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Quotable Chéngyǔ - UniLang

Quotable Chéngyǔ

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Karavinka
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Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-15, 10:48

大家好。

The purpose of this thread is to explain the mysterious four-letter "set expressions" or "idioms" called Chéngyǔ. (J: せいご, K: 성어) I was thinking about doing this for a while, and decided to post it here on Chinese forum, although I will still give all CJK phonetics. (官 stands for 官話, "Mandarin". 日 for 日本語, "Japanese" and 朝 for 朝鮮語 "Korean") The proper names in the English explanation all follow their Mandarin phonetics. (If you're willing to contribute other phonetics, you're more than welcome!)

Now, what are the Chengyu? First, they have largely the same four-letter structures and they often serve as an allusion to a story or an anecdote. Their use as a literary device can be quite effective and sophisticated, as long as it is understood(!). Written in a drastically succint style, they do not necessarily make sense if you are only used to the Modern grammar. (Well, they date from the time of Classical Chinese, right?) I will also provide excerpts and a very free translation of the source materials from which the Chengyu derives from.

My choice would be largely random. I don't believe there is a fixed order in which these can/should be taught, after all.



1. 吳越同舟 (吴越同舟)

官: Wú Yuè Tóng Zhoū
日: ごえつどうしゅう
朝: 오월동주

-- From Sūn Zi (《孫子》〈九地篇〉)

吳:Wu.
越: Yue.
同: Same.
舟: Boat.

Rough translation: A Wu person and a Yue person in the same boat.

Sūn Zi says:

Wú and Yuè were states in the Warring States period of China. Wú roughly corresponds to the modern-day Shànghǎi and the nearby region, and Yuè roughly Fújiàn and south - and yes, the same name in the Sinolect "Wu" (吳) and "Vietnam." (越南) These two states are the archetypal sworn enemies in Chinese history. Think of Rome and Carthage, or Achaeans and Trojans. But even they can collaborate for the common goal as long as the circumstances are right.

夫吳人與越人相惡也,當其同舟而濟而遇風,其相救也如左右手.

"Those Wú and Yuè people hate each other. If they happen to be in the same boat and meet a heavy wind, they will help each other as if they were left and right hands of the same person."


Usage: to describe where two parties with usually clashing interest are forced to collaborate in the same situation.


2. 曲學阿世 (曲学阿世)

官: Qū Xué Ā Shì
日:きょくがくあせい
朝: 곡학아세

-- From Records of the Grand Historian, Bk. 121 "Biographies of Confucians" (《史記》 卷121 〈儒林傳〉 )

曲: To bend
學: Learning
阿: Flattery
世: World

Rough translation: To bend your learning and truth in order to flatter the people of the World.

Sīmǎ Qiān says:

The Emperor Jǐng of Hàn (漢景帝, r. -157 to -141) decided to hire a Shāndōng poet known as Yuán Gù (轅固). He was already about ninety years old, but known to be a righteous man who would always say what he believes to be right. Other literati tried to pursuade Emperor Jing not to hire this man, but the emperor didn't listen to them. It was the times when the Confucian orthodoxy was in decline, coinciding with the resurgence of Taoist school; and Yuán Gù was a perfect orthodox.

There was a younger man called Gōngsūn Hóng (公孫弘) who were hired at the same time with Yuán Gù. Gōngsūn Hóng at first paid little respect to Yuán Gù, saying he is "old" until Yuán Gù told him:

固曰: 公孫子, 務正學以言, 無曲學以阿世!

"Gōngsūn, work hard on the orthodox learning, and do not betray your learning in order to please the World!"


And young Gōngsūn, moved, apparently became his disciple, as the story goes.

Usage: to describe the intellectuals who change their principles, to conceal the truth, to propagandise falsity etc in order to attain worldly gains.
Last edited by Karavinka on 2008-09-28, 3:34, edited 10 times in total.
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Re: Chengyu(成语) A Day

Postby Laoshu505000 » 2008-09-15, 13:43

nice man :P

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Re: Chengyu(成语) A Day

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-16, 4:01

3. 背水之陣 (背水之阵)

官: Bēi Shuǐ Zhī Zhèn
日: はいすいのじん
朝: 배수지진

-- From Records of the Grand Historian, Bk. 118 "Biography of Hán Xìn" (《史記》 卷121 〈准陰侯列傳〉)

背: Back
水: Water
之: Of
陣: Formation

Rough translation: Military formation with water on the back.

