《三字經 – Three Character Classic


  1. 人之初,性本善。性相近,習相遠。
    All men are born intrinsically with a good and similar nature. However, their natures will change due what they learn.
  1. 苟不教,性乃遷。教之道,貴以專。
    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.
  1. 昔孟母,擇鄰處。子不學,斷機杼。
    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.
  1. 竇燕山,有義方。教五子,名俱揚。
    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.
  1. 養不教,父之過。教不嚴,師之惰。
    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.
  1. 子不學,非所宜。幼不學,老何為。
    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.
  1. 玉不琢,不成器。人不學,不知義。
    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.
  1. 為人子,方少時。親師友,習禮儀。
    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.
  1. 香九齡,能溫席。孝於親,所當執。
    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.
  1. 融四歲,能讓梨。弟於長,宜先知。
    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.
  1. 首孝弟,次見聞。知某數,識某文。
    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.
  1. 一而十,十而百。百而千,千而萬。
    Using multiple of 10, one becomes ten. Ten to hundred. Hundred to thousand. Thousand to 10 thousands and so on
  1. 三才者,天地人。三光者,日月星。
    The three major constituents of nature are heaven, earth and man. The three light sources are from the sun, moon and stars.
  1. 三綱者,君臣義。父子親,夫婦順。
    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.
  1. 曰春夏,曰秋冬。此四時,運不窮。
    There are the seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. These seasons revolve unceasingly year after year.
  1. 曰南北,曰西東。此四方,應乎中。
    There are the directions South, North, West and East. These four directions are derived using the centre as reference.
  1. 曰水火,木金土。此五行,本乎數。
    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.
  1. 十干者,甲至癸。十二支,子至亥。
    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.
  1. 曰黃道,日所躔。曰赤道,當中權。
    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.
  1. 赤道下,溫暖極。我中華,在東北。
    At the equator, it is very warm. China is at the north east corner of the earth.
  1. 曰江河,曰淮濟。此四瀆,水之紀。
    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.
  1. 曰岱華,嵩恆衡。此五岳,山之名。
    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.
  1. 曰士農,曰工商。此四民,國之良。
    There are scholars, peasants, workers and businessmen. They represent the four important pillars of our society.
  1. 曰仁義,禮智信。此五常,不容紊。
    Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and honesty are five essential virtues one must develop without compromise.
  1. 地所生,有草木。此植物,遍水陸。
    From earth, the vegetations grow. They spread over land and sea.
  1. 有蟲魚,有鳥獸。此動物,能飛走。
    There are insects, fish, birds and other animals. Some walk on earth and some can fly.
  1. 稻粱菽,麥黍稷。此六穀,人所食。
    Rice, fine millet, beans, wheat, glutinous millet and common millet are the six types of grain that are the staple food of man.
  1. 馬牛羊,雞犬豕。此六畜,人所飼。
    Horses, oxen, sheep, chickens, dogs and pigs are six animals reared and farmed by man.
  1. 曰喜怒,曰哀懼。愛惡欲,七情具。
    Joy, anger, grief, fear, love, hate and desire are the seven emotions of man
  1. 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.
  1. 酸苦甘,及辛鹹。此五味,口所含。
    Sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty are the five basic flavours we can taste.
  1. 羶焦香,及腥朽。比五臭,鼻所嗅。
    Goat’s odour, burning odour, fragrance, fishy smell and rotten smell are five types of odours that we can smell.
  1. 匏土革,木石金。與絲竹,乃八音。
    The gourd, earthenware, skin, wood, stone, metal, silk and bamboo are used to produce the eight musical sounds.
  1. 曰平上,曰去入。此四聲,宜調協。
    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.
  1. 高曾祖,父而身。身而子,子而孫。
    Great great-grandfather begets great-grandfather, great-grandfather begets grandfather, grandfather begets father, father begets self, self begets son and son begets grandson.
  1. 自子孫,至玄曾。乃九族,人之倫。
    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.
  1. 父子恩,夫婦從。兄則友,弟則恭。
    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.
