Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety (16): Yu Qianlou Tasting His Father's Stool out of Grave Concern for His Health

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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Yu Qianlou lived during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, in the country of Qi (479-502 A.D.). He rose to office and was appointed the governor of Chan Ling. Ten days after he assumed the post, for no apparent reason, as he worked in the capital, he broke out in a cold sweat and his heart started beating rapidly and would not stop.

"Do you suppose there is a problem at home?" he wondered. Being a devoted son, the duties at home always sat foremost on his mind. Immediately he resigned his post and hurried home. When he returned home, he discovered that as he had feared, his father had suddenly been stricken with a strange illness that the doctors could not diagnose.

"If you want to know your father's prognosis and chances of recovering, you must test his stool. If it tastes sweet, then the malady is serious, and chronic. If it tastes bitter, then the problem is acute, and short-term," said the doctor. Lacking any sophisticated testing procedure, the physician advised Yu Qianlou that he would have to taste the old man's excrement to determine whether he could quickly recover from the disease. Qianlou promptly sampled the stool and to his dismay, found it tasted sweet.

That night, in desperation, he lit a stick of incense and knelt before the family shrine, and prayed to Polaris, the Pole Star. "If my father can recover his health, I will offer up my life in exchange for his. Take me and let him live," he vowed.

After news of Yu Qianlou filial oath got around, the family and neighbors all praised him as a truly extraordinary, filial child.

A verse in his honor says:
He served in office but a few brief days,
When father caught a strange and ill disease.
Qianlou looked North, and bowed to star Polaris,
"Take me instead!" he vowed from bended knees.

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