Fu Su (?-210BC) – Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Eldest Son
Fu Su was the eldest son of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang. His mother came from Zheng State and liked to sing the local ballad "On the Mountains are Good Trees". In the ballad, ancient people used "Fu Su" to mean "good trees". The emperor took it as his son’s name and expected much of him.
Young Fu Su was smart and merciful. On political opinions, he always acted counter to his tyrannical father. In 212 BC, when Emperor Qin Shi Huang was about to bury the Confucian scholars because he was angry over being slandered, Fu Su protested many times, which provoked the emperor. Later, Qin Shi Huang sent him to the north to supervise General Meng Tian’s army in Shangjun Prefecture, because qin Shi Huang thought he was weak in character and needed to grow into a qualified heir through the hard life of war on the frontier.
In 210 BC, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang died on his fifth progress. Wanting to usurp the throne, Hu Hai (another son of Qin Shi Huang), Li Si (the prime minister) and Zhao Gao (the eunuch) conspired to change the emperor’s will that passed the throne to Fu Su. They ordered him and Meng Tian to commit suicide in the name of Qin Shi Huang.
After several years in the border area, Fu Su had grown into a good leader with brilliant achievements in war. When ready to return to the court, he received this fake decree that said he had not contributed to the country and had to die. General Meng Tian doubted the authenticity of the decree and asked Fu Su to check it out. However, he refused. In a mixture of sorrow and anger, he immediately drew his sword and committed suicide. Meng Tian asked the messenger for a chance to appeal but failed. At last, he poisoned himself.
Fu Su was such a tragic figure. Later generations felt sorry for him. In their eyes, Fu Su deserved to be the next emperor because of his talent, charity and modesty. Various assumptions are made suggesting him did not need to die. If he had taken Meng Tian’s advice and asked the emperor, he would have found out about the plot. With the help of Meng Tian and the guarantee of 300,000 strong soldiers, he could have easily crushed the troops led by Hu Hai and become the next ruler of Qin Dynasty. Based on his prestige and the moral policy he advocated, Fu Su would probably have lengthened the Qin Dynasty.
However, history cannot be changed or replayed. The great Qin Dynasty was doomed to be short-lived. And these assumptions are just a reflection of the horror of the plot from later generations and their regret for the true heir – Fu Su.
See introdution to another son of Emperor Qin Shi Huang: Hu Hai
Fusu was set up by Zhaogao, Lisi and Huhai. He was ordered to commit suicide. But it is hard to find out how he committed suicide. According to legends, he committed suicide with a sword or banged his head against the cliff.
All of that said, the story of FuSu killing himself immediately with no questioning does suit the desired outcome. Meaning, were it known that FuSu did question the order (he was s smart man after all, and knew of Lisi and Zhaogao's true natures), and that his death was in reality forced and not voluntary, then the plot would not have worked. It would seem logical to me that a forged order from the Emperor would state that if Suicide was not chosen, that death would be forced. Lisi would not be so stupid as to assume that the order would be followed.
Point is, there is always more to the story than is presented, especially when the story is thousands of years old and subject to the distortion of different opinions and perspectives. My vote is that FuSu did not, in reality, take his own life, and that the characterization presented in this account simply serves the aims of Lisi and Zhaogao. History is written by the winners, after all.