Four Famous Mothers in Ancient China

The Chinese culture heavily revolves around the concept of respect and honor. Needless to say, a lot of this comes from the utmost respect that they have for their elders. In this article, we will be exploring four mothers who were some of the most influential in the Chinese Culture. These mothers were also known as the Four Virtuous Mothers of Ancient China.

famous mothers in ancient China
  1. Mencius’s Mother – Zhang 

The story of Mencius’s Three Moves is one of the most common stories passed down through generations. Mencius’s mother was a single mother trying to look for the ideal environment to raise her son. To watch the story instead of read it, check out the following video.  Otherwise, read on!

At first, Mencius’ Mother moved near a cemetery to save on living costs.  She was hoping that by witnessing how fleeting the human life is, Mencius would learn to value his life more. Instead, Mencius ended up mimicking the cries of professional mourners hired for ancient Chinese funeral processions.  Mencius’ Mother decides to move into town. 

Mencius Mom moves three times

Mencius’ Mother hoped that by moving into town, Mencius would learn about the importance of hard work but he ended up learning how to be loud and rowdy like the merchants at the market shouting to gather attention to their stalls. Once again, Mencius’ Mother decides they must move.  This time, she found a house near a school.  The neighborhood around the school is often filled with regal and proper scholars and Mencius eventually picked up the habits of these scholars and studied hard. What became of Mencius? He became one of the most influential people in Chinese culture deemed the Second Sage, after none other than Confucius himself.

  1. Ouyang Xiu’s Mother – Zheng 

Ouyang Xiu was a scholar who lived during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127). He was only four years old when he lost his father. And just like Mencius’s mother, Ouyang Xiu’s mother had to raise him by herself. Despite living in poverty, Ouyang Xiu’s mother placed great emphasis on his education. At the age of five, his mother taught him to read and write by using a reed to write on sand. When Ouyang Xiu grew up, he became a government official but because he relentlessly pushed to reform many practices in ancient China, his enemies attacked him and caused him to be demoted to a lesser position.  He was disappointed and afraid that he would lose his job. At this time, his mother came to encourage him. She told me that he should keep doing the right thing, even if it meant they would end up back in poverty. Ouyang Xiu’s mother made sure he remembers to always try to do the right thing.

Ouyang Xiu's mother teaches him to write with reed

  1. Tao Kan’s Mother – Zhan 

Tao Kan was a famous general and governor of the Jin Dynasty, but as a child, Tao Kan’s family was poor. One day, a family friend was passing through their village when it began to snow. Tao Kan invited the friend to stay but because they were so poor, they did not have enough food to feed the guests. Without hesitation, Tao Kan’s mother cut off her long hair, which is considered to be very precious to ancient Chinese women, and traded her hair for some rice and wine. She then took down wooden planks from the walls to build a cooking fire and took out the straws of her bed mattress and chopped it up to feed the friend’s horse. 

When Tao Kan became a governmental official, one of his first jobs was to take care of the fisheries. One time, he decided to send a salted fish to his mother but to his surprise, she returned it with a letter reminding him that he is a government official and he should not be sending her property belonging to the people.  Tao Kan realized his mistake and vowed to be an upright, trustworthy official from then on.  

Yue Fei - a Chinese patriot and military general
  1. Yue Fei’s Mother – Madam Yao

Yue Fei was a well-known and respected military general leading the army of Southern Song during its 12th century wars against the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty.  One of the most important teachings his mother gave him was loyalty to his country.  Fearful that his loyalty to his country might waver as pressure builds, she decided to tattoo four words on his back.  These four words 尽忠报国/盡忠報國, (Jìn zhōng bào guó), which translates to “serve the country with undying faith” were painfully etched onto Yue Fei by his mother, an incredibly brave act for both as no mother wanted to see her son endure such a painful experience.  This story is often retold as the epitome of having the utmost loyalty to one’s country and to this day, Yue Fei is remembered as the symbol of patriotism in China.

These four famous mothers from ancient China are still celebrated today not only for raising wonderful and heroic children that made a positive impact on Chinese history, but also for their hard work and dedication to their families and their communities. To celebrate Mother’s Day, be sure to download the Mother’s Day activity pack and write a THANK YOU card for Mom ! 

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