The Secret Burial Of Yin Qi

Yin Qi was an ancient Chinese government official who served in the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (r. 141-87 BCE). He began his career as a clerk and a secretary to other officials, but the emperor soon started giving him more leading roles. Yin Qi was appointed chief commandant and then military commander of the capital city region, but he apparently had trouble fitting in with high society in Emperor Wu’s court. As told by Emperor Wu’s court historian, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), “Yin Qi was a boorish man with little refinement or learning” (Shi Ji 122). Complaints continued to pile up against Yin Qi until Emperor Wu ultimately decided to transfer him away from the capital. Huaiyang was selected by the emperor as the official’s new place of work, and Yin Qi was installed as chief commandant of the region.

Although Yin Qi seems to have faced prejudice in the capital because of his uncultured personality, it might be prudent to restrain any feelings of sympathy or empathy in his case. Yin Qi, it appears, was a ruthless man who was responsible for an untold amount of deaths as a result of his time in high government offices. In assessing the man’s government and legal career, the aforementioned historian, Sima Qian, ranked Yin Qi with an ignoble position among a list of the most tyrannical officials who ever served in Emperor Wu’s government. In particular, Yin Qi reportedly caused great bloodshed during his final government appointment as chief commandant of Huaiyang. Interestingly, just as public unrest and outrage against the chief commandant was reaching a peak in Huaiyang, Yin Qi suddenly died of illness. Upon the official’s death, the pent-up anger of the masses in the region became unleashed in a curious plot against Yin Qi’s lifeless body. As told by Sima Qian, “[Yin Qi] had been responsible for the execution of a very large number of people in Huaiyang, and when he died the families which bore grudges against him planned to seize his corpse and burn it. The members of his own family were obliged to conceal the corpse and flee with it to his old home before they could bury it” (Shi Ji 122). This escape of Yin Qi’s family from Huaiyang was evidently a success, and no deaths or major injuries were reported as they fled the region. The official was likely buried in his ancestral homeland of Shiping, in Dong Province.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Section from Emperor Xuanzong’s Flight to Shu, painted by an unidentified artist in the 12th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).



  • The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

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