Cambridge Chinese Classics

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三字经 The Three-Character Classic


The Three Character Classic or Sanzijing is one of the Chinese Meng Xue (elementary study) texts dating back to Song dynasty (960 - 1279). The author is generally accepted to be Wang Yinglin, although the text is also attributed to Ou Shizi, another scholar in Song dynasty. Sanzjing is a traditional text for teaching young children, together with Qianziwen (the Thousand Character Classic), Baijiaxing (the Hundred Families Surnames), etc, serve as the first few texts for Sishu (old-style Chinese private school).

As the name suggests, Sanzijing is written in rhymed couplets of three characters for easy reading and remembrance. Children usually would recite it as a group, accompanies with the swaying of the body to give it a proper rhythm. By using simple and easy-to-understand language, it covers a wide range of topics, such as literature, philosophy, geography, history, etc. It also introduces the essentials of Confucian doctrines like the importance of education, filial piety, family and social relations, etc., and some exemplary figures on Confucian behaviour to motivate the students.

After its introduction in Song dynasty, there was constant revisions and additions,especially to its history part, leading to a variety of editions.