Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety (6): Dong Yong Entered Servitude to Pay for His Father's Funeral

PureInsight | April 11, 2005

[] Stories about exemplary filial conduct abound in Chinese history. The Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety were chosen and compiled by Guo Jujing from the Fujian Province during the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368 CE) while he was mourning the death of his father. He recounted the feats of filial children towards their parents from the age of the primordial Emperor Shun down to his own era. Even today, these stories form an important part of orthodox Chinese virtue.

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Dong Yong Entered Servitude to Pay for His Father's Funeral
Dong Yong lived during the Han Dynasty. His mother had passed away years ago, and he scratched out a meager living to support his ailing father. Dong Yong found work as a farm laborer, and earned barely enough to buy his father's medicine. The old man was an invalid, so Dong Yong would carry him to a cart and tenderly wheel him to the shade of a tall tree beside the field where he was working.

Several years passed in this fashion, but then Dong Yong's father died. Having spent his last penny to pay his father's medical care, Dong Yong found himself unable to pay for a proper funeral for his father. In order to scrape together sufficient funds for a funeral, he decided to sell himself into bondage as indentured servant, with the promise to repay the bond-money in the future.

After the funeral was over, the young man headed for his owner's house. A pretty girl met him on the road. She said that both her parents had passed away and she couldn't locate her relatives in the area. She said she hoped that Dong Yong would be kind enough to marry her so that she would have some security. He agreed to that and the two of them asked the Heaven and Earth to be witnesses as they pledged their marriage vows then and there.

Together they entered the home of Dong Yong's indentured master, an extremely miserly weaver. He read the labor contract to the couple, and told them that they would have to produce three hundred bolts of perfect cloth in order to redeem the freedom of Dong Yong.

The young man was not afraid of hard work. He figured out that if he and his wife worked together day and night, it would take at least three years of labor before the task could be completed. To Dong Yong's complete surprise, his new bride wove all three hundred bolts of cloth in less than one month! The weaving boss was even more astonished when the young couple handed over the perfect fabric and walked out the door to freedom.

They strolled past the tree where they had first met, and his wife suddenly fell silent. Dong Yong asked her to explain her demeanor. He told her, "I now have my freedom. You should be happy!"

Tears ran down her face as she said, "I am a goddess from heaven. Your heart of filial respect is so noble that it touched me deeply. Hence, I came down to this world to assist you in your task. But now I must return to heaven, as I am not able to stay with you any longer. Take good care of yourself!"

Dong Yong couldn't bear to part with her, but how could he prevent a goddess from heaven from returning when the time was up? Helplessly he watched his wife slowly ascend into the sky and fly away.

A verse in his honor says,
His father's funeral sent him into servitude,
A charming goddess met him on the way.
They wove the cloth that ransomed back his freedom,
His filial conduct touched even the gods.

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