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China Perspectives
The Twenty-four Paragons of Filtal Piety 3

Number Three
His Heart Was Pained When His Mother Bit Her Finger: Zeng Shen

During the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history, there lived a student of Confucius, Zeng Shen, who become well-known for his filial attitude of respect. His father passed away while Shen was still young. He was extremely respectful and obedient to his mother. Every day the young man would go into the mountains to cut firewood; his mother would stay home and weave cloth to sell. Mother and son had to work hard to earn enough to get by.

One day Zeng Shen set out early for the mountains. A guest who had traveled a long distance arrived at the Zeng household that very morning. The family being poor, there was nothing with which to entertain the guest, and no way to properly welcome him. As Zeng Shen was not at home, his mother did not know what to do, and she could only hope that her son would return soon from the mountains.

The boy did not show up, and Mrs. Zeng grew agitated. Without realizing what she was doing, she put her finger into her mouth and bit it. In her nervousness, she bit her finger so hard that it bled. Zeng Shen, in the mountains, suddenly felt a stinging pain in his heart, and knew there must be something amiss with his mother. He quickly bundled up the brush and kindling and ran back down the mountain.

Arriving before his mother, he knelt in the doorway and asked her what was the matter. Relieved and happy, she said, "A guest has come and I was so upset that I bit my finger. You must be a truly respectful child that you can know your mother"s thoughts from a distance!"

A verse in his praise says,

His mother bit her finger, her son"s heart felt the pain.
He bundled up the firewood And ran home just in time.
What age has ever witnessed deeper ties of filial love
Than the depth of shared between this mother and her son?

 
   
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