Sīmǎ Qiān says:

It was in -204, two years before Liú Bāng (劉邦) became the first emperor of Hàn (漢). China was at civil war, and Hán Xìn (韓信), a commander under Liú Bāng's Hàn army, defeated the State of Wèi (魏) and marched into the State of Zhào (趙). Zhao commanders assembled their forces and built a fortress in a strategic location in order to stop Han advancements.

Hán Xìn divided his army into two: 2000 elite cavalries and 10,000 ordinary soldiers. Strangely, Hán Xìn formed his formation with the water on the back - a dangerous move at the risk of slaughter. Hán Xìn's forces waged a battle with Zhào army next day, and Hán Xìn started to retreat from the field. Seeing this, Zhào commanders dispatched full force to capture Hán Xìn, but the fortress became soon captured by Hán Xìn's cavalries and it was Zhào forces who had to retreat in the end.

Hán Xìn was asked why he camped there, and he answered:

且信非得素拊循士大夫也,此所謂『驅市人而戰之』,其勢非置之死地,使人人自為戰;今予之生地,皆走,甯尚可得而用之乎!」

"This is only a strategic move; you don't seem to understand. I was not endowed with a trained troops with good equipments, but rather leading ordinary people from marketplace to war. Such people encourage themselves for the battle, this is their morale when placed in the hostile land. If I camped in a favourable land, they would have all run away; it is better to make use of them!"


Usage: to describe a situation where failure is not an option; nowhere to retreat back; vanquish or be vanquished.
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Re: Chengyu(成语) A Day

Postby linguanima » 2008-09-16, 4:22

I haven't heard any of the chengyu's..
Şərqiy hünərlər: [flag]ug[/flag] [flag]tr[/flag] [flag]ar[/flag] [flag]fa[/flag] [flag]mn[/flag]
Ğərbiy hünərlər: [flag]en[/flag] [flag]fr[/flag] [flag]pt[/flag] [flag]ru[/flag] [flag]el[/flag]

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Re: Quotable Chengyu

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-19, 2:04

4. 靑出於藍 (青出于蓝)

官: Qīng Chū Yú Lán
日: せいしゅつおらん
朝: 청출어람

-- From Xún Zi (《荀子》,〈權學〉)

靑 : Blue
出 : Comes
於 : From
藍 : Indigo

Rough translation: Blue comes from indigo.

Xún Zi says:

學不可以已。青、取之於藍,而青於藍;冰、水為之,而寒於水。

Learning cannot be finished. Blue, takes it from indigo and yet bluer than indigo ; ice, resulting from water, is yet colder than water.


The more complete quote is "青出於藍,而青於藍", blue comes from indigo yet bluer than indigo. (You don't necessarily have to quote a long line; also in English, most people can fill "that is the problem" once they hear "to be or not to be", eh?) The disciples learn from the master, but in the end they may surpass their masters, thereby bringing advancement to the learning. Such a disciple is bluer than indigo, and colder than water.

Xún Zi's remark may be a general encouragement for the students and the teachers alike, or to justify his distancing himself from optimistic Mencius, or probably both. While Mencius was still an advocate of moral politics, Xún Zi found it to be too unrealistic in his time - the height of the Warring States. Xún Zi believed that human nature was by default "evil"; and his diagnosis was education of proper "manners" - he still believed in education, and human capacity to become good, bluer than indigo.

Note: In Japanese, the phrase is usually quoted in the second half (青於藍) in Kanbun rendering: 藍ヨリ青シ(あいよりあおし).

Usage: to describe and/or praise a student's achievement or potential.
Last edited by Karavinka on 2008-09-21, 3:21, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Quotable Chengyu

Postby lishaoxuan » 2008-09-19, 2:55

Noir,you know so much!
I have lots of Chengyu in my mind, but can't explain as detailed as you did.
Good luck and keep it up. :)
every so often

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Re: Quotable Chengyu

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-19, 15:08

5. 巧言令色

官: Qiǎo Yán Líng Sè
日: こうげんれいしょく
朝: 교언영색

-- From Analects of Confucius Ch. I and XVII (『論語』, 學而 3, 陽貨 17)

巧: Skillful
言: Word
令: Servile* (Modern: "Order")
色: Face* (Modern: "Colour")

Rough translation: Skillful words, deceitful face

Confucius says:

子曰:"巧言令色,鮮矣仁!"

"Skillful words and servile face, they rarely are benevolent!"


"Rén" (仁) - here translated as "benevolence" - is a word difficult to translate. This was the cardinal virtue of Confucius, emphasized throughout the Analects. Although Confucius himself spared words on this important virtue (子罕 1) it was one of the most frequently asked topic by his disciples, as recorded in the text - we can imagine the students' confusion. He would even spare calling otherwise virtuous people "benevolent", as the benevolent people embody the goodwill towards others, which is hard to see whether they really do or just pretend. Confucius warns against the people whose virtue is only a pretense.

