The Chinese Repository/Volume 1/Number 6/Literary Notices

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2448579The Chinese Repository, Volume 1, Number 6 — Literary Notice1832


San tsze ko, suh keae, "Songs of three characters, with colloquial explanations," or the Sacred Edict in rhyme. 16mo. 38 leaves. 1816.

This little book was composed and printed under the reign of the late Emperor Keaking. The edition before us was prepared,—in imitation of the celebrated school book, called the San tsze king, or "classic of three characters,"—by Le Lae-chang, magistrate of the mountaineer district of Leen-shan, in Canton province; and was chiefly intended for the use of the Yaou tribes under his jurisdiction.

The Shing-yu, or Sacred Edict,—the foundation of the little book before us,—has obtained considerable note among European sinologues, from the able translation given of it by the late Dr Milne of Malacca. That work is divided into sixteen sections, containing sixteen maxims of the Emperor Kanghe, followed by amplifications by the Emperor Yungching, and colloquial paraphrases by Wang-yew-po, a high officer of state.—The 'Sacred Edict in rhyme,' is in like manner divided into sixteen sections. Each section is headed by one of Kanghe's maxims, and consists of twelve stanzas or verses, of twelve characters, or four lines, each. The subject matter of these verses is chiefly taken from the paraphrase of Wang-yew-po; but each line consisting of but three characters, the conciseness of the style often renders it almost unintelligible, without the aid of the colloquial explanation which follows each verse. This latter is written in a plain and easy style,—and generally shews very clearly the meaning of the text.

As a specimen of the work, we subjoin a translation of the first section. To make the meaning clear, it has been requisite to weave parts of the explanation into the text. But, though not closely literal, no Chinese idea has been sacrificed, nor any English one introduced, to render the translation readable. The Chinese begins thus,

Tun heaou te, e chung jin lun.

Meen hwae paou,
Peih san neen;
Foo moo gan
Tang haou Teen.
&c. &c. &c.

"Be regardful of the filial and fraternal duties, in order to give importance to the human relations."

The parents' tender care can be dispensed,
Not till three anxious years their child they've nursed;
A father's watchful toil, a mother's love—
E'en with high Heaven equality demand.

Let, then, the son his parents' board provide
With meat nutritious,—and from winter's cold,
With warmest silk their feeble frames defend;
Nor with their downward years his efforts cease.

When walking, let his arm their steps support;
When sitting, let him in attendance wait.
With tender care let him their comfort seek;
With fond affection all their wishes meet.

When pain and sickness do their strength impair,
Be all his fears and all his love aroused;—
Let him with quickened steps best medicine seek;
And the most skilled physicians' care invite.

And when, at length, the great event[1] doth come,
Be shrowd and coffin carefully prepared.
Yea, throughout life, by offerings and prayer.
Be parents present to his rev'rent thoughts.

Ye children, who this Sacred Edict hear.
Obey its mandates, and your steps direct
Tow'rds duty's paths;—for whoso doth not thus,
How is he worthy of the name of man?

The senior brother first, the junior next,
Such is the order in which men are born;
Let then the junior, with sincere respect,
Obey the sage's rule,—the lower station keep.

Let him, in walking, to the elder yield,
At festive boards, to th' elder give first place:
Whether at home he stay, or walk abroad.
Ne'er let him treat the elder with neglect.

Should some slight cause occasion angry strife.
Let each recal his thoughts once and again;
Nor act till ev'ry point he thrice hath turned;
Remembering whence they both at first have sprung.

Though, like two twigs which from one stem diverge,
Their growth perhaps cloth tend tow'rd different points:
Yet search unto the root, they still are joined;
One sap pervades the twigs,—one blood the brothers' veins.

In boyish sports, how often have they joined!
Or played together round their parents' knee!
And now, when old, shall love quick turn to hate,
While but few days are left them yet to love?

Hear, then, this Sacred Edict and obey,
Leave ev'ry unkind thought; what 's past forget:
While singing of fraternal union's joys,
Remember that there's pleasure yet behind.

  1. This expression is used emphatically for a parent's decease, which "is the greatest event of a man's life."