“The Three Character Classic” – Unit 7

Zheng Jian Editing Group for Chinese Culture Teaching Materials

PureInsight | May 16, 2011


Unit 7


三(sān) 才(cái) 者(zhě),天(tiān) 地(dì) 人(rén),
三(sān) 光(guāng) 者(zhě),日(rì) 月(yuè) 星(xīng)。
三(sān) 綱(gāng) 者(zhě),君(jūn) 臣(chén) 義(yì),
父(fù) 子(zǐ) 親(qīn),夫(fū) 婦(fù) 順(shùn)。


(1)三才(sān cái):namely Heaven, Human Beings, and the Earth. Its original meaning is “materials for new vegetation to grow,” and figuratively refers to “basics”
(2)者(zhě):a pronoun of a person or an object
(3)天(tiān):referring to Heaven, turning in continuous motion
(4)地(dì):referring to the Earth, which supports numerous things
(5)三光(sān guāng):namely the sun, moon, and the stars; 光(guāng) means splendor, glory
(6)綱(gāng):originally referring to “thick rope of the net,” and figuratively meaning the “main part of a thing,” that is, the essential principles
(7)義(yì):in harmony with righteous principles, referring to the fulfillment of all obligations as required
(8)親(qīn):being intimate with, being close to
(9)順(shùn):obliging, harmonious

Text Translation

What are the Three Materials? They are Heaven, Human Beings, and the Earth—the basic elements of the Universe. What are the Three Lights? They are the Sun, Moon, and the Stars—three radiating objects in the sky, and three major light sources on the Earth. What are the Three Essentials? The three essential relationships of social order are between the emperor and feudal officials, a father and son, and a husband and his wife. The king and officials’ deeds and behavior must conform to righteous principles, each fulfilling their obligations as required. Parents and children should be on intimate terms, the father loving and the son filial. The husband and the wife in a family should be respectful of each other, all leading a harmonious life.

Discussion Questions

  1. In ancient times, human beings were understood to be created by gods. All living things in Heaven and on the Earth had gods or goddesses, creating and protecting human beings. Thus, Heaven and the Earth were revered. Please share your thoughts about this belief.
  2. Times are changing. Nowadays, what kind of social relationships can be compared to the relationship between the king and his officials in ancient times?
  3. Are you close to your parents? How do you interact and communicate with them? What kind of parent-child relationship is best?


Nu Wa Made Human Beings

Chinese mythology states that Pan Gu was the creator of the world. After working strenuously for 1800 years, Pan Gu fell to the ground exhausted. His hair turned into mountains, eyes became the sun and the moon, hair formed plants, blood turned into seas, sound turned into thunder, breath became wind, and tears formed rivers and streams. Henceforth, the world had mountains, rivers, grass, forests, birds, beasts, insects, and fish, but no human beings at all.

After Pan Gu died, another 1800 years passed. Then appeared a goddess, Nu Wa. With no company, Nu Wa felt very lonely. One day, Nu Wa came to a pond. Looking at her own reflection in the water, she began mixing clay with water to make small clay figurines, both males and females. After blowing her breath into these clay figurines, she placed them on the ground. Unexpectedly, these clay figurines began moving, running, jumping, talking and laughing. Having them as her companions, Nu Wa smiled happily.

Since then, Nu Wa worked very hard every day to make more small clay figurines. Realizing that her labor’s progress was too slow, she soaked strings in the clay mud and then pulled them out, allowing the mud to drop to the ground to form more human beings, large and small.

However, the figurines she created would not live for very long. To sustain their existence, this loving mother of humanity established marriage ties for human beings, pairing them up and allowing them to bear children from one generation to the next.

Xu Yun’s Intelligent Wife

In the period of the Three Kingdoms, there was a man named Xu Yun. His wife, the daughter of Ruan Gong and the sister of Ruan Kan, was very ugly in appearance. Disliking her appearance, Xu Yun shunned her immediately after the wedding ceremony. The fact that Xu Yun refused to step into the bridal chamber worried the family. At that embarrassing moment, Fan Huan visited them. Xu Yun’s wife said to the family, “We should worry no more. Fan Huan can talk him into entering the chamber.” Indeed, Fan Huan said to Xu Yun, “The Ruans must have good intentions for you to marry their daughter. You should use your heart to see her.”

As expected, Xu Yun walked into the chamber. But upon seeing his bride, he turned around to leave the room. His wife knew that he would not return again once he left. So, she stopped him by pulling on his shirt. To embarrass his wife, Xu Yun said, “Females should have four virtues. How many do you possess?” His wife replied, “What I am short of is simply good looks. A scholar should have many virtues. How many do you possess, my lord?” Xu Yun said proudly, “All of them.” His wife continued, “Character is the most important for all walks of life. My lord, you desire good looks, not good character. How can you claim that you have all the virtues of a scholar?” Ashamed of himself, Xu Yun henceforth showed respect towards his wife.

Note: The four virtues of women refer to feminine character (virtue), feminine skills, feminine speech, and feminine appearance.

Writing Reflection

1. Different people have varied legends or stories on the creation of the world and our human origins. Share with your classmates the related information you have found.
2. Which is more important, one’s external appearance or inside character? In addition to looks, what else does appearance include? What should we do to cultivate our character?
3. Interview your parents about how they treat each other. How do they cope with disagreement?

Traditional Chinese: http://big5.zhengjian.org/articles/2007/2/6/42115.html
Simplified Chinese: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2007/2/6/42115.html


Add new comment