The Seven-step Verse [七步诗]


煮豆燃豆萁, zhu dou ran dou qi

豆在釜中泣, dou zai fu zhong qi

本是同根生, ben shi tong gen sheng

相煎何太急? xiang jian he tai ji

English translation …

Boiling beans to make soup filtering them to extract juice.

The beanstalks were burnt under the cauldron and the beans in the cauldron wailed:-

“We were originally grown from the same root;
Why should we hound each other to death with such impatience?”

Individual character translation.


This is another of my favourite classic poem. I studied it in my Chinese language class at Secondary Four. Brilliantly composed using powerful yet simple imagery of beans and bean stalks depicting the biological relationship between blood brothers.

It’s my privilege to share this with you.

According to legend, the great warlord Cao Cao was succeeded by his son Cao Pi as the King of Wei state. Maybe Cao Pi inherited his father Cao Cao’s extreme suspicion and jealousy traits, he harboured great distrust on his own brother Cao Zhi.

Cao Zhi was a genius in classical literature and the arts. Since Cao Pi kept suspecting that his brother Cao Zhi had intention to usurp his throne, he summoned him to the palace.

Cao Pi using the pretext of Cao Zhi’s reputation as a genius scholar in classical literature, issued an ultimatum to him in his court in front of all his officials. Within seven steps, Cao Zhi had to compose a poem telling King Cao Pi why should he spare his life? Failing which, Cao Zhi would have to be executed.

The King’s brother Cao Zhi with a sad heavy heart and streaming tears walked the seven steps and stopped. With extreme sorrow and soft breaking intermittent frail voice, he recited the above poem comprising four verses with five characters in each verse. Being a genius, he had composed that poem inside his head whilst taking the seven paces!


Having heard the poem recitation by his brother Cao Zhi, King Cao Pi felt remorseful. The powerful metaphor hit him like a thunderbolt. He gave order for Cao Zhi to be released. He did not bother Cao Zhi anymore.

Yes, the beans and the bean stalks are from the same tree – like brothers from the same parent. Yet, the bean stalks are used as fuel to burn whilst the beans are boiling (crying) inside the pot.

Why must they end up in this manner or situation – killing each other?



About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends. At least they know I'm still alive and well. It's a free country. No one is forcing you to read if you don't like what I write. I'm entitled to my own opinions. Having said that, there are still retards, morons and losers out there hiding behind anonymity hurling all kinds of insults and wicked remarks on my blog. I guess we'll just have to live with these cowardly mangy dogs found in any society. Sigh!
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3 Responses to The Seven-step Verse [七步诗]

  1. Alwi says:

    Singapura dilanggar todak 2.0

    APR 1 — Temasek, the old Singapore, was home to a gifted 10-year-old named Hang Nadim. Even at a very young age, he was known to be a bit of an intellectual with a keen grasp of mathematical concepts and a penchant for advanced physics theorem.

    He was probably the most sought after person whenever the island had a seemingly intractable problem that needed solving — water, sand, gambling, town planning — but more of the wee lad later.

    One day, disaster hit Temasek. Schools of horny — and not to mention deadly — ikan todak, or swordfish, started to attack the island at the end of the mating season like Chelsea FC supporters on an Asian Tour.

    Quite inexplicably, they jumped out of the water, spearing and killing Singaporean passport holders, expatriates, and naturalised foreign football players. Their unruly behaviour [1] created havoc all over the island.

    People who came to witness the phenomenon soon tried to flee the beach, but many ended up getting lanced by the ikan todak. It was an absolute carnage, and the death toll soon rose. The chief lifeguard on duty, David Hasselhoff, had no choice but to alert the King of Temasek of the todak onslaught.

    The King hopped on his elephant, which was equipped with a brand new naturally aspirated 5.5-litre V8 engine, and reached the beach in no time with his entourage.

    The mayhem and the scale of the catastrophe were plain to see. There were dead bodies everywhere at the water’s edge, and the King knew he had to act fast.

    He promptly instructed the rakyat to line up along the sandy shore with a parang, or machete, in hand. “Use your body as shield, and use the parang to chop the todak,” he ordered.

    It didn’t sound like a good idea then and — let’s be perfectly honest here — it still sounds like a pretty dumb idea today. Alas, the rakyat had no other choice but to do as told.[2]

    Needless to say, the effort came to nought. The barricade of men did little to stem the tide, and resulted only in further loss of lives mainly attributable to massive loss of blood, sepsis and men accidentally stabbing each other while trying to hack the todak.

    The dead bodies began to pile up, and even those who were not speared by the todak were also rolling all over the place, feigning injury like their national football team.

    Everyone was beginning to freak out as things looked increasingly bleak and hopeless. It was very confusing and incomprehensible, not unlike the lyrics to Justin Bieber’s songs.

    The King was at his wits’ end, and he was desperate to salvage the situation. The calamity was obviously bad for the country’s reputation, bad for business, bad for investors’ confidence, and, of course, bad for voters.

    The King was at the point of fleeing, when someone suggested that he should consult Hang Nadim, the boy genius. Hang Nadim was hastily brought to the palace to deliberate the strategic options to combat the todak blitzkrieg.

    After listening intently to the client’s brief, Hang Nadim gave a seven-page Powerpoint™ presentation to the King and outlined a remarkably simple plan to save Temasek from the deadly todak attacks: fortify the beachline by erecting a barricade of banana tree trunks. This would neutralise the todak threat AND spare the people from being skewered like kebabs.

    The King’s advisers were sceptical and vehemently protested, but were told off by the King.

