💨 Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass 🌾 疾風知勁草

SoundEagle in Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass 疾風知勁草

SoundEagle in 疾風知勁草

Dear Readers and Followers as well as Lovers and Collectors of Fine Quotes and Poems,

Let us ease into the main discussion with Dr Craig Eisemann’s commentary:

This post is an interesting brief excursion into Chinese history and literary culture, introduced with an elegant example of calligraphy by the author [ SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ ].

The quoted poem exemplifies the strong ethical focus of much traditional Chinese literature, and the translations provided, when juxtaposed with the original text, well illustrate the economy of expression that is characteristic of the Chinese language.

As an evocative but concise vehicle frequently incorporating expressive folk influences filtered through the minds of Chinese literati, poetry has been unswervingly held in exceptionally high regard in Chinese culture since antiquity, insofar as poetry has facilitated a format and a forum for both public and private expressions of profound emotion, sentiment, contemplation, morality, philosophy and spirituality, offering a diverse audience of peers, readers and scholars vast insights into the inner sanctum and intimate life of Chinese writers unfolding via their finest penmanship across more than two millennia. To that extent, Westerners who are well-disposed to the aesthetic and literary aspects of oriental societies have discovered in Chinese poetry an engrossing and gratifying field of study via its exemplification of quintessential distinctions or defining contrasts between the occidental world and Chinese civilization, and also on its own terms and merits, so much so that Chinese poetry has bestowed considerable influence and contribution upon poetry worldwide.

Classical Chinese poetry is traditional Chinese poetry composed in Classical Chinese (also known as Literary Chinese 文言文 or 古文) and characterized by certain traditional forms, modes and genres in connection with or rooted in specific historical periods, such as the poetry of the Tang dynasty (唐朝) from 618 to 907. A key aspect of Classical Chinese poetry is its potent inter-relationship with other forms of Chinese art such as Chinese painting and Chinese Calligraphy (書法), as demonstrated in the topmost image by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ.

This featured poem 疾風知勁草 昏日辨誠臣 勇夫安識義 智者必懷仁 has existed for more than one thousand and three hundred years, and is available in several variations. The poem is reputed to be written by Emperor Taizong of Tang 唐太宗 (28 January 598 – 10 July 649), previously Prince of Qin, personal name Li Shimin (李世民), postumous names Wen Huangdi (文皇帝) and Wen Wu Dasheng Daguang Xiao Huangdi (文武大聖大廣孝皇帝). He was the second emperor of the Tang dynasty (唐朝) of China, ruling from 626 to 649. Also known as a politician, (military) strategist and poet, he has been deemed as one of the greatest emperors in China to the extent that his reign became the exemplary model against which all future emperors were benchmarked. Known as the “Reign of Zhenguan” (貞觀之治), his era is regarded as a golden age in ancient Chinese history and was treated as required study and reference material for future crown princes. Emperor Taizong continued to develop imperial examination systems (科舉), and asked his officers to be loyal and true to the policies, not the people, so as to eliminate corruption.

This poem functions as the emperor’s approbation of the upright character of Xiao Yu 蕭瑀 (574 – 647), courtesy name Shiwen (時文) and posthumously known as Duke Zhenbian of Song (宋貞褊公), who served the emperor either as a chancellor or in other designated roles six times and was dismissed six times before being chosen by the emperor in 643 to become one of the 24 dignitaries of Lingyan Pavilion (凌煙閣) commemorated with life-size portraits for their meritorious services and contributions to the Tang empire. Apart from enduring repeated recruitments and dismissals by several emperors under whom he served justly and faithfully, Xiao Yu not only had surrendered and dedicated his own lands, real estates and military power without hesitation to Emperor Taizong’s father, namely Emperor Gaozu of Tang 唐高祖, but also had the courage and perseverance throughout his careers to advise, persuade and admonish the various emperors whom he served without fear or favour. In 635, on making Xiao Yu the de facto chancellor once again, the aforementioned Emperor Taizong of Tang 唐太宗 wrote a poem that included the featured quote and remarked as follows:


After the sixth year of the Wude era [in 623], Emperor Gaozu considered deposing the crown prince and making me crown prince, but could not resolve to do so. I was not tolerated by my brothers, and I often really feared that instead of being rewarded for my accomplishments, I would be punished. Yet this person [Xiao Yu] could not be tempted by material goods or threatened by death, and thus he was truly a pillar for the empire!

