Duties of students

This excerpt is taken from chapter 59 of the Guanzi, a book on statecraft by legalist philosopher Guan Zhong. It is one of the earliest discussions of education in China.

From Guanzi

“Duties of the Student”

Attributed to Guan Zhong

The teacher presents his teachings; students take them as their standards.
By being docile and reverential, and keeping their minds completely open, their learning is maximized.
On seeing goodness, they follow it; on hearing of righteousness, they submit to it.
Docile and compliant, filial and respectful toward their elders, they never display arrogance or resort to physical force.
Never false or depraved in purpose, their conduct is certain to be correct and straightforward.
Observing constant standards whether abroad or at home, they are certain to seek out those who are virtuous.
Their features being well composed, their inner thoughts are certain to be exemplary in their correctness.
Though they awaken early and go to bed late, their dress is certain to be tidy.
Mornings being devoted to enhancing their learning and evenings to practicing what they have learned, they are ever cautious of doing anything wrong.
Being ever diligent in concentrating on these things, such are the standards for study.

Young students in rendering service are late to bed and early to rise.
When sweeping the floor in front of the teaching mat, washing their hands, and rinsing their mouths, they conduct themselves in a respectful manner.
Once they have finished dressing and prepared the wash-basin for the teacher, he also rises.
When he has completed his toilet, the students remove the basin, sprinkle and sweep the floor, and adjust the teacher’s mat.
The teacher then seats himself, and the students in going out or coming in are as respectful as if they were greeting guests.
They sit in a dignified manner facing the master, their features composed and never changing.

For receiving instruction, there are guidelines:
The eldest student must come first.
The first time around, it is like this, but thereafter it is not.
The first time students recite their lessons, they must stand, but thereafter they do not.
If a student arrives late, his fellow students on either side will stand.
Should there appear a guest,
A student will immediately arise.
Since a guest cannot be denied,
The student will welcome him and hurry to carry out his wishes,
Rushing to the teacher for instruction.
Even though the person the guest seeks is not there, the student will still report back to him.
He then returns to his seat and resumes his studies.
If a student has a question,
He will raise his hand to ask it.
When the master leaves, everyone stands.
In his every word and action, the student takes moderation as his guide.
Those who were to flourish in the past were certain to begin like this.

At mealtimes, when the teacher is about to eat, a student prepares food for him.
Having pulled up his sleeves, washed his hands, and rinsed his mouth, the server then kneels down to present the food.
When the sauces, grain, and various dishes are set forth, it must be done in an orderly fashion.
Vegetable stews are served before dishes of fowl, meat, fish, or turtle.
Both the stews and sliced meat dishes are placed in the middle but kept separate.
Meat dishes having been placed in front of the sauces, the entire setting forms a square.
The grain is served last; on the left is the wine, on the right is the soy.
Having reported that everything is ready, the student withdraws and, cupping his hands before him in obeisance, stands to one side.
The normal meal consists of three servings of grain and two dippers of wine,
The student holds in his left hand a pottery serving dish, in his right chopsticks or a ladle.
He refills the various dishes in order as soon as he sees they are becoming empty.
If two dishes become empty at the same time, he refills them in the order they were originally served.
Having refilled all the dishes, he begins the cycle again.
Since his serving implement has a foot-long handle, he does not need to kneel. Such are the guidelines for making refills.

When the teacher has finished eating, the student clears everything away,
And hastens to bring in a basin for the teacher to rinse his mouth, sweeps the floor in front of the mat, and gathers together the sacrificial utensils.
Once the teacher gives the order, the students then begin their meal.
They arrange themselves properly according to age, and are certain to sit at the very front of the mat.
Grain must be picked up and eaten with the fingers, but stews are not eaten with the hands.
It is permissible for them to rest their hands on their knees, but not to lean on their elbows.
Having eaten to the full, they should cup their hands and touch the edges of their mouths to see if any food particles remain there,
Shake their skirts to get rid of any food crumbs, brush them off the mat, and having completed their meal, rise from their places.
Gathering up their clothing, they step down from the mat and turn to face it.
Each person then clears away the remains of his food as though he were a guest.
Having cleared the food, they put away the utensils,
And then return to their positions before the mat.

Whenever sweeping the floor in front of the teaching mat, students should use the following method:
They should fill a basin with water and roll up their sleeves to the elbow.
In a large hall, they may sprinkle the water by tossing it widely about; in a small room, they should sprinkle by taking only a little in their hands.
When holding the dustpan, the tongue should be pointed toward the sweeper; in the middle is placed the broom.
The sweeper, on entering the door, stands for a while to make sure his demeanor is without fault.
He holds the broom in his hand, and lowers the dustpan, leaning it against the doorjamb.
For sweeping in front of the teaching mat, there are guidelines:
The sweeper must begin with the southwest corner;
Moving back and forth with his back bent in the shape of a bent chime,
He makes certain that he does not knock into anything;
From the front of the room, he works backward,
Collecting the dirt just inside the door.
Then squatting down, he gathers up the dirt by pushing it into the dustpan with his hand.
He points the tongue of the dustpan toward himself and places the broom across it.
Should the teacher rise from his place on the mat, the sweeper will straighten up and excuse himself.
Then, after squatting down to grasp the dustpan and broom, he reassumes a standing position and proceeds to remove them.
Having finished with his sweeping, the sweeper then returns to his position—this all being in accord with the object of his studies.

During the evening meal, the students repeat the morning’s ritual.
At dusk they light the torches, in each corner sitting and holding them.
The method for placing the faggots is to lay them crosswise to the torch holder’s sitting position.
When the torch has burned down to an appropriate length, he lights a new one by pacing it at right angles to the old one like a carpenter’s square.
He leaves a faggot’s width between them, the one that is already burning being just below the one being lit.
At the same time he holds up a basin to catch falling embers.
Then with his right hand grasping the old torch,
He trims the burning end with his left, but should any embers be about to drop, another student will replace him in holding the torch.
When exchanging seats, students must not turn their backs on those who hold positions of honor.
Subsequently, the burned ends are taken out and discarded.

When the teacher is about to retire, the students all stand.
They respectfully present him with his pillow and mat, and ask him where he would like to place his feet.
The first time they arrange his sleeping mat, they request this information, but once the pattern has been established, they do not.
After the teacher has retired, each student seeks out his friends;
Dissecting and polishing,
Each one strengthens his arguments.
The day’s routine having been completed, the next day it begins anew.
Such are the guidelines for students.

Translated by W. Allyn Rickett.

Source: Victor Mair, ed. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2008. © 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.




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