Chinese Idioms: Instant Victory Upon Arrival on a Horse
Chinese Idioms: Instant Victory Upon Arrival on a Horse
Mǎ Dào Chéng Gōng (馬到成功)

The Chinese idiom 馬到成功(Mǎ Dào Chéng Gōng), which literarily 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.

  • ShibumiMC

    The story is an allegory representing the means by which the first empire came into being – through intrigue, persuasion and diplomacy. Qin Shi Huang did not conquer anyone, but he certainly defeated over 200 years of warfare though peaceful means. The full story is in The School of Sun Tzu: Winning Empires without War, found at iuniverse here:

  • Lilly Rowling

    I would rather say that the story is much more interesting than the idioms itself. Usually such great stories always create sayings and idioms. And the reason idioms have their own great values in every language. I love to read and learn this idioms. Thanks.


  • ShibumiMC

    A metaphor for Qin Shi Huang’s peaceful method of ending the era of the Warring States, and founding an empire for millennia.

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