Jing-jiang's Opinion About Work

The National Languages of China 1 (403-221 BCE)

    After attending the morning briefing at the king's court, Official Wen-bo Gong-fu went home to see his mother, Jing-jiang. She was spinning flax thread. Official Wen-bo said to her, "You are the mother of the king's official, but you still spin. I am afraid my supervisor will blame me for failing to serve my mother." Wen-bo's mother sighed, "I am worried that the State of Lu will die soon because it offers positions to young men who do not understand how to govern a country. Sit down! Let me explain it to you. In ancient times, a great emperor would give people poor land to farm. People had to work hard to make a living. After people got used to hard work, they would perform their duty responsibly whenever the government needed them. All great emperors governed people with this principle, so their countries could flourish and last. When people work hard, they think of ways to improve their society. This in turn generates a good heart. If people do not work, they will indulge in pleasure and forget to do good deeds. This may easily breed an evil heart. People who are born in a rich land usually lack a motive to improve themselves because they are used to indulgence. People who are born in a poor land love to pursue virtue because they are accustomed to hard work.

    "Consequently, in the morning, the emperor in colorful vestments leads his officials to worship the sun and appreciate the bounty of earth. During the day the emperor discusses state affairs with various levels of officials. The city officials, governors, and the prime minister all work hard to serve people. At dusk the emperor leads officials to worship the moon. During this time the emperor meet with historians and astrologers to respectfully study the laws of heaven. In the evening, only after the emperor makes sure that the offerings to the gods for the next day are well-prepared can he rest peacefully.

    "In the morning, kings study peoples' problems in light of government's policies. During the day they work hard to solve the problems. At dusk they evaluate whether the solutions are appropriate. In the evening they warn their officials against indolence and indulgence before they can rest peacefully.

    "Officials plan their work in the morning and then work hard toward their goals during the day. Before they leave their offices at dusk, they arrange everything in good order. In the evening they help with family chores and then rest after a hard day.

    "Scholars study hard in the morning and then teach classes during the day. At dusk they review what they have learned. In the evening they check whether they have made any mistakes before they can settle down to rest.

    "As for common people, they go to work at the sunrise and rest after the sunset. They work hard all year around. The queen must weave tassels for the crown. Duchesses must weave ribbons for hats. Countesses must make belts. Baronesses must make clothes for worship services. The wives of officials must make morning coats. The wives of common people must make the clothes for their husbands. In spring, they worship Earth and make a farm plan. In winter, then thank Heaven and present their achievements. Everyone works hard. If they make mistakes, they will be punished. In ancient systems, officials managed with a devoted mind and people offered their labor for work. This is the lesson passed down from the ancient emperors. From the greatest to the least, who dared to let their mind wander or skip their labor?

    "Now I am a widow and your position is low. Even if we work day and night, we may still lose some properties of our ancestors. If we were idle, how could we avoid being guilty? I wish you could remind me of the legacy of our ancestors. Instead, you ask me why I do not enjoy life. If you inherit the title of your father with such an attitude, I am afraid that our family will not have any offspring."

    After Confucius heard this story, he told his students, "Remember! It can be said that a woman like Jing-jiang does not indulge herself."


1 Confucius wrote a book on Chinese history, The Spring and Autumn Annals, based on the official documents of the State of Lu. Qiu-ming Zuo wrote two history books. One was Zuo’s Extended Version of the Spring and Autumn Annals and the other was The National Languages of China. Two thirds of Zuo's two books were the same. The above essay was excerpted and translated from the Chinese version of The National Languages of China. This book is divided into eight parts, recording the history of eight major countries existing in China during Zuo's lifetime. The National Languages of China was written between 403 BCE and 221 BCE. It records Chinese history from 1024 BCE to 403 BCE.