Exhortation to Study - Xunzi (Pre-Qin Period)

Azure comes from blue, yet it is more vibrant than blue; ice forms from water, yet it is colder than water. When wood is straightened with a cord, it can be bent to make a wheel, conforming to the curve of the circle. Even if the wood is warped and twisted, bending it this way will make it straight again. Thus, when wood accepts the cord, it becomes straight; when metal submits to sharpening, it becomes sharp. If a gentleman studies extensively and constantly examines himself, he will gain wisdom and his actions will be without error.

If one does not climb high mountains, one cannot appreciate the height of the sky; if one does not look down into deep valleys, one cannot understand the thickness of the earth; if one does not hear the words left by ancient kings, one cannot comprehend the greatness of learning. The children of Gaoyang, Yueyi, Yidi and Mohu are born with the same voice but grow up with different customs due to their upbringing. As a poem says: “Alas for you gentlemen! Never rest in complacency. Maintain your position with calmness and rectitude. Be upright and just in all that you do so that you may enjoy lasting good fortune.” There is no greater virtue than following the Way of transformation; there is no longer-lasting happiness than being free from misfortune.

I have spent whole days pondering without gaining as much as I would have learned in a moment’s study; I have stood on tiptoe trying to see far off without seeing as much as I would have seen from an elevated vantage point. When we wave our arms from a high place, our reach does not extend any further but our vision becomes distant; when we shout with the wind at our backs our voices do not become any louder but they carry further. Borrowing a horse and carriage does not make our feet swifter, yet it can take us a thousand miles; borrowing a boat and oars does not make us more skilled in water, yet it can help us cross great rivers. A gentleman’s life is no different; he excels at making use of resources.