Countless Chinese idioms originated from Chinese history. So learning idioms could be a good way of learning Chinese history. Reversely, the more you know about Chinese history, the faster you can learn Chinese terms.
So today, I’m going to introduce an idiom-centric story- 四面楚歌. This idiom came from a battle between two important Chinese historical individuals – 刘邦 & 项羽.
项羽: well known by many Chinese people for his braveness and talent at battles. he is the historical hero of many Chinese people – although I don’t consider him deserving of the title “hero” because he killed so many innocent people.
刘邦: the founder of 汉(Han) dynasty. After he defeated 项羽 in the battle in today’s story, he launched the era of 汉(Han) dynasty, which lasted for over 400 years in ancient China.
Let’s take a look at some terms before you start reading:
Click on the Chinese characters to see pronunciations.
古时候，刘邦想要消灭掉项羽，就发动了军队去攻打他。刘邦用强大的军队最后把项羽的楚军(army from Chu country)包围在了垓下（地名）。楚军被大量刘邦的军队包围，陷入了困境。项羽带领楚军殊死抵抗，双方谁也没能胜利。时间一天天过去了，楚军的食物也消耗得差不多了。
In ancient times, Liu Bang wanted to eradicate Xiang Yu, so he gathered an army to attack him. Liu Bang, with his powerful army, eventually besieged Xiang Yu’s Chu army – the army from country Chu, at Gai Xia (location name). The Chu army was besieged by the vast army of Liu Bang and ran into difficulties. Xiang Yu and his Chu army desperately fought back, so that neither side could succeed. Time went on, and the Chu army depleted most of their foods.
One night, to undermine the morale of the Chu army, Liu Bang gathered a group of soldiers and let them go to the mountains to sing the songs of country Chu. Xiang Yu heard country Chu’s songs coming from all directions, and was very surprised and scared, so he asked: “why are there so many people singing the songs of country Chu? Could it be that the territory of country Chu has already been captured by the army of Liu Bang?” Xiang Yu couldn’t fall asleep any more, and didn’t know what to do.
That night, Xiang Yu decided to break through the siege with more than 800 of his cavalrymen, who were fighting their way out. Liu Bang with his army chased and caught up with them from behind. Xiang Yu and Chu soldiers resisted bravely, but eventually were defeated by the army of Liu Bang. In the end, Xiang Yu took his own life at the side of Wu lake.
四面：周围 all around
楚歌：楚国的歌谣 the song of country Chu
To analogize the situation of isolation caused by being besieged on all sides.
Let’s read the story together, practice your pronunciation and learn more!