Remarkable Mothers, this one’s for you.
Behind every great man is a great woman, or so the saying goes, which generally implies that the great women is often the wife or partner. Perhaps it is the mother that is often ignored or taken for granted. This is a tribute to the unwavering sacrifices that mothers make and the significant role they played in shaping their children’s destiny.
Ancient China has many notable mothers of famous individuals in Chinese history. Through their virtuous upbringing, wisdom, and support, these exemplary mothers helped to shape the destiny of their children, and the nation.
Yue Fei (岳飞) was a twelfth-century military general revered in Chinese culture for his unwavering patriotism. While hailed as a national hero throughout Chinese history, the most widely known story is about the tattoo that his mother had inscribed on his back. Click here to buy the storybook.
Source: Painting from the General Yue Fei Memorial Temple, Hangzhou
When China was invaded from the north and in desperate need of capable warriors, Yue Fei was torn between serving his country and being a filial son to his elderly mother. Yue Mu, seeing her son's dilemma of having competing virtues of loyalty and filial piety, asked him to take off his shirt and tattooed four Chinese characters on Yue Fei’s back: 尽 (jìn - Utmost); 忠 (zhōng - Loyalty); 报 (bào - Serve); 国 (guó - Country) which translates to “Serve the country with the utmost loyalty.”
With her blessing, Yue Fei was able to fulfil both his mother’s wish and his duty to the country. He went on to become one of China’s most celebrated generals and an enduring symbol of loyalty. On account of this story, the idea of devotion to one’s country has become firmly incorporated into the genes of the Chinese people.
Another legendary mother was the mother of Mencius (孟子 mèng zǐ), Chang-shih. Mencius is one of China's greatest philosophers, the sage second only to Confucius. As a young child, his mother moved the family residence three times as she was not willing to settle for less than a perfect environment to raise her son. Her last move brought them close to a public school where her son was exposed to proper etiquette and vocabulary of the neighbouring scholars. When she saw Mencius imitating the scholars, only then was she satisfied and said “This is the proper place for my son”. Inspired by the scholars, young Mencius went to study and grew up to became one of the most famous Confucian scholars.
Henceforth, the expression, 孟母三迁 (mèng mǔ sān qiān) Mencius’ mother, three moves, is a well-known Chinese idiom which refers to the importance of having a good environment to bring up children.
Till today the modern society of China references the tales of Yue Fei's mother tattooing his back and the sacrifices of Mencius' mother as exemplary virtuous family values. As such it is not surprising that these enduring tales of China's legendary mothers are often repeated in public speeches by presidents or by elders to remind the younger generation of ancient Chinese values that are ever more relevant in today's modern day parenting.