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ChengYu: 闭月羞花 MEANING

Ru-Ping Chen | October 18, 2015 | | 0 Comments
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The Four Beauties of Ancient China were known for being so beautiful, they caused unparalleled political havoc. In Chinese culture, they were even more notorious than Helen of Troy. You can read our post on the first two women, Xi Shi (西施, xī shī) and Wang ZhaoJun (王昭君, wáng zhāo jūn) here. They were known for being so beautiful that "fish sank and birds fell from the sky." This post will focus on the other two of the four: : 貂蝉 (diāo chán) and 杨贵妃 (yáng guì fēi.)

THE IDIOM

Traditional: 閉月羞花

Simplified: 闭月羞花

Pinyin: bì yuè xiū huā

ABOUT DIAOCHAN (貂蝉 DIĀO CHÁN)

BACKGROUND

Diaochan’s popularity in Chinese history stems largely from her presence in the romantic novel,Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Set towards the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history, the novel romanticizes the events leading up to the Han empire’s split into three kingdoms and the ensuing fate of a once unified entity. Though the novel bases most of its plot on historical events, no historical records from the time point to the existence of Diaochan, meaning her story is based largely on myth.

Historians have speculated about Diaochan’s background for ages, but I’ll be focusing on the story that the masses know.

LOVE TRIANGLE BETWEEN DIAOCHAN, FATHER AND SON

When the apple fell from the tree, Newton said, “What goes up must come down.” In terms of history, this statement means that once a kingdom/governing entity’s Golden Age comes to an end, so does the country.
After years of running a prosperous country, the Han Dynasty enters the last few decades of its rule. Corruption rages throughout imperial court, the common people live off pennies, and the emperor wastes his days away. These years of turmoil leave China under the control of various warlords, the most powerful of them being 董卓 (dǒng zhuó.)

Under DongZhuo’s absolute rule, people suffer enormous setbacks in livelihood, but unfortunately, no one can say anything. DongZhuo controls the military. Officials who say anything related to his style of rule disappear immediately, and DongZhuo’s popularity increases daily.

王允 (wáng yún), a minister in the imperial court, decides that DongZhuo needs to go. As he carefully structures his game plan, Wang Yun remembers DiaoChan, a singer in his mansion (during those times, people of power kept singers and dancers in their homes for entertainment purposes.)

DiaoChan destroys the relationship between DongZhuo and his adopted son, 吕布 (lǚ bù). Wang Yun plays his part, telling DongZhuo that in a few days, the most beautiful woman will be gifted to DongZhuo as a concubine. This two-faced official also promises DiaoChan to LvBu.

Once DongZhuo officially accepts DiaoChan as his wife, LvBu loses his mind. He develops jaded feelings towards his foster father, and decides that he’s going to visit DiaoChan secretly.

Coincidentally, DongZhuo arrives home during the meeting. He sees LvBu and Diaochan together, loses his respective mind, and tries to kill LvBu. In the process, DongZhuo dies. Wang Yun reigns victorious, and many people benefit from DongZhuo’s death. Unfortunately, this death paves the way for more corruption, because everyone wants power.

DIAOCHAN'S ENDING

In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the author implies that DiaoChan stays with LvBu, but they do not live happily ever after. Instead, LvBu loses a battle somewhere down the line and dies. The story does not go into what happens to DiaoChan after LvBu’s death and ever since, a mass collection of stories telling of DiaoChan’s end were created. The stories have been split into two different sections: stories that focus on her tragic death and stories that focus on her happily ever after. Here is one of the popular endings:

So when LvBu dies, DiaoChan is gifted to a man named 关羽 (guān yǔ), as a sort of spoils of war. They do have affections for each other, but because of DiaoChan’s role in destroying DongZhuo, Guan Yu does not trust her. In order to demonstrate that she has no intentions of ruining Guan Yu, DiaoChan kills herself.

STORY BEHIND THE IDIOM

闭月(bì yuè)
闭: to shy away from
月: moon

After fulfilling her duties, DiaoChan goes out to the garden one night and looks at the moon. Wang Yun just happens to be passing by and as he does, a cloud covers the moon, making it seems as if the moon is hiding from DiaoChan’s supreme beauty. Since then, 闭月 has been used to describe beauty.

ABOUT YANG GUIFEI (杨贵妃, YÁNG GUÌ FĒI)

BACKGROUND

杨贵妃 (yáng guì fēi) was born 杨玉环 (yáng yù huán) in 719 AD to a relatively powerful family. Before her birth, YuHuan’s family members had a powerful presence in the Sui Imperial Court. But YuHuan was born in the Tang Dynasty, and her family’s days of prestige were no more.

