They looked up to their Emperor and treated him as respectfully as they did their own parents. Yao, however, had grown old, and decided to request his military and
Little birds in flocks come weed the summer grass.
Following Emperor Yau, he took the Dragon Throne.
His filial conduct touched the hearts of creatures under heaven.
During the Spring and Autumn Period there lived a filial son named Old Master Lai (Lao Laizi). From his youth he had always been most respectful and obedient towards his parents. He obeyed their wishes, and even took special care of their innermost thoughts, so concerned was his heart in serving them as a dutiful son. At age seventy he still earnestly made offerings to the elderly couple, who had reached such a lengthy life span due to his filial devotion. He kept them warm in winter, cool in summer, and fed them soft foods, that were easy to digest in their toothless mouths. Old Master Lai, wanting to keep his parents' spirits high, never mentioned the word "old" in their hearing. When he overheard the old friends lamenting one day, "Look at our son, he's already in his dotage! Surely our own days must be drawing to a close!", his heart could not endure the helpless feelings that arose. "I must find a way to lighten their hearts!" he vowed. Determined to keep his parents from lamenting over their increasing years, he hit upon a plan.
Old Master Lai dressed up in the costume of a young child at the circus, or imitate the walk and manner of a mischievous boy at play. He would paint on comic opera make-up and carry a flower drum, horse-playing and cutting comic antics in front of his delighted parents' eyes. To tickle their funny-bone he would take a toy in hand and mimic a child's nonsense prattle, singing and dancing, and falling in a heap. Sometimes he would carry a pole into the sitting room that balanced two full buckets of water. Singing a silly tune he would trip up on purpose, sending water showering over the floor and soaking his foolish-looking wig and face-powder. His ridiculous show never failed to send the old folks into gales of laughter. Playing the fool always dispelled his elders' Periods of melancholy, and made them happy for days. Even though he was not a youngster, he was able to dutifully care for the physical health and mental well-being of his seniors. This was his first priority in life.
Lao Laizi's filial devotion impressed all who heard of it, and he received unreserved praise as an unusual example of perfect respect and proper affection.
A verse in his honor says,
He cut a comic caper, and played the merry fool,
The Spring breeze fluttered his flower-drum gown.
The old folks laughed with toothless glee;
The sounds of their delight filled the air with joy.
He robed his body in a suit of fur.
If he had failed to shout aloud, "Don't shoot!"
The hunter would have killed him for a deer.
Confucius's disciple, Zi Lu, was born during the Zhou Dynasty. He was a most respectful and devoted son. His family was poor, so the boy had to dig wild greens and roots from the fields in order to feed himself. Because he wanted to make sure his parents get adequate, suitable food, he often traveled a long way looking for wage-paying jobs.
Zi Lu would get up long before dawn and make a lengthy, dangerous trip into the neighboring states, seeking work. He would often travel over one hundred miles, earning what money he could, in order to buy rice and staples for his household. Then shouldering the sack of provisions, he would run back the many miles, arriving in time to cook up a nourishing meal for his parents. When the bag was empty, he would tie on his leggings and set off once again looking for work. While his parents remained on earth, Zi Lu would spare no effort to treat them with proper filial respect. Everyone considered him an unusually good-hearted example of true filial service.
After his parents died, the young man left his native land for the country of Zhou in the south. The king of Chu was impressed with Zi Lu's learning and his moral character, so he offered him a post in the civil service. Zi Lu accepted, and rose to become a high-ranking official. He was given a handsome salary and rich side-benefits for his able leadership in state affairs. Whenever he went riding in his silk-lined carriage, a retinue of one hundred chariots flanked the noble coach on four sides. His personal storehouses of grains, cloth, books, and silver covered an acre of land. Woolen blankets and thick rugs adorned his personal quarters in luxury. His dinner table was set with fine and rare delicacies.
Despite the life of affluent comfort, Zi Lu in his heart constantly pined for the days of his youth, when he was able to serve his mother and father. He would often sigh, "This wealth and honor is flavorless and depressing. How I wish I could return to the old days, when I ate field greens and carried rice on my back for Mom and Dad. How happy I was in those days! Now that my parents have left this world I can no longer fulfill my duty as a filial son...."
