Chinese Child Prodigies

Chinese precocious youth in History


Xiang Tuo

Xiang Tuo was a much younger contemporary of Confucius (c. 551-479 BCE), who at age 7 was able to instruct the Master.

One day, Xiang Tuo was arguing with another child. Confucius asked them what’s about. One child thought that the sun is nearer to us at daybreak and far away from us at noon, because in the morning it is as big as the canopy of a carriage, but at noon only the size of a plate or a bowl. The other contended that the sun was far away at dawn and nearby at midday, becuase when the sun comes out, it is very cool, but at midday it is as hot as putting your hand in boiling water. Confucius was unable to settle the matter for them.

Gan Luo

Gan Luo (甘罗) was a famous child prodigy in the State of Qin, he became Prime Minister at age 12, and was youngest Prime Minister in the whole Chinese history.

At the time, Gan Luo’s grandfather Gan Mao was the Prime Minister. Once he offended the King of Qin. The King of Qin created an impossible task for Gan Mao. He wanted Gan Mao to bring him an egg produced by a cock. When Gan Luo learned about this problem, he offered to attend court on behalf of Gan Mao.

The next day, Gan Luo attended court with other Ministers. The King of Qin was surprised to see him, and asked where Gan Mao was. Gan Luo replied, “He is at home now. He is giving birth.” All the ministers roared with laughter. The King of Qin was furious. He slammed the table and said, “Nonsense! How can a man give birth?” “Since a man cannot give birth, how do you expect a cock to lay an egg? Gan Luo was quick to reply.

Sun Shu Ao

When the minister of Ch’u, Sun Shu Ao (孙叔熬) was a boy, he beheld a two-headed snake, which he killed and buried. He then went home, and cried before his mother. She asked him, what was the matter. He replied: — “I have heard say that he who sees a two-headed snake must die. Now, when I went out, I saw a two-headed snake. I am afraid that I must leave you and die, hence my tears.” Upon his mother inquiring, where the snake was now, he rejoined: — ” For fear lest others should see it later, I have killed it outright, and buried it.”

The mother said: — “I have heard that Heaven will recompense hidden virtue. You are certainly not going to die, for Heaven must reward you.” And, in fact. Sun Shu Ao did not die, but, later on, became prime minister of Ch’u. So people believe that Sun Shu Ao received not only one but two rewards from Heaven for interring one snake.

Kong Rong

Kong Rong(孔融), died A.D. 208, a descendant of Confucius in the 20th generation. He has five elder brothers, and one younger brother. When Kong Rong at four years of age was asked why he chose all the small pears and left the bigger ones for the rest of the family he replied, “I am a small boy, so I take the small pears.”

Cao Zhi

Cao Zhi (曹植 192–232) was a Chinese poet during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period. He was the son of the powerful warlord Cao Cao. His elder brother Cao Pi, having succeeded his father, tried to do away with his younger brother, and one day asked Cao Zhi to write a poem in seven step, if Cao zhi failed, he could be put to death. Cao Zhi then formulated the famous Quatrain of Seven Steps poem without having to think twice:

Boiling the beans to create the soup,

filtering them to extract the juice.

The beanstalks were charred amidst the flames,

and of this the beans thus wailed:

“Borne are we of the same root;

should you now burn me with such disregard?”

Fang Zhong Yong

Fang Zhong Yong (方仲永)was another precocious poet in Song dynasty. At the age of five, Zhong Yong had never known any writing tools, but suddenly one day he cried and asked for pen, paper, and ink. His father borrowed them from the neighbor. Zhong-Yong immediately wrote a quatrain, and signed his own name. The great poet and politician Wang Anshi wrote about him in his famous essay the Pity of Zhong-Yong.

Sima Guang

Sima Guang (司马光)was a renowned historian during the North Song dynasty and compiled the monumental Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government.

When Sima Guang was eight years old, a group of boys were playing happily in a garden where there were many water vats. Suddenly a boy fell into a vat.

All other boys ran away except for Sima Guang. He found a big rock and used all his force to break the bottom of the water container open. The water flushed out of the vat, and the boy was saved.