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Say It Right Series

Chinese Idioms - 四面楚歌

Posted by vann0000 February 9, 2009 in the Group General Discussion.

Tags: idiom, song, direction, hopeless, strategy, lyrics

Songs coming from all directions (四面楚歌 si mian chu ge)


In 206 BC a war broke out between Xiang Yu, the king of the Chu state, and Liu Bang, the king of the Han state. In history, this was called the Chu-Han war. In the beginning, Xiang Yu's side was winning, but later Liu Bang gradually gained the advantage. In 202 BC, Liu Bang surrounded Xiang Yu's army in what is now Anhui province. Then, Xiang Yu had few soldiers and they were running out of food. Liu Bang thought of a clever strategy, now called "Songs coming from all directions."

One night, Xiang Yu heard sounds all around him. He awoke with a start. The sounds were the songs of the Chu state, Xiang Yu's home. The lyrics were sad and filled Xiang Yu with longing for his home. The sound of the songs spread through the whole army, reminding the soldiers of their home. They couldn't help joining in the songs. Some soldiers were moved to tears and none of the soldiers felt like fighting anymore.

Xiang Yu wondered if Liu Bang had already captured the Chu state. If he hadn't, why was his army filled with Chu soldiers? When Xiang Yu thought of this, he felt certain that he would lose the war. He ordered his men to set him a banquet in his tent and said goodbye to his beloved concubine Yu Ji. He said sadly, "Yu Ji, how shall I provide for you?" Later, he asked Yu Ji to do the sword dance with him. As they were dancing, Yu Ji suddenly thrust the sword into her stomach, and died instantly.

Xiang Yu was overwhelmed with sorrow, and led his few hundred soldiers to break through Liu Bang's army. But the Han army continued to follow them closely until they arrived at the Wu River. Xiang Yu had no way to escape and could think of no way to redeem himself from his failure. There was no way he could face his family after this defeat, so he took out his sword and killed himself by the riverside.

"Songs coming from all directions" comes from this story. The "songs" in the idiom are the songs of the Chu state. This refers to being surrounded by obstacles on all sides with no one to turn to, and to being in a state of extreme isolation.
 

四面楚歌(sì miàn chū gē)

公元前206年,楚(chū)王项羽(xiàng yǔ)和汉王刘邦(líu bāng)之间进行了一场战争,史称楚汉之争.开始的时候,项羽处于优势,但打到后来,刘邦逐渐(zhú jiàn)占了上风.公元前202年,刘邦把项羽包围在垓下(gāi xià)(现在的安徽省境内).这时,项羽手下的士兵已经很少了,粮食(liáng shì)也吃光了.刘邦想出了一计:即四面楚歌.

一天夜里,项羽听到歌声四起,他大吃一惊.原来这些都是他家乡楚地(现在的湖北湖南一带)的民歌,歌词凄切(qī qiè),充满浓浓的思乡之情.项羽军队里的士兵听到家乡的歌声,就情不自禁地跟着唱了起来,歌曲勾起了他们浓浓的思乡之情,有的被感动得止不住地热泪流,他们再也没有心情打仗了.

项羽心想:难道楚国被刘邦占领(zhàn lǐng)了?不然刘邦的军队里怎么会有这么多楚人呢?想到这里,他觉得大势已去,于是就命人在帐中摆(bǎi)起了酒宴,和他的爱妾虞姬(yú jī)告别.他悲切地说:"虞姬呀虞姬呀,该把你怎么安排呢?"

后来,他让虞姬和他一起舞剑(wǔ jiàn),舞着舞着,虞姬突然将剑刺入(cì rù)自己的腹部,香消玉殒(xiāng xiāo yù yǔn).

悲伤欲绝(bēi shāng yù jué)的项羽带着几百人的队伍拼死突围(tū wéi).但是汉军紧追不放,一直追到乌江(wū jiāng)边上.项羽再也无路可逃,又想到失败的局面已无法挽回,再也无颜见家乡父老,于是拔出剑来,在乌江边自杀身亡.

"四面楚歌"就来源于这个故事.意思是四面八方都是楚地的歌声,引申(yǐn shēn)为四面八方全都反对,陷入(xiàn rù)孤立(gū lì)的境地,用来形容极端(jí duān)孤立的境况.

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