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Elon Musk Tweets Ancient Chinese Poem, but Why!?

MATTHEW BOSSONS RADII

Never one to miss an opportunity to stir up the Twitterverse, Tesla titan Elon Musk has once again triggered online debate after posting the well-known Chinese poem “The Quatrain of Seven Steps.”

The allegorical poem, which has two main versions, is credited to poet Cao Zhi (曹植) and was reputedly published in 430 CE. The legend behind the poem is well known in China and generally goes something like this: Emperor Cao Pi (曹丕) is suspicious that his brother Cao Zhi intends to overthrow his rule and summons the poet to prove his loyalty. The emperor demands that Cao Zhi write a poem before finishing seven steps to convince him of the poet’s innocence. 

“The Quatrain of Seven Steps” resulted from this challenge, and the poem allegedly achieved the intended result — with the emperor overcome with emotion and deciding to spare his younger brother.


A translation of the four-line version of the poem (the one shared by Musk) reads as follows:

“Beanstalks are burned to boil beans,

The beans in the pot scream out.

We are born of the same root,

Why should we incinerate each other with such irritation?”

The Chinese literary work is generally interpreted as a metaphor that explores the relationship between brothers and challenges the idea that they should harm each other in response to a petty disagreement. 


As is the case when Musk tweets a cryptic message, netizens on both Twitter and Weibo are trying to decipher who the poem is directed at. (The same post also appears on Musk’s Weibo account.)

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Who could be the metaphorical brothers Musk is referring to? All humankind, in our battle against climate change? Musk himself and fellow space-obsessed billionaire Jeff Bezos? China and the United States?

“For our Western friends, this is a poem in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, aka《三国演义》– depicting we should not fight each other,” writes Jay Hao, the CEO of OKEX, on Twitter, seemingly implying East and West should avoid conflict.

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“He is thinking about the Taiwan issue. His perspective is opening up,” reads a popular comment under Musk’s Weibo post.


“It’s because the Democrats want to tax the rich, including 50 billion USD from Musk and 44 billion USD from Bezos,” reads another.


In the comments below Musk’s poetic tweet, others suggested be could be referring to the two meme coins Shiba Inu coin and Dogecoin.

Other Twitter users poked fun at the crappy translation of the poem on Google Translate, while some bashed Musk himself.



Chances are we may never know what Musk is intending to say with his post of “The Quatrain of Seven Steps,” but the internet sure is having a field day trying to figure it out.


Cover image via Depositphotos



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