The passage appears twice in identical forms in 1:3 and 17:17. As the text of the Analects were not written by Confucius but collected and edited by his later disciples over at least half a century, it may just well be an editorial error - or the editors wanted to emphasise this particularly more. Since chapters 18 to 20 are considered to be later additions, the main body of the Analects begins and ends with this statement.

Usage: To describe people who want to appear to be virtuous than they really are. Frauds, flatterers, sophists.



lishaoxuan wrote:Noir,you know so much!
I have lots of Chengyu in my mind, but can't explain as detailed as you did.
Good luck and keep it up. :)


Thanks for making this thread sticky ;)
Last edited by Karavinka on 2008-09-21, 3:39, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Quotable Chengyu

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-21, 2:01

6. 移木之信

官: Yí Mù Zhī Xìn
日: いぼくのしん
朝: 이목지신

-- From Records of the Grand Historian, Bk. 68 "Biography of Lord Shāng " (《史記》 卷68〈商君列專〉)

移 : Moving
木 : Tree
之 : Of
信 : Trust

Rough translation: Trust of moving tree

Sīmǎ Qiān says:

Shāng Yāng (商鞅, d. -338) was a minister of the State of Qín (秦), during the reign of Lord Xiào (孝公). He was one of the most prominent legalist philosopher and practitioner - it was during his office that the State of Qín laid the foundation for the later unification of China. One time, Shāng Yāng legislated a certain law but did not publish it immediately.

令既具,未布,恐民之不信,已乃立三丈之木於國都市南門,募民有能徙置北門者予十金。民怪之,莫敢徙。複曰「能徙者予五十金」。有一人徙之,輒予五十金,以明不欺。卒下令。

"The decree was already prepared, but not published, for he was afraid of people's distrust. Hence he put a thirty-feet tree at the South Gate of the country's capital, and announced that ten gold will be awarded to whom he move it to the North Gate. People thought it was strange, and did not follow. Again it was announced: to whom he move it, fifty gold will be rewarded. One man followed it, and received fifty; it was clear that there was no deceit. The decree was then executed."


Usage: to describe a sincere action in order to gain trust, or a trust acquired from such an act. Trust in keeping one's words and promises.

7. 韋編三絶 (韦编三绝)

官: Wéi Biān Sān Jué
日: いへんさんぜつ
朝: 위편삼절

-- From Records of the Grand Historian Bk. 47 "Annals of Confucius" (《史記》 卷47 〈孔子世家〉

韋 : Soft leather
編 : Binding
三 : Three
絶 : Cut short

Rough translation: Leather binding thrice cut short

Sīmǎ Qiān says:

孔子晩而喜易、序・彖・繋・象・説卦・文言。讀易韋編三絶。曰、假我數年、若是、我於易則彬彬矣。

Confucius enjoyed I Ching every night: preface, divination, connections, phenomenes, gloss on trigrams, and the text. His reading of I Ching caused the binding lether to fall off thrice. One day he said, had he a few more years of life, he would become fairly well-learned of I Ching.


Sīmǎ Qiān's Records have two different kinds of biographies - 世家 and 列專. The former, "Annals" are only used for the kings and lords of various states, and the latter "Biographies" contain stories and anecdotes on other notable persons. Confucius is an exception: he was given an Annal, despite having ruled no kingdom of his. One of most important contribution of Confucius is his role as a transmitter of the olden lore to the succeeding generation - including (but not only) I Ching.

His story of leather-bound became somewhat of a model for later Confucians to study as hard as he did. But that's somewhat unfair, Confucius must have read I Ching written on bamboo pieces strung together into a large scroll. (Which is much more fragile than modern hardcovers) But the important thing is the morale of the story, and "memorising" and "learning classics by heart" became the standard procedure of Confucian education in later times as well.

Usage: to describe a hardworking student/scholar. Or a common adage in praise of Confucius.

