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Jing Ke (pronounced Jing-Kerh; ) was a guest residing in the estates of Dan, crown prince of Yan and renowned for his failed assassination of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang who reigned from 221 BC to 210 BC. His story is told in the chapter entitled Biography of the Assassins (刺客列傳) in Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian, or Shiji.


Jing Ke was introduced by Tian Guang to Dan the crown prince of Yan. Jing Ke was originally from Wei (衛, not 魏), which he left because he was not being recognized by the King of Wei. After travelling around, he arrived at Yan and made friends with Gao Jianli and a butcher of dogs. Together they passed the days drinking and having fun.

Dan was a friend of Zheng (who later became Qin Shi Huang) when they were both hostages in the State of Zhao. When Dan escaped from Zhao back to Yan, Qin's army moved towards the border with Yan. Yan's army was too weak to fight off the army of Qin. Instead of going to battle, Dan consulted with Tian Guang on a course of action, and decided to assassinate the king of Qin. Tian Guang, who was a friend of Jing Ke, recommended him to Dan to carry out the assassination.

A Qin army general (Fan Yu Qi), who had lost favor with the king of Qin, was a guest at Dan's residence at that time. Having learned of his whereabouts, Jing Ke persuaded the general to commit suicide, as the king of Qin wanted his head. Together with the head and a map of Yan, Jing Ke had enough reasons to approach the king of Qin.

Off onto his mission, at the river of Yi (the border of Zhao), Jing Ke reportedly shouted out this impromptu poem after a cup of wine with friends: "Piercing wind, freezing river of Yi. The hero fords,and he never returns!" (風瀟瀟兮,易水寒,壮士一去不復返!) This heroism, which reflects the general ideology of the society at that time, is recorded in Shiji.

Armed with a poisoned dagger hidden inside the rolled-up map scroll, Jing Ke and Qin Wu Yang represented Yan and met with the King of Qin in his palace at the capital of Qin. Qin Wu Yang was carrying the map case while Jing Ke was holding the head of general Fan. Upon entering the throne room, Qin Wu Yang became nervous and his face turned white, this almost gave away the plot as it aroused the suspicions of the king and the ministers present. But Jing Ke calmed them by calling Qin Wu Yang a rustic unused to the splendors of the palace. Jing Ke then took the map case from Qin Wu Yang and laid it on the table before the king. He unrolled the map scroll, he seized the dagger and plunged it towards the King of Qin while grasping his sleeve.

Jing Ke missed and in the struggle, the sleeve was torn off and the King of Qin escaped. As Jing Ke chased the King around the audience hall, the King of Qin tried to pull out his sword which was slung at his side; however this was a ceremonial weapon which had been made especially long to impress onlookers and the King was unable to unsheathe it. After being advised by a court official, who mimed the slinging of the sword across the back and the drawing of it across the shoulder, the King of Qin finally managed to draw his sword and stabbed Jing Ke with it nine times. Knowing that his chance was slipping away, Jing Ke threw the dagger at the King but missed. Finally guards, which out of the King's paranoia over having armed men in his presence had been posted at a great distance and barred from entering the hall without orders, arrived and killed the assassin. Jing Ke was then burned and the box in which the rest of the fire which burned him were put in the king's closet.

Jing Ke in Fiction

  • A fictionalized version of Jing Ke appears in the film Highlander: Endgame (2000), played by wuxia actor and martial artist Donnie Yen. In the film, Jing Ke is, like the other principal characters, an immortal warrior living in the present. The film alters the spelling of Jing Ke's name to "Jin Ke," and makes reference to his historical association with Qin Shi Huang.


  1. Duncan MacLeod: "Jin Ke? Who served with the emperor Chin?" · Jin Ke: "The same man." · (Highlander: Endgame (2000) Dimension Films)

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