A verse in his honor says,
The rice bag on his back holds a rare treat for his parents;
Without a murmur of fatigue he ran those many miles.
Glory, wealth, and honor, once his parents had passed on,
Meant nothing: he only thought of the happy days gone by.
5. His Heart Was Pained When His Mother Bit Her Finger: Zeng Shen
During the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history, there lived a student of Confucius, Zeng Shen, who become well-known for his filial attitude of respect. His father passed away while Shen was still young. He was extremely respectful and obedient to his mother. Every day the young man would go into the mountains to cut firewood; his mother would stay home and weave cloth to sell. Mother and son had to work hard to earn enough to get by.
One day Zeng Shen set out early for the mountains. A guest who had traveled a long distance arrived at the Zeng household that very morning. The family being poor, there was nothing with which to entertain the guest, and no way to properly welcome him. As Zeng Shen was not at home, his mother did not know what to do, and she could only hope that her son would return soon from the mountains.
The boy did not show up, and Mrs. Zeng grew agitated. Without realizing what she was doing, she put her finger into her mouth and bit it. In her nervousness, she bit her finger so hard that it bled. Zeng Shen, in the mountains, suddenly felt a stinging pain in his heart, and knew there must be something amiss with his mother. He quickly bundled up the brush and kindling and ran back down the mountain.
Arriving before his mother, he knelt in the doorway and asked her what was the matter. Relieved and happy, she said, "A guest has come and I was so upset that I bit my finger. You must be a truly respectful child that you can know your mother's thoughts from a distance!"
A verse in his praise says,
His mother bit her finger, her son's heart felt the pain.
He bundled up the firewood And ran home just in time.
What age has ever witnessed deeper ties of filial love
Than the depth of shared between this mother and her son?
Who never grudged his second mother's hateful, wicked ways.
"Keep her here at home!", he begged, while kneeling by the cart.
"Or else three boys will suffer from the biting wind and frost."
Awesome as a leader, he ruled the Hundred Kings.
For three long years he nursed his ailing mother, the Empress,
Duty-bound, he tasted every medicine she took
8. Cai Shun Picking Mulberries for His Mother
During the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A.D.), there lived a devoted son named Cai Shun. His father passed away when he was quite young. Wang Mang  had just usurped the throne at that time, and the entire country was in great commotion, suffering a famine, a drought, and a civil war all at once. The people suffered from these dire calamities and many families starved. The survivors were forced into the fields to forage for wild plants and roots for food. Often, decent men turned to banditry and robbery just to survive. The roads were infested with gangs of thieves; the forests were havens for the homeless and the desperate.
One day Cai Shun took two wicker baskets out into the woods to gather mulberries for his mother. Beneath the trees he ran into two wicked-looking robbers. They were carrying long sharp swords and their faces were cruel and dark.
"Hey kid, don't you want to live? How do you dare invade the big Boss's territory?" shouted the biggest of the bandits. Little Cai Shun was scared speechless.
The smaller bandit looked closely at the boy's baskets, planning to eat anything of value. "Child, why are you dividing the mulberries into two baskets?"
Cai Shun answered in a trembling voice: "I use one basket to contain black mulberries that are riper and sweeter. I give those to my mother. I use the other to contain the red ones are not ripe, but sour. Those I eat myself, sir. I hope you two gentlemen will not kill me or else my mother won't have anybody to look after her."
The boy's earnest simplicity and honest answer touched the two thugs' heart of compassion. Remembering their own parents' suffering, they decided not to harm Cai Shun. Instead they supplied him with food and drink, and released him back to his mother.
A verse in his praise says:
The black mulberries went to feed his mother,
Whose blouse was stained with tears from hunger's pain;
The red-browed thugs heard his filial thoughts:
Then gave him meat and rice and set him free.
He buried his son, so that she might live,
The gods rewarded him with golden coins;
Their brilliant gleam lit up his humble hut.
A maiden charming and immortal, met him on the way.
They wove the cloth that ransomed back his freedom,
His filial conduct touched even Heaven.
