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Chinese Classical Poem 162 & Shirley Created Music & Singings 162 for: Qi Bu Shi by Cao Zhi in the Three Kingdoms (220-265))-- Dec 29, 2013 in USA / Sep 22, 2005 in China

Listen to Shirley Singing the Poem in Chinese Dec 29, 2013
Listen to Shirley Singing the Poem in English Dec 29, 2013
Listen to Shirley Singing the Poem in Chinese & in English Dec 29, 2013
Listen to Shirley Singing the Poem in English & in Chinese Dec 29, 2013

Listen to Shirley Singing the Poem in Chinese Sep 22, 2005

Listen to Shirley Explaining the Poem
Follow Shirley to Read the Poem & New Words
Learn the Meaning of the Poem with Shirley Together

See Shirley's Painting for the Poem Dec 28, 2013 in the US


Qi Bu Shi - the Quatrain of Seven Step by Cao Zhi in the Three Kingdoms times is a famous Chinese classical poem, it has been chosen into the textbook of the Chinese elementary school. Many Chinese children can recite it when they are only 2 or 3 years old.   

Then, why is the little poem just includes 20 Chinese characters so popular?

First of all, let us see the poem itself:

Original Poem, Lyrics of the Song in Chinese and Pronunciations

You can click on any Chinese Character to open the New Character Board and see its Chinese pinyin, meaning, pronunciation and follow my reading, you can also click on the links to enter the Painting Column, to see more paintings and art notes that I wrote for the poem.

- Qī Bù Shī

曹 植 - Cáo Zhí(192-232)
- sān guó shídài(220-265)

煮豆燃豆萁 - Zhǔdòu rán dòo qí,
豆在釜中泣 - Dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì。
本是同根生 - Bēn shìtóng gēn shēng,
相煎 - xiān jiān hé tài jí。

The Main Meaning of the Poem and the Lyrics of the Song in English

The Quatrain of Seven Steps

by Cao Zhi (192-232)
Three Kingdoms(220-265)

Burning the beanstalk to cook beans,
The beans are crying in the pot:
" Originally we were born from the same room,
Why are you boiling me so urgently? "

When, why Cao Zhi wrote this poem? Let us learn something

About the Poet and the Writing Background   

In Chinese history, there was a famous literature and poem group of a father and two sons in the Three Kingdoms times(220-265)-- Wei (220-265), Shu Han ( 221-263) and Wu (222-280) names San Cao - Three Cao, includes the father Cao Cao (155-220), his second son Cao Pi ( 187-226) and third son Cao Zhi (192 -232).

Cao Cao(155 - 220) was a very famous politician, militarist and poet in the Three Kingdoms and the actual emperor of the North of China because he controlled the trul emporor -- the last Emperor of Han Dynasty ( 206 B.C.- A.D.220 ) Emperor Xian of Han(181 - 234). After he was dead, Cao Pi (187- 226) deposed the Emperor Xian of Han (181 - 234) and became the first emperor of Wei and the the Three Kingdoms times. Cao Pi was a great poet and he created the first Qi Yan Poem (there are 7 words in every line) in Chinese poetry history. :-)

Cao Zhi ( 192 - 232) is the youngest son of Cao Cao and he made the highest literature achievement in the group of family poets, therefore, he was also the favorite son of Cao Cao, and he almost became the crown prince.

After Cao Pi became the emperor, he was very be jealous of Cao Zhi, and scared Cao Zhi to take his position away, so, he often wanted to find a reason to kill him. About this, there are two versions.

One version is: one day, Cao Pi ordered his two younger brother Cao Xiong and Cao Zhi came to the court and wished to punish them for both of them did not go to condole their dead father in time, because their mother interceded for Cao Zhi, Cao Pi he asked his younger brother to create a poem within walking 7 steps, if he made out, he would be able to alive, otherwise, he would be killed.

The other version is: after Cao Cao passed away, Cao Pi king and his youngest brother Cao Zhi was given the position as the prime minister. Cao Zhi was talent and had a very high reputation in the court. All of these made Cao Pi quite jealous so that he hated his brother and saw him as eyesore and pain in the neck, always wanted to kill it. Then the people around of the king knew his meaning and then flattered and cajoled the king to kill his brother with the crime of rebellion.

By happening to a rebellion event, Cao Pi artificially accused Cao Zhi was the chief instigator. Then at the noon, Cao Pi ordered his brother coming to the pool. As soon as Cao Zhi came, he was headed off by the bodyguards. When he looked at Cao Pi, he asked: “ What does my brother want to see me about? ” Cao Pi said: “   Young brother, you do not know, happened a crime of rebellion   this morning, it is said you were the chief instigator, was that true? ” Cao Zhi had a deep sigh : “ Elder brother suspects me to rebel and wanted to get your position, how can I stand the so big crime? Hope you are able to see the fine down of birds in autumn -- very perspicacious .” Cao Pi said, since it is so, for the sake of our brotherhood, I order you to compose a poem within walking seven steps, to intone the brotherhood of you and I, but it does not allow to appear the words Brother. If you cannot poetize, then, do not complain me to uphold justice and righteousness even at the sacrifice of blood relations, to kill you. ”. Cao Zhi said “   if I cannot write the poem within the seven steps, whatever you do. ”   

As soon as they got the deal, Cao Zhi walked out the first step. At this time, he smelled some smell of cooking beans, then he made the famous poem Qi Bu Shi.

