Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Story of Gou Jian: 卧薪尝胆

When posting Gentleman Free-Floating Cloud, the heroine Huang Fu Yun has referred to this legendary character – Gou Jian - on several occasions and I thought to give him a little more mention since many readers of this blog come from a non-chinese background.  In Chapter 7, the author cracked a joke that Wang Yun thought Gou Jian to be a good role model for endurance because she read that he can eat poo when it was bile he tasted.  Can you imagine what kind of endurance she will end up with on such wrong information? ^_^

- Moonblossom -

The Chinese idiom 卧薪尝胆 (wò xīn cháng dǎn) means to become stronger in adversary.  It literally translates to “lying on hay, tasting bile” and has its origins in real story that happened during the Spring Autumn Period (that should be around 3,000 years ago, wow!).

It all started when the Old King of Wu died in battle with the Yue kingdom.  At his deathbed, he ordered his son - Fu Chai - not to forget their defeat.  Years later, the King of Yue, Gou Jian, was captured in battle by Fu Chai who was the King of Wu by then.  As a condition to spare his country and life, Gou Jian became a servant to Fu Chai.  He lived in a stone hut next to the stables where he would take care of the horses, or lead the horses whenever Fu Chai called for his carriage.  After three years, he was allowed to return to his own country.
After his return, he ordered his mattress to be changed to hay, and he hung a gall bladder over his table where he would taste the bitter bile juice every day to remember his humiliation in the Kingdom of Wu.  After a decade of political reforms, the Kingdom of Yue became strong enough to defeat Wu and they annexed the Kingdom of Wu.

There was a beauty in this story too.  Xi Shi (西) was one of the Four Famous Beauties of ancient china, and she was from the Kingdom of Yue.  She was presented to Fu Chai and quickly became his favourite concubine.  Her role was to entice him and distract him away from state matters while the Kingdom of Yue grew steadily stronger.  After Wu was defeated, her ending was not known.  Some said she drowned while others said she left with Fan Li, a minister from the Kingdom of Yue, to live an ordinary life.


  1. One of my favorite stories! Thanks for sharing. ^_^ Also, the Sword of Goujian is a magnificent masterpiece, don't you think? :)

    1. I did not know about this treasure until you pointed it out and I goggled for it. Wow! Amazing it is only less than 1kg. Sharp, untarnish, and a bona fide relic. What can I say? They don't make things like they used to.