《三字經 – Three Character Classic》
All men are born intrinsically with a good and similar nature. However, their natures will change due what they learn.
If a child does not receive proper education, his good nature will change. The way to educate a child well is through total commitment and devotion.
In ancient times, the mother of Mencius shifted house three times to find the most suitable environment to bring up her son. Once Mencius was found absence from school with no good reason, she cut the cloth she was knitting to educate Mencius.
Note: She told Mencius that his running away from school was like her cutting her cloth. All the efforts put in were wasted. Mencius repented and worked hard ever since and became one of the greatest scholars of China.
Dou Yu Jun of Yan Sheng had the right method of teaching and educating his five sons. All sons became famous and gained great reputations.
Note: Dou Yu Jun’s method was to be very strict to the sons but with understandings and reasonings. He raised the sons to respect and love one another and to show filial piety to the parents.
To raise children without giving them a great education is the fault of the father. To teach and educate children without strict discipline is due to the laziness of the teacher.
It is improper for a child not to learn. If he does not learn when he is young, what can he achieve when he gets old.
If a piece of jade is not carved and polished, it is not a piece of jewellery. If a man does not learn, he will not know what righteousness is.
As a son or daughter, when young, it is your responsibility to be close to your teachers and friends so you may learn and practise the right social etiquette.
Huang Xiang, at the age of nine would warm the bed for his parents during winter. For all of us practising filial piety towards our parents, this is something we can learn and emulate.
Kong Rong at the age of four was asked to choose a pear from a basket. He chose a small pear and left the bigger pears for his elder brothers. This show of respect and love for elders is what we should know from young.
First learn to show filial piety for your parents and love and respect for your brothers and sisters. Then, learn from what you see and hear. Study mathematics and learn to read and write.
Using multiple of 10, one becomes ten. Ten to hundred. Hundred to thousand. Thousand to 10 thousands and so on
The three major constituents of nature are heaven, earth and man. The three light sources are from the sun, moon and stars.
There are three ethical relationships between men:
The obligations and loyalty between a king and his subjects.
The love between parent and child and
The harmonious relationship between husband and wife.
There are the seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. These seasons revolve unceasingly year after year.
There are the directions South, North, West and East. These four directions are derived using the centre as reference.
There are elements of water, fire, wood, metal and earth. These five elements have their origins from the laws of nature. Their interactions are used in forecasting.
The ten Heavenly Stems starts from Jia to Gui namely Jia, Yi, Bing, Ding, Wu, Ji, Geng, Xin, Ren and Gui.
The 12 Earthly Branches starts from Zi to Hai namely Zi, Chou, Yin, Mao, Chen, Si, Wu, Wei, Shen, You, Xu and Hai.
The sun orbits around the Milky Way. This orbit is called the Yellow Path. In the middle of the earth between North and South, there is the Equator.
At the equator, it is very warm. China is at the north east corner of the earth.
There are The Yangtze River, The Yellow River, The Huai River and The Ji Shui river. These four rivers that flow to the sea are the great rivers of China.
There are Mount Tai in the east, Mount Hua in the west, Mount Song in the central region, Mount Heng (in Shanxi province) in the north and Mount Heng (in Hunan Province) in the south. They are the famous five mountains of China.
There are scholars, peasants, workers and businessmen. They represent the four important pillars of our society.
Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and honesty are five essential virtues one must develop without compromise.
From earth, the vegetations grow. They spread over land and sea.
There are insects, fish, birds and other animals. Some walk on earth and some can fly.
Rice, fine millet, beans, wheat, glutinous millet and common millet are the six types of grain that are the staple food of man.
Horses, oxen, sheep, chickens, dogs and pigs are six animals reared and farmed by man.
Joy, anger, grief, fear, love, hate and desire are the seven emotions of man
- 青赤黃，及黑白。此五色 ，目所識。
Green, red, yellow, black and white are the five basic colours. We can recognise them by eye.
Sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty are the five basic flavours we can taste.
Goat’s odour, burning odour, fragrance, fishy smell and rotten smell are five types of odours that we can smell.
The gourd, earthenware, skin, wood, stone, metal, silk and bamboo are used to produce the eight musical sounds.
