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?”
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 parents. 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?