The Pill or Elixir of Immortality is a fictitious medicine with deep roots in Chinese mythology that is said to be able to bring the dead back to life and to grant everlasting life to the consumer. Some also believe that with sufficient self-cultivation, consuming a Pill of Immortality will allow a person to rise to Heaven and become a deity.
Despite often being referred to as an 'elixir' in English, the fabled medicine only comes in pill form. They are most often portrayed as seemingly mundane small, dark brown spheres that can be easily swallowed, and are contained in a gourd. Many deities, such as the Queen Mother of West (西王母 xī wáng mǔ), are depicted holding gourds containing Pills of Immortality in one hand.
For thousands of years, Chinese Emperors sought immortality through alchemy (炼丹 liàn dān) with records describing efforts mainly focused on mercury, sulfur, carbon, tin, lead, copper, gold, silver, and even jade. Dozens of tools were created to aid in the search, including the alchemy furance (丹炉 dān lú and 丹鼎 dān dǐng), mercury extractor (抽汞器 chōu gǒng qì), silk sieve (绢筛 juàn shāi), and many more.
Though it is unclear how many people, ironically, died in the search for the Pill of Immortality, some believe that at least Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇 qín shǐ huáng)1, Emperor Tai Zong of Tang (唐太宗 táng tài zōng)2, and Yong Zheng Emperor (雍正 yōng zhèng)3 fell victim over time toward the end of their lives due to excessive intake and long-term exposure to heavy metals in the body.