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China Perspectives
The Twenty-four Paragons of Filtal Piety 22

Number Twenty-two
Serving Wooden Statues Of His Parents: Ding Lan

During the Han Dynasty a young man named Ding Lan lost both his parents at an early age, before he knew how to serve them properly. After growing to adulthood, he longed to pay proper filial regard to mother and father, but as they had left the world, he could not get his wish. He hit upon a plan that would allow him to fulfill his filial duties: he gave a large piece of fine-quality wood to a craftsman and asked him to carve it into the images of his parents. The artisan fashioned two statues that satisfactorily captured the likeness of Ting"s mother and father.

When the images were done, Ding Lan reverently placed them in the living-room altar. Every day, morning and evening without fail, he would offer up incense, bow, and ask after the well-being of the statues. After he married, Ding Lan would lead his wife before the altar twice each day and perform the same ceremony of offerings to his departed elders.

His wife grew weary of the tedious ritual, and one day, out of boredom, when Ding Lan was not home, pricked the hand of one of the small wooden carvings, just to play a joke. Who could have guessed that the statue"s hand would bleed! The sight of real blood dripping from the image on the altar frightened his wife out of her wits.

Ding Lan returned home and bowed before the images as usual, and noticed the eyes of one of the statues were filled with tears. Marveling at this state, he looked closer and saw a trickle of blood running down the tiny hand. He demanded an explanation from his wife. She shamefully admitted her little joke, and how she had pricked the statue"s hand with a needle. Ding Lan blew up in anger, and calling his wife an unfilial wretch, he threw her out of the house and, got a divorce!

A verse in his honor says,

Wooden statues of his parents,
Carved to look as if alive.
Pay heed, all good sons and daughters:
Serve your parents while you can!

 
   
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