Songs of Chu on All Fronts
si (4) mian (4) chu (3) ge (1)
Once, a leader of the kingdom of Chu, Xiang Yu (B.C.232-B.C.202) and his army were under siege from Liu Bang (B.C.256-B.C.195), a future emperor of the Western Han (206BC-25AD).
Like many a great man of ancient Chinese reportage, Liu Bang had one very able adviser in Zhang Liang. It was Zhang who had the idea of ordering Liu's soldiers to sing songs every night. But not just any old tune. The songs had to be native to the kingdom of Chu. Xiang Yu's soldiers mostly hailed from Chu. The songs not only made the men homesick, but created the fear that countless defeated brothers-at-arms had gone over to the other side.
One night, Xiang Yu himself started listening closely to the songs and gradually fell prey to the feeling his entire homeland must have been razed by Liu Bang. Overcome with emotion, he killed himself by the banks of the Wujiang River.
Since then, this idiom has been used to refer to a person suffering in isolation.