Sleep On Brushwood and Taste Gall 卧薪尝胆

Background

卧薪尝胆 (wò xīn cháng dǎn) litrally means “Sleep On Brushwood and Taste Gall”

During the Spring and Autumn period (770-476BC), the State of Wu launched an attack against the State of Yue. The King of Wu was seriously wounded and soon died. His son Fu Chai became the new King. Fu was determined to get revenge. He drilled his army rigidly until it was a perfect fighting force. Three years later, he led his army against the State of Yue and caught its king Gou Jian. Fu took him to the State of Wu.

In order to avenge his father’s death, Fu let him live in a shabby stone house by his father’s tomb and ordered him to raise horses for him. Gou pretended to be loyal to Fu but he never forgot his humiliation. Many years later, he was set free. Gou secretly accumulated a military force after he went back to his own state. In order to make himself tougher he slept on firewood and ate a gall-bladder before having dinner and going to bed every night. At the same time he administered his state carefully, developing agriculture and educating the people. After a few years, his country became strong. Then Gou seized a favorable opportunity to wipe out the State of Wu.

Later, people use it to describe one who endures self-imposed hardships to strengthen one’s resolve to realize one’s ambition.

Example

  • The Kuomintang of Taiwan lost its control of the Parliament of Taiwan, which it had retained until 2000, but in the meantime it laid low and worked to re-build the foundation of the party and regained control of the Parliament in the recent election in 2008.

 

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The regain of power of the Kuomintang in Taiwan

Tuesday, 20th May 2008 marked the inauguration of Ma ying-jeou (Ma) as the President of Taiwan, or as Beijing called him the leader of Taiwan. The date also marked the return of power of the Kuomintang (KMT) of Taiwan, the founding party of Taiwan, which was founded by the famous Generlismimo Chiang Kai Shek, who fled Mainland China, when the Communist party took over China in 1949. KMT lost control of the Parliament of Taiwan for eight years (2000 to 2008), during which time, Taiwan was under the ruling of Chen Shui Bian (Chen) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). 

The change of helm also signifies that the people of Taiwan are against an adversary stance vis-a-vis Mainland China. Ma of KMT, in his inaugural speech, announced that he would resume the dialogue with Mainland China, which was put on hold due to the adversay stance taken by DPP. It is clear that the people of Taiwan, or should we say the businessmen of Taiwan, want to have a closer tie with the mainland as they stand to benefit therefrom economically. The attractions of Mainland China to Taiwan are the former’s huge domestic market and abundant supply of cheap, but productive, labour force. What Chen of DPP advocated in the past for an independent Taiwan did not work.

As a matter of fact the election won by Chen back in 2004 was quite a controversial one. On March 19, 2004, the day before the then presidential election, Chen and his running mate, Lu Hsiu-lien, were shot and wounded while riding in a jeep campaigning through the streets of downtown Tainan. Given the extremely close nature of the then election, the shooting was interpreted by some people as a political manipulation by DPP for the re-election. 

The KMT could have made a big issue out of such controversy, but it did not. Instead KMT had laid low and worked hard to re-build the foundation of the party for the eventual success in the latest election. One of the Hong Kong newspaper used the Chinese proverb “Sleep On Brushwood and Taste Gall 卧薪尝胆” to describe the hardship experienced by KMT during the period of its loss of power.