Mother Reads the 3-Character Classic To Me

Mother reads the San Zi Jing from the Tung Sing for me

Abstract: My mother taught me the San Zi Jing (三字經), the 3-Character Classic of traditional China. One of the most profound passage is the description of the mother of Mencius, one of the greatest scholars and philosophers of Old China, who shifted house many times to accommodate the son’s inquisitive nature for learning.

My mother will be 93 this year in May by the lunar calendar.

Her ambulatory movement is still good, though weak. She walks slowly with the aid of a quad base walking stick. Suffering from acute osteoporosis, her lower thoracic and lumbar vertebrae in her spinal cord have fused, causing her to bend forward for half a right angle. Despite that, she walks with a graceful gait like an upper class well-to-do Mandarin nobility. 

Mother is connected to Whatsapp, Wechat, Facebook and YouTube with her smart phone

Her eyesight is excellent. She may have some hearing problem as one of her ear drum was pierced some years ago. Doctor has advised not to repair the eardrum because of her age. She still can hear well.

She reads the vernacular Chinese newspaper daily. With a smart phone, she is on Whatsapp, Wechat, Facebook and YouTube.

Mother chatting with one of her relatives from Guangzhou.

We have a Grandmother Group Chat on Whatsapp, where she reads our messages and forwards. She will send or record a congratulatory birthday message to us on our birthdays. She chats with her relatives in Guangzhou on Wechat. On Facebook she follows the news on the black shirt protest in Hong Kong, the status of the Covid-19 worldwide and other posts of interest. On YouTube she watches her favorite Shaw Brother operas and movies of yesteryear, Buddhism, lifestyle, health, or click on any links which interest her.

Mother with me and her two grandchildren.

I recorded a lot of our conversations on audio and video tape. This is one of those occasions which I have video-taped.

Mother and Yours faithfully.

I was educated in a pure English stream when young. My mother taught me Cantonese since my younger days, so I can recognize a lot of Chinese characters. My spoken Mandarin is half-baked.

The Three Character Classic is one of my favorite which I learnt from my mother. Commonly known as the San Zi Jing (三字經), it was probably written in the 13th century. It is the embodiment of the Confucianism school of thoughts and served as a child’s formal education at home in China.

The yearly Chinese Almanac with the San Zi Jing.

Annually, I would purchase a copy of the Tung Sing (通勝), which is a Chinese divination guide and almanac. It consists primarily of a calendar based on the Chinese lunar year. The San Zi Jing as a Chinese Classic appeared in every publication of that book.

The San Zi Jing is written in triplets of characters. With illiteracy common for most people in early China, the San Zi Jing is easy to memorize. The oral tradition of reciting the classic by rote ensures its popularity and survival over the centuries.

The first four verses form the core credo of Confucianism thoughts. As developed by Mencius, who is considered to be one of the most influential traditional Chinese philosophers alongside Confucius, it states that human nature is inherently good.

人之初 (rén zhī chū) People at birth,

性本善 (xìng běn shàn) Are naturally good (kind-hearted).

性相近 (xìng xiāng jìn) Their natures are similar,

习相遠 (xí xiāng yuǎn) But their habits make them different.

In the subsequent verse, 昔孟母, 擇鄰處, it translates as “The mother of Mencius, shifted house many times.”

In her narrative, my mother explained:

The mother of Mencius noticed her son was an inquisitive young boy. He liked to learn and imitate what his neighbour was doing. So, she shifted house a couple of times to enable him to learn new things. 

At one time they had a neighbour who was a carpenter. Mencius learnt woodwork. However, her mother felt that being a carpenter may be good, it might not be suitable for his son.

So, she thought Mencius would be educated if they stayed near a school. They were too poor to afford an enrolment. So, she shifted house again to be near a school.

Mencius would often squat outside the classroom to learn reading and writing from the schoolteacher.

Subsequently, the teacher noticed that a young boy had often been squatting outside the classroom. Then, he invited Mencius to come inside to join the class.

Mencius would later become one of the most learned Chinese scholars and philosophers in olden China.

Mother with my sister and yours truly. She was 18 months then when they came to Malaya from Canton.

This is indeed an inspiration!

My mother has lived through the period of the Nationalist Government under Chiang Kei-Shek, the Second World War II, the communist proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, the purging of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class of landowners of whom my father’s family was one) under the communist regime and her subsequent lonely, hazardous journey from Canton (present day Guangzhou) to Nanyang (present day Malaysia) with only my sister, who was then 18 months old, on her back.

I have made several video recordings of my mother. 

Mother and her two great grand children, who often gives her some help on her smart phone.

She has a phenomenal memory and can recall events that happened since she was young. She is also a good narrator and storyteller. All these would be good food for my later postings. 

Just you wait! 


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