    “We have nothing to lose by listening to this boy, but everything to gain if it works. Get it done, be proactive, work with a clear end in mind, synergise and think win-win!” barked the King. “I know I may sound like a management consultant now but it is absolutely imperative that we combine our strengths and genuinely strive for a mutually beneficial and sustainable solution.”

    The entire population set upon the task of cutting down banana trees, and it was a good thing too that Temasek was a major banana producing country. It was a weekend, so everyone was pretty happy to work anyway since they are paid overtime at triple the usual daily rate. They hauled the trunks to the shore and before nightfall, the entire island was buttressed by row upon row of banana tree trunks.

    The King’s advisers again derided the whole thing, saying that Temasek would gain no real benefit from the move. This was, of course, mere conjecture on their part, but hey, they were older and had a lot more facial hair, so they must have thought that that was enough reason for their bellyaching.

    The next day, everyone including the King rushed to the shores to check if their plan had worked. Lo and behold, there were literally thousands of struggling todaks with their snouts stuck in the banana tree trunks, trying to wiggle themselves free. The jubilant crowd chopped off the swordfish and Temasek was once again peaceful.

    Hang Nadim was heralded a hero and was rewarded handsomely by the grateful King. The lad was conferred a Datukship,[3] appointed a board member of a GLC, and became lead consultant to the Temasek ruler with comprehensive medical benefits.

    The King’s advisers were fuming with rage that Hang Nadim was being feted by their boss, and heaped with honours, given an expanded job description and plump KPIs. They obviously envied the boy’s intelligence and popularity among the girls, so they vowed to make the King turn against the boy. As you can see, dear readers, fury, jealousy and incompetence are never a good combo.

    They whispered into the King’s ear, “If Hang Nadim can think up such a scheme at such a young age, what kind of a threat would he pose to the palace when he grows up? Your Highness, genius and ambition are a dangerous combination.”

    This obviously got the King all riled up and worried about his future.

    “You are quite right,” the King said. “What if the boy turns Temasek into a republic? Supreme control over the government shall no longer be granted through heritage, and the monarchy — constitutional or otherwise — becomes a relic. I cannot allow that to happen.”

    To make this story slightly longer, the King continued, “What if this boy gangs up with other English-educated middle-class professionals, forms some kind of people action political party, suppresses free speech and other civil liberties, and becomes prime minister for 40,000 years?[4] Clearly, this boy cannot be allowed to live.”

    Hang Nadim was immediately summoned to the palace, stripped of his Datukship, and swiftly sentenced to death with no real legal remedy made available. He did file for constructive dismissal but did not succeed, because unlike this day and age of complete judicial independence, the courts of law in those days were controlled by corrupt judges and under the thumb of the executive with no clear separation of powers. Thankfully, those dark days are now over.

    Thus Hang Nadim the boy genius was executed for being too smart, and for fear that he might grow up ambitious and hungry for power. He was lined up against a wall, pelted with rotten potatoes, and finally executed with a keris.

    Naturally, the insecure palace advisers were dead chuffed, as they looked forward to many more years of festering mediocrity. The whole episode is believed to be one of the earliest documented history of office politics as we know it today, complete with vicious folks, bumbling antagonists and generally idiotic supporting casts.

    Temasek did not remain peaceful for long, as the todak made a more deadly return soon after, descending on the island and harpooning the King, his advisers and all his subjects. It was a dark period in Temasek’s history, where the people were stripped of their sense of humour, an affliction that remains among Singaporeans until today.

    This particular chapter was not one without a happy outcome. As a result of the whole banana tree trunk defence, there were banana leaves scattered all over the island. This triggered a lucrative export business when a Malayan entrepreneur began to import the leaves into the Federated Malay States and started a Kassim Nasi Daun Pisang outlet near Brickfields.

    The franchise thrived over the years until the area was torn down to make way for the construction of KL Sentral and all the posh condos. Well, that’s development for you.


    [1] The ikan todak, not the expatriates.

    [2] Come to think of it, I’d sooner have the management consultants lined up on the shores so that they can be speared to death by the todak.

    [3] The King need not have worried, as history has shown us that this did NOT happen.

    [3] To prevent further swordfish attack on his subjects the King ensure nobody stay on the beach created CPF and made them use it to pay a lease of an overprice HDB flats and land are use to grow banana tree

  2. ape says:

    No no no, Alwi. The King and his advisors did nothing of that. It was the animal activists who eventually led to Hang Nadim’s downfall.

    Seeing all the dead todak, the activists staged a protest march. In the interest of conservation, Hang Nadim suggested that the whole of the todaks be cut up and distributed to everyone for food. That way, no wastage. The advisors wanted the meat to themselves and the King. They left the fins to the peasantry and told them the fins are the best part of the fish.
    Having more than enough but no fridge to keep the meat fresh, the advisors and King ate stale meat without knowing because they were too greedy to know. Then they all lausai (diarrhea), blamed the activists and Hang Nadim.

  3. ape says:

    Erm, gintai. I was educated in the 80s and I heard of this story from Chinese class. If I remember correctly, when Hang Nadim was killed, his blood spilled on a hill and the place was thus named Bt Merah or 红山 in mandarin.
    Anyway, some of my peers (myself included) wonders what are the values taught now. Work smarter? Do more with less? Stick spurs at their hides? Survival of the fittest? Forget about loyalty, filial piety and humility?
    Really langgar if a country has to set laws like maintenance of parents act. What this means? Our education system langgar? Our policy to help aged citizen langgar?

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