The Dizi Gui (弟子规) is an ancient Chinese text for children that was written in the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (康熙帝) (1661-1722) by Li Yuxiu. Below are excerpts from the Dizi Gui translated by Evan Mantyk.

 

Disciples rules are what the Sage is teaching:
“First honor parents and then be trustworthy;
Be near to kindness, and with love be reaching;
With any strength remaining, you must study.”

弟子规,圣人训
首孝弟, 次谨信
泛爱众,而亲仁
有余力,则学文

 

“When parents call, you answer, be express.
When they command, you act, no laziness.
When parents teach, you listen, be adept.
When parents reprimand, you must accept.”

父母呼,应勿缓
父母命,行勿懒
父母教,须敬听
父母责,須我承

 

“The older brother’s friendly, the younger shows respect;
Such harmony is what your parents should expect.”

兄道友,弟道恭
兄弟睦,孝在中

 

“When money’s taken lightly, no anger grows;
When words are tolerated, resentment slows.”

财物轻,怨何生
言语忍,愤自泯

 

“In eating and drinking, in walking and sitting,
First senior then junior, for that is what’s fitting.”

或饮食,或坐走
长者先,幼者後

 

“High conduct makes high reputation;
High looks may fail in valuation.”

行高者,名自高
人所重,非貌高

 

“Where there is great ability
Great fame comes quite naturally.
Respect comes not from use
of speech with great agility.”

才大者,望自大
人所服,非言大

 

“Don’t read the books that do not come from sages;
They wreck the intellect with cloudy pages.
Do not abuse yourself and don’t give up;
The virtue of a saint will come in stages.”

非圣书,屏勿視
蔽聪明,坏心志
勿自暴,勿自弃
圣与賢,可馴致

 

 


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9 Responses

  1. Sultana Raza

    To Evan, first of all, congratulations on translating these in rhyme, as I’m sure that’s never easy to do from another language, specially from two such vastly different ones such as Chinese and English. Though I can’t read Chinese, the alphabet seems to be very beautiful. Also, generally speaking, I appreciate the fine details in Chinese paintings, though I’m not all that familiar with the different schools, and styles, and periods of Chinese art.
    I’d like to mention that most of these values are the same in the Indian tradition too. They’re still upheld to varying degrees, specially in small towns and amongst the rural populations. Or at least people try to respect some of these values. However, the millennials are very different, as is the case all over the world. On the one hand, globalisation has brought cultures closer, on the other it’s also led to the erosion of certain core traditions, which is a pity.

    Reply
  2. Joe Tessitore

    Utterly charming
    And written by a parent –
    Most disarming!

    Reply
  3. Rod

    Sage values indeed…… and how they are needed today! Congratulations Evan on a fine job of work.

    Reply
  4. Alan

    “Disciples rules are what the Sage is teaching:”

    Should there be an apostrophe after “Disciples”?

    “When money’s taken lightly, no anger grows;
    When words are tolerated, resentment slows.”

    These are my favorite lines from your translation. They remind me of some proverbs from the Bible:

    Do not weary yourself to gain wealth,
    Cease from your consideration of it.
    When you set your eyes on it, it is gone.
    For wealth certainly makes itself wings
    Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.
    (Proverbs 23:4-5)

    A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger,
    And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
    (Proverbs 19:11)

    “Where there is great ability
    Great fame comes quite naturally.
    Respect comes not from use
    of speech with great agility.”

    Does this mean, essentially, “actions speak louder than words,” or that we shouldn’t brag about our accomplishments, or something else?

    Reply
    • Evan Mantyk

      Alan, no, I didn’t want to indicate possession here and was only using “disciples” as an adjective to describe the content of the rules. The idea, or my interpretation of it, is that they are the Sage’s rules for the disciples. Why not have singular “disciple rules” in that case? Because in Chinese the division between singular and plural is a quite vague and the vagueness, by its nature, leans toward plural and there is also the multitudinous nature of Chinese civilization, which led Marco Polo to title his book “Il Milione” (“The Million”).

      Thank you for the Bible quotes. These are indeed universal, traditional values that resonate across civilizations.

      I think you basically have the right maxim. “Talk is cheap” also implies. The component missing is that renown and respect is acquired naturally through physical deeds, not through careful verbal maneuvering, what we might think of as hot hair and the endless posturing of scripted politicians who seem to talk smoothly and intelligently.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Evan,

        As for the faithfulness of your translations, it is impossible for me to say. But as apothegms for the ages, they all ring true. I am reminded of Kipling’s verse, which, to paraphrase, went something like this:

        Children should behave at table,
        At least as well as they are able.

        I’ve gotten this wrong , and it’s incomplete, but in any case the traditional Chinese standard is a bit stricter. How sad that such a magnificent culture has been destroyed by the Communists.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Thanks, Evan, for giving us a taste of fine short poems in Chinese. Would it be possible for you or someone you know to provide an audio of traditional Chinese chanting of verses of similar length? I ask because you have reminded me of a lecture I attended several years ago.
    The lecturer was a Chinese man (now a professor of English) who interpreted a Chinese poem first by chanting it beautifully, and then explaining the formal relationship of words in what was (I believe) a 16 by 16 array of characters. The form proved to be more complex than that of a lengthy Petrarchan canzone or the most elaborate French forms. The lecture astounded a hall filled mostly with Asia experts. One recent PhD in Chinese literature asked why he had never been taught about such form. The lecturer answered (I paraphrase), “You did not have time. Even if you came to graduate study with good knowledge of the language, five or six years is only enough to learn poetic vocabulary and become confident in discovering the meaning of classic poems. There is no time for formal analysis. As for my chanting, I learned it from my father. He was a poet who chanted classic poems to me every day from early childhood. My mother was a poet too, and my grandfather.” In other words, this man had been brought up in an elite family of Chinese poetry tradition-bearers. Clearly, he was familiar with poems such as those you have translated from an early age. It is interesting to see some of the three-character increments with which children begin, enabling them to move on to larger and longer arrays.

    Reply
    • Evan Mantyk

      Margaret, traditional chanting is quite beyond my Chinese skill level. However, I have a number of Chinese professors as colleagues and one has promised me an authentic Chinese poetry reading, an art form which has all but died out in modern times. I have copy and pasted to him your message as encouragement to produce. Thank you!

      Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    The translations and the thread of conversation are most engaging, informative and enjoyable – a joy and a privilege to read. Thank you.

    Reply

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