In any case, like all female youth of her class, YuHuan was well-learned in the Chinese classics, music, singing, and dance. These skills, coupled with her innate beauty, made YuHuan a popular figure at a very young age.
At age fifteen, YuHuan received an invitation to attend the 咸宜公主’s (Princess Xianyi) wedding. Her beauty captivated many, specifically 寿王李冒 (Prince Shou), the son of the emperor’s most favored concubine. YuHuan and Prince Shou’s marital union occurred in a matter of days.

THE PRINCE'S MOTHER'S DEATH

Prince Shou’s mother, 武惠妃 (wǔ huì fēi), was the emperor’s favorite concubine. Within three years of YuHuan’s marriage to Prince Shou, Wu HuiFei died and the emperor, 唐玄宗 (táng xuán zōng) sank into a deep depression. This depression had a great impact on the emperor’s sense of reason, because he suddenly believed that taking his son’s wife for his own would lessen his pain.

The emperor anticipated that imperial officials would criticize him for taking his son’s wife, so he ordered YuHuan to leave Prince Shou, under the pretense of becoming a Daoist priest.

Five years later, the emperor gave his son a new wife, and brought YuHuan into the palace. The emperor blessed her with the highest ranking for a concubine (贵妃; guì fēi) and suddenly, YuHuan was the most powerful woman in the palace.

THE SWITCH IN POLITICAL MINDSET

YuHuan’s presence in the palace drove the emperor into a state of unparalleled joy. In this state of joy, he promoted the status of each and every one of YuHuan’s family members, including extended family. The men received higher imperial court positions and the women received higher rankings as well.

The overnight increase in prestige of the Yang family changed the mindset of a traditionally patriarchal society as various families across China began concocting plans on how to make their daughters favorites of the emperor.

YUHUAN'S DEATH

YuHuan obviously brought the emperor much joy. Had she brought him any less, YuHuan might have lived longer. Instead of focusing his energies on politics and the status of the country, the emperor revolved his life around YuHuan. The well-being of the common people decreased drastically and the emperor slowly fell out of favor with the people, as did YuHuan.

Following the Yang family’s promotion, the Yang family’s ego decided it would go up too. Members would act without conduct and on one fine day, 杨国忠 (yáng guó zhōng) angered 安禄山 (ān lǔ shān) so much that he started a rebellion.

The rebellion received much support from many common people and the emperor had to leave the palace with YuHuan. A group of soldiers left the palace along with the two and they began a long trek to the safety of a neighboring country.

But the goal was not reached. The soldiers, already annoyed at the fact that the rebellion started because of YuHuan, lost their patience and at the MaWei station, gave the emperor an ultimatum. Kill YuHuan or be killed.
The emperor ordered YuHuan to kill herself and so ended the life a beautiful woman. She was 38 years old.

STORY BEHIND THE IDIOM

羞花
羞: ashamed
花: flowers

On the first day she arrived at the palace, YuHuan was not allowed to see the emperor. She was quite disappointed and to make herself feel better, went out into the flower gardens. This specific flower garden was full of 含羞草 (hán xiū cǎo; mimosa pudica), a flower whose petals fold inward after external disturbances. YuHuan’s disappointed face displayed goddess-like beauty and made the petals of these flowers fold inward by themselves, without any external stimulation. The flowers were too ashamed to be in her presence.

HOW TO USE “闭月羞花” IN A SENTENCE

1. 用闭月羞花来形容她的美貌未免也太夸张啦。
Using 闭月羞花 to describe her beauty is a little exaggerated.

2. 这般闭月羞花的美貌,非常人所见,真是难得。
This sort of incredible beauty is not seen by many.

3. 姐姐美的闭月羞花,天天有男孩儿追她。
My older sister is so pretty to the point where guys ask her out all the time.

ABOUT TUTORMING

Founded in 2004, TutorGroup, the parent company of TutorMing, created the first commercially available synchronous learning portal in the world. TutorGroup offers TutorMing for Chinese learning. For English learning, it offers VIPABC, TutorABC, and TutorABCJr. The company is backed by Alibaba, Softbank, Temasek, and Qiming Ventures.

Ru-Ping Chen

Ru-Ping Chen

Ru-Ping Chen is a contributing writer at TutorMing. She has always loved doing research into her Chinese heritage, so she decided to attend the University of California, Berkeley to double major in Business and Chinese, focusing in Chinese language and history. Her other interests include reading Western Classics, teaching herself Chinese poems, and learning other East Asian languages.

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