The flat tone, the rising tone, the mid tone and the low tone are the 4 speaking tones that we must mastered and used harmoniously so that we are pleasant to listen to.
Great great-grandfather begets great-grandfather, great-grandfather begets grandfather, grandfather begets father, father begets self, self begets son and son begets grandson.
Son begets grandson, grandson begets great-grandson and great grandson begets great great-grandson. From great great-grandfather to great great-grandson, there are nine generations. These nine generations are also known as the ‘Nine Tribes’. The ‘Nine Tribes’ constitutes the kinship of man.
Between father and son, there should be affections.
Between husband and wife there should be harmony.
The elder brother should be friendly to his younger brother and the younger brother should show respect for his older brother.
The order of precedence between the old and young should be observed.
Be friendly and truthful to your friends.
Emperor should show respect for his subjects.
Subjects should show loyalty to the emperor.
These ten obligations mentioned above, apply to all.
Everyone should follow and observe them. Do not break these obligations.
Zhan Shuai, Qi Shuai, Da Gong, Xiao Gong and Si Ma are five attires that people wear after the decease of their elders.
Of old, social etiquette, music, archery, riding horses, calligraphy and mathematics are the six essential skills that people learned. Today, hardly anyone possesses all these 6 skills.
Today, learning to read and calligraphy are only two skills encouraged and recommended. Through the ability to read, one can study the book “ Shou Wen Jie Zi” to improve and expand one’s knowledge.
The Chinese writing start with the early ancient scripts of oracle bone script and bronze inscriptions. It was later followed by the large seal script, the small seal script, the clerical script and the cursive script. It is important not to mix up the sequence.
If you try to study extensively, you may find it difficult and complicated. Start with the basic general studies and you will be able to understand many truths.
In educating the young, emphasis is on clear explanation. It is important to explain clearly every word, sentence and commentary. Pay due attentions to the construction of sentences and paragraphs.
Those who want to learn must start from the beginning. Once the basic schooling is finished, proceed to study the “Four Books”
In the book “Lun Yu” (The Analects of Confucius), there are twenty chapters. The disciples of Confucius recorded the wise sayings of the sage in this book.
In The Book “Mencius”, there are 7 chapters. It teaches virtues and the path to benevolence and righteousness.
The book “Zhong Yong” was written by Kong Ji (Confucius’s grandson). It stresses the importance of taking the middle way of not being extreme and upholding this principle without change.
The book “Da Xue” was written by Zeng Zi. It teaches the importance of perfecting oneself to bring order and harmony to the family and finally the world.
Once the Classic on Filial Piety is mastered and the Four Books are remembered by heart, one can begin to study the Six Classics
The Book of Poetry, The Book of Documents, The Book of Change, The Book of Rite, The Spring and Autumn Annals and The Book on Music are known as the Six Classics. They should be studied.
The Book of Lian Shan, The Book of Gui Zang and The Book of Zhou Yi are known as the San Yi. They expound on the subject of changes.
The six sections namely The Regulations, The Counsels, The Instructions, The Announcements, The Oaths and The Command are the profundities of The Book of Documents.
The Duke of Chou drew up The Ritual of The Zhou Dynasty in which he set forth the duties of the six classes of officials forming the basis of a government.
The elder Dai and the young Dai wrote commentaries on The Book of Rites. They propagated the words of the sages so that younger generation can understand the rites, ceremonies and music of the past.
Guo Feng (Wind), Da Ya (Ode), Xiao Ya (Ode) and Song (Praise) are the four sections of The Book of Poetry. One should chant them over and over.
When The Book of Poetry lost its popularity, Confucius wrote The Spring and Autumn Annals. The book contains praises and blames of the various political happenings at that time and teaches one to distinguish the good from evil.
There are three commentaries on The Spring and Autumn Annals. They are Gong Yang Zhuan, Zuo Zhuan and Gu Liang Zhuan
After having grasped the classics, then study the works of the various philosophers. It is important to understand the essences of their works and remember them by heart.
The five greatest philosophers are Xun Zi, Yang Zi, Wen Zhong Zi, Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi.
Once mastered The Classics and the works of the philosophers, it is time to study the various books on history. Through the study of genealogy one will know the successions and the rise and fall of dynasties.
