Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety (12): Wang Xiang Lying Down on the Ice to Fetch Carp for His Stepmother

PureInsight | May 2, 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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During the Jin Dynasty, a young boy named Wang Xiang lost his mother to illness. His father took another wife so the boy would have a mother. His stepmother, however, was a bad-tempered, evil-natured woman who took a dislike to her stepson and often berated him in front of his father. It went on incessantly, and eventually, she managed to turn Wang Xiang's father against the boy. Despite this hardship, Wang Xiang remained devoted in his filial regard for them both.

One winter it was unusually cold, and snow fell for many days. The snow piled up on all sides of the house, and the small creek nearby was frozen solid with ice. The severe weather forced the family indoors, and all the animals found shelter wherever they could. The world outdoors was a broad blanket of white.

Wang Xiang's stepmother took sick. She developed a strong craving for fish and demanded fresh carp as medicine to cure her illness. As it was still snowing, and everywhere the rivers had long since frozen solid, where could fresh fish be found? Wang Xiang was a dutiful son, however, and could not bear seeing his stepmother unhappy.

He forced his way out into the cold and walked to the creek side to see what he could do. The snow was piled deep, and the boy shivered in the cold. He looked and looked, but found no access to running water. Tired and disappoint-ed, he sat down on the ice and lamented his failure to find fish to cure his mother. Having no way to solve the problem, he simply let his tears flow.

An idea came to him as he cried, and having no recourse, in his desperation, he removed his coat and shirt, and lay down on the ice. Before long, his body heat melted a hole in the ice. Two carp that had been frozen into the river-water suddenly leaped up out of the crack in the ice and flapped onto the bank. Amazed and delighted, Wang Xiang scooped them up and carried them home to his ailing mother.

Seeing the two live fish, Wang Xiang's stepmother felt thoroughly ashamed of her selfishness. Afterwards, she changed her attitude towards her stepson, and became a kind and caring person. Many people said that the fish came from his sincere filial devotion. His noble attitude moved Heaven into giving him a reward.

A verse in his honor says,

Stepmothers abound on this earth,
But rare are sons like Wang Xiang.
Even now when the river freezes over,
We recall his icy sacrifice for his Mother.

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