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The Confucian virtue of learning

The Three Character Classic is a 13th century Chinese text with three characters per line which is traditionally read by children. Below is an excerpt from the 1812 translation by Robert Morrison, Presbyterian missionary and author of the first Chinese-English dictionary.

Chung-ni [another name for Confucius] once called a boy of ten years of age his instructor; for, of old, even perfect and wise men learned diligently.

Chao, when he held the office of Chung-ling, read Sun-yu. Though filling so high a situation, he yet learned diligently – so much so, that he never laid the book out of his hand.

In the time of the emperor Sung, Lu-wen-shu was constantly looking over the books engraven on leaves.

Wu-yao made leaves of the reed bamboo, by paring it thin. Though he did not possess books [as we do], he exerted himself in the pursuit of knowledge.

Sun-king suspended his head by its hair to the beam of his house, to prevent his sleeping over his books.

Su-tsin pricked his thigh with an awl, to prevent his sleeping.

Those persons, though not taught, of themselves rigorously pursued their studies.

Che-yin, when a boy, being poor, read his book by the light of a glow-worm which he confined. And Sun-kang, in winter, read his book by the light reflected from snow. Though their families were poor they studied incessantly.

Chu-mai-chin, though he subsisted by carrying fire-wood round the town to sell, yet carefully read his book. At last he became capable of, and filled a public office.

Li-mie, while watching his cattle in the field, always had his book at hand, suspended to the horn of a cow. These two persons, though their bodies were wearied by labor yet studied hard.

Su-lao-tsiuen, at the age of twenty-seven years began to exert himself, and read a great many books. He, when at that age, repented of his delay: you, a little boy, should early consider.

Leang-hao, at the age of eighty-two, was permitted to answer the emperor in his palace, and was placed at the head of all the literati. In the evening of life his wishes were fulfilled, and all spoke of his extraordinary learning. You, a little boy, ought to determine to pursue your studies.

Yung, at eight hears of age could recite the Odes. Li-pi, at seven years of age could play chess. These clever and studious boys were called by everyone wonderful. You, youths, ought to imitate them.

Tsai-wen-ki could play a stringed instrument. Sie-tao-wen could sing well. These ladies were clever. You, who are a gentleman, ought at an early time of life, to perfect that which is suitable.

Chin-tung, a remarkable lad, was raised by the emperor to fill the office of Ching-tsi. He, though a youth, was made a public officer. Do you, youths, exert yourselves to learn, and you may arrive at the same. Let all who make learning their pursuit be as those persons whom we have mentioned.

It is natural for a dog to watch at night, and for a cock to crow in the morning; if anyone does not learn, how can he be called a man?

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