七步诗 Quatrain of Seven Steps

Quatrain 7 Step Poem

七步诗 Qī bù shī Quatrain of Seven Steps

煮豆燃豆萁,
zhǔ dòu rán dòu qí,
Boiling beans by burning the beanstalks,
豆在釜中泣。
dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì
The beans are sobbing inside the pot.
本是同根生,
běn shì tóng gēn shēng
Both of them were from the same root,
相煎何太急 ?
xiāng jiān hé tài jí?
Why should the beanstalk torture the beans so eagerly?

The Background

According to legend, the great warlord Cao Cao (曹曹) was succeeded by his son, Cao Pi (曹操), as the King of Wei state. Cao Pi, like his father, was a suspicious and jealous man. Because of this, he greatly distrusted his own brother, Cao Zhi (曹植), who was a genius in classical literature and the arts. Suspecting that Cao Zhi had intentions to usurp the throne, Cao Pi summoned him to the palace.

chinese tuitionUsing the pretext of Cao Zhi’s reputation as a genius scholar in classical literature, Cao Pi issued an ultimatum to Cao Zhi in his imperial court in front of all his officials. Cao Zhi was to compose a poem, within seven steps, telling King Cao Pi why he should be spared Cao Zhi’s life? Failing this, Cao Zhi would have to be executed.

With a sad heavy heart and tears streaming, Cao Zhi walked the seven steps and stopped. With extreme sorrow, a breaking and intermittently frail voice, he began reciting the above poem, comprising of four verses with five characters in each verse. Being a genius scholar, he had composed that poem inside his head whilst taking the seven paces!

The Allegory

The Quatrain of Seven Steps served as an allegory and compares the relation of beans and beanstalk to the relationship between the poet and his brother, Cao Pi (曹操). In the poem, the poet uses the phrase “煮豆燃豆萁 (burning the beanstalk to boil beans)” to expose Cao Pi’s brutal oppression of him. The phrase “同根” means the beanstalks and the beans originate from the same plant roots, thus questioning why Cao Pi would want to torture his own brother so eagerly.

 

Note:
  1. Cao Zhi uses several characters to describe the various processes of cooking and refining beans. Among those mentioned are: 煮 (boil), 燃 (skewer or char), 泣 (a pun on 蒸汽 “steam”, the qì here actually means “to cry”), and 煎 (to pan-fry using oil).
  2. A 釜 (fǔ) was a type of pot in ancient China.

The Elucidation Learning advantage

Our Chinese language programs at Elucidation Learning are built around this principle — students are sorted by ability into small classes. This builds an environment that best suits their individual needs. Lessons are taught by English-speaking, native speakers who are local residents. They are trained, well-versed, and experienced in teaching the curriculum defined by the Ministry of Education for Singapore.

For a free assessment of your child’s work, make an appointment with Elucidation Learning. You can drop in at one of our centre locations and speak to us. Alternatively, call us at +65.6464-0323 or Whatsapp us at +65.9738-8529. We can help your child work on their weaknesses this holiday, and give him or her a head-start for the new school year!

References: Our reading list for this article

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