“The Three Character Classic” – Unit 22

Zheng Jian Editing Group for Chinese Culture Teaching Materials

PureInsight | April 30, 2013


Unit 22

五(wǔ) 子(zǐ) 者(zhě),有(yǒu) 荀(xún) 揚(yáng),
文(wén) 中(zhōng) 子(zǐ),及(jí) 老(lǎo) 莊(zhuāng)。
經(jīng) 子(zǐ) 通(tōng),讀(dú) 諸(zhū) 史(shǐ),
考(kǎo) 世(shì) 系(xì),知(zhī) 終(zhōng) 始(shǐ)。

(1)子(zǐ): Zi was used in ancient China like "master" or "sir" to address a learned scholar, moralist, or person of high social status. Here it refers to the philosophical books written by five scholars.
(2)荀(xún): Xun Kuang, also known as Xun Zi, lived in the Warring States Period and was the author of Xun Zi.
(3)揚(yáng): Yang Xiong, also known as Yang Zi, lived in the Western Han Dynasty and was the author of Tai Xuan Jing and Fa Yan.
(4)文中子(wén zhōng zǐ): Wang Tong lived in the Sui Dynasty and was the author of Yuan Jing and Zhong Shuo.
(5)老(lǎo): Lao Zi was the founder of Taoism and author of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Jing).
(6)莊(zhuāng): Zhuang Zhou, also known as Zhuang Zi, lived in the Warring States Period and was the author of Zhuang Zi.
(7)經(jīng): This term refers to the classics, or books used by Confucianism as the basis of study. Ancient Chinese books are divided into four categories: Jing (classics), Shi (history), Zi (thoughts of various schools and scholars), and Ji (collections). Jing belongs to the first category.
(8)子(zǐ): the third category of ancient Chinese books
(9)通(tōng): understand, comprehend
(10)讀(dú): study, research
(11)諸(zhū): (used in addressing) all, every
(12)史(shǐ): books of history
(13)考(kǎo): research and verify
(14)世系(shì xì): the system the emperor and the aristocracy used to pass on from generation to generation
(15)知(zhī): realize, understand
(16)終(zhōng): decline, fall
(17)始(shǐ): rise, develop

Text Explanation
There were five important classical philosophical works in ancient times—Xun Zi, Fa Yan, Zhong Shuo, Daodejing, and Zhuang Zi—which were written by five scholars, respectively: Xun Zi, Yang Zi, Wang Tong, Lao Zi, and Zhuang Zi. After we have understood the Confucian classics and classical philosophical works, we may study the history books to research and verify the order of various dynasties and learn how they rose and declined.

Discussion Questions
1. Why did Chinese students in ancient times have to study the classical philosophical books Xun Zi, Fa Yan, Zhong Shuo, Dao De Jing, and Zhuang Zi. When you recommend books to others, what are your recommendation criteria? Explain.
2. How many dynasties are there in Chinese history? Name some and discuss them with your classmates.



Lao Zi

Lao Zi, whose surname was Li, personal name Er (meaning “ear”), and courtesy name Bo Yang, lived during the Spring and Autumn Period and was the founder of Taoism (Daoism). There are many legends about his birth. Some say that his mother became pregnant after seeing a meteor fly across the sky. Others say that his mother ate a double-plum and delivered him from her armpit after a 72-year pregnancy; emerging with white hair at birth, he looked like an old man and thus was called Lao Zi (meaning “old man”). Some also say that he served in the government from the time of Emperor Wen to the time of Emperor Wu during the Zhou Dynasty. Living for such a long time, he was therefore called Lao Zi (meaning “old master”).


Lao Zi was pure in heart. Although he served in the Zhou Dynasty for a very long time, he was not promoted to any official position. He always stood aloof from the world. He helped common people with the magical arts of dan and stone, as well as jin and golden elixir. In addition, he practiced morality and cultivated the spirit, as well as eliminated disasters and exorcised evil spirits.

One day Lao Zi went west to cross the Great Wall and ascend Kunlun Mountain. Through divination, the fort minister, Ling Yin Xi, realized a wise man was about to come his way, so he assigned his subordinates to sweep clear a forty-mile path to welcome the wise man. Lao Zi knew fort minister Ling Yin Xi was meant to be enlightened, so he stopped by the fort.

Lao Zi had a servant, Xu Jia, who he had employed since his youth. Lao Zi was supposed to pay Xu Jia 100 qian per day, and altogether his wages totaled 7,200,000 qian. When Xu Jia knew that Lao Zi was going away on a long journey beyond the Great Wall, he was anxious to ask for his wages, but for fear that he would not get any, he asked someone else to write his complaint to Ling Yin Xi. The one who wrote the complaint for Xu Jia did not know that Xu Jia had served Lao Zi for more than two hundred years. But he knew that once he helped Xu Jia get his wages, Xu Jia would become a very rich man, so he wanted to marry his daughter off to Xu Jia.

Ling Yin Xi read the complaint with great surprise and informed Lao Zi about it. Lao Zi said to Xu Jia, “You should have died already. I hired you simply because my position and earnings were so low that I could not afford anyone else for errands. To sustain your life, I gave you the symbol of Tai Xuan Qing Sheng. But why did you write this complaint about me? I did promise you that I would pay you back in gold when you got to the Heavenly Kingdom, did I not? Why are you so impatient?” No sooner had Lao Zi finished his remarks than the Tai Xuan Qing Sheng symbol came flying out of Xu Jia’s mouth. The words on the symbol were still like new, but right at that moment, Xu Jia became a skeleton.

Seeing that Lao Zi was immortal, Ling Yin Xi knelt down kowtowing to Lao Zi and asked to pay the debt voluntarily for him. Lao Zi then threw the symbol back at Xu Jia, and at once Xu Jia became alive again. Ling Yin Xi paid Xu Jia 2,000,000 qian for his wages and later treated Lao Zi respectfully and became his disciple. Lao Zi taught him the secret of immortality and spoke to him a 5000-word teaching. Lao Zi then flew away on a blue cow. Xi wrote down the teaching that Lao Zi had spoken to him. This became the well-known classic Dao De Jing. Following Lao Zi’s guidance, Ling Yin Xi became a supernatural being.


Writing Reflection
In what dynasty did Lao Zi live? What is the name of the book he composed? Why has this book been handed down for generations? What impact has this book had over the generations?

Simplified Chinese: http://www.zhengjian.org/node/43169

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