Mon, Mar 06, 2017 - Page 9 News List


Illustration of a petard being used. By unknown, possibly Italian - Library of Congress, public domain.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Practice

作法自斃(zuo4 fa3 zi4 bi4)

to fall foul of your own doing

More than a century before China was unified by the state of Qin, the chief adviser to the Duke of Xiao in Qin, Shang Yang, introduced legal and military reforms that transformed the state into a militarily strong meritocracy. It was his reforms that were to enable Qin to defeat the other feudal states and unify China in 221 BC. They also, apparently, contributed to his own death.

Shang Yang was born in 390 BCE in the state of Wei. He died in 338 BCE. After moving to Qin he ascended through the ranks, but some of his reforms put him on the wrong side of certain powerful members of the Qin aristocracy, whose powers he had weakened through his emphasis on meritocracy.

When Duke Xiao died, Shang Yang fled, but was captured after an innkeeper refused to allow him to stay, in compliance with a law Shang Yang himself had introduced, as he could not produce his identification papers. It is therefore said that he created the conditions which led to his own death.

The idiom 作法自斃 refers to falling foul of something of your own making.

In English we have the curious phrase “Hoist with one’s own petard.”

“Hoist” means to be lifted in the air; we still use it for raising — hoisting — flags.

A petard was a device in the shape of a small box, either conical or square, containing gunpowder, which would have been placed against a wall or door during a battle. It was essentially a bomb, with the blast directed in one direction, to breach a wall or blow open a door. Shakespeare gives Hamlet the line, “For tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his owne petar.” At the time, engineers were makers of military engines.

In the context of Hamlet, the “petard” is a letter instructing the king of England to assassinate Hamlet. Hamlet rewrites it to ask the king to kill the two men who delivered the letter: they were therefore hoist on their own petard. (Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)


hoist with your own petard



成語「作法自斃」意指被自己的所作所為所牽制。在英語中,也有一個有趣的片語Hoist with one’s own petard。Hoist的意思是升起,我們現在說升旗,也常用這個字。Petard是裝炸藥的圓錐形或方形小盒子,在戰爭中用來放在牆或門邊。這種裝置基本上就是一種炸彈,它朝一個方向炸開,以爆破城牆或炸開城門。英國文豪莎士比亞筆下之角色哈姆雷特便有一句台詞說道:「For tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his owne petar。」在當時,軍用器械是由工兵製造的。

在哈姆雷特當時所說的那個「petard」指的是一封信,內容是指示英國國王將哈姆雷特暗殺。哈姆雷特改寫了此信,改成要英王殺了那兩個傳信的信差:因此這兩個信差就是 hoist on their own petard。


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