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The phrase means “it’s all in the past” and it seems to originate from a book from Mao se dong ?

I’d like to know how is the phrase usually used , is it used in modern speech or only in poetry and books ? What is 矣? Google translated it as submarine. Anything else a novice should know ?

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  • Yes, it was taken from Mao's work "沁园春·雪", an old-style poem written in 1936.
    – r13
    May 14 at 13:57
  • @r13 add on to r13 note, mao was a huge fan of reading classical chinese literature in his youth ((per himself)). so almost all his quotes and writings are in classical chinese, at least in first half of his life.
    – zagrycha
    May 14 at 17:05

3 Answers 3

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俱往矣 is a simple phrase in the classical style of speech/ writing

  • 俱 = all

  • 往 = gone (into the past)

  • 矣 (final particle for exclamation)

In modern Chinese: 全都成為過去了 (It's all in the past)

The structure is not unlike phrases like 盡誅之 and 兵亦民也

In modern Chinese: "全部殺了", "士兵也是人民"

Mao might have famously said these words, but it is not a unique phrase that only appears in a certain poem from a certain person

Modern people can still use the classical style of writing and speech in day-to-day life and I consider Mao a modern person

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The people or peoples, 人物, mentioned in the poem are:

无数英雄: countless heroes
秦皇: Emperor Qin
汉族: The Han People
唐宗宋祖: Tang and Song Ancestors
成吉思汗: Genghis Khan

“俱往矣,数风流人物,还看今朝。”
"All gone, many outstanding people, (we) still revere them today."

In more modern parlance:

这些人物全都过去了,
All these people are gone,
称得上能建功立业的英雄人物,
they can be called heroes who achieved their aims,
还要看今天的人们。
we still must preserve their name today.

The people in this heavenly drama:

引无数英雄竞折腰。
attract countless heroes to struggle and bow

惜秦皇汉武,略输文采;
Cherish Emperor Qin and the military Han;

唐宗宋祖,稍逊风骚。
Tang and Song ancestors, modest (in their) literary excellence.

一代天骄,成吉思汗,只识弯弓射大雕。
A generation of heavenly pride, Genghis Khan
只识弯弓射大雕。
(who) only knew how to bend bows and shoot eagles.

The poem also mentions some pythons and elephants, common sights on the Great Wall!

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The sentence was in the classical Chinese. But the classical Chinese is not used much in everyday life nowadays. It may be used in the case to quote ancient celebrities or historical quotations, and it is very rare to use the classical Chinese directly for conversations.

In modern times, the commonly used situation was to write old poems, ancient texts and novels. In that case, the writer could use the classical Chinese to express an air of ancient times, especially xianxia(仙侠) novels and wuxia(武侠) novels or Chinese historical novels.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some of the words in dialects are from the classical Chinese, and there is a interesting words in Hubei dialect called 不服周 which means that someone is not convinced by another one. The word literally means to disobey the Zhou Dynasty, and the hidden story behind this word may take place about 3,000 years ago. This word summarizes wars between the Chu and Zhou dynasties the attitude of the Chu people towards the Zhou dynasty, and then it has been passed down to this day and has become a word in the Hubei dialect. So when people in Hubei were talking, it can be said that they used the classical Chinese in a sense(Attention: Whether or not 不服周 really originated 3000 years ago is still controversial in Chinese academia, so here is just an example of what it means).

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  • My answer is just some derivation for your query below, the exact meaning of this sentence has been well answered by other respondents.
    – A Lod
    May 14 at 17:01
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    quote:"But the classical Chinese is not used much in everyday life nowadays" -- 仁兄此言差矣,現代中國語文基本上是由口頭語,書面語和文言文組成的
    – Tang Ho
    May 14 at 23:28
  • 我的表达可能有误,我的意思是在日常生活中,很少会直接使用文言文的形式来进行对话,更多的是以引经据典的形式。在现在的日常生活中,绝大多数的日常对话基本由白话文组成,几乎不存在直接使用文言文来进行对话的场合。
    – A Lod
    May 15 at 1:36
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    古人也不是用文言文對話的,文言文基本上就是古時的書面語,畢竟要在竹簡上刻字,文筆越簡短越好
    – Tang Ho
    May 15 at 2:08

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