The emperor further uttered to Xiao Yu:


Your faithfulness and probity cannot be exceeded even by the holy men of antiquity; however, your overzealousness to distinguish between good and evil sometimes renders you difficult to tolerate.

Such an upright and incorruptible character as embodied by the honourable deeds as well as the scrupulous dedication and unflinching sacrifices of Xiao Yu is patently worthy of being immortalized by the poem as the personification of enduring loyalty, integrity, bravery and forthrightness achieved with benevolence and righteousness, but without favouritism and transgression.

Current Relevance

In light of the frequency and prevalence of social turmoils and gross injustices caused by official misconduct as exemplified by egregious cases of malpractice and malfeasance in the business, financial and political spheres in various countries and regions across the contemporary world, the potent messages borne by this seventh-century poem 疾風知勁草 昏日辨誠臣 勇夫安識義 智者必懷仁 have gained even more gravity and relevance in the twenty-first century.

Furthermore, there existed the larger context of governance and civil service beyond the interpersonal and political context regarding the relationship forged between an eminently dutiful official such as Xiao Yu and his commanding emperor who presided over the vast administration of the Tang empire. Classical Chinese poetry reached its zenith during the Tang dynasty (唐朝) from 618 to 907, during which poets and poems were in great abundance, and poetry was integrated into almost every aspect of the social life and professional arena of the literate class, including becoming an integral constituent of the imperial examinations (科舉) sat by anyone aspiring to a government post:

Chinese imperial examinations were a civil service examination system in Imperial China for selecting candidates for the state bureaucracy. The concept of choosing bureaucrats by merit rather than birth started early in Chinese history but using written examinations as a tool of selection started in earnest during the mid-Tang dynasty. The system became dominant during the Song dynasty and lasted until it was abolished in the late Qing dynasty reforms in 1905.

The exams served to ensure a common knowledge of writing, the classics, and literary style among state officials. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule. The examination system played a significant role in tempering the power of hereditary aristocracy, military authority, and the rise of a gentry class of scholar-bureaucrats.

A scholar using the pseudonym of Tomi the Art Historian has reflected longitudinally on the important connections between “Government, Bureaucracy, and Ancient China” plus the lessons that can be learnt by contemporary governments both in the East and the West as follows. The account also imparts a decent summary of what scholastic prerequisites Xiao Yu would have to amass and attain before he could ever be accepted by the government to join the administrative elites. Such a towering level of erudition and excellence as required by ancient Chinese governments and their sovereign rulers has no equivalent or counterpart anywhere in the modern world.

So, I’ve been lecturing and posting my lectures online to my students. As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but think of our recent administration’s abject failure in understanding how government works, and how their attempts to cripple government ha[ve] resulted in the death of US citizens.

China was a remarkably successful civilization for most of its 5000 year history. Why? Because it had a great bureaucracy. We know [that] bureaucracy [i]s a dirty wor[d], but really, it is a necessary evil. If you want a government that works, you have to have a functioning bureaucracy.

The Chinese figured this out early and used it to great effect during most of [their] history. Their secret? The Chinese Civil Service Exam.

If you wanted to work in government, you had to pass the civil service exam. And believe me, not just anyone could pass this thing. Picture an exam that encompasses the Bar for lawyers, the CPA for accountants, and then several Ph.D. level comps on history, military matters, cultural subjects, and religion. It was quite the gatekeeper!

As a result, only the very best and brightest Chinese men held government jobs (the system excluded women). It didn’t matter [as to what] your background [was]: anyone could sit for the exam (except women). If you didn’t pass, no government job for you. It didn’t matter if your family was rich, or titled, you had to pass. Villages would often pool their resources to educate a few of their brightest boys to sit for the exam.

What resulted was a true meritocracy. Of course it wasn’t perfect, no human system is. There certainly was the occasional bribery scandal, cheating, etc. But for the most part, it was a system that worked very well.