  1. 長幼序,友與朋。君則敬,臣則忠。
    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.
  1. 此十義,人所同。當順敘,勿違背。
    These ten obligations mentioned above, apply to all.
    Everyone should follow and observe them. Do not break these obligations.
  1. 斬齊衰,大小幼。至緦麻,五服終
    Zhan Shuai, Qi Shuai, Da Gong, Xiao Gong and Si Ma are five attires that people wear after the decease of their elders.
  1. 禮樂射,卸書數。古六藝,今不具。
    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.
  1. 惟書學,人共遵。既識字,講說文。
    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.
  1. 有古文,大小篆。隸草繼,不可亂。
    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.
  1. 若廣學,懼其繁。但略說,能知原。
    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.
  1. 凡訓蒙,須講究。詳訓詁,名句讀。
    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.
  1. 為學者,必有初。小學終,至四書。
    Those who want to learn must start from the beginning. Once the basic schooling is finished, proceed to study the “Four Books”
  1. 論語者,二十篇。群弟子,記善言。
    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.
  1. 孟子者,七篇止。講道德,說仁義。
    In The Book “Mencius”, there are 7 chapters. It teaches virtues and the path to benevolence and righteousness.
  1. 作中庸,子思筆。中不偏,庸不易。
    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.
  1. 作大學,乃曾子。自修齊,至平治。
    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.
  1. 孝經通,四書熟。如六經,始可讀。
    Once the Classic on Filial Piety is mastered and the Four Books are remembered by heart, one can begin to study the Six Classics
  1. 詩書易,禮春秋。號六經,當講求。
    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.
  1. 有連山,有歸藏。有周易,三易詳。
    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.
  1. 有典謨,有訓誥。有誓命,書之奧。
    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.
  1. 我周公,作周禮。著六官,存治體。
    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.
  1. 大小戴,註禮記。述聖言,禮樂備。
    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.
  1. 曰國風,曰雅頌。號四詩,當諷詠。
    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.
  1. 詩既亡,春秋作。寓褒貶,別善惡。
    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.
  1. 三傳者,有公羊。有左氏,有彀梁。
    There are three commentaries on The Spring and Autumn Annals. They are Gong Yang Zhuan, Zuo Zhuan and Gu Liang Zhuan
  1. 經既明,方讀子。撮其要,記其事。
    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.
  1. 五子者,有荀楊。文中子,及老莊。
    The five greatest philosophers are Xun Zi, Yang Zi, Wen Zhong Zi, Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi.
  1. 經子通,讀諸史。考世系,知終始。
    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.
  1. 自羲農,至黃帝。號三皇,居上世。
    Starting from Fu Xi, then Chen Nong to The Yellow Emperor, these three are called The Three Rulers. They lived in the early ages.
  1. 唐有虞,號二帝。相揖遜,稱盛世。
    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.
  1. 夏有禹,商有湯。周文王,稱三王。
    The Xia Dynasty had Yu, the Shang Dynasty had Tang and the Zhou Dynasty had Wen. They are known as the Three Kings.
  1. 夏傳子,家天下。四百載,遷夏社。
    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.
  1. 湯伐夏,國號商。六百載,至紂亡。
    Tang ended the Xia Dynasty and the new dynasty was called Shang. After six hundred years, under the reign of Zhou it ended.
  1. 周武王,始誅紂。八百載,最長久。
    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.
  1. 周轍東,王綱墮。逞干戈,尚游說。
    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.
  1. 始春秋,終戰國。五霸強,七雄出。
    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.
  1. 嬴秦氏,始兼並。傳二世,楚漢爭。
    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.
  1. 高祖興,漢業建。至孝平,王莽篡。
    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.
  1. 光武興,為東漢。四百年,終於獻。
    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.
  1. 魏蜀吳,爭漢鼎。號三國,迄兩晉。
    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.
  1. 宋齊繼,梁陳承。為南朝,都金陵。
    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.
  1. 北元魏,分東西。宇文周,興高齊。
    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.
  1. 迨至隋,一土宇。不再傳,失統緒。
    In time, under The Sui dynasty, China was again united. The Sui throne was passed on only once and the empire was overthrown.
