Chinese Idioms: Instant Victory Upon Arrival on a Horse

Mǎ Dào Chéng Gōng (馬到成功)

The idiom “instant victory upon arrival on a horse” is often used to mean gain immediate success or win an instant victory. (SM Yang/Epoch Time)
By Lily Choo
Epoch Times

The Chinese idiom 馬到成功 (Mǎ Dào Chéng Gōng), which literally means attaining success upon arriving on a horse, can be found in literary works of the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1279–1368). However, a related story can be traced back to the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.).

Qin Shihuang (1) was the first emperor who conquered all the warring states in China and, in 221 B.C., established the Qin Dynasty.

The emperor usually went to the mountains to pray and to worship the rising sun. One day, in the second year of his reign, he heard about a special stone with the mark of a flower on Rongcheng Mountain.

It was said that the stone was of divine origins and had dropped down to the human world when the goddess Nu Wa mended the sky. He believed the stone would help build a solid foundation for his reign.

The emperor immediately ordered that a road be built for a trip to the stone. As soon as the road was ready, the emperor set off toward the mountain. He also took this opportunity to display his strong military force.

The emperor led his troops along the new road to the mountain, which attracted a lot of attention. When he reached the stone, he held a sacred ceremony to sincerely worship it.

After he returned from his trip, he was amazed to find that his empire had become more powerful and the whole country more peaceful.

The emperor was so happy that he asked court officials to write poems and songs in celebration of his sacred journey. One adviser wrote: “Thousands of horses on the royal road; victory was attained when Shihuang worshiped the stone” to describe the success of the emperor’s trip.

The lines were not especially appreciated by the Qin emperor then, but they were favored by some writers in later dynasties.

Great writers from the Yuan Dynasty developed the expression “instant victory upon arrival on a horse” based on the story about the Qin emperor worshipping the stone. Later, people used the idiom to refer to an instant victory or quick success.

1. Emperor Shihuang (260–210 B.C.), also known as Qin Shihuang, was the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. He was known for the unification of China, standardization of money, the Great Wall, and a national road system.

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