Three Character Classic

Three Character Classic

The Three Character Classic, Trimetric Classic or San Zi Jing (zh-ts|t=三字經|s=三字经) is one of the Chinese classic texts. It was probably written in the 13th century and attributed to Wang Yinglin (王應麟, 1223-1296) during the Song Dynasty. It is also attributed to Ou Shizi (區適子, 1234-1324).

The work is not one of the traditional six Confucian classics, but rather the embodiment of Confucian thought suitable for teaching young children. Until the latter part of the 19th century, it served as a child's first formal education at home. The text is written in triplets of characters for easy memorization. With illiteracy common for most people at the time, the oral tradition of reciting the classic ensured its popularity and survival through the centuries. With the short and simple text arranged in three-character verses, children learned many common characters, grammar structures, elements of Chinese history and the basis of Confucian morality.

The text fell into disuse during the Cultural Revolution given the State's opposition to feudal ideologies. The classic, however, continued to circulate in other parts of the Chinese-speaking world with its inclusion in the "Chinese Almanac" (通勝) along with several other classics such as the "Thousand Character Classic".

The first four verses state the core "credo" of Confucianism as developed by Confucius' follower Mencius. The idea was enshrined in the state orthodoxy for the most part of imperial Chinese period: Human nature is good and unique.

::::::人之初 ("rén zhī chū") People at birth,
::::::性本善 ("xìng běn shàn") Are naturally good.
::::::性相近 ("xìng xiāng jìn") Their natures are similar,
::::::習相遠 ("xí xiāng yuǎn") Their habits make them different.

Even nowadays, the above two introductory quotes are very familiar to most youths in mainland China and Taiwan, if not known by heart. Though it is no longer taught at public schools, some parents still use this classic to teach their infants to pronounce words. It is an occasional elementary school game for children to and show off who can recite the most sentences from this classic.


The most well-known English translation of the text was completed by Herbert Giles in 1900 and revised in 1910. The translation was based on the original Song version. Giles had completed an earlier translation in the late 1800s but he rejected that and other early translations as inaccurate. The early translations into English include: Robert Morrison, 1812; Solomon Caesar Malan & Hung Hsiu-ch'üan, 1856; Stanislas Julien, 1864.

The following stanzas do not appear in the Giles translation and originally appeared in Simplified Chinese. They list the dynasties that followed Song up to and including the founding of republican China. These stanzas were probably added cumulatively sometime between late 13th century and after the founding of the People's Republic of China.

¹ this line replaces the original one in the Song version where it says "The Seventeen Dynastic Histories... 十七史...".

See also

* [ The Complete Original Text of the Trimetric Classic on Chinese Wikipedia.]


*cite book | author=Rutledge, Jayne (Translator) | title=Three Character Primer | year=2005 | id=ISBN 7807021489 Original Chinese Text plus pinyin, modern Chinese translation, modern Chinese commentary and stories, plus complete translation of all material into English.

External links

* [ On-line learner's edition at Yellowbridge site]
* [ Another site with San Zi Jing, Pin-Yin, and Modern Chinese and English translation]
* [ Read and hear the audio at this Chinese/English site]
* [ Another site with audio of the San Zi Jing - Chinese only]
* [ The Three Character Classic in Chinese with the Herbert Giles English Translation.]
* [ Another English translation.]
* [ Its debated revival in mainland China.]

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