Starting from Fu Xi, then Chen Nong to The Yellow Emperor, these three are called The Three Rulers. They lived in the early ages.
Tang and You Yu are called the Two Emperors. Tang renounced his throne to You Yu. Their reigns were called The Golden Age.
Note: Emperor Tang did not pass his throne to his son but instead renounced his throne to Emperor You Yu.
The Xia Dynasty had Yu, the Shang Dynasty had Tang and the Zhou Dynasty had Wen. They are known as the Three Kings.
Under the Xia Dynasty, the throne was passed from father to son making the family the control and possession of the empire. After four hundred years, the Xia Dynasty ended.
Tang ended the Xia Dynasty and the new dynasty was called Shang. After six hundred years, under the reign of Zhou it ended.
King Zhou Wu slew emperor Zhou Xin of The Xia Dynasty forming The Zhou dynasty. The dynasty lasted for eight hundred years, the longest dynasty ever.
After Emperor Zhou Bin shifted the capital eastward, he lost control over the feudal lords. There were often wars among the lords. It was a time when scholars, strategists travelled from states to states preaching their skills and worth to gain recognition and position.
The period began with The Spring and Autumn Period and ended with The Warring States Period. During The Spring and Autumn Period, there were five feudal lords. At The Warring States Period, seven states emerged.
At the end of The Warring States Period, the state of Qin under the Ying clan started to gain control and was able to unified all the states to form the Qin Dynasty. The dynasty lasted two generations and ended with the State of Chu and the State of Han contending for the rule.
Han Gao Zu eventually won and formed the Han dynasty which lasted till the reign of emperor Xiao Ping when Wan Mang seized the throne.
After Wang Mang seized the throne, the whole country was in a state of unrest. Eventually Guang Wu took over the throne and founded the Eastern Han dynasty which lasted four hundred years. It ended under the reign of emperor Xian.
Then the states of Wei, Shu and Wu fought for the sovereignty of the Hans. This was the period call The Three Kingdoms. Although the state of Wei won the war, the throne was seized by Si Ma Yan. He then founded the Jin dynasty. There were two periods in the Jin Dynasty starting with the The Western Jin and ending with the The Eastern Jin.
Then followed by the Song and Qi dynasty, and after that the Liang and Chen dynasty. They were known as the Southern dynasties, with the capital in Nanjing.
The Northern dynasties were the Wei dynasty of the Yuan clan, which was later split into Eastern and Western Wei. Yu Wen seized the throne of the Western Wei and formed the Northern Zhou dynasty. Gao Yang seized the throne of the Eastern Wei and formed the Northern Qi dynasty.
In time, under The Sui dynasty, China was again united. The Sui throne was passed on only once and the empire was overthrown.
The first emperor of the Tang dynasty raised volunteer army troops and put an end to the disorder of The Sui Dynasty. He laid the foundation of The Tang Dynasty.
The throne was passed on for twenty generations, for a period of 300 years until the state of Liang ended the throne and changed the dynasty.
The Later Liang, Later Tang, Later Jin, Later Han and Later Zhou are known as The Five Generations. The successions of these five dynasties in such a short period (53 years) all had their own reasons.
Note: The word ‘later’ was used because the names of these dynasties had been used before.
The Song Dynasty was formed after Later Zhou surrendered the throne. It lasted eighteen generations. After that, the minority tribes from the north attacked the south. The country was again in a state of chaos.
The Liao tribe and Jin tribe of the north formed their own countries and calling themselves emperors. The Mongols eventually put an end to Jin and formed the Yuan dynasty. They later also put an end to the Sung dynasty.
The Mongol Empire spread over a large territory far greater than any of the previous dynasty. The empire lasted 90 years and was overthrown by uprisings led by Zhu Yuan Zhang.
Tai Zu rose to the throne and set up the great Ming dynasty. He called himself Hong Wu and had the capital in Jin Ling (Nanjing).
After Cheng Zu became the emperor, he shifted the capital to Yan Jing (Beijing). Ming dynasty lasted sixteen generations and ended in the reign of emperor Chong Zhen.