Notice
* All pinyins now bear tone marks instead of numbers.
* Classical Chinese original directly above English.
* #1 to #4 revised.
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-22, 1:18

8. 窈窕淑女

官: Yǎo Tiǎo Shū Nǚ
日: ようちょうしゅくじょ
朝: 요조숙녀

-- From Shī Jīng, "Guān Jū" (《詩經》 〈國風〉 周南 01 "關雎")

窈窕 : Elegant
淑女 : Lady

Rough translation: Elegant lady

In Shī Jīng:

Shī Jīng is the oldest poetry collection in Chinese literature. Written in Archaic Chinese of the pre-classical period, it is probably one of the most stressful texts for the students of Chinese. However, the subject matter is incredibly fresh even to this day - as they were sung and written by anonymous singers and poets before the advent of moral Confucius. Still, Confucius himself saw a good value of them, and he was alleged to be the editor of Shī Jīng, which gave later Confucians both pride and headache. Some of them are blatantly love songs, and they took great pains to pull out moral teaching from these texts. The following is an excerpt from the opening poem of Shī Jīng - and it had to be a love poem, to the chagrin of later Confucians.

  關關雎鳩  Ospreys crying "Guān, Guān"*
  在河之洲  On the river-bank;
  窈窕淑女  Deep and elegant lady
  君子好逑  Favourite of Gentleman

  參差行菜  Herbes with the jagged leaves
  左右流之  On the right and left side of the river
  窈窕淑女  Deep and elegant lady
  寤寐求之  Dreamt of in wake and in sleep

*Guān, Guān: Onomatopoeia.


The word "窈窕淑女" is still in currency in modern languages, surviving more than three millenia, and still meaning the same - deep, quiet, thoughtful and elegant lady. It may be used in a full phrase of "窈窕淑女君子好逑" - a gentleman's passionate love for his Miss Perfect. Just to kill the fun, later neoconfucian scholars would interpret this as a gentleman's praise of a lady's virtue of chastity.

Usage: "Miss Perfect"
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-23, 7:20

9. 四面楚歌

官: Sì Miàn Chǔ Gē
日: しめんそか
朝: 사면초가

-- From Records of the Grand Historian Bk. 7 "Chronicle of Xiàng Yǔ (《史記》 卷7 〈項羽本紀〉)

四: Four
面: Sides
楚: State of Chǔ
歌: Song

Rough translation: Chǔ songs on all four sides.

Sīmǎ Qiān says:

Xiàng Yǔ (項羽) was the most formidable rival of Liú Bāng (劉邦), who later becomes the first Emperor of Hàn (漢). Since the dissolution of Qín (秦), China again became divided by the warlords fighting against each other - the brief unification collapsing into Warring States again. Many states during the previous periods arose again, and among them, Hàn and Chǔ. Fortunately, it ended sooner this time.

Xiàng Yǔ, the Hegemon King of Chǔ, is an often romanticised figure. His fiery character and passionate love for Lady Yú (虞美人; lit. Beautiful Yú) inspired later storytellers, and Xiàng Yǔ and Liú Bāng became one of many recurring archetypal rivals in the literature. (Achilles and Hector may provide a very rough analogy.) Although a more formidable warrior, Xiàng Yǔ was not as strategically brilliant than the cunning Liú Bāng and found himself surrounded in the plane known as Gāixià (垓下).

項王軍壁垓下,兵少食盡,漢軍及諸侯兵圍之數重。夜聞漢軍四面皆楚歌,項王乃大驚曰:「漢皆已得楚乎?是何楚人之多也!」項王則夜起,飲帳中。有美人名虞,常幸從;駿馬名騅,常騎之。於是項王乃悲歌慷慨,自為詩曰:

King Xiàng's forces were enclosed in Gāixià, with small number of men left and food running out. The Hàn and other ducal forces surrounded them over and over. In a night, they heard Chǔ songs being heard from all four sides of Hàn army surrounding them, and King Xiàng was very surprised, saying: "Did Hàn already acquire Chǔ? There are so many men of Chǔ there!" King Xiàng arose that night and drank in the tent. The Lady Yú who always followed him, and the Horse Zhuī which he always rode were with him. King Xiàng, singing out of deep lamentation, sang a poem:

  力拔山兮氣蓋世  O strength moving the mountain, o spirit paling the World
  時不利兮騅不逝  O unfruitful time, my Zhuī would not advance
  騅不逝兮可奈何  O Zhuī you won't move anymore, what now can be done?
  虞兮虞兮奈若何  O Yú, O Yú! What could now you do?


Knowing all came to the end, Lady Yú pulled the sword out of Xiàng Yǔ's belt, bade him farewell and killed herself. Xiàng Yǔ, rode on his beloved horse and rushed onto the enemy line with his last elite cavalries, ending their lives. -- But, the native songs they heard was just yet another trick of cunning Liú Bāng; it was his order that Chǔ songs be sung.

Their wars are still played on the game known as xiàngqí (象棋), "Chinese chess" which is a re-enactment of the war between Hàn and Chǔ; the red is Hàn, and the black (or sometimes green) is Chǔ.

