Chinese Idiom Stories

To Break The Cauldrons And Sink The Boats

The most powerful kingdom in China during the Warring States Period was the kingdom of Ch'in. Ch'in was in very favorable geographic position, and had many intelligent and skilled citizens, one of the greatest of whom was a general named Jang Han.

During one battle against the kingdom of Ch'u, Jang Han not only defeated the Ch'u army but also killed their general, Shiang Liang. He then took advantage of his victory to attack the kingdom of Chao, surrounding the Chao city of Jiu-lu. When Shiang Liang's nephew, Shiang Yu, heard about this, he immediately to fight to the end, and so as soon as his troops had crossed the Jang River, he ordered them to sink all the boats and smash all the cauldrons, so that they could neither re-cross the river nor cook any more food. This showed that he would rather die than retreat. And powered by this determination, Shiang Yu won that battle, and became known throughout China.

Today, this idiom can be used to describe a person who, like Shiang Yu, risks everything in order to achieve his goal.




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