Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Chu Songs On Four Sides--Si Mian Chu Ge

The Chinese of Chu Songs On Four Sides--Si Mian Chu Ge is 四面楚歌, and Pin Yin sì miàn chǔ gē.

Xiang Yu (232–202 BC) was a prominent warlord in the late Qin dynasty(221 - 206 BC). He was a typical aristocrat in his time. He was from a noble family and barve, generous, decent-looking and excellent at martial art. All of these made him the leader of all warlords in China.

But at the time, Xiang Yu possessed almost all shortcomings of his class. He was arrogant and bold, which resulted in his failure in struggle for control of the country.

In 202 BC, Xiang Yu was besieged at a place called Gaixai by his old enemy Liu Bang, the king of Han. Xiang Yu was in a desperate situation, with little food and only a few soldiers. At night, the surrounding Han troops started to sing his hometown, Chu, folk songs.

Xiang Yu was very surprised at this, and said to his consort Yu, "Has Liu Bang occupied the whole of Chu? How can he have drafted so many Chu people into his army?"

Xiang Yu totally lost his will of fighting and decided to flee together with the remainder of his forces, but he worried about his consort Yu, so he drank a lot and sang a song:

My strength plucked up the hills,
My might shadowed the world;
But the times were against me,
And Dapple[10] runs no more;
When Zhui (Xiang Yu's beloved war horse) runs no more,
What then can I do?
Ah, Yu, my Yu,
What will your fate be?

To prevent Xiang Yu from being distracted by his love for her, consort Yu committed suicide with Xiang Yu's sword after performing a sword dance for her husband for the last time. She was buried at Gaixia. The next morning, Xiang Yu led about 800 of his remaining elite cavalry on a desperate attempt to break out of the encirclement, with 5000 enemy troops hot on pursuit.

When he retreated to Wu River, Xiang Yu lost all his men. The ferryman at the ford prepared a boat for him to cross the river, strongly encouraging him to do so because Xiang Yu still had the support of the people from his homeland in the south. Xiang said that he was too ashamed to return home and face his people because none of the first 8,000 young men from his homeland who followed him on his conquests managed to survive. He refused to cross and ordered his remaining men to dismount, asking the ferryman to take his war horse back home.

Xiang Yu then dashed back to Han troops. After killing dozens of enemies, he suffered grave wounds. Before being captured, he committed suicide by slitting his throat with his sword.

Background and Writer Comment:

This Chinese idiom story is from "the Records of the Grand Historian (史记)".

Later people derived the idioms of "Chu Songs On Four Sides--Si Mian Chu Ge" from this story. It refers to a helpless and critical situation.

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