“The Three Character Classic” – Unit 24

Zheng Jian Editing Group for Chinese Culture Teaching Materials

PureInsight | April 30, 2013


Unit 24

夏(xià) 有(yǒu) 禹(yǔ),商(shāng) 有(yǒu) 湯(tāng),
周(zhōu) 文(wén) 武(wǔ),稱(chēng) 三(sān) 王(wáng)。
夏(xià) 傳(chuán) 子(zǐ),家(jiā) 天(tiān) 下(xià),
四(sì) 百(bǎi) 載(zǎi),遷(qiān) 夏(xià) 社(shè)。

(1)夏(xià): name of a dynasty
(2)禹(yǔ): the first emperor of the Xia Dynasty, surname Si, often addressed as Yu the Great, grandson of Zhuan Xu, great-great-grandson of the Yellow Emperor
(3)商(shāng): name of a dynasty
(4)湯(tāng): the first emperor of the Shang Dynasty, surname Zi, personally named Lu, also called Cheng Tang
(5)周(zhōu): name of a dynasty
(6)文(wén): the leader of the Zhou tribe during the late years of the Shang Dynasty, surname Ji, personally named Chang, in life revered as West Duke for establishing a country at the foot of Qi Mountain, and in death revered as Emperor Wen
(7)武(wǔ): the Emperor Wu in the Zhou Dynasty, surname Ji, personally named Fa, son of Emperor Wen
(8)三王(sān wáng): not referring to the three emperors, but the emperors over three dynasties (the dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou)
(9)傳(chuán): cede, give the throne to
(10)子(zǐ): son, grandson
(11)家天下(jiā tiān xià): a hereditary monarchy in which the throne is passed to family descendants. The country, considered as the family property, was passed on to the descendants.
(12)載(zǎi): year
(13)遷(qiān): change
(14)社(shè): also called “She Ji,” referring to the country. “She” means God Earth; “Ji” is God Gu. In the ancient times, the emperor and the feudal lords all set up shrines to house the two gods. No country/state, no “She Ji.” Therefore, “She Ji” is synonymous with “country/state.”

Text Explanation
The founders of the Xia Dynasty, the Shang Dynasty, and the Zhou Dynasty were Yu, Tang, and Emperor Wen and Emperor Wu, respectively. Across three dynasties, they were all saint emperors with talent and virtue. Since the Xia Dynasty, the throne had been considered family property to be passed down to descendants. After more than four hundred years, the Xia Dynasty, under Jie’s reign came to an end.

Discussion Questions
1. What kind of national leader is worthy of people’s love, support and respect? Please give an example.
2. Please compare and contrast the systems of passing royal power to family, rather than giving up the throne to the capable and talented.


Da Yu (Yu the Great) Tamed the Raging Waters

Gun, Yu’s father, did not solve the flood problem for nine years despite his efforts. Gun had stolen the soil from heaven to defend the mortal world against the flood. This irritated the gods and Gun was thus killed by the Fire God at Yu Mountain. For three years his corpse did not decay, but instead Gun’s abdomen produced new life. The Gods sent a deity to Yu Mountain to cut open Gun's belly with the Wu knife. Out jumped a dragon, which was named Yu. After Yu’s birth, Gun’s body transformed into a yellow bear (or yellow dragon), which leapt into a deep pool and vanished.

Yu took over the task his father had not finished and continued to fight the flood. Gods sent deities to help Yu. One of them, Bo Yi, burned the woods and vegetation, chased out the animals, and unclogged the waterways. Yu, the dragon, helped survey and direct the waterways. At the initial stages, Yu also obtained two treasures. Fu Xi gave Yu a jade tablet to survey the world. The river spirit offered him the River Picture, which was a map of the waterways and a guide to regulating water’s flow. With the deities’ help and the two treasures, as well as cooperation from the local people, Yu thus made great progress in taming the flood. Rivers were directed east through the waterways and flowed towards the sea, exposing land where people could live.

After the flood waters subsided, people returned to the plains and again enjoyed good and prosperous lives. Yu’s great achievement brought reverence and he was given the imperial throne by Shun. Yu set the national capital at An Yi and established the Xia Dynasty.

On his death bed, Yu wanted to follow the example of Yao and Shun to reward merit, and so he passed the throne to Yi, who worked with him in taming the flood. But Yu’s son, Qi, was a very capable and a sage who all the people favored. Following the people’s wish, Qi took the throne. After Qi died, he passed the throne to his son, Tai Kang, and after Tai Kang, his brother Zhong Kang ascended to the throne. By doing so, a hereditary monarchy was henceforth established.

Tang Overthrew the Xia Dynasty

The Xia Dynasty passed through several generations, finally perishing under the rule of Emperor Jie. Jie did not cultivate virtue or govern the nation diligently. He simply indulged himself in luxury, while the common folk lived in poverty and misery. Complaints and resentment could be heard in all directions, and under these circumstances, Tang dispatched troops to battle with Xia soldiers, defeating them at Li Mountain. Tang exiled Jie to the South Nest, thus bringing the Xia Dynasty’s 400-year reign—from Yu the Great to Emperor Jie—to an end.

After Tang overthrew the Xia Dynasty, he established the Shang Dynasty. Tang was a saint emperor who treated the worthy and scholarly with courtesy and showed concern for the common people. During his reign, a big drought came which lasted seven years. After divination, it was suggested to offer a human life as sacrifice in order to pray for rain. Tang did not have the heart to sacrifice anyone’s life, so he said calmly, “Let me be the sacrifice if we must do it this way!” Then he made a confession to God, asking for the blame to be put on him. Touched by his sincerity, God let the rains pour down, ending the drought.

Writing Reflection
1. What have you learned from the story of the rise and fall of the Xia Dynasty? Is it essential for an emperor to cultivate his virtue? Should people’s likes and dislikes be considered?
2. The story of Yu regulating waterways reminds us that there are similar flood stories in other mythologies. Please search for related information and write down a similar story.

Simplified Chinese: http://www.zhengjian.org/node/43171


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