Dizi Gui (弟子规) (Standards for Being a Good Student and Child) is an ancient Chinese text for children that teaches moral values and proper etiquette. It was written during the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (康熙帝) (1661-1722) by Li Yuxiu.
Beneath the conservative, “old-school” verbose of this ancient classic, one can still find gems of wisdom that remain surprisingly relevant to our modern society. A new lesson is covered in each issue.
We’ve come to the final part of the series, Lessons from Dizi Gui, where we cover the last two sentences of this classic text.
The very last words of wisdom that Dizi Gui imparts are also the most important words the author wants its readers to remember—lessons that encapsulate the book’s teachings, and that one should carry with oneself through life. And this is the first of the two lessons to take to heart:
“Books not written by the sages should be discarded and not even looked at. Such books cloud the intellect and corrupt one’s heart and aspirations.”
Here, we learn about the power of life-long learning and self-improvement. We must remain conscious of how we spend our limited time in this world, and the content we fill our minds with.
Like our own bodies, a healthy mind arises from being nourished and challenged with the right content and values on a daily basis.
Books not written by the sages should be discarded and not even looked at. Such books cloud the intellect and corrupt one’s heart and aspirations.
Don’t get angry with yourself; don’t give up on yourself. Becoming a person of high moral standards and virtue is something we can all attain in time.
On the other hand, if we fill our minds day after day with unsavoury and toxic things, the damage will become apparent many years down the road. A toxic and confused mind without wisdom, clarity, or virtue can be one of the worst things for a person to live with.
Emperor Kangxi knew very well that one’s character was influenced by what one’s mind learned, particularly from a young age.
“When I was young I would read a classic text aloud 120 times, then I would recite it from memory 120 times, no less.”
Emperor Kangxi’s Study Methods: Reciting a Book 120 times
Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, one of China’s greatest emperors, knew very well that one’s character was influenced by what one’s mind learned, particularly from a young age.
He thus applied this to his large family of 35 sons and 20 daughters. Besides teaching his children hands-on experiences by taking them to hunting expeditions, inspection tours, and even to the warfront, Kangxi placed an even bigger emphasis on his children’s schooling.
The princes had a designated classroom named “Wu Yi Zhai” (Room of No Leisure). Every day from 4-7 am, the princes revised and committed to memory the day’s study material, which were predominantly ancient Chinese classic texts written by the sages.
When the princes could recite the assigned study material perfectly, the teachers would then allocate the next paragraph of material to memorise.
Twice a day, after leaving the royal court, Emperor Kangxi would personally come to check on the princes’ studies. He would randomly select a paragraph from a book, and the princes would recite the paragraph from heart. He would also make the princes stand in line and take turns reciting to him.
Kangxi himself knew the value of memorising the wisdom of ancient Chinese texts, having done so himself.
“When I was young I would read a classic text aloud 120 times, then I would recite it from memory 120 times, no less. It was not until I memorised each paragraph that I moved on to the next paragraph. I learned the lesson paragraph by paragraph,” he said.
With such hardworking and exacting standards, it’s no surprise that Kangxi was such a highly educated and successful emperor.
During his inspection tours around China, Kangxi never stopped studying, whether it was on a boat or in a hotel. His literary preferences were the great and profound classical texts, including The Book of Changes, Annals of Zuo, Documents of the Elder, and The Book of Odes.
Kangxi also learned medicine, mathematics, geography and technology from the Jesuits, and applied this knowledge to improving his rule.
Under his strict tutelage, Kangxi’s heirs also developed various types of talents, in politics, scholarship, the sciences, arts and calligraphy, and in moral values.
Sima Qian (司马迁) Endures Humiliation to Complete His Greatest Work
The final lesson from Dizi Gui is a wise and encouraging one:
“Don’t get angry with yourself; don’t give up on yourself. Becoming a person of high moral standards and virtue is something we can all attain in time.”
The Records of the Grand Historian (史记) are one of the earliest and grandest historical records in China’s history. Completed around 100 BC, it covers 3,000 years of Chinese civilisation, from the rise of the Yellow Emperor to the reign of Emperor Wu of Han during the author’s time.
This historic masterpiece, however, came at a heavy price for its author, Sima Qian, who was made to endure extreme humiliation and suffering in order to complete these records.
Sima Qian’s father, Sima Tan, was the court’s Grand Historian when he became inspired to write the Records. However, he died before he could finish his work. On his death bed, Sima Tan made his tearful son promise to finish the work that he could not.
Sima Qian later assumed his father’s position of Grand Historian, and threw himself into completing the Records. But before he could even finish the rough draft, his life was turned completely upside-down.