China was a huge country (and remains so), it was always multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, multi-religious. What tied [it] all together was their strong and well-functioning government that existed outside of any particular emperor. I suppose you could call them the “deep state.” They kept things going, getting taxes collected, building roads, canals, and the Great Wall, feeding their huge population, and enjoying the highest level of technological development on the earth.…

Am I advocating for such a system? Of course not. But I think there is something to be said about investing in the needed infrastructure to keep a great government working. If you want a great country, you have to have a great bureaucracy. The Chinese learned this very early. I thought [that] the USA had learned it, but I guess not.

We are rapidly finding out the cost of a government that is gutted and incapable of responding to a crisis. The cost is the lives of our fellow citizens.

(This is NOT meant as a support to the current government of the People’s Republic of China! They are totalitarian bullies and Chinese scholars educated for the Civil Service Exam would weep to see what their country has become.)

🗣📟 Translating the Poem 💨🌾

1 The first line of the poem, “ 疾 風 知 勁 草 ”, literally meaning “ Strong wind knows tough grass. ”, already existed as an idiom (a phrase or expression with a figurative, non-literal meaning) as early as 23 AD, supposedly conceived by Emperor Guangwu 光武帝 (15 January 5 BC – 29 March 57 AD) of the Han dynasty (漢朝). It can be translated more freely and meaningfully into less literal but more idiomatic English prose as “The storm puts strong grass to the test.”, conveying that one’s true colours are revealed after a severe or daunting test. There might even be the latitude of interpreting the line as having a secondary meaning or an underlying import that a flexible or resourceful rather than an unbending or inveterate person will better survive a taxing trial, insofar as a tree with a stiff trunk and rigid branches will be snapped and overwhelmed whereas a grass with only pliable leaves will be safely greeted by the powerful wind, thus coming through unscathed.

2 The second line, “ 昏 日 辨 誠 臣 ”, literally means “ Dusky day recognizes honest statesmen. ”, signifying that one’s integrity is tested during gloomy, turbulent times.

3 The third line, “ 勇 夫 安 識 義 ”, rhetorically asks “ How can brave men ever know rectitude? ”, declaring that one’s sense of justice and morality is beyond mere bravery.

4 The last line, “ 智 者 必 懷 仁 ”, states “ Wise persons must possess kindness. ”, indicating that wisdom and compassion go hand in hand.

1 + 2 The first half of the poem begins with a metaphorical proclamation that only the grass that can withstand the force of an intense gale is truly known to be strong. It then intimates that only in times of sociopolitical turmoil can a person in office be identified as a loyal minister or an honest statesman.

3 + 4 The second half of the poem asserts with a rhetorical question that people who exercise courage without wisdom are just brave men who do not know righteousness at all. It concludes that only those who are both wise and brave can truly possess benevolence and righteousness, for they have genuinely comprehended what kindness and justice are.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 The whole poem edifies us that only the strong and sincere can bear hardship and turmoil; and that only the wise and valiant can know righteousness and cherish benevolence.

疾 風 知 勁 草
昏 日 辨 誠 臣
勇 夫 安 識 義
智 者 必 懷 仁

Only the strong and sincere can bear hardship and turmoil.
Only the wise and valiant can know righteousness and cherish benevolence.

SoundEagle in Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass 疾風知勁草

Ancient Chinese Poem

💨 疾 風 知 勁 草 🌾
昏 日 辨 誠 臣
勇 夫 安 識 義
智 者 必 懷 仁

Poem Explained in Modern Chinese Prose


Literal English Translation of Ancient Chinese Poem

Strong wind knows tough grass.
Dusky day recognizes honest statesmen.
How can brave men ever know rectitude?
Wise persons must possess kindness.

Compact English Translation of Ancient Chinese Poem

Only the strong and sincere can bear hardship and turmoil.

Only the wise and valiant can know righteousness and cherish benevolence.

Full English Translation of Modern Chinese Prose

Only in the violent gale can the strength and vigour of grass be known.

Only in the dark and turbulent age can the loyalty and honesty of officials be recognized.

Without wisdom, how can brave men ever understand the justice of serving the public, the country, the people and the community?

Only those who are both wise and courageous can be certain to cherish loyalty, benevolence and righteousness to and for the people.

