seadoglee's blog

By seadoglee, history, 6 months ago, In English

Disclaimer: This is completely unrelated to competitive programming.

In the light of the recent blog posted (and deleted) by sparky_master_wch1226 and qwaszx_ak_ioi, coincidently, the same classic Chinese article, “On the Six Fallen States” (六國論, 六国论) is mentioned. This article was written by Su Xan (蘇洵, 苏洵) during the Northern Song Dynasty (北宋), and it is now shared by users living in Botswana (probably not) and Japan on a competitive programming platform after almost a millennium. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best articles in the history of China. Indeed, in most Chinese-speaking places, this article is introduced to students. Not only does this article demonstrate high-level argumentation skills, but at the same time reflects the history of the warring states period (戰國時代, 战国时期) to the situation at that time and allows readers to learn from the past.

Starting with the first paragraph,

六國破滅,非兵不利,戰不善,弊在賂秦。賂秦而力虧,破滅之道也。 或曰:「六國互喪,率賂秦耶?」曰:「不賂者以賂者喪。」蓋失強援,不 能獨完,故曰「弊在賂秦」也。

This paragraph tells us the main reason why the six states (韓、趙、魏、楚、燕、齊) were conquered by Qin (秦) during the warring states period. It is not because their weapons were weak or they were not good at wars but bribing Qin with lands. After bribing their lands to Qin, the powers of the states were weakened, leading to the conquest of those states by Qin. However, not all the six states bribed Qin with lands. However, those who stayed away from bribery could not defend Qin on their own due to the lack of support from other countries. They were conquered by Qin eventually. Therefore, we can conclude that bribing Qin with lands is the main reason why the six states were conquered.

In the second paragraph,

秦以攻取之外,小則獲邑,大則得城,較秦之所得與戰勝而得者,其實百倍;諸侯之所亡與戰敗而亡者,其實亦百倍。則秦之所大欲,諸侯之所大患,固不在戰矣。思厥先祖父,暴霜露,斬荊棘,以有尺寸之地。子孫視之不甚惜,舉以予人,如棄草芥。今日割五城,明日割十城,然後得 一夕安寢;起視四境,而秦兵又至矣。然則諸侯之地有限,暴秦之欲無厭, 奉之彌繁,侵之愈急,故不戰而強弱勝負已判矣。至於顛覆,理固宜然。 古人云:「以地事秦,猶抱薪救火,薪不盡,火不滅。」此言得之。

The first sentence of this paragraph shows that the amount of lands Qin got from the bribing of other states was far more than the lands gained from the winning wars. This echoes with the first paragraph, “it was not due to weak weapons or lack of war tactics, but bribing Qin with lands”. The following line tells the readers how difficult their ancestors were to gain land in the past and how those descendants (the monarch of those six states during the warring states period) gave their land trivially to Qin. This line compared the ancestors and descendants, showing that the decision of bribing lands to Qin was not a good move. “今日割五城,明日割十城”, (ceding five cities today and ten tomorrow) is a famous quote in Chinese to show people lower their limits day by day (the meaning is quite similar to “First they came…” by Martin Niemöller). After bribing their lands to Qin, they thought they could gain peace from it, but Qin’s military force had come again, and they continued to bribe Qin, forming a vicious cycle. The territory of those states was limited, but the greed for the lands of Qin could never be satisfied. Hence, those countries would eventually be conquered. “以地事秦,猶抱薪救火,薪不盡,火不滅。” was quoted by the author. Translating it to English, “Giving lands to Qin to gain peace, just like carrying firewood to put out a fire, the fire will go on a long as the firewood is being supplied”. This paragraph elaborates on the argument mentioned in the first paragraph and echoes it (前後呼應).

For the third paragraph,

齊人未嘗賂秦,終繼五國遷滅,何哉?與嬴而不助五國也。五國既喪, 齊亦不免矣。燕趙之君,始有遠略,能守其土,義不賂秦。是故燕雖小國 而後亡,斯用兵之效也。至丹以荊卿為計,始速禍焉。趙嘗五戰于秦,二 敗而三勝;後秦擊趙者再,李牧連卻之;洎牧以讒誅,邯鄲為郡,惜其用武而不終也。且燕趙處秦革滅殆盡之際,可謂智力孤危,戰敗而亡,誠不得已。向使三國各愛其地,齊人勿附於秦,刺客不行,良將猶在,則勝負 之數,存亡之理,當與秦相較,或未易量。

It elaborates the second argument mentioned in the first paragraph. Qi (齊 齐) did not bribe Qin with lands, but it still got conquered. Why? Because Qi was in union with Qin but did not support the other five states. As a result, as soon as other states were defeated, Qi was dethroned. The monarchs of Yan (燕) and Zhao (趙 赵) did not bribe Qin with the land. Although Yan is a weak and small state, it can still survive longer than other larger states (those who bribed Qin). It is because Yan defended Qin with military force. However, Yan wanted to assassinate the monarch of Qin was unsuccessful, triggering Qin to conquer Yan immediately. Zhao had five battles with Qin and Zhao won three of them. After that, Qin attacked Zhao, and Li Mu (李牧, general of Zhao) protected Zhao again. However, Li Mu was framed and killed. After the death of Li Mu, Qin soon took over the capital of Zhao. Yan and Zhao were defending Qin when the majority of states were defeated, so they could not gain support from them. The writer thought if those three states had not bribed Qin with land, Qi had not been in union with Qin, Yan had not sent an assassin to Qin, and Zhao had not killed Li Mu, there would have been a chance for those six states to win Qin. This paragraph also elaborates the argument in the first paragraph: Qin ultimately defeated states that did not bribe Qin.

In the fourth paragraph,


In the first sentence, the writer sighed, demonstrating their disappointment towards those states. And in the following line, the writer suggested the three states bribe Qin with lands should enfeoff lands to the counsellor and treat their prodigious talents with the same respectful attitude towards Qin, joining all the military forces to attack Qin. The writer believed people in Qin could not swallow up their bolus, which is an exaggerative way to show Qin would be afraid of those states. After that, the writer sighed again. The writer thought those six states were in an advantageous situation but were overwhelmed by Qin’s bluster, ceding their land every day in every month, resulting in the collapse of those states. The writer emphasized that the monarch of a state should not be overwhelmed by its enemies’ bluster. In the last sentence, the writer concluded how states during the Warring States period should do and extended his argument to a general case, transiting his argument to the situation at that time during the Northern Song Dynasty and linking the next paragraph (承上啟下).

In the last paragraph,


The writer concluded that those six states and Qin were all principalities and were in a weaker position when compared to Qin, but still had a great chance to win Qin without bribing it. The writer believed that if a state had almost the whole of China yet followed the footsteps of the decline of six states (bribing their lands to their enemies and losing), it would be even inferior to them.

The writer wrote this to criticize the policy of the Northern Song Dynasty — using bribing to deal with the threat from Liao (遼) and Western Xia (西夏). The monarch of Northern Song gave their property to them, which the writer thought was akin to what the three countries did. However, at last, those countries were overwhelmed by their enemy’s bluster by handing resources to their enemies, weakening their power and increasing their enemy’s power simultaneously. The writer used this article to admonish the monarch of Northern Song and asked him to learn from history. (借古諷今)

Thank you for reading this blog.

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6 months ago, # |
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very interesting story, thanks!!!

6 months ago, # |
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You teach better than my Chinese teacher.

7 weeks ago, # |
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I love Seadoglee

7 weeks ago, # |
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Chinese culture is broad and profound!

5 weeks ago, # |
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Perfect blog!