Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety (10): Lady Tang Tirelessly Feeds Her Mother-in-Law with Breast Milk

PureInsight | April 25, 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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In the time of the Tang Dynasty, an official named Cui Nanshan, had an elderly great-grandmother. She had lost all her teeth, thus she could not chew even soft rice. Eating was a big problem. Mr. Cui's grandmother, the Lady Tang, realized the difficulty her mother-in-law had in chewing food, and thus came upon a solution to keep her alive and in good health. The Lady Tang would wake up each morning, perform her daily toilet of washing her face and combing her hair, then she would enter her mother-in-law's chambers and proceed to feed her mother-in-law breast milk from her own body. The elderly matron had no trouble digesting this nutriment, and thus thanks to her daughter-in-law, even though she could not eat normal food, her body stayed strong and healthy.

One day she fell ill, and knowing that her life was about to reach its natural end, she summoned all her generations of descendants into her room and told them, "All these years I have been looked after by my daughter-in-law. She has treated me most kindly, and I am deeply grateful to her. I only hope that the wives of all my children and grandchildren will be as considerate and proper in their filial devotion as she has been towards me."

When the family heard her final words, they were deeply impressed, and ever after, used her advice as the motto of the household. The teaching was passed down and cherished through the many generations of the Cui family.

A verse in honor of Lady Tang says,
Out of deep respect for the Cui Family's matron,
After morning toilet she would feed her mother-in-law.
Kindness such as this is difficult to repay;
May every generation of descendants be so kind!

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