Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety (18): Cai Shun Picking Mulberries for His Mother

PureInsight | May 9, 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 Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A.D.), there lived a devoted son named Cai Shun. His father passed away when he was quite young. Wang Mang [1] had just usurped the throne at that time, and the entire country was in great commotion, suffering a famine, a drought, and a civil war all at once. The people suffered from these dire calamities and many families starved. The survivors were forced into the fields to forage for wild plants and roots for food. Often, decent men turned to banditry and robbery just to survive. The roads were infested with gangs of thieves; the forests were havens for the homeless and the desperate.

One day Cai Shun took two wicker baskets out into the woods to gather mulberries for his mother. Beneath the trees he ran into two wicked-looking robbers. They were carrying long sharp swords and their faces were cruel and dark.

"Hey kid, don't you want to live? How do you dare invade the big Boss's territory?" shouted the biggest of the bandits. Little Cai Shun was scared speechless.

The smaller bandit looked closely at the boy's baskets, planning to eat anything of value. "Child, why are you dividing the mulberries into two baskets?"

Cai Shun answered in a trembling voice: "I use one basket to contain black mulberries that are riper and sweeter. I give those to my mother. I use the other to contain the red ones are not ripe, but sour. Those I eat myself, sir. I hope you two gentlemen will not kill me or else my mother won't have anybody to look after her."

The boy's earnest simplicity and honest answer touched the two thugs' heart of compassion. Remembering their own parents' suffering, they decided not to harm Cai Shun. Instead they supplied him with food and drink, and released him back to his mother.

A verse in his praise says:
The black mulberries went to feed his mother,
Whose blouse was stained with tears from hunger's pain;
The red-browed thugs heard his filial thoughts:
Then gave him meat and rice and set him free.

[1] Wang Mang:

Translated from:

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