Chengyu: 失之东隅, 收之桑榆 Lose at sunrise but gain at sunset, is a popular saying in both written and colloquial language.
The Chinese idiom 失之東隅，收之桑榆 (shī zhī dōng yú, shōu zhī sāng yú), lose at sunrise but gain at sunset, is a popular saying in both written and colloquial language.
Dongyu refers to the east where the sun rises. Sangyu is a mulberry tree and here suggests a sunset as seen through the branches of a mulberry tree, or simply sunset.
This expression refers to how there are both losses and gains in life, and that one can compensate later for one’s earlier loss. One might lose in one aspect or place, but may gain in another, suggesting that one should not put too much emphasis on loss and gain.
A General’s Loss and Gain
The idiom失之東隅，收之桑榆 originated from a story about one of Emperor Liu Xiu’s generals. After Liu Xiu’s coronation as the Emperor of East Han, he dispatched General Feng Yi to conquer the western regions and to defeat the Chimei army.
At Huixi, the Chimei lured General Feng’s soldiers into a trap by pretending to be defeated and retreating. Through this ruse, they successfully defeated Feng’s soldiers.
General Feng fell back to his camp and regrouped his men. He sent soldiers in small groups and in disguise to the areas controlled by the Chimei army. Then, they launched an attack simultaneously from both outside and inside the enemy’s camp. In the end, Feng thoroughly defeated the Chimei army in the Yingchi area.
Later, when Emperor Liu Xiu evaluated this military mission in the imperial court, he said that, although General Feng lost the battle at Huixi in the beginning, he was eventually triumphant in battle at Yingchi, thus it was a loss at one place in the beginning, but victory in another place at the end.
Liu Xiu determined, therefore, that General Feng should be evaluated based on his full merit and rewarded accordingly.
The saying “lose at sunrise, gain at sunset” has since been used to refer to initially suffering a loss or setback, only to gain or make up for it in the end.