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朱熹 lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) This was his maxim on governing his family affairs in poetic form. It outlines general principles of conduct that we've come to accept as a part of our culture.
To understand the Chu Family Aphorism is to have a solid footing in the understanding of Chinese culture. And I don't just mean understanding the translation of the text, although that's a necessary evil. I mean understanding the background and application of each tenet; being able to differentiate the timeless, universal principles and the ones specific to that period, that life, that world. Or at least debate it.
I had to recite a part of this poem in Cantonese for Chinese school when I was 11 or 12. I still remember the entire exerpt that I memorized, it was only about a quarter (maybe less) of the whole thing. I remember my parents explaining it line by line and helping me memorize it.
It was my first real significant Chinese poetry study piece. It was the first time I realized how compact and metaphorical the Chinese language is. It's concise and precise at the same time. It's amazing.
The biggest joke my family shared about it was the opening line: 黎明即起, "Rise promptly with the dawn". I have failed Mr. Chu's rules of conduct right at Line One. *smirk* And it just kept going from there. We laughed, but the thought of being a failure in the eyes of "my people" has plagued me for a long time. And it still does, to a certain extent.
Most days, I'm okay with it. I've done what I could with what I have and I'm doing a lot better than a lot of people already. I don't have the time or energy or the need to do anything other than keep up with work, home and life in general, so it doesn't bother me. But sometimes, it just feels so futile.