the 1MDB hoo-hah, I can only think of one Chinese idiom to describe the
character of many of those involved in the effort to contain the truth that is
surrounding this “sovereign fund”: Zhǐ
lù wéi mǎ (指鹿为马).
As one who has only spent six years in Chinese school, my
command of the language is pretty poor. This handicap is compounded by the fact
that I was actually learning the Hokkien (how the southern Fujianese call
themselves) version of Mandarin Chinese, which is hardly useful when you try to
use the pinyin converters to extract the right characters from the computer. As
a case in point, I took quite a while to bring out this idiom from the
And I love to blame!
Many versions of pinyin converters would appear before
your eyes if you typed in Chinese idioms. Most are not useful. This idiom is a
case in point. As a matter of fact, when I inputted “zhi lu we ma” into one of
first sites that appeared – guess what? – it actually said no match found. But
when I scrolled down one of the four lists that came under ‘zhi’ in various
tonal forms, this idiom was there!
Sometimes, I just wonder what the scholars in Bei-dai or
Tai-dai are doing. In UK, if you are in doubt, you consult a universal
standard: Oxford Dictionary!
But with Chinese,
we are happy to leave this very task to me-too experts! Time to learn from the
my contention that we have a lunch of Zhǐ
lù wéi mǎ jokers in 1MDB, can I leave it to you to judge to judgment after
reading the following stuff that I have extracted from Wikipedia?
Calling a deer a horse
One Chinese idiom that
is derived from an incident involving Zhao Gao is "calling a deer a
horse" (指鹿为马; 指鹿為馬; zhǐ lù wéi
mǎ), meaning "deliberate misrepresentation for ulterior
purposes". The Records of
the Grand Historian records that Zhao Gao, in an attempt to
control the Qin government, devised a loyalty test for court officials using a
deer and horse:
Zhao Gao was contemplating treason but was
afraid the other officials would not heed his commands, so he decided to test
them first. He brought a deer and presented it to the Second Emperor but called
it a horse. The Second Emperor laughed and said, "Is the chancellor
perhaps mistaken, calling a deer a horse?" Then the emperor questioned
those around him. Some remained silent, while some, hoping to ingratiate
themselves with Zhao Gao, said it was a horse, and others said it was a deer.
Zhao Gao secretly arranged for all those who said it was a deer to be brought
before the law and had them executed instantly. Thereafter the officials were
all terrified of Zhao Gao. Zhao Gao gained military power as a result of that.
* * *
Zhao Gao (赵高, died 207 BC) was a
Chinese politician of the Qin dynasty. Allegedly a eunuch, he served as a close aide to all three
emperors of the Qin dynasty – Qin Shi Huang, Qin Er Shi and Ziying – and was regarded as having
played an instrumental role in the downfall of the dynasty.
Zhao Gao started his career under Qin Shi Huang as a zhongche
fuling (中車府令), an official in charge of managing the
palace horse-drawn carriages. During this period of time, he also served as an
attendant to Huhai, Qin Shi Huang's youngest son, and tutored him in the laws
of the Qin Empire.
In 210 BC, after Qin Shi
Huang died in Shaqiu (沙丘; south of present-day Dapingtai Village, Guangzong County, Hebei),
Zhao Gao and Li Si, the Chancellor,
secretly changed the emperor's final edict, which named Fusu,
the crown prince, the
heir to the throne. In the falsified edict, Fusu was ordered to commit suicide
while Huhai was named the new emperor. After Huhai was enthroned as Qin Er Shi,
he promoted Zhao Gao to langzhongling (郎中令), an official post
whose duties included managing the daily activities in the imperial palace.
