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USING IDIOMS 活用成語

Jean Jacoby, Hurdeleefer.
尚恩‧沙克比,《跨欄比賽選手》。

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
照片:維基共享資源

Chinese Practice

功敗垂成

(gong1 bai4 chui2 cheng2)

failure within sight of success

前秦的苻堅(西元三三七~三八五年)想要統一中原,他發動戰爭時,誇口說他的軍隊陣容極為龐大,「投鞭斷流」──「如果我手下兵將每人都把武器丟進河裡,就會阻斷河流」。

後來,在西元三八三年的淝水之戰中,前秦大軍被數量不成比例的東晉精兵北府兵擊潰,最後前秦並未能夠一統天下。

「淝水之戰」被認為是中國歷史上最重要的戰役之一。淝水這條河本身已不存,因此有些學者認為這場戰役根本就沒有發生過。但無論如何,淝水之戰包含了幾種意義:它代表一支訓練有素、專業、為自身存亡而戰的軍隊,能夠戰勝在數量上更具優勢的敵軍。此戰役也代表一支漢族軍隊打敗了一支由「蠻族」──狄、鮮卑、西安、羯、戎、匈奴、羌等民族──士兵所組成的軍隊。這些蠻族士兵有很多是在被前秦擊敗後,收編入前秦軍隊的。但反諷的是,有一句成語,意指在成功在望時失敗,是和帶領北府兵贏得勝利的元帥謝玄有關。

《晉書》是晉朝(西元二六五~四二○年)的正史。據《晉書》記載,晉軍在淝水河邊遭逢前秦大軍時,元帥謝玄(西元三四三~三八八年)派遣一名信使去見苻堅,建議苻堅把軍隊撤離河的北岸,讓晉軍過河後,再跟前秦軍隊交戰。苻堅同意了。苻堅這是在遵循《孫子兵法》〈行軍〉篇所建議的:「客絕水而來,勿迎于水內,令半濟而擊之利」(敵人渡水來戰,不要在水中迎擊;要等他們渡過一半時再攻擊,這樣較為有利)。但不幸的是,苻堅卻忽略了《孫子兵法》的核心原則──「知己知彼」(了解你自己,也了解你的敵人)。晉軍是一支為自身生存而搏鬥的精兵,而苻堅的人馬卻是由原本為不同國家效力的士兵所湊合而成的雜牌軍,且是由缺乏經驗的元帥所帶領。當撤退的命令下達,前秦部隊便陷入困惑及混亂;苻堅自己也摔下馬、受了傷,有人喊道:「前秦戰敗了!」全軍便陷入恐慌。謝玄的軍隊便趁勢殺入敵軍。

儘管謝玄在淝水之戰獲得決定性的勝利,但由於晉國朝廷某些大臣忌妒謝玄的成功,便把他召回國,使得謝玄無法乘勝追擊、攻下更多地方。謝玄在班師回朝的途中染了病,一直未能好轉,最後使他在四十六歲便英年早逝,永遠無法再下一城。

《晉書》第七十九章〈謝安列傳〉中,對謝玄如此評論:「廟算有遺,良圖不果,降齡何促,功敗垂成」(朝廷失算了,謝玄的計畫未能有結果,老天賜給謝玄的年歲何其短暫,使他還未取得成功,便英年早逝)。最後一句話「功敗垂成」,即演變為一句成語,意指「成功在望,卻失敗了」;其意同英文的「falling at the last hurdle」(在最後一道障礙失敗),或「snatching defeat from the jaws of victory」(出乎意料地由勝轉敗;煮熟的鴨子飛了)。

(台北時報林俐凱譯)

新研發出來的火箭終於升空,但還沒抵達火星就失聯了,登陸火星計畫功敗垂成。

(The newly developed rocket was sent to Mars, but contact was lost before it reached the planet, so the Mars landing program failed within sight of success.)

他近年積極布局相關產業,可惜功敗垂成,這次沒能拿下訂單。

(He has been proactively trying to manoeuver himself into position within the industry, but in the end fell short, and failed to get any orders this time.)

他誇下海口,說每一科都要考滿分,最後成績公布,有一科沒達標,功敗垂成。

(He had boasted how he would excel in all subjects, but when the results were announced, he had failed one course, so he fell at the last hurdle.)

英文練習

falling at the last hurdle;

snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

When Fu Jian (337–385) of the Former Qin launched his campaign to unify China, he boasted that his army was so huge, “if my men threw their weapons into the river, it would stem the flow.”

The campaign ultimately failed due to a rout of the Former Qin army at the hands of the — much smaller — elite Northern Garrison army of the Eastern Jin at the Battle of Feishui in 383.

The Battle of Feishui is regarded as one of the most consequential in Chinese history. The river itself no longer exists: some scholars believe that the battle never actually happened, either, but it does carry several persuasive themes: it shows how a well-trained, professional army of soldiers with a vested interest in victory could overcome an army with a far superior numerical advantage. It also represents the victory of a Han Chinese army over a force consisting of “barbarian” warriors — of the Di, Xian Bei, Jie, Rong, Xiong Nu, Qiang and others — many of whom were from defeated armies, conscripted to the Former Qin cause. Ironically, the general leading the Northern Garrison to victory has become associated with a Chinese idiom meaning failure within sight of success.

According to the jin shu (Book of Jin), the official history of the Jin Dynasty (265 to 420), when the Jin army met the Former Qin forces on the banks of the Feishui River, General Xie Xuan (343–388) sent a messenger to Fu Jian and suggested that he have his forces withdraw from the northern bank, to allow the Jin army to cross the river and engage them in battle. Fu Jian agreed. In this, he was following the advice found in the xing jun (Army on the March) chapter of the ancient military treatise sunzi bingfa (Sunzi’s the Art of War): “When an advancing enemy crosses water do not meet him at the water’s edge. It is advantageous to allow half his force to cross and then strike.” Unfortunately for him, he had also disregarded a core principle found in the same treatise: “Know yourself, and know your enemy.” The Jin army was an elite force fighting for its own existence; Fu Jian’s men were conscripted soldiers with disparate loyalties, cobbled together and led by inexperienced commanders. When the order to withdraw was given, the Former Qin forces fell into confusion and disarray, Fu Jian himself fell from his horse and was wounded, a cry went up that the Former Qin had already lost, and panic set in. Xie Xuan’s forces took advantage of the ensuing chaos and went in for the kill.

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