11. Serving Wooden Statues Of His Parents: Ding Lan
During the Han Dynasty a young man named Ding Lan lost both his parents at an early age, before he knew how to serve them properly. After growing to adulthood, he longed to pay proper filial regard to mother and father, but as they had left the world, he could not get his wish. He hit upon a plan that would allow him to fulfill his filial duties: he gave a large piece of fine-quality wood to a craftsman and asked him to carve it into the images of his parents. The artisan fashioned two statues that satisfactorily captured the likeness of Ting's mother and father.
When the images were done, Ding Lan reverently placed them in the living-room altar. Every day, morning and evening without fail, he would offer up incense, bow, and ask after the well-being of the statues. After he married, Ding Lan would lead his wife before the altar twice each day and perform the same ceremony of offerings to his departed elders.
His wife grew weary of the tedious ritual, and one day, out of boredom, when Ding Lan was not home, pricked the hand of one of the small wooden carvings, just to play a joke. Who could have guessed that the statue's hand would bleed! The sight of real blood dripping from the image on the altar frightened his wife out of her wits.
Ding Lan returned home and bowed before the images as usual, and noticed the eyes of one of the statues were filled with tears. Marveling at this state, he looked closer and saw a trickle of blood running down the tiny hand. He demanded an explanation from his wife. She shamefully admitted her little joke, and how she had pricked the statue's hand with a needle. Ding Lan blew up in anger, and calling his wife an unfilial wretch, he threw her out of the house and, got a divorce!
A verse in his honor says,
Wooden statues of his parents,
Carved to look as if alive.
Pay heed, all good sons and daughters:
Serve your parents while you can!
The daughter, too, finds service not too hard;
Every morning carp came leaping out
Of the sweet-dew spring in their back yard.
Most rare in a boy just six years old.
He hid three oranges in his sleeve, as a gift for his Mom,
Just a token to repay her kindness without end.
During the Han Dynasty, a nine-year-old boy named Huang Xiang became famous as a model of filial service to his father. His mother had just died, and the young boy noticed that his father was wasting away with grief and loneliness. He resolved to make it his business to cheer up his father. After making that decision, there was no job in the house too troublesome for him, and he performed his chores with vigorous, positive energy. His only concern was to spare his father worry and anxiety. While Mr. Huang read by the light of a candle, Huang Xiang, in the sticky heat of the summer's evening would fan the pillow on his father's bed so that his father would be cool when he went to sleep.
In wintertime, when the freezing winds and drifting snow turned the world to ice, the little boy would first hop into his father's bed to warm up the blankets. Then he would call his father in to come sleep in the cozy nest he had made.
Mr. Huang was deeply touched by his son's considerate treatment, and his mind was greatly calmed. To have such a rare person as his son, who spared no details in serving as a dutiful child, was certainly a blessing. The story of Huang Xiang's behavior spread far and wide. Eventually his reputation as an exemplary filial son reached everyone in the land. "There's no one to compare with Huang Xiang anywhere", was a verse that could be heard throughout China.
Magistrate Liu Hu heard of a nine-year-old filial child in his district who understood the principles of filial respect, and made a special petition to the Imperial Court for recognition of Huang Xiang.
A verse in his honor says,
In winter months he warmed the bed just right;
And fanned the pillow on hot summer nights.
In knowing how to be a filial son,
In all these years, Huang Xiang's still number one.
Evil bandits caught them on the road.
A plea for mercy saved their lives, as always,
He labored hard to treat his mother well.
16. Crying By the Grave When Thunder Rolled: Wang Pu
Wang Pu (Wang Weiyuan) was a filial son who lived during the Three Kingdoms Period. His mother dreaded the sound of thunder-claps. Every time the sky filled with dark clouds and rain was on the way, Wang Pu would run to his mother's side to comfort her and to calm her fears. If her son was not at her side, the old woman felt unbearable alarm.
