Chinese Historic Stories: Wang Fuzhi Educated His Children the Same Way He Was Brought Up

Li Jian

PureInsight | February 6, 2006

[] Wang Fuzhi (王夫之) was a famous philosopher and scholar from the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. He was from Hengyang, Hunan Province. Because he built a clay house in Shi Chuan Mountain, other scholars called him Mr. Chuan Mountain.

At the end of the Ming Dynasty, Zhang Xianzhong led a peasant uprising and his army captured Heng Prefecture. He invited Wang Fuzhi to join him. Wang Fuzhi ran away and hid himself in Nan Yue. Zhang kidnapped his father Wang Zhaopin as a hostage, trying to force Wang Fuzhi into submission. Wang Fuzhi cut himself all over with a knife, and hired someone to carry him to Zhang Xianzhong to replace his father. Zhang Xianzhong, seeing that his injuries were severe, released him and his father.

Years later, the Manchurian army invaded China, which led to the collapse of the Ming Dynasty. Wang Fuzhi raised an insurrectionary army in Heng Shan, Hunan Province to fight against the Manchurian invaders. After Wang's army was defeated by the Manchurian army, he joined the government established by a relative of the last Ming Dynasty emperor in southern China known as Yongli. After seeing how corrupt the new government was, he left his post in anger. He then lived out the rest of his life in seclusion in Shichuan Mountain. He spent all his efforts on writing and achieved much academically. While living in seclusion the local officials repeatedly asked him to take a government post because of his fame. Wang Fuzhi was never moved to accept their invitations.

The reason Wang Fuzhi was able to maintain his dignity and achieved so much academically had a lot to do with his father Wang Zhaopin's strict upbringing when Wang Fuzhi was young.

Wang Zhaopin had a very unique way of teaching his children. He never used strong words or got angry. Whenever his children didn't conduct themselves properly, he would calmly teach them how they should behave and patiently guide them. Wang Zhaopin wouldn't allow his children to participate in games or vaudeville. When they had time he took out a chessboard and played with them. When they had free time, he read and explained to them scholar's writings from the past. Sometimes he told them stories about acts of famous people in history.

Wang Fuzhi didn't know how to restrain himself when he was younger, and he always said the wrong things. Wang Zhaopin never punished him. Instead, he simply refused to talk to his son while maintaining a very strict expression, and let Fuzhi reflect on what he did. Once Wang Fuzhi realized his mistakes from within and cried to his father that he would change, Wang Zhaopin then would have a long talk with his son and help his son fully understand his mistakes. Wang Fuzhi carried on his father's philosophy of raising children and paid a lot of attention with his own children's education as well.

Wang Fuzhi taught his children not to be affected by vulgar influences. He said that such influences could easily change people just like drinking alcohol would make people drunk He told them, "When people are vulgar, they punch people suddenly without giving people the chance to defend themselves or stab people in the back, and they fight vigorously for minor gains in profit. A real gentleman is neither like that nor enjoys the company of such people. Endless fortune is not something we should pursue. Don't be bogged down by money. People should be unworldly and refined, and their minds should be free. Only when one achieves such a mental state, can he fully understand the ancient sages' wisdoms. When one behaves in such away, it wouldn't matter whether he is in a position of power or not. When one respects the elders with such a mindset, he will nurture a high standard of behavior. When one deal with friends with such a state of mind, then he will be polite and courteous."

Wang Fuzhi also taught his children using poems and songs, "Passing one book through the family line, and its only purpose is to help you set your goal. A phoenix can soar nine thousand ren high (translator's note: 1 ren is equal to seven or eight feet), while a swallow and sparrow can only stare at each other with admiration for the phoenix. Do not drink alcohol which always tastes sour and filthy, and quietly watch as others get drunk. If you learn the true meaning of each word, then vulgarity would naturally avoid you. The character 'human (人)' is written with two strokes going sideways, and it's different from the character for 'beast (禽).' When one is clear-headed and is not soiled by dirt, then it's like he is in heaven."

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