Record of the Grand Historian – Excerpt of Biography of Wu Zixu

Four Character Idiom of the Year

Toward the end of each year, countries that use Chinese characters pick a character — or a set of characters — to summarize the mood of what transpired that year. In Japan, the Kanji Proficiency Examination Board (日本漢字能力檢定協會, 일본한자능력검정협회) has selected 輪(륜), meaning “wheel” or “loop,” as the “Character of the Year” as an aspiration for recovery from the tragic earthquake of 2011. In the People’s Republic of China, the state-run People’s Daily (人民日報, 인민일보) has chosen 進(진), meaning “to advance,” as the “Character of the Year” to symbolize progress. Another Chinese newspaper, the Xin Kuai Bao (新快報, 신쾌보), has chosen 房(방), meaning “room,” to describe the anxiety over the looming real estate bubble there. In Taiwan, the United Daily News (聯合報, 연합보) declared 假(가), meaning “fake,” as the “Character of the Year.”

In Korea, based on a poll, the Professors’ Newspaper (敎授新聞, 교수신문) announced 倒行逆施(도행역시), meaning “To act contrary to reason,” as the “Four Character Idiom of the Year” (올해의 四字成語), to comment on the political developments this year. The idiom is a reference to the Biography of Wu Xizu (伍子胥列傳, 오자서열전) of the Record of the Grand Historian (史記, 사기), which was composed by Sima Qian (司馬遷, 사마천, Sama Cheon, 145 or 135BC – 86BC):

始伍員與申包胥為交, 員之亡也, 謂包胥曰: “我必覆楚.”
시오원여시포서위교, 원지망야, 위포서왈: “아필부초.”

From the beginning, Wu Yun (伍員, 오원, O Weon) and Shen Baoxu (申包胥, 신포서, Shin Poseo) were friends. As Wu Yun was fleeing, he called Shen Baoxu and said, “I must overturn the State of Chu (楚, 초, 1030BC – 223BC).”

      • Wu Yun (伍員, 오원) is the given name of Wu Zixu (伍子胥, 오자서, Oh Jaseo, ? – 484BC).

包胥曰: “我必存之.” 及吳兵入郢, 伍子胥求昭王.
포서왈: “아필존지.” 급오병입영, 오자서구소왕.

Shen Baoxu said, “I must protect [the State of Chu].” When the soldiers of the Wu State (吳, 오, Oh, 11th Cen. BC – 473 BC) entered the Ying (郢, 영, Yeong), Wu Zixu [intended to] capture King Zhao (昭王, 소왕, r. 515 BC – 495 BC).

      • Ying (郢, 영) is the capital of the State of Chu.

既不得, 乃掘楚平王墓, 出其尸, 鞭之三百, 然後已.
기부득, 내굴초평왕묘, 출기시, 편지삼볍, 연후이.

Unable to capture [King Zhao], he dug up the tomb of King Ping (平王, 평왕, Pyeong Wang, r. 528 BC – 516 BC) of Chu, removed the corpse, lashed it three hundred times, and then stopped.

申包胥亡於山中, 使人謂子胥曰:
신포서망어산중, 사인위자서왈:

Shen Baoxu hid in the middle of the mountains and sent others to call for Wu Zixu, saying,

“子之報讎, 其以甚乎! 吾聞之, 人眾者勝天, 天定亦能破人.
“자지보수, 기이심호! 오문지, 인중자승천, 천정역능파인.

“Your want for revenge, it is too much! I heard that when there are many people, Heaven [may be] overcome, but Heaven surely also can destroy man.

今子故平王之臣, 親北面而事之, 今至於僇死人, 此豈其無天道之極乎!”
금자고평왕지신, 친북면이사지, 금지어륙사인, 차기기무천도지극호!”

Today, you, formerly a servant of King Ping, personally faced north and served him. Now, you have reached to [the point of] defiling a dead man. How is this not against the highest of the Way of Heaven!”

伍子胥曰: “為我謝申包胥曰, ‘吾日莫途遠, 吾故倒行而逆施之.’”
오자서왈: “위아사신포서왈, ‘오일막도원, 오고도행이역시지.’”

Wu Zixu answered, “Instead of me, I apologize to Shen Baoxu, saying, ‘As our sun sets, our paths become far. We, therefore, travel against and work contrary [to the Way of Heaven].’”

於是申包胥走秦告急, 求救於秦. 秦不許. 包胥立於秦廷, 晝夜哭, 七日七夜不絕其聲.
어시신포서주진고급, 구구어진. 진부허. 포신립어진연, 주야곡, 칠일칠야불절기성.

Thereupon, Shen Baoxu ran to the State of Chin (秦, 진, Jin, 9th Cen. BC – 221 BC) and quickly notified, and sought assistance from the Chin, but the Chin did not permit. Shen Baoxu stood in the palace of the State of Chin, throughout day and night crying, and for seven days and seven nights not stop his sobbing.

秦哀公憐之, 曰: “楚雖無道, 有臣若是, 可無存乎!” 乃遣車五百乘救楚擊吳.
진애공련지, 왈: “초수무도, 유신약시, 가무존호!” 내견차오백승구초격오.

Duke Ai (哀公, 애공, Ae Gong, r. 451 BC – 434 BC) of the State of Chin said, “Even though the Chu are without morals, since they have a servant like this, I cannot let [them] fall!” He then sent carriages, five hundred of these carriages, to assist the State of Chu and attack the State of Wu [forces].

六月, 敗吳兵於稷. 會吳王久留楚求昭王, 而闔廬弟夫概乃亡歸, 自立為王.
륙월, 패오병어직. 회오왕구류초구소왕, 이합려제부개내망귀, 자립위왕.

On the sixth month, they defeated Wu forces at Ji (稷, 직). The King of Wu for awhile stayed looking for King Zhao. King Helü’s (闔廬, 합려, Hapryeo, r. 514 BC – 496 BC) younger brother, Fu Gai (夫概, 부개, Bu Gae, ?-?) then fled and returned [to the State of Wu] and by himself became King.

闔廬聞之, 乃釋楚而歸, 擊其弟夫概. 夫概敗走, 遂奔楚.
합려문지, 내석초이귀, 격기제부개. 부개패주, 수분초.

When King Helü heard this, he then released the State of Chu and returned [to the State of Wu], attacked his younger brother, Fu Gai. Fu Gai was defeated and fled, and in the end ran to the State of Chu.

楚昭王見吳有內亂, 乃復入郢. 封夫概於堂谿, 堂谿氏. 楚復與吳戰, 敗吳, 吳王乃歸.
초소왕견오유내란, 내부입영. 봉부개어당계, 당계씨. 초부여오전, 패오, 오왕내귀.

When King Zhao of Chu heard that the State of Wu had an internal rebellion, he returned and entered Ying, enfeoffed Fu Gai in Tangxi (堂谿, 당계, Danggye), and made his surname Tangxi. The State of Chu again fought with the State of Wu, defeated Wu, and the King of Wu then returned.

1 comment
  1. Matt said:

    Nice roundup! Minor nitpick — the Kanji Proficiency Examination Board actually has a public vote on the character, so they didn’t choose it so much as announce it. (Also, the real reason it is because of its association with the Olympic Games – 五輪!)

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