Usage: to describe a situation where one finds oneself entirely surrounded by hostility, with no hopes or help from the outside.


I'll pick a shorter quote next time...
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-25, 7:05

10. 克己復禮 (克己复礼[中簡], 克己復礼[日簡])

官: Kè Jǐ Fù Lǐ
日: こっきふくれい
朝: 극기복례

-- From Analects of Confucius 12:1 (《論語》 〈顏淵〉)

克: Overcome
己: Oneself (Reflexive pronoun)
復: Return
禮: Morals

Confucius says:

顏淵問仁。子曰:“克己復禮為仁。一日克己復禮,天下歸仁焉。為仁由己,而由人乎哉?”顏淵曰:“請問其目。”子曰:“非禮勿視,非禮勿聽,非禮勿言,非禮勿動。”顏淵曰:“回雖不敏,請事斯語矣。”

Yán Yuān asked about Benevolence. Confucius says: "In overcoming yourself and returning to Morals lies Benevolence. To overcome oneself for one day is to return to Morals, and the World will find Benevolence. This Benevolence is achieved through oneself; would it be through someone else?" Yán Yuān asks: "I ask its specificities." Confucius says: "Don't see what is not moral, don't hear what is not moral, don't speak what is not moral, don't act what is not moral." Yán Yuān said: "Although I am not bright, I would do according to these words."


Lǐ (禮) has different translations, from morals to ethics and to the etiquettes and manners. This is not surprising; the word "ethics" and "ethnic" share the same Greek root in Western languages as well. What is customarily done in a society is what is morally right in that society; Confucius does not call upon the intervention of a supreme being and the revealed moral truth. Although many disciples ask similar question, Confucius replies at length only to Yán Yuān, his star pupil. Yán Yuān does not make many appearences in the Analects considering his fame; he was known to have a quiet personality who would work on perfecting himself, just like the way Confucius likes. This clause provides an important clue to interpret Confucius.

Customary Morals are an important step to attain Benevolence, and it is not achieved from the help of the others; one is only responsible to perfect oneself. Moreover, one needs to overcome oneself: what Confucius exactly meant by this remains an open topic, but a common answer would be to restrain private desires in favour of public good. In other words, to overcome passions in favour of actions - to have "passion" is to be passive from external influences.

Zhū Xī, later influential neo-Confucian, quotes commentaries of Chéng Yīchuān (程伊川), another famous neo-Confucian, on this passage in chapter 5 of his Thoughts from the Nearby (近思錄)

四者身之用也。由乎中而應乎外,制於外所以養其中也。顔淵事斯語,所以進于聖人。後之學聖人者,宜服膺而勿失也。因箴以自警。

These four are the usage of the body. Only through mediating the inside one can respond to the external World. To order the external, is to cultivate its moderation. The words to Yan Yuan is to proceed to the sagehood. The later scholars who learn from the sages, ought to embrace this and not lose it. This is needle to awake oneself.


Usage: To convey the message above; often used in moralising lectures in admonition of unruly young people, without producing much results.
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Babelfish » 2008-09-26, 19:29

很有興趣!謝謝你,noir。我現在有讀物 8-)
(你反感簡體,對了嗎? :wink:
Native languages: Hebrew (he) & English (en)

מן המקום בו אנו צודקים לא יפרחו לעולם פרחים באביב (יהודה עמיחי)
From the place where we are in the right, flowers will never grow in the spring (Yhuda Amihay)

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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-27, 7:14

11. 讀書百遍 (读书百遍[中簡], 読書百遍[日簡])

官: Dú Shū Bǎi Biàn
日: どくしょひゃっぺん
朝: 독서백편

-- From Sānguó Zhì, Bk. 13 "Biographies of Zhōng Yáo, Huá Xīn, Wáng Lǎng" (《三國志》卷13 〈鍾繇華歆王朗傳〉)

讀: Read
書: Book
百: Hundred
遍: Times

Rough translation: Read the book hundred times

Chén Shòu says:

The story of the Three Kingdoms is better known through the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義) by Luó Guànzhōng (羅貫中). However, the "original" historical records of the period was made by Chén Shòu (陳壽), and his records form a part of the celebrated Twenty-Four Histories of China, a millenarian collection of historical records which are considered to be the "orthodox" canon. The episode here is, however, not from the original but the later commentaries made by Péi Sōngzhī (裵松之).

