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An Impromptu Poem Written in Autumn

Hao Cheng 1 (1032-1085 CE)

A man indifferent to vanity does everything in an unhurried manner.
When he awakens in the morning,
The sun may already shine through his east window 2.
If one observes with tranquility of mind,
One sees that all creatures run their course with elegance.
The principle that governs the four seasons
And that which governs the vicissitudes of human life are one.
The same principle applies to heaven, earth, and the universe.
This comprehension helps one
Intertwine one's thoughts with the movements of winds and clouds 3.
If one can endure hardship and resist the seduction of sensual pleasure
To follow these principles in nature,
One can be honored as a wise man 4.


1 Bo-chun was Hao Cheng's alternate first names. People called him Mr. Ming-dao (understand the principles of virtue). His ancestors lived in Lo-yang City in Henan Province. Hao Cheng was born in Huang-po-xian City in Hubei Province. In 1057, he passed the Advanced Exam. He had several positions in succession: mayor's secretary at Hu-xian City, mayor's secretary at Shang-yuan-xian City, mayor of Jin-cheng City in Ze-zhou County, the crown prince's advisor, and censor. In the beginning of Emperor Shen-zong's reign, Hao Cheng opposed the radical reforms of Prime Minister An-shi Wang (1021–86). Consequently, Cheng was never given an important office. Therefore, he turned his energy towards seeking the principles of virtue. He studied all schools of Chinese philosophy and Buddhism for many years and then found the principles of virtue after he reviewed the Six Classics. When Guang Si-ma became the prime minister, Hao Cheng became the tutor of Emperor Zhe-zong. Many court officials wanted to study with Cheng. Influential officials were jealous of his talent and forced him to retire to his hometown. Later, Hao Cheng joined his younger brother Yi Cheng (1033-1107) to establish a school for the study of Neo-Confucianism in Henan Province. The Cheng brothers built their philosophies mainly on the concept of Li-xue, the study of the fundamental principles in nature. Although both advocated self-cultivation through the study of Li-xue, Cheng Hao stressed tranquil introspection and taught that humans and the universe are one. He believed that the purpose of education is to understand and follow the fundamental principles in nature; the ultimate goal is to become a sage; one should love people and be kind to creatures; one should control desire and seek tranquility of mind to cultivate virtue. Hao Cheng's students said that studying with him was like bathing in the Spring wind. Cheng's school of Neo-Confucianism was further developed by Jiuyuan Lu (1139–93) and Yang-ming Wang (1472–1529).

2 This line says that a man indifferent to vanity sleeps restfully without worries.

3 This line says that the principles in nature will help one become selfless, transcend over one’s frustrations, and expand one's vision.

4 According to Hao Cheng, wisdom lives in self-cultivation and has nothing to do with one's wealth, power, and popularity. Everyone can become a wise man by living one's life to the fullest.