schemes. This may have been the ultimate means of testing their abilities: if any of them had magic powers, then they would surely come back to life when they were let out again. Since the great emperor was afraid of death and “evil spirits”, he had workers build a series of tunnels and passageways to each of his palaces (he owned over 200), because traveling unseen would supposedly keep him safe from the evil spirits. Qin Shi Huangdi was said to have died by drinking mercury, believing it to be an elixir of immortality.
Xu Fu (Japanese: 徐福 Jofuku ; Korean: 서복 Seo Bok) was born in 255 BC in Qi, an ancient Chinese state, and served as a court sorcerer in Qin Dynasty China. He was sent by Qin Shi Huang to the eastern seas twice to look for the elixir of life. His two journeys occurred between 219 BC and 210 BC. It was believed that the fleet included 60 barques and around 5,000 crew members, 3,000 boys and girls, and craftsmen of different fields. After he embarked on a second mission in 210 BC, he never returned.
Later historical texts were also unclear on the location of Xu’s final destination. Sanguo Zhi, Book of Later Han, and Guadi Zhi all state that he landed in “Danzhou” (亶州), but the whereabouts of Danzhou are unknown. Finally, more than 1,100 years after Xu Fu’s final voyage, monk Yichu wrote during the Later Zhou (AD 951-960) of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period that Xu Fu landed in Japan, and also said Xu Fu named Mount Fuji as Penglai. This is the “Legend of Xu Fu” in Japan as evidenced by the many memorials to him there.
Those who support the theory that Xu Fu landed in Japan credit him with being the catalyst for the development of ancient Japanese society. The Jōmon culture which had existed in ancient Japan for over 6,000 years suddenly disappeared around 300 BC. The farming techniques and knowledge that Xu brought along are said to have improved the quality of life of the ancient Japanese people and he is said to have introduced many new plants and techniques to ancient Japan. The worship of Xu Fu as the “God of farming”, “God of medicine” and “God of silk” by the Japanese is attributed to these achievements. Numerous temples and memorials of Xu can be found in many places in Japan.
Picture: The boat Xu Fu used in search for medicine.