Friday, October 09, 2009

three-hundred- thousand - 三百千

When we were a kid, mum used to tell us over dinner that when she first started schooling – one of the text that she recited was the primer – Three Character Classic - san zi jing - 三字经

That was in early years of the 1930/s, and a decade & more after the 1919 May Fourth Movement in China, which revolutionized Chinese as a language – a watershed from classical Chinese to modern day Chinese. Among other things, classical education were frown upon by the intelligentsia.

However, in the small town of Menglembu, on the outskirt of Ipoh, & some where in the south seas – the Nanyang – 南洋 - the classics were still then a very much a part of the primary school text.

Among them were the :
Three Character Classic – 三字经 - Sanzhi jing
Hundred Family Surnames - 百家姓 – Baijia xìng
Thousand Character Classic - 千字文) - Qianji wen

Subsequently, when these texts were done away with in the school curriculum, and replaced by modern day primer, these classics managed to made it’s way into the family thro the yearly Almanac - 通書 – Tong shu or - 通勝 - Tong sheng.

As a kid, I would often flip thro the pages, and being educated in English in a mission school, the pages were Greek. Nevertheless, I was curious of what was written in there, and without the pinyin notations, neither could I pronounce the words.

These were part of the many early cultural mysteries that has enthralled me since. It was a part of the Chinese-cultural roots and make-up that I was trying to unravel –

And along the way, an interesting encounter -

The Purge –

The Three-Hundred-Thousand Classics, were almost annihilated in the first 30years of New China. In the later years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1970), Confucius was purged. I recall the cover title in Mastika – a Malay language magazine - ‘Mao nak bunuh orang yang telah mati ‘ - Mao want to kill a dead person.’

As part of the DX-ing hobby, one of the many stations that I used to tune in to was Radio Beijing, and particularly the campaign to - Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius - 批林批孔 - pilin pikong.

The traditional value system expounded in the classics, with a two-thousand year old heritage and more, was scorned upon and purged in the political wild fire of the 1960’s and 1970’s – in the land of origin.

However, much of this value system was a matter-of-factly continued to be transmitted from mother-to-son in the Chinese communities beyond.

The Resurrection -

Well, of late, from the gaige kaifang - 改革开放- the opening up of the New China to the outside world in 1978 and especially so in the last five years, Fortune has once again found favor in Thee-Hundred-Thousand.

Speakers interpreting the Classics, and expounding Confucian thoughts have nowadays become celebrities, and ...

...To be rich & famous is glorious!

Postscript :

1. Majalah Mastika

With a aim to improve Bahasa Malaysia –a compulsory language subject in the MCE Malaysian Certificate of Education Examinations - Form 5 ‘O’ level, used to purchase this Malay language magazine & the other was Dewan Masyarakat .

Mastika – a monthly publication similar in size to Reader’s Digest , with articles on general knowledge – world and local happenings.

2. A cycle of 60 years –壽 - 寿 & China’s National Day celebration – Oct 01.

In the traditional way of counting one’s age, the 60th year is much more important than the 50th, and it is accord a special word known as – shou – written in the full script as 壽 - or in the simplified script as 寿 .

A sexagenarian has completed a cycle of - jia zi - 甲子- in the Chinese calendar of heavenly stems and earthly braches -天干地支 .

The previous - 寿 – shou - celebration on such a grand scale, was perhaps last done when Emperor Qianlong 乾隆帝 (1711-1799)of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) celebrated his 60th year reign. – 1796.

Perhaps, the Thee-Hundred-Thousand – and the classics will continue to exert a moderating influence on the new found pride and confidence of a New-New China.

–contrary to man being a sinner from birth, human was born inherently good nature ….

- to quote the opening phrase in : Three Character Classic – 三字经 - Sanzhi jing :

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 yuan) Their habits make them different

3. 三百千 Three-Hundred-Thousand

百家姓 三字经 千字文 第子规
新疆少年出版社出版, 1996年7月第一版

第二站 :广州市, 古籍书店购
- purchased in Guangzhou on trip to ancestral village Songkou, Meixian

References –