Cao Zhi is the first poet who energetically wrote Wu Yan poem (There are 5 words in every line), he is the founder of the Wu Yan poem. There are more 60 Wu Yan Poems in his existent more than 90 poems. His poem creating completed the transformation from traditional Yuefu poems (folks) to the literati poems, push the literati's wu yan poems' development in the Chinese literature history.

Enjoy the Poem :

The first line: 煮豆燃豆萁 – Zhǔ dòu rán dòu qí. zhǔ, means boil, cook, steam; - dòu means bean; - rán, means burn;   豆萁- dòu qí, means beanstalk. This line means : burning the beanstalk to cook beans. Here the poet skillfully compares himself as the bean and his emperor brother as the beanstalk.

The second line: 豆在釜中泣 - Dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì. - dòu, means the bean; ...   - zài means in (something), inside; -fǔ means pot, kettle; - qìmeans cry, sob, weep. This line means: The beans are crying and said in the pot. With the word " " - qì, gives the beans the feelings of human being, to sob his endless sorrow and distress to be boiled by his full brother.

The third line: 本是同根生 - Bēn shì tóng gēn shēng. - Bēn, means orginally, shì, means be, is, are; - tong , means same; - gēn, means room; - shēng, means be born, to be given birth. This line means: Originally both of us were born from the same root. By the mouth of the beans say : originally you and me are from the same parent, we are full brother.   

The last line: 相煎 - xiān jiān hé tài jí. - xiān , means each other; - jiān, means fry, decoct, boil, hear means torment or torture, - hé means why; - tài: means too, so; -jí, means quickly, rapidly, urgently. This line means: Why are you boiling me so urgently? Uses the tone of the bean to say why the full brothers torment each other so urgently? Here, uses the - hé tài jí, why are you so quickly to fry me? To express the endless soreness that our father was just dead, his remains are scarcely cold yet, you want to kill me so in haste!

The last two lines, borrow the mouth of the beans, to question at his emperor elder brother: Originally we are full brother, why do you want to kill me so quickly?   To express the deep sadness and justified tongue-lashing of the poet to the slaughter between brothers.

It was said, after hearing the poem, Cao Pi wept and he felt quite shame, since then, he did not think of killing his younger brother again. But he house arrested him always. Cao Zhi was dead because his the sadness and had so much talent but could not be used by the country, so that he was dead at his 40 years old.   

Until now, I guess that you have known why this little poem is so popular in China already. Right?

In my opinion, it is famous because it skillfully cites a relevant and vivid metaphor: how people "burn the beans talk to cook beans"; and the personification method: how the beans sob that " originally we are born from the same room, why are you boiling me so urgently?" to express a very clear and very profound message: the quarrels and the fights between the full brothers, just like the dog-eat-dog, it does really disobey the justice and it should not be allowed of the human nature.

Because it has spoken out a special but also sometimes a common society phenomenon in the human society; expresses the wish to stop this kind of the fighting of dog-eat-dog. it has been arousing a sympathetic chord since this poem was created 1700 years ago, it has been admiring by the later generations.

The story behind the poem and the famous lines "本是同根生相煎" has become the eternal and wise phrase to admonish brothers for their quarrels each other.   


Inspiration :

When I write until now, two famous Chinese phrase jump into my mind:

One is: "兄弟 - Xiong di tong xin, qi li duan jin ,"   means if the brothers are of the same mind, their sharpness can cut through metal. It is from the Zhou Yi, the original words are: “ - Er ren tong xin, qi li duan jin, ” means if two people are of the same mind, their sharpness can cut through metal.   

The other is: " 兄弟,亡 - Xiong di xi qiang, jia bo ren wang " , the first part of this phrase from Shi Jing -Book of Poetry, means if brothers quarrel at home, their family will be broken up and its members will died.

Even though the times of Quatrain of Seven Steps has past for about 1700 years already, but, it can still give the contemporary people some meaningful inspiration:

1. The easiest way to capture a fortress is from within, no matter we work for a company, a school or a country, if we want it flourishing, prosperous and strong more and more, the precondition is to make the people inside united. A united organization or a nation, can face and overcome any difficult situation while to protect itself to be grown up and developed healthily.

2. Any leader with a jealous an small mind would not only lose his or her friends, colleagues and followers, but also his family members. Even though he or she is glorious on some high position at some time, and be around of many pickthanks, he or she is certainly alone by oneself without any real backing. Of course, he or she will not be a good management forever.


For helping you to remember the poem easily, I created a piece of music to match the poem September 22, 2005. This week, in my travel the USA, I have rewritten it and also I painted a picture to match the music and the poem. I do hope my effort will be some help with you to understand this poem and to learn Chinese culture and language naturally and artistically.


Note: About this poem, there are two versions.

One of the version is from Shi Shuo Xin Yu by Liu Yi Qing in the Southern Dynasties (420-589). It is:

羹 - Zhu dou chi zuo geng,
漉豉汁 - Lu shi yi wei zhi。
- Qi zai fu xia ran,
豆在釜中泣 - Dou zai fu zhong qi。
本是同根生 - Ben shi tong gen sheng,
相煎 – Xiang jian he tai ji?

Cooking beans for making thick soup,
Filtering the lobster sauce for getting the soybean milk
The beanstalk is burning under the pot,
The Beans are crying in the pot.
Originally we were from the same root,
Why are you boiling me so urgently?   

If you have any questions, comments and suggestions, please write to shirley@ebridge.cn ; you are welcome to publish your opinions in Message Board as well.

Shirley Yiping Zhang

Wrote, Painted, Translated, Sang & Recorded the Content Dec 29, 2013, in the USA / Sep 22, 2005 in China