Traditional Chinese Culture: Courtesy (Part 2)

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By Minghui.org

(Continued from Part 1)

The Book of Rites outlines the expectations for human relations thusly: parents should treat children with compassion, while children should show filial piety towards their parents.

Elder siblings should be kind to younger ones, while younger ones should be humble towards their elders.

A husband should treat his wife with dignity, while the wife should be agreeable towards her husband. The elder generations should protect and care for younger ones, while the younger ones should respect and follow the wishes of the elders.

Below are several examples of these traditional relationships.

A Son Recognized for His Filial Piety

During the late Shang Dynasty, King Tai of Zhou had three sons—the eldest son Taibo, the second son Zhongyong, and the third son Jili. Jili had a son called Jichang, who would later become King Wen of Zhou.

When Jichang was born, a red sparrow stopped at the front door with a red letter in its mouth. Seeing this auspicious sign, King Tai planned to pass the throne to Jili, who could then pass it to Jichang. This was not typical in ancient times, since the throne was usually passed to the eldest son.

Learning of his father’s plan, Taibo took his brother Zhongyong and fled to a remote region to support his father’s decision. He also cut off his hair and got tattoos as a sign of his decision to stay away from civilization. This way, King Tai passed the throne to Jili and later to Jichang without any interference.

Taibo soon named the region he fled to the state of Wu, which is in today’s Jiangsu Province. About 1,000 local families chose him as the king of the region.

Eight generations later, the throne of Wu was passed to Shoumeng, the 19th king of Wu. Shoumeng planned to pass the throne to his fourth son Jizha due to Jizha’s good reputation. But Jizha refused the throne as it would be a violation of the proper rules of society. Shoumeng asked Jizha three times, but was refused each time. The people of Wu also wanted Jizha to become the king. In the end, Jizha left to become a farmer.

Confucius spoke very highly of Taibo, praising his character and humbleness.

The Kindness of an Elderly Brother

According to Jia Fan (Family Instruction) by Sima Guang, the ancient sage Shun always treated others well even when he encountered hostility from them.

Shun’s father, stepmother, and younger brother Xiang often mistreated Shun. After King Yao named Shun as his successor, their jealousy intensified and they planned to murder Shun and take his assets.

Once, they asked Shun to repair the barn. After he climbed to the roof, however, they removed the ladder and set fire to the barn. Fortunately, Shun was able to escape safely.

Another time, they asked Shun to dig a well. While he was in the well, his family started to bury him. After the well was all filled with soil, Xiang planned to give Shun’s livestock and grain to his parents, while keeping the rest of Shun’s assets for himself. He also wanted to take Shun’s wife.

Miraculously, Shun was able to escape from a side tunnel of the well. When he returned home, Xiang was shocked. But he kept a straight face and said, “I missed you so much!”

Shun forgave him and asked him to help manage the country.

Shun’s legacy was revered throughout Chinese history. Although he lived in an adverse environment, he was able to treat everyone with respect and kindness. Shang Shu (Book of Documents) stated, “Shun ascended to great heights without climbing, and [his reputation] went far without him traveling.”

Because of his virtue, people naturally sought him out. Wherever Shun went, legend has it that the place would become a village in one year, a town in two years, and a city in three years.

A Humble Younger Brother

In the Jin Dynasty, there was a pair of brothers: Wang Xiang and Wang Lan. Lan’s mother was Xiang’s stepmother. As a result, she favored Lan over Xiang.

When Lan was several years old, he often saw his mother Zhu whipping his elder stepbrother Xiang with tree branches. Whenever that happened, he would hug Xiang to protect him from Zhu’s beating.

As the brothers grew up, Lan often asked his mother not to beat Xiang, and things improved a little. Later on, both brothers got married, and Zhu would always demand that Xiang and his wife do things for her. Lan would help the couple whenever he could.

After the brothers’ father died, Xiang became well-known for his virtue and good character. Zhu became jealous and planned to kill her stepson with poisoned wine.

Lan caught wind of this plan and reached for the cup of wine. Xiang also realized that something was wrong and did not want his brother to die. Seeing the brothers fighting over the poisoned wine, the mother was afraid that Lan might drink it, so she threw out the wine.

Later on, whenever Zhu would serve Xiang food, Lan always tasted it first. The mother thus stopped trying to harm Xiang.

General Lu Qin admired Xiang’s character and gave him a sword, saying that only high officials were allowed to wield such a sword. Upon death, Xiang bequeathed the sword to Lan, wishing him and his descendants good fortune.

Sure enough, several of Lan’s children became high officials. His great-grandson, Wang Xizhi, became one of the most famous calligraphers in Chinese history.

(To be continued)

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