After his mother passed on, Wang Pu buried her in a neighboring graveyard. Even though the old lady was no longer alive, every time a storm approached, and it appeared that lightning was coming, he would run to the graveside and kneel by his mother's tombstone with tears running down his cheeks. "Don't cry Mother, your son is nearby!", he would call, just as if his mother was alive. As long as the storm lasted, the man remained near the grave, circling around it countless times, to protect his mother's spirits and keep her from fear.
Later when he taught school, every time he read a passage that mentioned the emotion felt by devoted sons and daughters for their departed parents, Wang Pu's own feelings would overflow, and he would cry with deep longing. Seeing this behavior, his students would carefully remove any texts that talked about the tender feelings of children for their parents. Wang Pu always emphasized in his lessons the necessity of repaying the kindness of one's parents while they are still alive. He was considered a model of filial behavior, and his constant regard for his departed mother moved the hearts of all those who witnessed it.
A verse in his honor says:
His mother dreaded most the sound of thunder-claps;
He knelt beside the bed to calm her fears;
Still he hurries to her grave and circles 'round,
Each time a rumbling thunder-storm appears.
Up from the ice crept tender bamboo shoots.
Instantly, the winter-sprouts matured;
Heaven's will: a happy, peaceful world.
But rare are sons like Lucky Wang.
Even now when the river freezes over,
We recall his icy sacrifice for Mother.
Yang Xiang punched hard, and choked the smelly beast.
Delivered to safety were father and devoted son:
Snatched back alive from the tiger's mouth.
20. Wu Meng Attracts Mosquitoes to Drink His Blood
In the Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.), a respectful eight-year-old boy named Wu Meng served his parents with devoted compliance. His family was extremely poor and could not afford mosquito netting. On hot summer nights the mosquitoes would come swarming in as thick as smoke. The little boy would remove his shirt and let the insects land on his bare skin. He would watch then drink their fill of his blood, and fly away without raising a hand to shoo them off, no matter how painfully they stung him. Wu Meng wasn't a fool, but why didn't he brush the bugs away?
He knew that his parents had no netting at their bedside. If he drove the mosquitoes away from his body, they would surely fly over and wake up his mother and father with their stinging. So the devoted son simply let the mosquitoes drink his blood instead.
So that his parents wouldn't know about his sacrifice and demand that he stop, the boy would wake up earlier than they, slip his shirt over his swollen torso, and return to his own bed. But one morning, being tired from loss of sleep, he forgot to wake up and pull on his shirt. His father arose and found his son asleep by his bed. He looked at the boy' s pathetic, mosquito-bitten skin that was covered with red welts, and understood immediately what Wu Meng had done for them. Mr. Wu woke up his wife and told her the story. The two parents, deeply moved by their son's unselfish concern for them, began to cry. They were so touched that the neighbors could hear their sounds of sobbing. From all sides the neighbors gathered to investigate the matter, and learned about Wu Meng's sacrifice on behalf of his parents.
Everyone thought that the boy's attitude of filial respect was most remarkable, especially for one only eight years old. Someone reported the incident to the local magistrate, who wrote a memorandum to the Dragon Throne, to inform the imperial court. The matter thus came to the attention of the Emperor, who rewarded Wu Meng with a scholarship to the imperial academy. Further, he gave the family a set of mosquito nets and a stipend, so that they never again lacked the necessities of life.
A verse in his honor says,
Summer nights and no mosquito netting!
Insects by the thousands, yet he wouldn't raise a hand.
"Let them drink my blood and fill their bellies,
Just don't disturb my parents while they sleep!"
Yu Qianlou lived during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, in the country of Qi (479-502 A.D.). He rose to office and was appointed the governor of Chan Ling. Ten days after he assumed the post, for no apparent reason, as he worked in the capital, he broke out in a cold sweat and his heart started beating rapidly and would not stop.
"Do you suppose there is a problem at home?" he wondered. Being a devoted son, the duties at home always sat foremost on his mind. Immediately he resigned his post and hurried home. When he returned home, he discovered that as he had feared, his father had suddenly been stricken with a strange illness that the doctors could not diagnose.
