(Minghui.org) The book Shijing (The Classic of Poetry) is the oldest collection of Chinese poems, with over 300 works from 11 to 7 BC, covering such broad topics as astronomy, geography, politics, economy, worship, ritual, friendship, marriage, and many others. Here, we share a poem titled “Tao Yao,” which is about a young woman’s marriage.

Tao Yao (Gorgeous and Lush)

The young peach tree is gorgeous, with bright colorful blossoms;This girl will get married, and be in harmony with her new family. 

The young peach tree is gorgeous, with many big fruits;This girl will get married, growing her new family root.

The young peach tree is gorgeous, with leaves that are dense;This girl will get married, benefiting her new family and beyond.

Although this poem uses a peach tree to describe a girl who is to be wed, it encompasses deep meanings in traditional Chinese culture. Weddings in ancient China were often arranged in the spring, a season of growth. Spring also corresponds to wood in the Five Elements and ren (benevolence) in the Five Constant Virtues. 

Unlike many other trees in northern China, peach tree leaves and fruit do not grow until its flowers wither. In ancient China, summer was divided into early summer and late summer. Ending on the summer solstice, the early summer corresponds to fire in the Five Elements and li (propriety) in the Five Constant Virtues. Late summer, on the other hand, ends on li qiu (the start of autumn, one and a half months after the summer solstice). It corresponds to earth in the Five Elements and xin (fidelity) in the Five Constant Virtues. 

In summary, this poem describes a girl’s appearance, character, and moral values. Each was a component of her personality, and they would benefit her family in the long run. 

Merits of Ancient Women

The expectation of a woman’s merit was elaborated in detail by Ban Zhao in Nujie (Lessons for Women). Ban was the first female historian in China, and she contributed to Hanshu (Book of Han Dynasty) by writing Babiao (Eight Tables) and the Treatise on Astronomy. Besides teaching the queen and court ladies, she also lectured scholars.

Nujie was initially written for the girls and women in Ban’s family. Later on, it was widely circulated and became the accepted expectation in mainstream society.

Although Nujie has seven sections, the fourth section on women’s merits is best known and is presented below.

A woman has four merits: virtue, speech, appearance, and duty. Virtue does not mean outstanding talents, speech does not mean eloquence, appearance does not mean good-looking, and duty does not mean extraordinary skills. 

When a woman is quiet with moral integrity, having a sense of shame, and following propriety, this is virtue;When a woman is careful about what to say with no improper words and speaks at the right moment to avoid annoying others, this is speech;When a woman cleans housewares and clothing to look neat and tidy, and washes her hair and body regularly to leave no dirt or disgrace, this is appearance;When a woman concentrates on spinning and weaving, without excessive joking or laughter, and prepares good food and drink for guests, this is duty.

These four are the major merits of a woman, and they must be present. Only by keeping them in mind can one follow them easily. 

Benefiting a Family and Beyond

The last section of “Tao Yao” describes a large tree with dense leaves, implying that a woman’s virtue can benefit a family and beyond. When a woman is the wife of an official or a king, for example, she can benefit a region or a kingdom. 

Well known examples of influential women are the grandmother, mother, and wife of King Wen, the founder of the Zhou Dynasty. The grandmother, Taijiang, was beautiful, elegant, and virtuous. Whenever her husband made major decisions, he would discuss them with Taijiang. 

Tairen, King Wen’s mother, was also modest and sincere. When she was pregnant, Tairen paid attention to parental education even before the baby was born. She did not look at improper scenes, did not listen to obscene sounds, and did not say arrogant words. After King Wen was born, he was exceptionally bright and learned quickly. In the end, he established the Zhou Dynasty. 

According to Huangdi Neijing (Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor), the five internal organs (liver, heart, spleen, lung, and kidney) correspond to the Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), respectively. They, in turn, correspond to the Five Constant Virtues: ren (benevolence), li (propriety), xin (fidelity), yi (righteousness), and zhi (wisdom).

Taisi was King Wen’s wife. As a girl, she was modest and courteous. After getting married, she followed the traditions of King Wen’s grandmother and mother, was diligent, and had high moral values. She had ten sons and taught them well. While King Wen managed the country, Taisi managed the family and was referred to as Queen Wen.