Towards the end of the Ming dynasty, the powers of many corrupt governing officials were unchecked. Rebels were everywhere. Li Chuang finally led an uprising and overthrown the Ming dynasty.
The great founder of Qing dynasty, responding to the call of destiny, united China again. He was able to bring peace and stability to all quarters.
From emperor Kang Xi, then Yong Zheng to Qian Long and then Lia Qing, there was peace and the country prospered. These achievements were noted and praised.
During the period of Xian Feng, there were many uprisings. This was also the beginning of the British and French invasion of the capital Beijing.
After the rule of Emperors Tong Zhi then Guang Xu the Jing dynasty started to weaken. When the throne reached Xuan Tong, the ninth emperor, the Jing dynasty was overthrown and ended.
Sun Zhong Shan led a revolution overthrowing the Jing dynasty and abolishing the monarchy. He established new constitutions and established the Republic of China.
The seventeen historic records are well documented. They chronicle the peaceful and warring times, the good and bad of the various ruling dynasties and the reasons behind their rise and fall.
Although there are many history books and they are hard and complicated to learn, there is a correct order of reading them. First read The Records of the Grand Historian and then follow by The Book of Han.
- 後漢三，國志四。兼證經 ，參通鑑。
Third is to read The Book of Later Han and forth, The Records of The Three Kingdoms. You should also consult the classics for further verifications. Zi Zhi Tong Jian is one such book for reference.
Read the history books, study the records and the relate the past to the present as though you have seen it with your own eyes.
Recite them and ponder over them with your heart. Do this in the morning and evening.
Of old, Zhong Ni (Confucius) learned from a young prodigy named Xiang Tuo. Even though he is a sage, he is still eager to learn and so should we.
Zhao, the Grand Secretary, studied daily the Analects of Confucius. Even though he was in such high position, he still studied diligently.
Wen Shu wrote on woven rushes so that he could read from them. Gong Sung carved words on split bamboos for the same purpose. Both were so poor. They could not afford to buy books and yet they found means to educate themselves diligently.
Sung Jing tied his hairs to the roof beam so that when he studied, he would not fall asleep. Sun Qin pricked his own tight with an awl for the same purpose. Both did not need reminding from people. They worked hard by their own accord.
Che Yin put fireflies in a bag to use as light for his study. Sun Kang used the reflection of the snow as light for the same purpose. Although their families were poor, they studied incessantly.
Zhu Mai Chen would read his book while he was picking firewood. Li Mi would hang his book on the horn of a buffalo so that he could read from it while looking after the herds. Even under such hardships, they still studied hard.
Su Lao Quan at the age of twenty seven, decided to work hard and channel all his energy in the study of books. He later became a famous scholar.
There was Su Lao Xian who regretted that he did not study hard when he was young. It was a bit late. You, while still young, should give more thoughts on studying hard.
There was Liang Hao who at the age of eighty two gained his recognition with top marks at the state examination. He was able to answer all the questions put to him by the emperor. He was top among many scholars.
Everyone was surprised at Liang Hao’s success at such at an old age. You, while still young, should set you goal and work hard towards it.
Rong at the age of eight was able to recite poetry. Bi at the age of seven was able to compose a poem on chess.
The talents and intelligence of these two were recognised by all as exceptional. You, while still young, should look up to them as role models.
Cai Wen Ji was excellent in judging various sounds made by psaltery. Xie Dao Yun was able to compose poems with ease.
They were girls and yet smart and alert. You boys should take note.
Liu Yan of the Tang dynasty at the age of seven was recognised as a child prodigy. He was in charge of the correction of text.
Although he was only a child, he had already gain an official post. You, while still young, should strive to bring about the same result.
The dog guards the night. The rooster proclaims the dawn. If you do not study hard, how can you call yourself man.
The silkworm produces silk. The bee makes honey. If you do not want to learn and be useful, you are worse than animals
Study hard when you are young. Apply what you learn when you grow up. Serve your country and the people well.
If you serve the country and the people well, you will make a name for yourself. It will glorify your parents and your ancestors. You will also set a good example for your posterity to follow.
Some men bequeath to their children coffers of gold. I teach my children only the classics.
If you work hard, you will receive your rewards. Excessive playing is never good for you. Take note and work hard.