"If you want to know your father's prognosis and chances of recovering, you must test his stool. If it tastes sweet, then the malady is serious, and chronic. If it tastes bitter, then the problem is acute, and short-term," said the doctor. Lacking any sophisticated testing procedure, the physician advised Yu Qianlou that he would have to taste the old man's excrement to determine whether he could quickly recover from the disease. Qianlou promptly sampled the stool and to his dismay, found it tasted sweet.
That night, in desperation, he lit a stick of incense and knelt before the family shrine, and prayed to Polaris, the Pole Star. "If my father can recover his health, I will offer up my life in exchange for his. Take me and let him live," he vowed.
After news of Yu Qianlou filial oath got around, the family and neighbors all praised him as a truly extraordinary, filial child.
A verse in his honor says:
He served in office but a few brief days,
When father caught a strange and ill disease.
Qianlou looked North, and bowed to star Polaris,
"Take me instead!" he vowed from bended knees.
In the time of the Tang Dynasty, an official named Cui Nanshan, had an elderly great-grandmother. She had lost all her teeth, thus she could not chew even soft rice. Eating was a big problem. Mr. Cui's grandmother, the Lady Tang, realized the difficulty her mother-in-law had in chewing food, and thus came upon a solution to keep her alive and in good health. The Lady Tang would wake up each morning, perform her daily toilet of washing her face and combing her hair, then she would enter her mother-in-law's chambers and proceed to feed her mother-in-law breast milk from her own body. The elderly matron had no trouble digesting this nutriment, and thus thanks to her daughter-in-law, even though she could not eat normal food, her body stayed strong and healthy.
One day she fell ill, and knowing that her life was about to reach its natural end, she summoned all her generations of descendants into her room and told them, "All these years I have been looked after by my daughter-in-law. She has treated me most kindly, and I am deeply grateful to her. I only hope that the wives of all my children and grandchildren will be as considerate and proper in their filial devotion as she has been towards me."
When the family heard her final words, they were deeply impressed, and ever after, used her advice as the motto of the household. The teaching was passed down and cherished through the many generations of the Cui family.
A verse in honor of Lady Tang says,
Out of deep respect for the Cui Family's matron,
After morning toilet she would feed her mother-in-law.
Kindness such as this is difficult to repay;
May every generation of descendants be so kind!
His life-long joy: service to his kin.
He never asked the hired staff to share
The jobs that rightly, filial sons should bear.
24. Resigning Office to Search For His Mother: Zhu Shouchang
A man of the Song Dynasty named Zhu Shouchang lost his mother at age seven in this way: His mother was a concubine, and his father's first wife, consumed by jealousy over the concubine's favor with her husband, drove the woman out of the house, thereby cutting off contact between Shouchang and his mother. The boy went to live with his father and step-mother from age seven on.
Zhu Shouchang grew up and served the Song Dynasty's "Celestial Ruler" (Shenzong) as an official. Suddenly one day he felt an overwhelming impulse to find his real mother and take care of her in proper style. This impulse continued to grow, until he had to quit his post in the civil service and set off in search of her. His filial quest lead him through torrential rains and gale winds, as he traveled on, asking everybody he met for news of his mother. Although he found no trace of her, meeting nothing but mis information or ignorance, the young man never gave up hope, but only deepened the sincerity of his single-minded quest.
One day a man told him that his mother lived nearby, in Tongzhou, on the banks of the Unity River in modern-day Shanxi province. Delighted with the news, Shouchang hurried on to Unity River, and arrived after enduring great toil and suffering. Having traveled so fast, he fainted by the roadside near the outskirts of town. A crowd soon gathered, and someone handed the man a cup of ginger tea, to revive him. The townspeople asked, Where are you from?" "What is your business that you overexerted this way?"
He told the whole story to the crowd, and related all that he had experienced in search of his mother. From the midst of the throng stepped an old woman. "You are my son! I haven't seen you for fifty years!" cried the lady, her voice choked with tears of joy. The weary traveler, having realized his heart's desire, happily embraced his mother and shortly thereafter, took her home to care for her properly.
A verse in his honor says,
He said good-bye to Mama at age seven,
He served the land with skill for fifty years.
One day he wished to see his long-lost mother,
His journey done, they both wept joyful tears.