Early to Rise, Work Hard, Study Hard
—Zeng Guofan's Three Golden Rules
The highly accomplished and venerated Qing dynasty statesman Zeng Guofan asked himself the following questions every day:
“Did I get up early yesterday? Will I get up early tomorrow?”
“Did I work hard yesterday? Will I work hard tomorrow?”
And, “Did I study the classics yesterday? Will I study the classics tomorrow?”
Late Qing dynasty statesman Zeng Guofan was born in Hunan Province in 1811. Among the numerous deeds he is famous for, Zeng is probably best known for promoting and practicing Confucian family values and education in the home, his thoughts on which he related to his two sons and younger brother in more than 330 separate letters, later compiled into the Family Letters of Zeng Wenzheng (as he was named posthumously), affirming his title as the standard-bearer of a home education movement that is still going strong today.
Zeng believed that a family’s fortune is predicated on an offspring’s performance in three categories: Their earliness in waking, diligence in doing chores, and studiousness in reading the classics.
Getting up early may not factor into the majority’s formula for success, but Zeng Guofan believed that developing said habit is crucial to improving the self. In the letters he wrote to his younger brother, Zeng said that waking up early is the single most effective way to remove sloth from the family equation. He spent much of his life battling the tendency toward inertia; it took him twenty years to completely rid himself of the habit of sleeping late.
Zeng Guofan asserted the need for assigning tasks around the house. He created a list of chores for his daughters and daughters-in-law, primarily in the areas of cooking, sewing and cleaning. The men in the family were assigned a rigorous study program that involved reading and writing in equal parts. While out on official government business Zeng’s wife would assume command of household affairs. Upon his return from civil service Zeng would conduct an overall performance review.
Zeng believed that reading was the only way to improve one’s character. The method he prescribed for his sons required that they 1) Read the classics, namely the 13 Confucian Classics and 23 Histories; 2) Read and know each book thoroughly, from cover to cover; and 3) Cultivate a personal interest in reading and find their own niche. Encouraged and supported by their father, Ji-ze developed an interest in Western arts and sciences, Ji-hong quenched his thirst for all things numerical, while Guo Yun, Zeng’s daughter-in-law, pursued a passion for literature and history.