💨 疾 風 知 勁 草 🌾
昏 日 辨 誠 臣
勇 夫 安 識 義
智 者 必 懷 仁

Considering that the quoted poem comes in at least two variations (one of which has “ 板 蕩 識 誠 臣 ” as the second line), and given that its first line, “ 疾 風 知 勁 草 ”, is a figurative idiom that already existed roughly at the start of the first millennium, more than 600 years before the poem was written, one is left with some trepidation about specifying the pedigree or provenance of a quotation, which in this case happens to be an ancient Chinese poem presenting the issue of partial indeterminacy or circumscribed accuracy of its origin(s) and authorship(s) to any quoter who wishes to credit the quotee with total precision or unequivocal fidelity. Another issue incurred by such a quotation is the challenge posed by translating idioms, where a literal word-by-word translation of an opaque, abstruse or inscrutable idiom will most probably fail to convey the same meaning in other languages. Indeed, any quotation presented with misattribution (attributed to the wrong person) or mistranslation (garbled in translation) qualifies as a misquotation, the variety and ramifications of which are discussed in great detail in the post entitled The Quotation Fallacy “💬”.Rose Greeting

The Quotation Fallacy “💬”

Dear Readers

💨 Would Strong Wind Know You

Amongst the Tough Few? 🌾

🌎 Mankind’s in Review

Wisdom’s Overdue!

Yours sincerely,Rose Greeting

51 comments on “💨 Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass 🌾 疾風知勁草

  1. Beautiful sound eagle. Good to see you post. Do visit when you get time. ❤️ Cindy

    Liked by 5 people

  2. What an absolutely truthful saying. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. beautiful lines; the background is interesting too 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Lovely and full of wisdom. ❤

    Liked by 6 people

  5. This post is an interesting brief excursion into Chinese history and literary culture, introduced with an elegant example of calligraphy by the author.

    The quoted poem exemplifies the strong ethical focus of much traditional Chinese literature, and the translations provided, when juxtaposed with the original text, well illustrate the economy of expression that is characteristic of the Chinese language.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Loved this poem, Craig! ❤ It was amazing to read a variety of translations. I feel all had something to recommend them. Thank you for this post! ❤ All the best!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dear Cheryl

      Hello! Due acknowledgement is owed to your comment and compliment. To begin with, your appreciation of the poem and the translations is delightful, for it is a good indication of your cross-cultural interest and receptability. Thank you for jumping out of your “Hanging Out with Wild Animals” and diving into “💨 Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass 🌾”, both artistic works containing exactly five words in their respective titles!

      In addition, SoundEagle🦅 wonders what you thought of the featured Chinese Calligraphy. It is like a species of stylized painting, is it not?

      Please be informed that this post is the work of SoundEagle🦅 and that Dr Craig Eisemann and SoundEagle🦅 are two independent entities, not the same person or creature. The former has been one of the commenters on the latter’s blog. You are welcome to find out more about the former by visiting the “About” page and the post entitled “Do Plants and Insects Coevolve? 🥀🐝🌺🦋”. Moreover, SoundEagle🦅 intends to publish Dr Eisemann’s intellectual pieces in the coming months.

      May you and your family enjoy a Wonderful Weekend soon!

      Rose Greeting

      Yours sincerely,

      Liked by 3 people

    • Hello Cheryl,

      To add my voice to SoundEagle’s clarification, unfortunately I lack SoundEagle’s ability either to translate Chinese texts or to produce fine calligraphy, although I have had some exposure to Chinese language and culture, particularly as my late wife was a Singaporean of Chinese heritage.

      A number of people have mistakenly concluded that SoundEagle and I are the same person; perhaps in this case the confusion occurred because my comment seemed rather too much like an introduction to or summary of the post?

      With this misunderstanding cleared up, I would be delighted if you would read future posts by each of us on this website with similar enjoyment.

      Best wishes for the future!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Hello again, Cheryl,

      I was pleased to learn that you have read and enjoyed our post “Do Plants and Insects Coevolve?”. If you are interested, perhaps you may consider writing a poem about coevolution for inclusion in this post, as someone else has already done. I am sure that SoundEagle would also welcome such a contribution from you.

      Best regards

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m currently research Japanese culture and mythology as I edit my fantasy book manuscript. As I do I’m realising how interesting learning about other cultures can be. I’ve always enjoyed Medieval European history, and Norse mythology, but have not spent much time at all learning about the many deep and fascinating cultures in Asia.

