指鹿为马 zhǐ lù wéi mǎ
to call a stag a horse; to confuse right and wrong; to talk black into white
[call a stag a horse—deliberately misrepresent]
Greedy people are never content. He wanted to further consolidate his power and wanted to depose Qin Ershi while his grip on the throne was still weak. Zhao Gao’s goal was to become emperor himself.
He wanted to test the waters before he attempted a coup, so he devised a clever test to see where the other ministers stood.
One day, when Qin Ershi had all of his officials present with him, Zhao Gao presented a gift to the Emperor. “Your Majesty, I wish to present you with this fine horse”.
“But Your Majesty, I assure you, it is indeed a horse,” answered Zhao Gao.
“That’s absurd! Since when did horses grow antlers?” retorted the Emperor.
“This is a horse. But why don’t we ask our illustrious ministers to identify this fine beast. Gentlemen, is this a stag or a horse?”
Attitudes among these officials varied. Some wanted Zhao Gao’s favor, “Oh, it is definitely a horse!” Others were too cowardly to say anything. Some honest ministers saw through the Prime Minister’s intentions, disagreed and said, “No! It is a stag!”
Now that Zhao Gao knew who supported him, he went on a campaign to discredit the honest officials and removed them from power, one by one. These ministers eventually became so fearful of him that it was no problem for him to have someone assassinate Qin Ershi.
Now, the idiom, 指鹿为马 means to intentionally mix up facts, by calling good “bad” and bad “good”. It means to intentionally and maliciously to confuse truth with fiction.