An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Lao Ai 嫪毐

Aug 28, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Lao Ai 嫪毐 (d. 238 BCE) was an imposter eunuch of the Qin dynasty 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE) (221-206 BCE) and alleged lover of the First Emperor's 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE) mother.

Some sources say he hailed from Handan 邯鄲 (capital of the regional state of Zhao 趙), where a princess of the regional state of Qin 秦, the First Emperor's mother, was living in political exile. Lao Ai won her favour and accompanied her young son, when he became king of Qin.

According to another version, he was a retainer of the Counsellor Lü Buwei 呂不韋, to whom he pretended being a eunuch, and was made overseer of the inner quarters of the Empress Dowager. As a minion of the Empress Dowager, Lao Ai had great influence also on political decisions. His own retainers were more than a thousand persons, his household was run by several thousand servants, and he assembled greatest wealth. In 239 BCE Lao Ai was honoured with the title of Marquis of Changxin 長信侯, and thus enjoyed the income of several commanderies.

One day it was discovered that he was not a real eunuch, and had even two children with the Empress Dowager. Accused of high treason, and charged with the attempt to make one his sons emperor, he secretly decided to rise in rebellion. When the young king of Qin (the eventual First Emperor) travelled to Yong 雍, an old seat of government of the Qin dynasty, to perform his capping rites (guanli 冠禮), which would allow him to personally take over rulership, Lao Ai attacked the Qinian Palace 蘄年宮, but Lord Changping 昌平君 and Lord Changwen 昌文君 put down the uprising. Lao Ai was captured and executed, and his family extinguished in three generations.

Wang Songling 王松齡, ed. (1991). Shiyong Zhongguo lishi zhishi cidian 實用中國歷史知識辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 410.
Yi Xingguo 衣興國, ed. (1988). Shiyong Zhongguo renming cidian 實用中國名人辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 100.
Zhang Yonglu 張永祿, ed. (1993). Handai Chang'an cidian 漢代長安詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 245.