Dǒng Yú (董遇) was a Confucian scholar of Late Hàn to the Three Kingdoms period. A distinguished scholar, his commentaries on Lǎozi (老子) and Zuǒ Chuán (左傳) remained popular up until Táng Dynasty period. He was famed to be very studious since childhood, and his fame as a scholar grew. Naturally, there were a lot of people who wanted to learn from him - but he wouldn't be quite willing to take them.

明帝時,入為侍中、大司農。數年,病亡。初,遇善治老子,為老子作訓注。又善左氏傳,更為作硃墨別異。人有從學者,遇不肯教,而雲「必當先讀百遍」。言「讀書百遍而義自見」。從學者雲:「苦渴無日。」遇言「當以三餘」。或問三餘之意,遇言「冬者歲之餘,夜者日之餘,陰雨者時之餘也」。

During the reign of Emperor Míng of Wèi (魏明帝), he arose to the Great Magistracy of the Agriculture. He lost many years from illness. Earlier, he loved Lǎozi, and made commentaries on it. Also he loved Zuǒ Chuán, again made commentaries anew in crimson and black. There were people who wanted to learn from him, but he would not take them, only saying: "You must read hundred times first." Again he said: "Read it hundred times, the meaning will appear by itself."

The student said: "I would never have time for it."

Yú said: "There are three leisures."

Again he was asked what these leisures were. He replied: "Winter is the leisure time of the year, night is the leisure time of the day, and rainy days are additional leisure days."


Note that these three "leisures" are simply the times where one cannot work on the field; China was still agrarian. Similar to Confucius and his story of I Ching binding, this became one of standard model of Confucian pedagogy. The "hundred times" may just be a common Chinese exaggeration, but who would deny that one ultimately understands by reading repeatedly? We just don't have as much patience.

Usage: to encourage a student to go back to the study of the source material, or even just textbook. One may use this while adminishing a student who asks silly questions without even doing the readings, etc.

Babelfish wrote:很有興趣!謝謝你,noir。我現在有讀物 8-)
(你反感簡體,對了嗎? :wink:


不客气。我没有反感对简体,但是我觉得跟文言文正体必须。
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-28, 2:43

12. 梁上君子

官: Liáng Shàng Jūn Zi
日: りょうじょうのくんし
朝: 양상군자

-- From The Book of Later Hàn Bk. 62 (《後漢書》卷62 〈荀韓鍾陳列伝第五十二〉)

梁: Beam of roof
上: Above
君子: Gentleman

Rough translation: Gentleman above the beam of roof

Fàn Yè says:

Chén Shí (陳寔), a figure in Late Hàn, was a governor of the town called Tàiqiū (太丘縣), in modern-day Hénán (河南). As a someone worthy of a biography in a canonical history, he was a benevolent governor who worked hard for the well-being of the people. But however virtuous the governor may be, an agricultural failure can result in famine. Desperate time calls desperate moves, and this man had a unique response to it:

時歲荒民儉,有盜夜入其室,止於樑上。寔陰見,乃起自整拂,呼命子孫,正色訓之曰:「夫人不可不自勉。不善之人未必本惡,習以性成,遂至於此。樑上君子者是矣!」盜大驚,自投於地,稽顙歸罪。寔徐譬之曰:「視君狀貌,不似惡人,宜深克己反善。然此當由貧困。」令遺絹二匹。自是一縣無復盜竊。

The agricultural failure brought poverty to the people, and there was a burglar who sneaked into his house late in the night, above the beam of roof. Chén Shí noticed this, arose and arranged his surroundings, and called his sons and grandsons, and told them as if nothing happened:

"One should never cease trying to better themselves. Not being good does not result from one's evil nature, but from his habits becoming the second nature, and reaches this. The gentleman above the roof beam has been such."

The burglar, very surprised, fell down, bowed down in from of him and apologised. Chén Shí only admonished him:

"You don't seem to be an evil man from the beginning; you can truly overcome yourself and be well. This ought to be from just poverty." Then he gave the burglar two rolls of silk, and there was no more burglary in the town.


Chén Shí's belief about the goodness of human nature was the central belief of all orthodox Confucian schools of political thought; it is the circumstances and hardships in life that drive people to wrongdoings. And only because they are good in nature, they can be properly restored to their goodness and be well. With the notable exception of Xún Zi and his school, few Confucians would directly question this supposition. This translates to the Confucian ideal of "Reign of Virtue."