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful insights and further inspiring me to keep learn more, and begin planning a future book series about a character travelling through Asia! I would want to write as respectfully and accurately as possible of course, so there is much research to do. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This is really fascinating.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Obviously amazing piece with added know-how. 🙂🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Factually men with wisdom should be compassionate and accommodating in thoughts and actions.🙂🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Sound Eage, that’s an excellent piece of scholarship. I am glad that the emperor was civilised, and didn’t cut his head off when he’d displeased him.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Line 2 of the English translation of modern Chinese is so apt as a description of the USA in 2020, where some officials have done right under severe pressure and some have shamelessly supported DJT’s efforts to overturn the result of the presidential election.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. […] 💨 Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass 🌾 疾風知勁草 — SoundEagle 🦅ೋღஜஇ […]

    Liked by 3 people

  14. My knowledge of Chinee history and culture is limited to a brief, and necessarily biased, aside regarding Britain’s Opium War with China, and a reading of The Analects by Confucius, so I’m ill-fitted to make much of a comment on this scholarly piece. But it seems to me to reflect as much credit on the author of this piece as on the poem it analyses. Interesting, informative and thoroughly researched. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Magnificent and subtle. Thank you for your careful analysis of this!!! What a treasure!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dear Bob Shepherd

      Welcome! A bespoke gratitude is owed to you for your succinct feedback and compliment on the style, validity and value of what you have perused here. SoundEagle🦅 has since added nearly 700 extra words to reveal what the US government and its officials as well as the administrative and political sectors in other countries may potentially learn from the sociopolitical system in ancient China. The first of these extra paragraphs start with

      Furthermore, there existed the larger context of governance and civil service beyond the interpersonal and political context

      Your further thoughts💭 or comments💬 are not only keenly anticipated but also worth being incorporated into the post with due credit to you, should your views and insights be pertinent and compelling.

      Since you have introduced yourself in your “About” page as “a writer, editor, graphic designer, and teacher”, SoundEagle🦅 would like to have the pleasure of recommending to you the following three resources:

      May you find the said resources handy and satisfying!

      Rose Greeting

      Yours sincerely,

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Such a nice flow through this educational and uplifting post, dear sound eagle
    And top takeaways: “both wise and brave”

    Liked by 2 people

  17. A poem for all ages and all times. The testing times do indeed show us who we are, and give us wisdom. We may not always be a nice person during testing times, but if remain steadfast to our principles regardless, we learn a lot about ourselves and others. How did Xiao Yu’s family manage after he had given away his lands and real estates?

    Liked by 2 people

  18. When I reread this I find more discoveries in your writing. It is very inspiring. Peace to you. ❤🤝🙏😊😘

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Amber

      Hello! SoundEagle🦅 is delighted that your second visit has yielded “more discoveries”. In fact, you will have even more to discover on your third visit because nearly 700 words have just been added, beginning as follows:

      Furthermore, there existed the larger context of governance and civil service beyond the interpersonal and political context

      Please feel free to indulge SoundEagle🦅 with further thoughts💭 or comments💬 as you digest, deliberate and deliver your verdict, especially when you become even more inspired or moved by the meanings, ramifications and wisdom of the ancient Chinese poem and the story behind it.

      💨 Strong Wind Knows Amber Click here to learn more about Amber.

      Rose Greeting

      Yours sincerely,

      Liked by 2 people

  19. Sound Eagle, I really like your additional analysis, applying the lessons of ancient China to the present day.
    I have admired the Chinese civilisation since boyhood. Because my best friend was a Chinese boy, I read up what I could about it.
    The idiotic current Australian government is cutting funds precisely from those academic subjects that turn out intelligent, versatile human beings at least partly like those ancient Chinese government officials. They say it is to make graduates job-ready. I say it is because they think anyone doing an Arts course must be left-leaning in political views.
    A critical, intelligent public is no good for people who consider science the enemy.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Thank you for this introduction to Chinese poetry, along w/ your discussion of bureaucracy. Yes, difficult times do test our character. Let us hope we are up to the test. Wishing you all life’s best, A. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Thank you for this lovely tribute, SoundEagle. I am deeply gratified, and will try my best to live up to your expectations. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

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