Quatrain of Seven Steps (七步诗) was composed by Cao Zhi (曹植) to compares relation of beans and beanstalk to relationship of the poet and Cao Pi (曹操). Both are two brothers and likens burning the beanstalk to boil beans to elder brother maiming younger brother, reflecting the brutal struggle within the feudal ruling group and the poet’s difficult situation and gloomy cynical feelings.
The poem was written during the Three Kingdom Period when Cao Pi, the Emperor of Wei, was in power. When his brother Cao Pi became the king, he was asked to compose a poem within seven steps duration, or he would be executed. In the poem, the poet uses “the beanstalks torture the beans” as a metaphor to expose Cao Pi’s brutal oppression. The phrase “tong gen” means the beanstalks and the beans grew from the same root, meaning that the poet and Cao Pi being born of the same parents, in such a case, why Cao Pi torture his own brother so eagerly.
七步诗 Quatrain of Seven Steps
zhǔ dòu rán dòu qí,
Boiling beans by burning the beanstalks,
dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì
The beans are sobbing inside the pot.
běn shì tóng gēn shēng
Both of them were from the same root,
xiāng jiān hé tài jí?
Why should the beanstalk torture the beans so eagerly?
Note: To help better understand the poem, here to supplement and explain key vocabulary:
釜 (fǔ) is a pot in ancient China.