Usage: A fancier word for "burglar" or "thief." Or, children who sneak in and take forbidden cookies can be gentlemen in the roof as well.
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-09-29, 1:48

13. 刮目相待

官: Guā Mù Xiāng Dāi
日: かつもくそうたい
朝: 괄목상대

-- from Sānguó Zhì, Bk. 54, "Biographies of Zhōu Yú, Lǔ Sù, Lǚ Měng (《三國志》 卷54 〈周瑜魯肅呂蒙傳〉)

刮: Rub
目: Eyes
相: Each other
待: Face, see*

* Occasionally misquoted as 對(対) in Korean and Japanese, because two letters are homophonous, and 相對(相対) in fact means the same, "to face (someone)."

Chén Shòu says:

The episode comes, again, from the commentaries of Péi Sōngzhī (裵松之) rather than Chén Shòu's original. Lǚ Měng (呂蒙), an official in the State of Wú (吳) was a rather uneducated person who climed the rank through his martial prowess and bravery. One day, Sūn Quán (孫權), the later first Emperor of Wú, suggested that he starts his study and he did exactly as he was ordered to: day and night, at war and at home. And his progress was fast...

肅拊蒙背曰: ‘吾謂大弟但有武略耳, 至於今者, 學識英博, 非復吳下阿蒙。蒙曰:‘士別三日,即更刮目相待。

Lǔ Sù met Lǚ Měng and said: "I have been saying that you were little but martial prowess, but now I see you, your learning is blossoming, you are not the same Lǚ Měng that I met in Wú." Lǚ Měng replied: "When the men of learning do not see each other for three days, and meet again, they should rub their eyes disbelieving whether it is the same man."


Usage: To describe an industrious student making progress, or someone's maturation in general.
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby lishaoxuan » 2008-10-02, 20:01

我很喜欢这个帖子。很开眼界。希望你能继续!
every so often

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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-10-02, 20:49

14. 七去之惡 (七去之恶[中簡], 七去之悪[日簡])

官: Qī Qù Zhī È
日: (いえを)さるななつのあく
朝: 칠거지악

-- From Greater Classic of Rites Ch. 39 (《大戴禮記》 〈本命〉)

七: Seven
去: Leave
之: Of
惡: Evil

Rough translation: Seven evils to leave

In Greater Classic of Rites:

There are two main versions of the Classic of Rites, Greater and Lesser. The standard version of the text is the Lesser version, but the Greater version also servives. The namesake comes from the editors, the Lesser version was edited by the nephew of the editor of the Greater. This Greater version - otherwise obscure text - became the source of the seven evils.

婦有七去:不順父母去,無子去,淫去,妒去,有惡疾去,多言去,竊盜去。不順父母去,為其逆德也;無子,為其絕世也;淫,為其亂族也;妒,為其亂家也;有惡疾,為其不可與共粢盛也;口多言,為其離親也;盜竊,為其反義也。

There are seven reasons to leave your wife: Not being nobedient to parents (in-law), begetting no son, lewdness, jealousy, having illness, talking too much, and stealing. Not being obedient to parents means she is against virtue, having no son ends your lineage, lewdness brings trouble in your household, having bad illness she cannot prepare offerings, talking too much makes you lose affection, and stealing is unjust.


However unreasonable it may sound like, these became sufficient reasons to divorce your wife where the Confucian orthodoxy rules supreme. Confucian orthodoxy did not become a force binding daily lives in neither China nor Japan; Japanese orthodoxy was very weak, and also in China there were contending schools of thought. At one time in history, it did become a ruling principle of the entire nation - orthodox fundamentalist revolution succeeded in Korea, leading to the establishment of Joseon Dynasty. These "seven evils" did not become immediately in effect, but it became a solid ground in the later years of the dynasty, albeit many internal criticisms. This is an example of the darker side of Confucianism. Well, not everything in the Classical age was rosy, after all.

In China, this is also known simply as "Seven Outs" (七出).

Usage: To describe an out-of-date macho in a sarcastic comment.
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-10-02, 21:14

lishaoxuan wrote:我很喜欢这个帖子。很开眼界。希望你能继续!


Thanks. My long-term goal is to continue up to #108. (And I assume you know the significance of the number, haha.)
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-10-06, 2:13

15. 溫故知新 (温故知新)

官: Wēn Gù Zhī Xīn
日: おんこちしん
朝: 온고지신

-- From Analects of Confucius, 2:11 (《論語》 〈爲政〉)

溫: Warm up
故: Old
知: Know
新: New

Rough translation: Warm up the Old, Know the New

Confucius says:

子曰:“溫故而知新,可以為師矣。”

Master said: "One who is familiar with the old and knows the new, can become a teacher."


What would Confucius have majored had he been born in the modern age? My bet is Classics. Confucius was a strong believer in the value of the humanities, and he spent a considerable time of his life learning prose, poetry and ritual documents of the preceeding times. Although we consider his age to be Classical, he considered the three preceeding dynasties to be the Golden Age of the civilisation. His entire entreprise is the grand retour to the ages, particularly Zhōu (周).

