255 BC - ??
Early Chinese Holy Leader and Explorerby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
One of the earliest Chinese explorers, Xu Fu forever etched his name in the history books by setting out on a quest to find immortality. Born in China in the year 255 BC, this Chinese explorer entered the world in a very important time in the history of his homeland. He played a role in the Qin Dynasty and served the man considered to be the first emperor of China. Because he embarked on his mission many years ago, Xu Fu’s life is shrouded in mystery and legend. However, this early Chinese explorer sparked grand stories of adventure and ushered in a new era in the history of China.
Xu Fu lived in China during a very significant time in the history of his home country. Shortly after his birth, the Qin dynasty came to power in China in 221 BC. Considered the dynasty of unification, the Qin dynasty succeeded in conquering all of the warring states and unifying China together as a single nation.  This allowed China to advance in many ways. During the Qin dynasty, the country instituted a legalistic form of government and created a standard for measurements and writing throughout the empire, as well as building a fortification wall that served as the precursor to The Great Wall of China.  The Qin dynasty also marked the beginning of a new era of exploration for China. Finally a unified country working as one, the country could grow and explore in a way that they were never able to before. Explorers such as Xu Fu who set to sail and explored the seas in Asia played an important role during this time in Chinese history.
Later in life Xu Fu became an advisor who worked for the first emperor of China. As the first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shihuang quickly became a very powerful man. Qin Shihuang reformed China and brought about many changes in the new Chinese empire. He had a thirst for power that kept him searching for more. After he gained his power over the empire of China, Qin Shihuang turned his eyes to a greater prize: conquering death. The Chinese emperor did not want to give up that power to death and wanted to remain the emperor of China forever. With his desire to keep living and prevent himself from going to the underworld, Qin Shihuang called upon his spiritual advisors to help him the key to immortality. Emperor Qin Shihuang took this challenge to Xu Fu who believed he knew how to find the elixir of life and make the emperor live forever.  Xu Fu told the emperor that an island across the ocean had special herbs that, if eaten, would make one live forever. Upon hearing this, the emperor recruited Xu Fu to journey to the island and bring him back the precious herbs. Though filled with doubt and uncertainty, Xu Fu agreed to undertake the life changing mission and bring immortality to the Chinese ruler. 
In 219 BC, Xu Fu set out on his journey. The emperor waited and, after many years, Xu Fu finally returned, but not with the news the emperor wanted to hear. Trying to satisfy Qin Shihuang, Xu Fu said that a dragon had stopped them from approaching the island and retrieving the herbs. Pleased with this information the emperor sent Xu Fu out again with a large supply of food and many young men and women.  Xu Fu left to go back to the island only to return again without the herbs. This time, he told the emperor that a giant shark had stopped them from making it back to the island. Believing Xu Fu, the emperor again sent him back to the island, this time with weapons and archers to kill the shark. After setting out for the final time, Xu Fu never returned to China and the emperor died in 210 BC. No one knows exactly what happened to Xu Fu or where he ended up. Many historians, however, believe that he sailed to Japan and settled there for the rest of his life.  Regardless of where he ended up, Xu Fu ushered in a new era of Chinese explorations at sea. 
Since his life was filled with mystery and legend, no one knows exactly what religious beliefs Xu Fu held. However, the nature and mission of his voyage does provide some insight into his spiritual beliefs. Xu Fu, along with Qin Shihuang, evidently believed that man could gain immortality for himself by simply eating special herbs from a distant island. Presumably, Xu Fu felt that one could simply eat their way to immortality.
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 Minnesota State University. “Qin Dynasty.” http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory/china/early_imperial_china/qin.html.
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