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What it takes to be a model son

An unofficial “introduction” to the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars by Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881-1936):


The first illustrated book I ever received was a gift from an elder: Illustrations of the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars. It was just a slim book, but I was thrilled to have it, for it had illustrations below the texts, with more humans than demons, and it belonged to me alone. It seemed that everyone knew these stories; even illiterate people like Achang,[1] at the sight of one of the images, were able to tell the corresponding story in all its vivid detail. However, in the wake of my happiness came great disappointment. After I had someone explain to me all the twenty-four stories, I realised filial piety was so demanding that my former ambition of becoming a model son proved completely hopeless.

* From Lu Xun, Zhaohua xishi 朝花夕拾 (in Lu Xun quanji 魯迅全集 vol. 2, Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2005), 260-261.

Here is an example that appears particularly illustrative of Lu Xun’s point considering the nuisance that I am exposed to at the moment:

Album leaf by Jiang Pu 蔣溥 (1708-1761)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


Wu Meng, whose hometown was unknown, came from a poor family that could not afford a mosquito net. He served his parents with filial piety even when he was eight years old. Mosquitoes often gathered on his skin on summer evenings; [he] let them have their fill of blood and never attempted to drive them away for fear that they might turn to feast on his parents. Such was his devotion: even Zeng and Min [2] would not be able to surpass it!

A close-up of our model boy, who apparently isn't bothered by the beasts at all

[1] A housemaid in Lu Xun’s family.

[2] Referring to Zeng Shen 曾參 (505-435 BCE) and Min Sun 閔損 (536-487 BCE), both of whom were among the most celebrated disciples of Confucius as well as figures in the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars. Zeng Shen was said to feel his mother’s pain when she bit her own fingers, not figuratively but telepathically. Min Sun was said to feel sympathy for his stepmother even though she abused him.


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