Other than the proper name, the word itself survives in the modern age with the original meaning, "Universal." Is that a new usage? No, Confucius uses the word in its original sense "Universal" at times as well. Zhōu was a universal realm, with the Mandate of Heaven (天子) and the lesser kings and lords. Historically, Zhōu Emperor remained as the most powerful force among these lords so he could control the otherwise unruly lords, but his power weakened and the Spring and Autumn period begins. What was his modus operandi for this project?

子曰: "周監於二代, 郁郁乎文哉! 吾從周" (〈八佾〉)

Master said: "Zhōu inherited from the two dynasties. Splendid, splendid is the Writing! I shall follow Zhōu."(2:3)


Wén (文) is often translated as "Culture" (文化) which is not necessarily wrong, but the most primary meaning of Wén remains as "Writing." Only the one who has learned these ancient Wén thoroughly can be the teacher of the new world. But, let's keep in mind that:

記問之學 不足以爲人師 (『禮記』 學記篇)

Superfluous learning is not sufficient to make a teacher. (Classic of Rites)


Usage: A part of the common classicist complaints.
Last edited by Karavinka on 2008-11-24, 15:27, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Quotable Chéngyǔ

Postby Karavinka » 2008-10-09, 12:38

16. 泣斬馬謖 (泣斩马谡)

官: Qì Zhǎn Mǎ Sù
日: きゅうざんばしょく
朝: 읍참마속

-- From Romance of the Three Kingdoms Episode 96. (《三國演義》 第九十六回)

泣 : Cry
斬 : Execute
馬謖 : Personal name

Rough translation: Cry and execute Mǎ Sù.

Luó Guànzhōng says:

In march 227, Zhūgě Liàng (諸葛亮), the Chancellor of Shǔ Hàn (蜀漢), led yet another expedition against much larger and stronger Cáo Wèi (曹魏). Being a master stretegician, he was able to remain offensive against Wèi until the end of his death - but, however brilliant, a war is not won by one man. The Shǔ forces marching north defeated Wèi defense at first, and got hold of Hànzhōng (漢中) area. Wèi reinforcement arrived, led by Sīmǎ Yì (司馬懿) - the archrival of Zhūgě Liàng. Zhūgě Liàng had a plan to defeat Sīmǎ Yì laid out, but there was one condition. Jiētíng (街亭), a crucial location in Shǔ support line, had to stand firm against Wèi offence for a while. Mǎ Sù volunteered.

Mǎ Sù was a prodigious young commander. Although he was ordered to defend the passage of Jiētíng, he set up his base on the nearby mountain in order to allure the enemy and defeat them, rather than merely defending the passage. Being no fool, Sīmǎ Yì encircled the mountain instead and Mǎ Sù's men quickly ran out of food and water. They ultimately failed to guard Jiētíng, and Mǎ Sù was summoned in front of Zhūgě Liàng. Despite the fact that Mǎ Sù was his personal favourite, Zhūgě Liàng sentenced him death.

左右推出馬謖於轅門之外、將斬。參軍蔣琬自成都至。見武士欲斬馬謖、大驚、高叫留人、入見孔明曰、『昔楚殺得臣而文公喜。今天下未定、而戮智謀之臣、豈不可惜乎?』孔明流涕而答曰、『昔孫武所以能制勝於天下者、用法明也。今四方分爭、兵戈方始、若復廢法、何以討賊耶?合當斬之。』

The guards took Mǎ Sù from the outside of the gate, to be executed. Messenger Jiǎng Wǎn, who arrived from Chéngdū, saw that Mǎ Sù was about to be executed. Greatly surprised, he stopped people with raised voice. He came to see Zhūgě Liàng, said: "In the ancient time, Lord Wén was glad to see Chǔ rulers killing their retainers. Now the World is not yet stable, and you want to kill a prudent and cunning commander like him, how come you do not spare him?"

Zhūgě Liàng responded with running tears: "The celebrated Sūn Zǐ said, the way to order things and overcome in the World is to make use of the bright laws. Now the four sides of the World are divided and warring, the militia is rising, if we again render the laws obsolete, how could we defeat those bandits? He must die."


But please note that this story is from the fictionalised version of the Three Kingdoms. Did it really happen this way? We don't know.

Usage: To lay aside private emotions for the sake fo the law. Or layoff.
Last edited by Karavinka on 2008-10-15, 5:17, edited 1 time in total.
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