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USING IDIOMS 活用成語

King Wu of Zhou.
周武王像。

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
照片:維基共享資源

Chinese Practice

功虧一簣

(gong1 kui1 yi2 kui4)

to fail through a lack of final effort

周武王在西元前一○四六年推翻商朝,建立了周朝。作為中原的新統治者,周武王面臨了幾個問題。

第一,周的兵力比過去商朝的兵力要少。第二個問題是周朝統治的合法性。第三個問題是,該如何掌控人民──不僅是居住於該國的人民,也包括商周領土周邊的人。第四是如何讓跟周武王一起打下天下的統帥,繼續對周武王效忠,以確保國家一統。

周朝承襲了商代的許多儀式、習俗和文化,包括接受周圍部族和地方的朝貢,以換取對這部族和地區的保護。

自古以來的歷史皆是由獲勝的一方所書寫、掌控歷史發言權,因此周朝合法性的問題就被這古老的優勢所解決了。周朝引進了「天命」這概念──指的是上天可以視帝王的治國表現,來賦予或撤銷其統治權。周代文獻記載,商朝最後一位帝王紂,極為腐敗墮落,因此上天撤銷了商紂王統治的天命。當然,這樣的說法同時也是在期望周朝諸王能夠仁慈治國。

作戰有功的宗室和將帥皆獲封官爵或分封領地。如此一來,他們就會繼續對周朝效忠。

周武王由其兄弟周公及召公輔佐。「天命」的思想被認為是周公所提出的。本週所要介紹的成語,則是出自召公對周武王所提出的忠告。

《尚書》中的《周書》的〈旅獒〉一章中記載了這段話。「旅」是周朝西方的一國,「旅獒」是指進貢給周朝的、原產於旅國的獒犬。

召公告訴成王說,歷史上的明君皆修養其美德、謹慎行事,這就是為什麼鄰近的部族願意臣服周朝,且向其朝貢。然而,重要的是,無論這些貢品多麼珍奇──例如旅國的獒犬,或多麼有價值,帝王都不能沉醉於此、玩物喪志,而應將它們平均分配給被分封的諸侯。如此一來,諸侯便會心悅誠服,且這傳遞出一種訊息:帝王是公正不阿的,且並不沉溺於物質或無用的事物上,他只對那些有益於國家和人民的實際價值感興趣。

召公的忠告總結道:「不矜細行,終累大德。為山九仞,功虧一簣。允迪茲,生民保厥居,惟乃世王」(如果你不注意小節,最後就會連累到你在偉大事務上的美德;就像堆積一 座土山,已堆到九仞〔約二點六公尺〕的高度,只差一簍子的土,卻不再繼續而放棄了,沒有完成工作。如果你果真能夠實踐它,那麼人民將會永保財產,你們的王位也將會代代相傳)。這也就是說,如果你沒有完成全部,即便未完成的部份很少,那你可能還是無法成功。

這段文字也就是成語「功虧一簣」的出處,意思是「因缺少最後的努力而失敗」。其意類似上週「活用成語」單元所介紹的「功敗垂成」。然而,「功敗垂成」通常是指較大型計畫的失敗,且這失敗多因外在情勢使然;而「功虧一簣」比較是指此失敗是肇因於自己意志薄弱等缺失。

有一句英文可用來表示一個微小錯誤可導致大災難:「for want of a nail, a kingdom was lost」(少了一根釘,失了整個國),此句常以縮短的形式「for want of a nail」(只因為少了釘子)出現。很多人認為這句話是跟一四八五年的博斯沃思原野戰役有關:該戰役中,英王理查三世所騎的馬摔倒了,理查三世也隨之被殺。但這句話其實是出自十三世紀廣為流傳的作品,由德國詩人佛萊登作於一二三○年左右,此句詩英譯為:「The wise tell us that a nail keeps a shoe, a shoe a horse, a horse a man, a man a castle, that can fight」(聰明人告訴我們,釘子可以固定馬蹄鐵,馬蹄鐵保護戰馬,戰馬保護戰士,戰士保護城堡)。

(台北時報林俐凱譯)

加油!只差一點點了,你要堅持下去,不然功虧一簣,你之前的努力都白費了。

(Keep it up. You’re almost there, you just need one last push, otherwise you’ll fall short and all your effort will have been in vain.)

英文練習

for want of (a nail)

When the forces of King Wu toppled the Shang Dynasty in 1046 BC, founding the Zhou (周) Dynasty, the new rulers of the Central Plains of China were faced with several problems.

Firstly, the men loyal to the Zhou were fewer in number than those who had formerly bowed down to the Shang. The second was the question of their legitimacy. The third was how to keep the people they now governed, not just within their own territory but also in surrounding, non-Shang, regions, under control. The fourth was how to maintain the loyalty of the commanders who had fought with King Wu, and to ensure unity.

The Zhou largely continued many of the rituals and practices and much of the culture of the Shang. This included the system of receiving tributes from surrounding tribes and regions in return for promise of protection.

The question of legitimacy was addressed by the age-old advantage of the victor to write the history books. The Zhou introduced the idea of tianming, the Mandate of Heaven, which said that Heaven could either bequeath or revoke the right to rule, depending on how well the king governed. In Zhou literature, the last Shang king, King Zhou (紂), was corrupt and degenerate, and so Heaven had withdrawn its mandate. This, of course, also placed the expectation of benevolent governance on the Zhou kings.

To maintain loyalty within the Zhou itself, relatives and commanders who had proven themselves on the battlefield were given titles and enfeoffed with territory.

Two of King Wu’s brothers, the Duke of Zhou and the Duke of Shao, served as his advisers. The former was credited with coming up with the idea of the Mandate of Heaven; the latter is recorded as having given the king the advice from which this week’s idiom originates.

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