The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars: Dong Yong 二十四孝：董永
As one of the cores of Chinese culture, "filiality" is not only the moral code for maintaining family relationships in Chinese society for thousands of years, but also the traditional virtue of Chinese Nation. A Yuan-dynasty(元朝Yuáncháo) writer Guo Jujing(郭居敬Guō Jūjìng) compiled the stories of 24 filial exemplars in ancient times and finished the Stories of Filiality. Let me introduce the sixth story to you.
Sell Oneself for Burial of Father
Dong Yong(董永Dǒng Yǒng) lived during the Han Dynasty(汉朝Hàncháo), and as his mother had passed away years ago, he scratched out a meager living to support his ailing father. Dong Yong found work as a farm laborer, and earned barely enough to keep his father in medicine. The old man was an invalid, so Dong Yong would carry him to a cart and tenderly wheel the eider to the shade of a tall tree beside the field where he was working. In this way he was able to keep his job and also nurse his father at the same time. Several years passed in this fashion, but then the senior Dong died, and Dong Yong, having spent the last penny for last-minute medical care, found himself unable to pay for a proper funeral. All he could do to scrape together sufficient funds for a coffin and mourners was to sell himself into bondage as indentured servant, with the promise to repay the bond-moneys in the future.
Having sent off the coffin, the young man headed for his owner's house. A pretty girl met him on the road, and told him her story, how both her parents had passed away, and how she couldn't locate her relatives in the area. She said she hoped that Dong Yong would be kind enough to take her in, so that she could have some security and reliance. He found no objection and the two of them asked Heaven and Earth to be witnesses as they pledged their troth 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 demanded three hundred bolts of perfect cloth to redeem the freedom of Dong Yong. The young man was not afraid of hard work, but figured out that if man and wife co-operated and joined their strength, it would take at least three years of labor before the task could be completed. To Dong Yong's complete surprise, the 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, contract in hand, gaily walked out the door to freedom.
They strolled past the tree where they had first met, and his wife suddenly fell silent. Her countenance glowed with an uncanny light, and Dong Yong asked her to explain her demeanor. "I now have my freedom, you should be happy!" Tears ran down her face as she said, "I am an Immortal from the heavens. Your heart of filial respect is so noble that I was touched, and came down to this world to assist you in your task. But now I must return, I am not able to stay with you. Take good care of yourself."
Dong Yong couldn't bear to part with her, but how could he prevent an Immortal from the heavens 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 maiden charming and immortal, met him on the way. They wove the cloth that ransomed back his freedom, His filial conduct touched even Heaven.
The next story: Feeding Parents with Deer's Milk