A Tale of Two Brides

An Ancient Chinese Tale of Benevolence

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“Ren” is demonstrated in the following folk story, when a wealthy woman extends a helping hand to a stranger—and is blessed for her selfless compassion.
By Leo Timm, Epoch Times Staff

For thousands of years, the Five Cardinal Virtues—benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, and faith—have guided the Chinese people in governance, family, and individual conduct. First taught by the sage Confucius, they form the cornerstone of traditional Chinese morality.

First in the virtues is benevolence, from the Chinese character “ren”. Consisting of a radical meaning “human” together with the number two, “ren” literally symbolizes interpersonal relations, which should be caring and respectful.

“Ren” is demonstrated in the following folk story, when a wealthy woman extends a helping hand to a stranger—and is blessed for her selfless compassion.

Two Brides

It was the Jiajing era of the Ming Dynasty, in the southern coastal city of Huangyan. One autumn afternoon, a luxuriously decorated marriage litter containing a wealthy bride of a good family was carried out the western gate. As the happy procession headed north, rain began to fall; luckily, a roadside pavilion in the hills offered shelter from the elements.

“Ren” is demonstrated in the following folk story, when a wealthy woman extends a helping hand to a stranger—and is blessed for her selfless compassion.

A second, far shabbier litter, was hastily set down beside the first. The shelter was big enough for only the two litters, so the attendants sought refuge elsewhere. The two young women sat side by side in their bridal seats under the pavilion.

The bride in the luxuriously decorated litter heard the other girl crying and asked,

“Dear sister, it is our good day, why do you weep?” The other bride answered, “My sister, how could you imagine my misery! Father is in debt for my marriage, and word has it that my husband-to-be is also poor. What life am I to live?”

The wealthy bride could not think of a better way to help the poor woman, but realised that she had two bride’s purses forming a portion of her dowry. Without too much thought, she passed one of the red purses to the other woman, who thanked her in pleasant surprise. Then the rain stopped, and they parted.

The wealthy bride, Wang Lanzhen, was an only daughter; her groom was the respected scholar Zheng Mudi. Before them was a happy life.

But one day after two months of the marriage, Japanese pirates descended upon Lanzhen’s hometown of Huangyan. Her entire family was slaughtered in the raid. The community, fearing more incursions, elected her husband commander of 300 volunteer troops to offer resistance. Mudi sold his property to prepare for the coming battle, and received promises of reimbursement from local elites.

A scene from a Chinese historical drama (Courtesy of New New Dynasty Television)

Mudi led the militia to victory, killing hundreds of pirates at Niutou Gorge. The area was henceforth known as Pirate Grave Pond.

But when Mudi returned home to his wife, he found his family in debt and the promises of repayment forgotten by the community. He and Lanzhen were further hounded by village leaders, who accused him of seizing military power under the guise of fighting piracy. Learning of his coming arrest, the disenfranchised couple and their daughter fled during the night, going their separate ways in search of refuge.

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