三字經 Three Character Classic Commentary
(PD) 三字經 on Spring Golden Pheasants.
(Wording and image enhancements by Larry Neal Gowdy.)
(Pattern: 8 Days Zen Guqin.)
Copyright ©2019 February 24, 2019
三字經 San Zi Jing - (Sanzi Jing) - Three Word Weave - Three Character Classic appears to have been created to be a tool for teaching children of around five to eight years of age. The little book has about 520 unique words within the approximated 1,070 words total, while touching upon many different topics. Prior to my translating the Chinese text, about all that I had heard of the book was that it had once been very popular, and that children had reportedly memorized and recited the entirety of the book. When I noticed that the Chinese Text Project had a page with the original text, I then chose to use page's text for translation. My initial interests in the book were merely of curiosity, of something new to read, and of a personal interest in finely crafted three-word sentences that possess the potential of communicating more information than what is possible within verbose sentences.
Three Character Classic does not appear to have any direct connection with the ideals of Confucianism, but, nevertheless, the value of Three Character Classic is of it being an example of the post-Han era's general culture-based beliefs, general physiological characteristics, and general methods of public teaching. Using Three Character Classic as a contrast to modern philosophies, modern science, and modern methods of education, it can then be seen that many common ideals behind ancient and modern cultures have not changed much in over two-thousand years, although, some have changed dramatically.
The manner of how Three Character Classic is presented, can be viewed within at least two different lights... one, the sentences' concepts of combined words, might imply precisely what was written, and the concepts are to be believed to be true, and to be a final fact that is not to be questioned nor discussed by students... or, two, the sentences' concepts enable a discussion to arise, to enable young minds to rationalize, find the errors themselves, and to then reason what would be the correct choice. If Three Character Classic were written and used within the first light, then the book is unlearned and it permanently harms children, but if used in the second light, then the book could be quite excellent. It is unknowable of how the book was actually used, but it is hoped that the author was wise, and did use the book within the second light.
The provided public domain translations of Three Character Classic are of Herbert Giles'. His translations are usually good enough for modern readers to glean a generalized idea of what Three Character Classic may have intended to say.
Paragraph 3 is a little humorous. The story is unknown of whether it was true, or if perhaps the story was merely an invented legend (e.g. George Washington could not tell a lie, Einstein was a genius, William Sidis was America's greatest prodigy, etc.). Nevertheless, the story within Three Character Classic suggests that 'Previously Meng's mother, chose neighbor(hood) (to) live, child not-have learning, break weaving-machine shuttle'.
The Meng of the story likely points to the Meng Zi of the well-known Mencius collection of stories. The contrast, between an individual who becomes well-known as an adult, and of the same individual as a child breaking a loom's thin shuttle, yes, the contrast can raise a little smile because even the best-known people make mistakes, and, hopefully, learn from the mistakes.
Giles' translation: "Of old, the mother of Mencius chose a neighbourhood; and when her child would not learn, she broke the shuttle from the loom."
It is unknown why Gile's translation chose to insert the idea of a mother purposefully breaking a loom's shuttle just because of her son having not learned something, but it is possible that the legend was phrased similarly, while Three Character Classic had purposefully omitted the detail, possibly due to the need of brevity.
Three Character Classic was purposefully written with each sentence only having three words, which, of course, limits the practicability of presenting details of topics, but it is still useful to observe which words were given the most importance, as well as to observe in which sequence the words were given.
Paragraph 21 infers something near: 'Name-say happiness anger. Name-say sorrow-grief-pity fear. Love hate desire-hunger. Seven emotion have-all-complete.'
Giles' translation: "We speak of joy, of anger, we speak of pity, of fear, of love, of hate, and of desire. These are the seven passions."
Giles' choice of 'pity' would likely be the favored choice for westerners because the first six words of emotions were presented as contrasted pairs, and, therefore, since 'pity' is deemed to be a singularity of outward behavior within western cultures, then 'pity' might be the favored choice as being a better contrast of the western singularity of 'fear'. However, if the ancient Asian culture possessed a degree of self-awareness, then the tone and directions of 'sorrow-grief-pity' would be the far better contrast of the tone and directions of 'fear'. Nevertheless, the concept of 'sorrow-grief-pity' is simply an unknown to all western cultures, and thus, cannot convey meaning to western cultures. Therefore, the choice of 'pity' is adequate enough.
