05 February 2011

Understanding Chinese in One Minute

The Chinese have more than 5000 years of history. They are spread all over the world. People staying in the China mainland are not the only way to define who are the Chinese. The Chinese culture, traditions and beliefs are spread throughout the world with the people and shared by those in the mainland and those in the rest of the world collectively known as Overseas Chinese (华侨).

A recent book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" written by Amy Chua, now known as the Tiger Mother,  created a lot of interests about the traditional Chinese parenting and education methods. Some even accused her of not even a Chinese or she does not represent the typical Chinese parenting tradition. Instead of arguing about her, we should dig into the ancient Chinese literature and history and let them tell us the Chinese is like.

I think the shortest and most representative ancient Chinese literature is 三字经 The Three Character Classics. Here is a good site with English translation. It is written the thirteenth century. It is simple, 3 character phases. It is short - about 1200 characters. It is designed for kids. It is widely taught being the required reading for primary school kids over the centuries.

It is an amazing book. It covers almost everything. It is a simple wikipedia! It is a curriculum for education. Here is why:

It has five sections:
  1. Basic Knowledge about Man, Development and Relationships. 
  2. Maths, Science and Sociology.
  3. Index to the Classical Must read Literature and their purposes.
  4. The History of China - from beginning to 13th century. (later editions extends to present time)
  5. The Past Heroes as our models.
The purpose of the book is about teaching man how to live well on earth - a harmonious, righteous and useful life.  The book emphasizes 'education and learning' from a young age. It teaches the young to make effort in learning and be hardworking.
It begins with men as basically good but warns that if not educated and developed well, they will go astray. It ends with "Others leave a fortunes to their children, but I only teach my children one bible. Diligence brings rewards, fooling around is no use. Take heeds and be vitalized.

On parenting, the most famous verse is v3、养不教,父之过。教不严,师之惰。子不学,非所宜。幼不学,老何为。 Just feed and not teach is the wrong doing of the father. Teaching without discipline is the laziness of the teacher. Children not learning is not right. Not learning from young then what will become of old?

All are to learn from young and live them out when older and stronger; bringing benefits to the king and the common people; build reputation,  bring honor to parents. Create a bright future and provide wealth for the future generations. (v46 幼而学,壮而行。上致君,下泽民。扬名声,显父母。光于前,裕于后。)

The moral values are love, righteousness, good manners, wisdom and integrity v10 ,,, 曰仁义,礼智信。此五常,不容紊. The classics are to teach us morale values, love and righteousness, self-control and managing others, understand the saying sages and understand good manners and music; know the good and bad, right and wrong. Understand the beginning and the ending. The past heroes teach us about diligence in learning, learning from young so that there is no regrets in later life, not allowing poverty to stop us from learning, learn about vision and determination and watchfulness.

The way to grow is to learn and learn the right thing well. Put in the effort now to enjoy the fruit of the later.

I hope your interests are stirred up to know about the Ancient Chinese Wisdom. Click the link.

Lim Liat copyrighted 2011

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