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March 18, 2023

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The benefit of 20/20 hindsight

There are always some people quick to play the role of a wiseass after the fact. Chinese people have two expressions to describe such a person.

One is called shihou Zhuge Liang, or “Zhuge Liang after the event.”

Zhuge Liang (AD 181-234), a famous Chinese statesman, military strategist and prime minister of the State of Shu Han (AD 221-263) during the Three Kingdoms period, is said to have been able to foresee things five centuries into the future.

So, “Zhuge Liang after the event” refers to someone who uses the benefit of hindsight to analyze an event after it has occurred and then proceeds to regale others with “wisdom” about how it could have been handled better. The saying is somewhat akin to the English expression “Monday morning quarterback.”

The other saying is mahoupao, or literally “cannon after the horse.”

This phrase is believed to be borrowed from Chinese chess, a very popular board game also known as “elephant chess” in China.

At the onset of the game, players usually prefer to move the cannon piece first. However, if the cannon is moved after an opponent has already moved his horse, the strategy is considered belated and less effective.

The saying “cannon after the horse” is often a reply to “I told you so” — when someone offers unsolicited comment about something that has already occurred and you are pointing out that the past can’t be changed and, therefore, there’s no sense dwelling on it.

Or as Homer once observed, “after the event, even a fool is wise.”


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