Thursday, October 9, 2014
368. Thomas Jefferson and a Chinese Prince
During his presidency, Thomas Jefferson included an ancient Chinese poem from Shijing ( 诗经 The Book of Odes) in his scrapbook. This poem 衛 風 is about an ancient Chinese prince who was set up as an example for other leaders of the nation to follow. Jefferson’s inclusion of this specific Chinese poem is significant and reveals his close ties to Confucian ideals. Confucius pointed out, ''He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.'' Jefferson aimed to make himself this “North Polar Star.”
Therefore, it was not a surprise that Thomas Jefferson regarded the Chinese prince, whom Confucius considered to be one of the ideal rulers to be his role model. The poem pays tribute to Prince Wei, who was loved and respected by the people of his state. Confucius praised Prince Wei when he quoted this poem in his famous book, The Great Learning, to provide a standard to aspire to other princes and leaders of various states. Jefferson’s choice to place this poem in his scrapbook reflects his determination to be as great a leader as Prince Wei. Therefore, “His mem’ry of eternal prime, Like truth defies the power of time!” Jefferson wanted himself to be “in manners goodly great, Refine the people of the state.” Jefferson used Prince Wei to encourage himself to be a leader loved by the future American people, just as Prince Wei was praised and remembered by all posterity.