成語故事

The Latecomers Surpass the Old-timers

This set phrase is derived from the complaints Ji An made to the emperor.

Ji Anlived at the time of Emperor Wudi of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.24). He was respected for being upright and just and for daring to speak the truth. He did not bother about amall matters in personal behaviour and in being an official. He was particular about actual effects and ,although he did not cause a stir ,he could keep the prefecture he governed in perfect order. Because of this. the imperial court transferred him to the central government from being the perfect of the Donghai Prefecture to being a commander in charge of the appointment and dismissal of the local officals.

Once, Emperor Wudi said that he would implement the policy of benevolence and justice of Confucianism and would do good turns to the people.Emperor Wudi Had hardly finished his remards when Ji An said that there was no need for the emperor to say so.Why should the emperor bother,Ji An said, about pretending to implement the policy of benevolence and justice since he was so greedy and avaricious within himself? This choked the emperor off. The emperor suddenly Changed his countenance and declared the meeting over. All the civilian and military officers at court were breathless with anxiety for fear that Ji An might bring disaster upon himself because of this. After returning, Emperor Wudi said to the people around him that Ji An was a little too rude and too straightforward.

For this reason, Ji An was never promoted again. When he was the commander in charge of the appointment and dismissal of the local officials, both Gongsun Hong and Zhang Tang were low -ranking lfficials of little importance. Later, they were promoted continuously. Gongsun Hong became the prime minister and Zhang Tang became the imperial censor. However, JiAn's post remained thesame. One day, Ji An said to Emperor Wudi that the way the emperor used his ministers was just like piling up firewood, which meant that the latecomers surpassed the old-timers. Of course, Emperor Wudi could see that Ji An was complaining. So,turning to his ministers, Emperor Wudi said, "It is true that no one can stop learning.You see, Ji An is making more and more indiscreet remarks."

This story comes from The Historical Records. Later generations use the set phrase "the latecomers surpass the old-timers " to indicate that successors can cxcel the predecessors, which is quite different from the original idea when Ji An said that the latecomers surpassed the old-timers.

後來居上

汲黯是西漢武帝時代人,以剛直正義、敢講真話而受人尊重。他為人和做官都不拘小節,講求實效。雖然表面上不那麼轟轟烈烈,卻能把一個郡治理得井井有條,因此,朝廷把他從東海太守調到朝廷當主爵都尉﹝一種主管地方吏任免的官職﹞。

有一次,漢武帝說要實行儒家的仁義之政,為老百姓辦好事了。沒等皇帝把話說完,汲黯就說:「陛下內心裡那麼貪婪多欲,表面上卻要裝得實行仁政,這是何苦呢?」一句話把皇帝噎了回去。漢武帝登時臉色大變,宣佈罷朝,滿朝文武都為汲黯捏著一把汗,擔心他會因此招來大禍。武帝回到宮裡以後,對身邊的人說,汲黯這個人也未免太粗太直了。

從此以後,汲黯的官職再也沒有提升。他當主爵都尉的時候,公孫弘、張湯都還是不起眼的小官,後來,他們一個勁兒住上升,公孫弘當上了丞相,張湯做上了御史大夫,可他汲黯還蹲在原地沒動窩。有一天,汲黯對武帝說,陛下使用群臣,跟碼劈柴一樣,是「後來者居上」啊!漢武帝當然聽得出這是發牢騷。於是,轉臉對臣下們說:「人真是不能不學習啊!你們聽汲黯說話,越來越離譜了!」

故事出自《史記·汲鄭列傳》。成語「後來居上」,往往指後起的可以勝過先前的。和汲黯說這話的原意,大不相同。


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