destroy the cooking pots and sink the boats;
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
burn the boats and destroy the cooking pots;
cross the river and dismantle the bridge
(po4 fu3 chen2 zhou1; fen2 zhou1 po4 fu3; guo4 he2 chai1 qiao2)
「破釜沉舟」和「焚舟破釜」都是表示完成任務的決心。英文成語「to burn one’s boats」（把自己的船燒掉）和「to burn one’s bridges」（燒掉一座橋）也表示沒有回頭路，但其意通常是負面的，例如「be careful not to burn your bridges」（小心別燒掉你的橋樑），是用來勸人小心謹慎，或是警告。
「to burn one’s bridges」的意義，反倒類似中文成語「過河拆橋」──過了河之後，就把橋給拆了。此語典出《元史》的〈徹里帖木兒列傳〉。元朝最後一位皇帝元順帝下令取消科舉制度，大臣徐有壬表示反對，徐有壬他自己便是通過科舉才做了官的。廢除科舉的詔令頒布時，徐有壬被安排跪在官員最前面，備受羞辱。他知道自己不能忤逆皇帝，只好默認這廢除科舉的政令。在場的治書侍御史普化看到了，便譏諷徐有壬說：「參政可謂過河拆橋者矣」（你是通過科舉考試才飛黃騰達的人，現在卻要廢除科舉制度，可說是過了河，就把橋給拆了）。這便是成語「過河拆橋」的由來，比喻人不念舊情、忘恩負義。
(He announced his intention to run for mayor, and at the same time resigned his position as city councilor, to demonstrate his resolve to win.)
don’t burn your boats/ bridges
Ancient Roman armies on the march would often burn bridges behind them in order to cut off their enemy’s lines of communication and means of retreat, but also to deny themselves the possibility of escape. This denial sent a message to the troops: either be victorious or perish in hostile lands. The practice of burning boats was common in ancient times, and for the same reason. The Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes, too, scuttled his fleet off the coast of the present day Mexican state of Veracruz in April 1519 to prevent a mutiny before he led his forces inland to Tenochtitlan. There are two Chinese idioms that refer directly to this practice: 破釜沉舟 (destroy the cooking pots and sink the boats) and 焚舟破釜 (burn the boats and destroy the cooking pots).
The first, 破釜沉舟, derives from the xiangyu benji (Annals of Xiang Yu) of the shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), in which the outnumbered general Xiang Yu galvanizes his forces’ resolve by having them destroy their means of escape. The text contains the sentence 項羽乃悉引兵渡河，皆沈船，破釜甑，燒廬舍，持三日糧，以示士卒必死，無一還心 (Xiang Yu then had his entire force cross the river, and then made them sink their boats, destroy their cooking pots and stoves, burn their shelters and carry with them only three days’ worth of provisions, to demonstrate that they would not be returning). In the modern idiom, the characters “沈船” are replaced by “沉舟.”
The second comes from the ancient Chinese military treatise the sunzi bingfa (Sunzi’s the Art of War), where, in the section jiudi (Nine Situations), the writer describes the characteristics of the skillful general, saying 易其事，革其謀，使人無識，易其居，迂其途，使人不得慮。帥與之期，如登高而去其梯，帥與之深，入諸侯之地而發其機。焚舟破釜，若驅群羊，驅而往，驅而來，莫知所之 (By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, [the general] keeps the enemy without knowledge. By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose. The leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking pots; like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nobody knows where he is going).
Both 破釜沉舟 and 焚舟破釜 indicate one’s resolve in completing a task. The English idioms “to burn one’s boats” and “to burn one’s bridges” also mean that there is no turning back, but are generally used in the negative sense, as in “be careful not to burn your bridges” as a note of caution, or as an admonishment.
There is also a Chinese idiom 過河拆橋, meaning “to cross the river and dismantle the bridge.” This idiom derives from the Biography of Chelitiemuer in the yuanshi (History of the Yuan Dynasty). During the reign of the last Yuan emperor, Yuan Shundi, the emperor decreed that the imperial examinations system was to be abolished. An official named Xu Youren, who had himself reached his government position through passing the imperial examinations, opposed the policy. Xu was humiliated, forced to kneel in front of the other officials when the announcement of the abolition was made. He knew he could not defy the emperor, and said nothing in defiance of the decree. An official present, Secretarial Censor Pu Hua, called Xu out on his apparent hypocrisy, saying 參政可謂過河拆橋者矣 (Having attained your government position, you dismantle the bridge that carried you this far). This gives us the Chinese idiom 過河拆橋, refering to somebody who has forgotten one’s past benefactors, and who is ungrateful.
(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)
Remember to be nice to your boss when you resign. You don’t want to burn your bridges.
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