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[Sanzi Jing]

Three-Character Classic: A Confucian Roadmap for Kids

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Paragraph 4: Exemplary Behaviors

Original Translation Commentary
1


Read the history books,
examine the records,
connect the ancient with the present,
and you'll be as close as an eyewitness.
 
2


Recite them with the mouth,
examine them with your heart;
do this in the morning;
do this in the evening.

3


Formerly, Zhong Ni,
took Xiang Tuo for his teacher.
The ancient sages were virtuous,
yet studied diligently.
Zhong Ni was one of Confucius' names. Xiang Tuo was a prodigious seven year old. There is a story told of how he refused Confucius' request to move his play fortress from the middle of the road because, he argued, who had ever heard of moving buildings to make way for carriages?
4


Grand Secretary Zhao
studied the Analects.
He, although already an official,
studied diligently.
Song Emperor Taizong asked Zhao Pu why he was reading the Analects, a book commonly taught to kids. Zhao replied: "With half of this book I helped your father gain the empire. With the other half I help you to preserve it."
5


Splitting reeds and weaving them,
cutting bamboo slips.
They had no books,
yet knew how to exert themselves.
Lu Wenshu was a too poor to be able to buy books. He braided reeds and copied borrowed books. Gongsun Hong cut bamboo slips to do the same. Both men served under the Han dynasty.
6


One tied his head to the roof beam;
another pricked his thigh with an awl.
They were not taught these,
but came up on their own to toil hard.
Sun Jing tied his hair to the roof beam to prevent from nodding off to sleep. He became a minister under the Qin dynasty. Su Qin set up an awl to prick himself awake if he nodded off. He became a prime minister.
7


One put fireflies in a bag.
another used the glare from the snow.
Although their families were poor,
they studied unceasingly.
Che Yin used the light from the fireflies while Sun Kang used the glare from the snow because they could not afford candles. Both served under the Qin.
8


One carried firewood,
another hanged (books from the) horns.
Although they toiled with their bodies,
they overcame their hardships.
Zhu Maichen carried firewood while Li Mi worked as a cowherd while studying. They became ministers for the Han and Northern Zhou, respectively.
9


Su Laoquan
at twenty-seven
began to show his energy,
and study the books.
Su Laoquan became the Imperial Librarian for the Song dynasty. His son is the famous poet Su Dongbo.
10


When already old,
he regretted his delay.
Like them, the young
should think of this early.
 
11


There was Liang Hao
who at eighty-two
replied to the Great Hall,
and came out first among many scholars.
Liang Hao lived during the reign of Song Emperor Zhenzong.
12


After he had succeeded,
everyone called him exceptional.
Like them, the young
should think appropriately early.

13


Rong at eight years old,
could compose poems.
Bi, at seven years old,
could make a poetic essay on weiqi.
Zu Rong accepted the official title of child prodigy and was named civil servant at the age of twelve.
Li Bi answered brilliantly a poetic challenge of the Tang emperor. He served four emperors at the highest levels. Weiqi is the Chinese board game better known by its Japanese name of Go.
14


They were clever
and people called them special.
Like them, young students
ought to imitate them.
 
15


Cai Wenji,
could judge from [the sound of] a lute.
Xie Daoyun,
could compose poems.
Cai Wenji could tell from the sound which string was broken. She lived a difficult life during the Three Kingdoms era.
Xie Daoyun was a celebrated poetess. She lived during the reign of the Eastern Jin dynasty.
16


They were girls,
yet they were quick and clever.
Like them, boys
should alert yourselves.
 
17


In the Tang dynasty, Liu Yan
when only seven years old,
was rated a child prodigy
and appointed Corrector of Texts.
Liu Yan served Emperor Minghuang of the Tang dynasty.
18


He, although a child,
was already an official.
Like them, young students,
should exert yourselves and concentrate.
 
19
Those who work like them,
will succeed as they did.
 
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