Ancient Chinese Wisdom: Gems of Chinese Classics Illustrated Version

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Throughout China’s long history, classic texts have played a vital role in shaping the country and influencing the daily lives of its people. In this series of short articles, we introduce classic texts spanning more than 3,000 years and covering everything from medicine, mathematics and military strategy to religion, literature, arts and travel.

About the Author

Born in Shanghai in 1949, ZHANG Ciyun (Peter) graduated from Jilin Normal University, PRC with a major in English and later from Stanford University in the United States with a Master’s Degree in Journalism. Since 1980, he has worked for several newspapers and magazines in both Beijing and Shanghai. Also, he once served in the General Office of the Ministry of Communications as an interpreter and the Information Office of Shanghai Municipality as its Deputy General Director.
An acclaimed translator, reporter and editor, Mr. Zhang has helped bring into existence four English-language newspapers on the Chinese mainland, namely, China Daily, Beijing Weekend, Shanghai Star and Shanghai Daily. He is now the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Shanghai Daily and an executive council member of Translation Association of China. He has translated and co-translated more than a dozen books and a large amount of documents, including Strange Stories of Liao Zhai Studio and the English version of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. He has also published many English and Chinese articles and theses in newspapers and magazines both in China and overseas.

Table of Contents

三 字 经
Three Character Classic
千 字 文
Thousand Character Classic
百 家 姓
Hundred Family Surnames
周 易
Book of Changes
考 工 记
The Records of Examination of Craftsmen
山 海 经
The Classic of Mountains and Seas
Monthly Instructions for Four Classes of People
The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art
Essential Techniques for the Welfare of the People
水 经 注
Commentary on the Waterways Classic
缀 术
The Method of Interpolation
Materia Medica for Dietotherapy
茶 经
The Classic of Tea
酒 经
The Classic of Wine and Spirits
Dream Pool Essays
授 时 历
The Season-Granting Calendar
Tiangong Kaiwu Encyclopedia
A Complete Treatise on Agriculture
The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon
难 经
The Yellow Emperor’s Canon of 81 Difficult Issues
伤 寒 论
Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders
Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold
Compendium of Materia Medica
春 秋
The Spring and Autumn Annals
史 记
Records of the Grand Historian
Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government
诗 经
The Book of Songs
离 骚
The Lament
Explaining and Analyzing Characters
The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons
唐 诗
Tang Poetry
宋 词
Song Lyric Poetry
西 厢 记
Romance of the West Chamber
窦 娥 冤
The Injustice to Dou E
牡 丹 亭
The Peony Pavilion
西 游 记
Journey to the West
水 浒 传
Water Margin
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
红 楼 梦
A Dream of Red Mansions
金 瓶 梅
The Plum in the Golden Vase
Strange Stories of Liaozhai
The Scholars
The Ultimate Anthology of Ancient Prose
道 德 经
The Book of Virtue
论 衡
Discourses Weighted in the Balance
盐 铁 论
Discourses on Salt and Iron
金 刚 经
The Diamond Sutra
坛 经
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch
兰 亭 序
Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion
The Art of War
Thirty-Six Stratagems
The Travelogue of Xu Xiake

Sample Pages Preview

Three Character Classic
Making characters as easy as 1-2-3
“Three Character Classic” was one of the most popular texts for elementary education in China for more than 700 years until the middle of last century. Almost all children at school used to be required to recite the text of 1,248 Chinese characters in three-character verses for easy memorization.
Many historians have attributed this text to Wang Yinglin (1223-1296), a famous scholar of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). But they say that the version we see today was revised by later scholars because it contains content about history after the Southern Song Dynasty.
As a writer and scholar of Chinese classics and history, Wang obtained the title of “Presented Scholar,” a graduate of the Imperial Palace examination, at the age of 18. Three years later, he was appointed as an official of today’s Quzhou City in his home province of Zhejiang in eastern China. The highest office Wang ever held was the Director of the Board of Rites in the Imperial Court.
It was said that Wang authored “Three Character Classic” in order to spread Confucian classics and knowledge of Chinese history among children. Therefore, he wrote the text both short and simple and arranged it all into three-character verses, very suitable for reading and reciting.
As a result, even today, more than 60 years after it stopped being used as a text for primary schools, many people in China can still recite some of its most readable verses.
“Three Character Classic” is divided into six parts, each focusing on a specific topic. It begins with four verses about the core belief of Confucianism:
“People at birth,
All innately kind.
Natures are alike,
But habits different.”
Then, it goes on to preach traditional Chinese values, such as to follow filial piety, to observe the proprieties, to respect teachers and to be diligent and to study hard.
It even mentions an ancient episode concerning Kong Rong (153-208 AD), a Han Dynasty writer and descendant of Confucius. As a boy of 10, Kong was asked to divide two pears between his younger brother and himself. Kong gave the bigger one to his brother while keeping a smaller one for himself.
The story has been told for centuries in China to encourage young students to take after Kong’s humbleness and generosity.
In addition to teaching children the basics of math, Chinese language, music and science, the text also lists titles of important Chinese classics in Confucianism and works of other ancient philosophers.
The text tells students that before one begins to study Chinese history, he or she must first become versed in those classic master works.
After expounding all kinds of knowledge and principles, the classic text tells students in conclusion that people studying and working hard will be eventually rewarded, while those who waste their time on play will regret of it one day.
Because of its rich content, beautiful verses and simple style, it was translated into Mongolian and Manchu languages during the Yuan and Qing dynasties. In the early years of Meiji Reign (1868-1912), it was widely used as a text in private schools in Japan.
Later, it was also translated into English, French and Italian.
Now, it has been listed by UNESCO as one of its recommended children’s readings worldwide.
Later, people also tried to imitate the writing style of “Three Character Classic” to spread knowledge of specific subjects and religions. So, for many hundreds of years, a good number of books have been published in China in the “three-character” style.
Titles include: “Three Character Classic for Females,” “Three Character Classic of Geology,” “Three Character Classic of Medicine,” “Three Character Classic of Military,” “Three Character Classic of Buddhism” and “Three Character Classic of Taoism.”

Ancient Chinese Wisdom: Gems of Chinese Classics Illustrated Version