Also, in Giles' era, the use of 'passions' was a common synonym for 'emotions'. Since neither 'passions' nor 'emotions' today have definitive explanations of what they are, then the use of either term is as acceptable as the other.
The list of emotions is very important because the given emotions help to illustrate the people's own physiology, self-awareness, and knowledge of emotions. Comparing the listed emotions within Three Character Classic to other lists, it can then be seen which emotions are most prevalent within different cultures.
Aristotle wrote of fourteen emotions: 'anger, contempt, calmness, friendship, enmity (hatred), fear, confidence, shame (and shamelessness), kindness, pity, indignation, envy, and emulation (a variance of envy)'. The emotions are listed in the order that they were written within Rhetoric Book II.
Philosopher-scientist William James' list of emotions were 'surprise, curiosity, rapture, fear, anger, lust, greed'. (The Emotions)
Modern scientific lists generally follow six to seven observable emotions (listed in the order given by scientists): 'anger, fear, enjoyment, disgust, sadness', plus another list that includes 'surprise'.
Therefore, the lists, as compared side-by-side, would be:
Ancient Chinese: 'happiness, anger, pity, fear, love, hate, desire'.
Western philosophy: 'anger, contempt, calmness, friendship, hate, fear, confidence, shame, shamelessness, kindness, pity, indignation, envy, emulation'.
Early 20th century western academia and science: 'surprise, curiosity, rapture, fear, anger, lust, greed'.
Modern science: 'anger, fear, enjoyment, disgust, sadness', plus another list that includes 'surprise'.
It is very notable that the Chinese list is the only one that included the emotion of 'love', plus the possible concept of 'sorrow-grief-pity'. All of the western cultures' lists are either wholly negative or only possess a few semi-neutral (callous) emotions. Since none of the emotions within the western lists were given explanations of their natures, then it is safe to assume that all of the named emotions are selfish, and therefore negative (self-destructive).
It is very important to give notice that the lists of western philosophy and science begin with the word 'anger', which is expressive of the emotions that are most prone within the sub-cultures.
Therefore, as a contrast of what people have written within their own words, the ancient Asian culture, in general, may have plausibly had a degree of happiness, be perhaps somewhat emotionally stable, and be with a degree of potentially positive emotions, while the modern western cultures are unhappy, far less emotionally stable, and have high degrees of negative emotions.
Contradictions or Discussions
Paragraph 86 of Three Character Classic is either very unlearned, or, is very good at presenting a faulty topic to be discussed. The paragraph's original words generally and roughly point to: 'Diligent have accomplishment, play not-have benefit, stop it (!(infers exclamation)), ought exert energy'.
Gile's translation: "Diligence has its reward; play has no advantages. Oh, be on your guard, and put forth your strength."
When young, the best and most common 'teacher' is play. Without having acquired a fullness of firsthand understanding of Nature's way — of weights, distances, speeds, depths, forces, angularities, muscle memory, and all of the other foundational necessities that are only possible through firsthand experience, which is best learned while playing — then the adult will be a dullard, unable to think, have little eye-hand coordination, not have a background knowledge of Nature, not have a background knowledge of any other rational thing, and not be capable to reason what is correct.
Common modern examples include individuals graduating from technical colleges while still not able to reason the difference between an elementary open circuit and a closed circuit. Another modern example is of individuals graduating from prestigious colleges, and yet not able to pass a fifth grade literacy test.
Build a strong foundation first, then build one's home. If no foundation, then the home will fall.
It is not possible to productively replace firsthand experience with memorization of words. The modern way of believing that word memorization is more solid than Nature's laws, is an empty foundation.
Therefore, if the author of Three Character Classic wrote his words to imply what the words appear to say, then the author was severely unlearned, and his words would permanently cripple all of his students' minds and lives. However, if the author was wise, then he could have used the topic for class discussions, to help illustrate to his students how one's own foundation of intelligence depends upon one's own firsthand experiences when young.
Three Character Classic is as either a very evil book, or a very prestigious book... just depends on how the book is used.
If the book's words only imply what the words say, then the book is full of contradictions, hypocrisies, hearsays, inventions, culturally destructive instigations of gender competition, ridicule of all females, and other harmful nonsense. If the book's words present concepts for students to discuss and to analyze, then the book makes sense, and is beneficial for young minds.
