Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What does 冰山難靠 mean?

冰山難靠 (빙산난고) literally means, "An ice mountain (冰山) is hard (難) to rely on (靠)." Why? Because it does not last; it melts when the weather is hot. It is an old saying (古事成語 - 고사성어) from the Tang Dynasty period (618 - 907 A.D.)

When Yang Guozhong (楊國忠 - 양국충) was Head of the Legislative Bureau (右相 - 우상), during the Tang Dynasty, he had so much authority that he was compared to Mount Tai (泰山 - 태산), one of China's "five sacred mountains" (五嶽 - 오악). People hoping to enrich themselves gathered around him, but a man named Zhang Tuan (張彖 - 장단)  was not so easily convinced. The following is a 752 A.D. entry in the "Zizhi Tongjian" (資治通鑑 - 자치통감), which is where the old saying 冰山難靠 supposedly originated.
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Someone (或) advised (勸) a palace graduate from Shan Commandery (陝郡進士) [named] Zhang Tuan (張彖) to visit (謁) Guozhong (國忠), saying (曰), "[If you] meet (見) him (之),  riches (富) and honors (貴) immediately (立) can (可) be obtained (圖)."
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Tuan (彖) said (曰), "You guys (君輩) rely on (倚) Legislative Head Yang (楊右相) as if (如) [he were] Mount Tai (泰山). I (吾) consider [him] (以為) an ice mountain (冰山) only (耳). If (若) the bright (皎) sun (日) is out (既出), [won't] you guys (君輩) get (得) nothing (無) [and] lose (失) what you rely on (所恃乎)?

進士 - palace graduate; someone who has passed the highest level civil service exam
陝郡 - Shan Commandery
既出 - already (既) came out (出)
The entry was recorded in 752 A.D. - 唐紀 (당기) 玄宗天寶十一年 (현종천보 12년)

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