  1. 唐高祖,起義師。除隋亂,創國基。
    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.
  1. 二十傳,三百載。梁滅之,國乃改。
    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.
  1. 梁唐晉,及漢周。稱五代,皆有由。
    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.
  1. 炎宋興,受周禪。十八傳,南北混。
    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.
  1. 遼與金,皆稱帝。元滅金,絕宋世。
    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.
  1. 輿圖廣,超前代。九十年,國祚廢。
    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.
  1. 太祖興,國大明。號洪武,都金陵。
    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).
  1. 迨成祖,遷燕京。十六世,至崇禎。
    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.
  1. 權閹肆,寇如林。李闖出,神器焚。
    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.
  1. 清世祖,膺景命。靖四方,克大定。
    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.
  1. 由康雍,歷乾嘉。民安富,治績誇。
    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.
  1. 道咸間,變亂起。始英法,擾都鄙。
    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.
  1. 同光後,宣統弱。傳九帝,滿清歿。
    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.
  1. 革命興,廢帝制。立憲法,建民國。
    Sun Zhong Shan led a revolution overthrowing the Jing dynasty and abolishing the monarchy. He established new constitutions and established the Republic of China.
  1. 十七史,全在茲。載治亂,知興衰。
    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.
  1. 史雖繁,讀有次。史記一,漢書二。
    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.
  1. 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.
  1. 讀史書,考實錄。通古今,若親目。
    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.
  1. 口而誦,心而惟。朝於斯,夕於斯。
    Recite them and ponder over them with your heart. Do this in the morning and evening.
  1. 昔仲尼,師項橐。古聖賢,尚勤學。
    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.
  1. 趙中令,讀魯論。彼既仕,學且勤。
    Zhao, the Grand Secretary, studied daily the Analects of Confucius. Even though he was in such high position, he still studied diligently.
  1. 披蒲編,削竹簡。彼無書,且知勉。
    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.
  1. 頭懸梁,錐刺股。彼不教,自勤苦。
    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.
  1. 如囊螢,如映雪。家雖貧,學不綴。
    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.
  1. 如負薪,如掛角。身雖勞,猶苦卓。
    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.
  1. 蘇老泉,二十七。始發憤,讀書籍。
    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.
  1. 彼既老,猶悔遲。爾小生,宜早思。
    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.
  1. 若梁灝,八十二。對大廷,魁多士。
    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.
  1. 彼既成,衆稱異。爾小生,宜立誌。
    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.
  1. 瑩八歲,能詠詩。泌七歲,能賦碁。
    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.
  1. 彼穎悟,人稱奇。爾幼學,當效之。
    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.
  1. 蔡文姬,能辨琴。謝道韞,能詠吟。
    Cai Wen Ji was excellent in judging various sounds made by psaltery. Xie Dao Yun was able to compose poems with ease.
  1. 彼女子,且聰敏。爾男子,當自警。
    They were girls and yet smart and alert. You boys should take note.
  1. 唐劉晏,方七歲。舉神童,作正字。
    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.
  1. 彼雖幼,身己仕。爾幼學,勉而緻。
    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.


  1. 犬守夜,雞司晨。苟不學,曷為人。
    The dog guards the night. The rooster proclaims the dawn. If you do not study hard, how can you call yourself man.
  1. 蠶吐絲,蜂釀蜜。人不學,不如物。
    The silkworm produces silk. The bee makes honey. If you do not want to learn and be useful, you are worse than animals
  1. 幼而學,壯而行。上緻君,下澤民。
    Study hard when you are young. Apply what you learn when you grow up. Serve your country and the people well.
  1. 揚名聲,顯父母。光於前,裕於後。
    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.
  1. 人遺子,金滿嬴。我教子,惟一經。
    Some men bequeath to their children coffers of gold. I teach my children only the classics.
  1. 勤有功,戲無益。戒之哉,宜勉力。
    If you work hard, you will receive your rewards. Excessive playing is never good for you. Take note and work hard.