Zhao Gao, who was highly trusted by Qin Er Shi, instigated the emperor to
exterminate his own siblings to consolidate power, and used the opportunity to
eliminate his political opponents such as Meng Tian and Meng Yi. He also framed Li Si for treason and had Li and his
entire family executed, after which he replaced Li as the Chancellor and
monopolised state power. In 207 BC, when rebellions broke out in the lands east
of Hangu Pass, Zhao Gao became worried that Qin
Er Shi would blame him, so he launched a coup in Wangyi Palace (望夷宮; in Xianyang, near present-day Xi'an, Shaanxi) and assassinated the emperor.
Following Qin Er Shi's death, Zhao Gao installed Ziying, Fusu's son, on the
throne. Ziying sent Han Tan (韓談), a eunuch, to assassinate Zhao Gao.
Zhao Gao was distantly related to the royal family of the Zhao state of the Warring States period.
According to the Records of
the Grand Historian, Zhao Gao's parents committed crimes and
were punished. His brothers were castrated; it is unclear whether Zhao Gao
himself was a eunuch or not. However, Qin Shi Huang valued Zhao Gao since he was
learned in criminal law. This was very useful to Qin Shi Huang since he himself
was always looking for ways to control the people by laws and punishments. Zhao
Gao enjoyed a steady rise in position.
When Zhao was a minor official, he committed a crime punishable
by death. Meng Yi was the official in charge of
sentencing and he sentenced Zhao to death and removed him from the officials
list as instructed by Qin Shi Huang.Zhao was later pardoned by Qin Shi Huang
and returned to his official status.
At the end of the reign of Qin Shi Huang, Zhao Gao was involved in the
death of Meng Tian and his
younger brother, Meng Yi. Meng Tian, a
reputable general and a supporter of Qin Shi Huang's eldest son, Fusu,
was stationed at the northern border, commanding more than 200,000 troops for
the inconclusive campaign against the Xiongnu. Following the sudden death of Qin Shi
Huang at Shaqiu, Zhao Gao and Li Si, the Chancellor,
persuaded the emperor's youngest son, Huhai, to falsify the emperor's will. The fake
decree forced Fusu to commit suicide and stripped Meng Tian of his command.
Harbouring hatred for the entire Meng family due to his prior sentencing by
Meng Yi, Zhao Gao destroyed the Meng brothers by convincing Huhai to issue a
decree that forced Meng Tian to commit suicide and execute Meng Yi.
Qin Er Shi, who
viewed Zhao Gao as his tutor, became the next Qin emperor.
Two years later, Zhao Gao also killed Li Si, ironically
executing him via the "Five Pains"
method, Li's own invention. The method consisted of having the victim's nose
cut off, cutting off a hand and a foot, then the victim was castrated and
finally cut in half in line with the waist. He also had Li Si's entire family
In 207 BC, rebellions broke out in the lands east of Hangu Pass. Zhao Gao was afraid that Qin Er
Shi might make him responsible for the uprisings. To preempt this, he launched
a coup and assassinated Qin Er Shi, and then installed Ziying, Fusu's son, as the new emperor.
Ziying, however, knew that Zhao Gao intended to kill him
afterwards to appease the rebels, so he feigned illness on the day of the
coronation, which forced Zhao to arrive at his residence to persuade him to
attend. The moment Zhao Gao arrived, Ziying ordered a eunuch, Han Tan, to kill
Zhao. Zhao Gao's entire clan was exterminated on Ziying's order.
There is a conspiracy theory that Zhao Gao was a descendant of
the royal family of the Zhao state, which was destroyed by the Qin state, and Zhao Gao was seeking revenge on
Qin. With Zhao Gao in charge of the Qin government, it was natural that the Qin
Empire collapsed in such a short time. In fact, Zhao Gao killed all the sons
and daughters of Qin Shi Huang, including the Second Emperor, Huhai. In
revenge, Ziying killed Zhao Gao and all of his
family members. Thus Zhao Gao or his brothers have no known descendants.
The historian Li Kaiyuan (李開元) believes Zhao Gao was not a eunuch at all.
He bases this in part on the fact eunuchs were not allowed to serve as
chancellors, which Zhao did.