“The Three Character Classic” – Unit 4

Zheng Jian Editing Group for Chinese Culture Teaching Materials

PureInsight | March 29, 2011

Unit 4


玉(yù) 不(bù) 琢(zhuó),不(bù) 成(chéng) 器(qì),
人(rén) 不(bù) 學(xué),不(bù) 知(zhī) 義(yì) 。
為(wéi) 人(rén) 子(zǐ),方(fāng) 少(shào) 時(shí),
親(qīn) 師(shī) 友(yǒu),習(xí) 禮(lǐ) 儀(yí)。


(3)成器(chéng qì):being made into a useful tool, or becoming a useful person
(4)義(yì):appropriateness or righteousness
(5)為(wéi):be in the capacity, character, condition, or role of
(6)方(fāng):when, during
(7)少時(shào shí):in youth
(8)親(qīn):get close to
(9)師(shī):one who can remind us of or teach us how to behave and interact appropriately in the society
(10)友(yǒu):friend(s), one/those who can help us foster morality and virtue
(11)禮儀(lǐ yí):manners, standards of societal behavior

Text Translation

If a piece of jade is not carefully carved and polished, it cannot be made into a fine and useful object. The same is also true of human beings. If one does not study diligently, one cannot behave appropriately and fit into society. As a child, one should make the best of the time of their youth to get close to good teachers and friends in order to learn manners and the norms of behavior in society, and treat people and matters in appropriate and suitable ways.

Discussion Questions

1. Jade needs to be carved so that it can be made into a useful object. What can we do to make ourselves useful?
2. When teachers or friends tell us what to do to improve ourselves, how should we react to their suggestions?


Bian He Offers Jade

During the Spring and Fall Period, there was a man from the Chu Country called Bian He. One day, he found a rough piece of jade in the mountains. Though it was not carved and polished, he knew that it was a rare treasure. So he offered it to King Li of the Chu Country. The king asked his jade cutter to evaluate the jade. But the jade cutter said, “This is only an ordinary stone.” Outraged at Bian He for using the stone to deceive him, King Li ordered his guards to cut off Bian He’s left foot.

After King Li died, King Wu ascended the throne. Bian He then offered that same piece of jade to King Wu. The king also called the jade cutter to appraise it. The jade cutter said, “This is nothing but a piece of rock.” King Wu also thought that Bian He meant to deceive him, so he had Bian He’s right foot cut off.

After King Wu died, King Wen ascended the throne. By now, Bian He, holding his jade, was weeping bitterly at the foot of the hill. He cried his eyes out day and night, and eventually his eyes even bled. The king heard about this and sent someone to Bian He, asking, “There have been so many people who lost their feet as punishment. But you shed the saddest and most tears. Why?” Bian He replied, “My feet being chopped off is not my concern at all. What concerns me the most is that my precious jade was deemed an ordinary piece of rock and a loyal person was taken as a liar.” The king then asked the jade cutter to examine the jade closely, and he found that it was indeed a rare treasure. Since then, this precious gemstone has been recognized as “Jade He.”

Writing Reflection

1. Hidden in the rock, jade needs to be carved and polished to become precious. Our gifts are like hidden jade. What can we do to cultivate our gifts?
2. Why did Bian He insist on giving the piece of jade to King Wu even after his left foot was chopped off?
3. Sometimes the truth cannot be accepted easily, and one often pays a price for telling the truth, but history proves the value of adhering to the truth and telling the truth all the time. Please share your related experience or some examples.


Traditional Chinese: http://big5.zhengjian.org/articles/2007/1/29/42014.html
Simplified Chinese: http://search.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2007/1/29/42014.html


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