Healthy Teeth Sanzijing

One thing that struck me early upon arriving in China and immersing myself in the language (almost ten years ago!) was how modern Chinese is permeated with classical Chinese.  I soon came to the horrific realization that if I were to learn Chinese beyond a basic level, I would have to accept this fact.   Of course the most common way this shows up is in chengyu, but we see references to this older language everywhere, especially if we examine how school kids are taught.

One thing that horrified me as a parent was that my kids were asked to blindly memorize many long classics.  One of these is the Three Character Classic.  Because of its three character limitation, it has less possibility for variation in syntax.  There are only these four possibilities for phrase structure (where a repeated letter represents a multi-syllable word (the number of letters equals the number of syllables) and a single letter represents a one syllable word):  XXX, XXY, XYY, and XYZ.

I’m not opposed to studying these things; there is a lot of wisdom in them.  But the way they are normally studied is ridiculous:  they are memorized with very little explanation and recited in a banal rhythm at high speed.  And that’s that.  And they seem to be brainwashed into thinking that by doing so, these treasure troves of ancient wisdom will become part of them, slowly infusing them with beneficence throughout their lives.

Colgate seems to have picked up on this, and has made their own version.

This no doubt gives both parents and children a good feeling, triggering their long-ago brainwashed-in pseudo-beneficence programming.  Colgate was very clever to pick up on this powerful marketing tool.

The text, which on the box reads in traditional vertical columns right to left:

建齿三字经  (Healthy Teeth Three Character Classic)

好妈妈,要知道, (A good mother – should know)
高露洁,含高钙, (Colgate – contains high calcium)
防蛀牙,真厉害, (Prevents tooth decay – very effective)
把强健,存起来, (Strength and health – preserve)
让美白,秀出来, (Let beauty and whiteness – bloom)
全家用,一起来。 (The whole family can use it – all together now)

It seems a little haphazardly done; the author got a little crazy with 来 ending the last three lines, but I guess it does proclaim the benefits of good toothpaste.

Since it is the second day of the Spring Festival today, most of you are probably with relatives.  Those of you (again probably most) who have Chinese relatives may want to try a little survey.  Ask people one by one (those that grew up in China that is) if they memorized Sanzijing (The Three Character Classic) when they were little.  I’ll bet most say they have.  Then ask them how much they can recite.  I’ll bet they can’t get much past 人之初,性本善…  Report your findings in the comments!

For a bonus, ask them if they can tell you what it basically says, or even how many parts it has.  For readers who would like to know the answers to those questions, you can find them here.

2 responses to “Healthy Teeth Sanzijing”

  1. Carl says:

    I refuse to believe that any culture has ever given children anything dumber to blindly recite than the Pledge of Allegiance.

  2. Chris says:

    My wife says she never had to memorize the whole thing, but everyone knows the first few lines.

    @Carl, Lol. Well, on the up-side, it’s fun hearing kids stumble over “indivisible”.

    My own memory is indelibly marred by much more ridiculous things, thanks to the jingles I heard repeated endlessly between Saturday morning cartoons.

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