Related Quotes (draft versions)
'All affairs at-ease, follow determine-decide... not at-ease follows neglect. Discuss before decide, then not stumble... duty before decide, then not difficult... moral-behavior before decide, then not sorrow... reason before decide, then not exhausted.' (Zhong Yong - Middle Use - (Doctrine of the Mean))
'Poem say: Presentation deceptive, not-have discussion, opportunity wasted, have dispute.' (Zhong Yong - Middle Use - (Doctrine of the Mean))
'Great learn, it way involved-in bright-clear-understanding. Bright-clear-understanding virtue-morals-goodness involved-in oneself. People involved-in, pause, compare, reach good understanding.' (Da Xue - Great Learning)
One of the primary cores of Confucianism, as well as all forms of logic, is to think... for each individual to think, to think their own thoughts... to think, to rationalize, and to determine for one's self what is correct relative to what must always be true within Nature. It is not possible to rationalize correctly if the individual does not have a strong foundation of the knowing of Nature's way, a knowing that is gained through the firsthand experiences of play, and of the firsthand observations of real things in Nature. Memorizing words, is not thinking... not rational... not logical... empty inside... always falls.
After my having written this article, I then chose to do a little research of public information related to Three Character Classic. Numerous web pages exist on the topic, but almost all of the highest ranked pages on search engine results merely repeated the identical same words as the other pages — plagiarism. Likely almost all of the pages' information was copied from Wikipedia, and with the Wikipedia article itself being copied from an original source, which is very normal and common for all forms of academic writing, and, is also the disrespectful and dishonest method that is taught in academia.
It is popularly being reported that Three Character Classic was plausibly written in the 13th century, and written by Wang Yinglin. Further researching the alleged Wang, it was found that he was noted to have held the academic title of a 'jinshi', which was given to individuals who passed the most difficult civil exam named 'presented scholar'. The 'presented scholar' exam is reported to have included several different topics including the ability to recite the Confucian Classics from memory. It has also been reported that Wang was a Confucian scholar, as well as the last great scholar of the Song era.
Related references present stories of children throughout Asia memorizing and reciting Three Character Classic, sometimes while the children swayed their heads in rhythm with the recited words. No found reference admitted of the recitation behavior being harmful to children's minds, nor of being an act of brain-washing.
And, so, there, that information is sufficient enough to see that the author of Three Character Classic — if indeed he was Wang — was very likely a very unlearned and ignorant man, but admired by the general public because he could recite many unknown words similarly as how the least intelligent people were able to recite a few memorized words.
If the author were Wang, and if Wang had indeed been a jinshi and a Confucian Scholar, then Wang was unable to comprehend what his memorized words of the Confucian Classics implied. Wang was not able to cross-light his memorized knowledge to what he had written within the book. Wang's contradictions become large and very seriously dangerous to all children who might accept the book's words to be true.
If Wang did not agree with Confucian ideas, then fine, no problem, everyone has their own ideals in life, but, it was hypocritical for Wang to have opposed Confucianism while also holding the title of Confucian Scholar. Regardless of how Wang might be viewed, the Three Character Classic presents its author in a negative light.
One good thing found, was the answer to a question that I myself had been wondering: might historic Confucian Scholars have been of superior understanding, wisdom, and benevolence as compared to modern scholars? The answer, is no. The possession of an academic title, even a nation's highest academic title, meant nothing in Wang's era, and still means nothing today.
I had previously seen some translations of Confucian texts by modern Confucian Scholars, but the translations basically just parroted what Legge had written, and so I was hoping that surely historical Confucian Scholars would have been wise, but, now, no, apparently they were not.
Perhaps the best value of Three Character Classic is that it illustrates common threads within all known histories of academia: the academic belief that memorizing words is smart, the academic practice that plagiarism is acceptable and promoted, plus a mental inability to cross-light the memorized words, plus a belief that brain-washing is itself the sole path to intelligence.
My own personal hopes of the book possibly having had good value as a teaching tool, is now fully gone, but, the answering of my question was of value.
'Zi say: Learn yet not think, then crooked-negative-deceive... think and not learn, then dangerous.'
'Zi say: Review old, and know new... can use (to be) act-as teacher.'