The world’s richest man, with $335 billion in wealth and caught up in Twitter spats, now wants some peace, at least according to an 1,800-year-old Chinese poem he just shared.
In a Monday tweet, Elon Musk wrote “humankind,” followed by the Chinese poem The Quatrain of Seven Steps, a widely known classical poem used to describe infighting between closely-related people. He also posted the same lines on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
Here is the poem translated into English by Moss Roberts:
Beans a simmer on a beanstalk flame
From inside the pot expressed their ire:
“Alive we sprouted on a single root—
What's your rush to cook us on the fire?”
The verses, first published in a 5th century collection of writings and anecdotes, were attributed to Cao Zhi, the son of famous warlord Cao Cao, who lived between 192 and 232 during the Three Kingdoms period.
What exactly happened in history is contested. But the popular tale goes that after Cao Cao’s death, his oldest son Cao Pi succeeded him to become an emperor. Cao Pi was jealous of his younger brother Cao Zhi’s literary talent and wanted to find an excuse to kill him. One day, Cao Pi ordered Cao Zhi to make a poem about their fraternal relationship within seven paces, and pledged to have the younger brother executed if he failed.
Cao Zhi then made the bean-themed verses on the spot, alluding to Cao Pi’s cruel attempt to murder his own sibling. Cao Pi, feeling ashamed, eventually let Cao Zhi go.
In China, the poem is taught to primary school students and is often quoted by people to describe unnecessary rivalries.
Internet users, including people in China, are confused over what Musk was referring to. Musk later liked a reply to his post that translated the verses as “Humans are from the same ancestor, why are we so eager to destroy each other?”
He could be talking about a recent spat with the United Nations’ World Food Programme. After the program’s director David Beasley challenged the ultra-rich to provide $6 billion to help 42 million people, Musk over the weekend said he would sell his Tesla shares if the program could show on Twitter exactly how $6 billion could solve world hunger. Beasley invited Musk to talk, but Musk demanded open books from the organization.
Musk posted the same demand on Weibo in Chinese, two hours after he shared the poem.
Musk could also be addressing the rivalry between Dogecoin and Shiba Inu, two cryptocurrencies that, as the poem said, “sprouted on a single root.” Musk is a vocal supporter of Dogecoin, but Shiba Inu, launched in 2013 as a joke on Dogecoin, just surpassed its cousin in market value. Loyal communities behind the two cryptocurrencies have been in a fierce battle.
Owning assets worth $335 billion, Musk has become the first man ever to pass the $300 billion milestone in net worth. He is now worth $142 billion more than Jeff Bezos, the world’s second-richest person, according to Bloomberg Billionaire Index.
The last celebrity to quote a classical Chinese poem on Twitter is Edward Snowden, who in May shared a 1,100-year-old poem to criticize Chinese censorship.
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