As for Guo Ju’s son playing the “shaking gudong”, he truly evoked sympathy. In his mother’s arms, he was smiling so joyfully; meanwhile, his father was digging a hole to bury him. The text on the image read: “Guo Ju from the Han dynasty lived in a poor family. His son was three years old, and the boy’s grandmother used to spare her food for him. [Guo Ju] said to his wife: ‘We’re too poor to provide for my mother, and our son takes her share of food. Why don’t we bury this son?’” However, another version of the story in the Biographies of Model Sons by Liu Xiang [77-6 BCE] was slightly different: Guo Ju’s family was rich, but he left all the family’s wealth to his younger brothers; his boy was a newborn, not even three years old. This version read in a similar way [to the other version] towards the end: “When the hole [he] was digging reached two feet deep, [he] found a jar of gold, with an inscription that read: ‘Heaven bestows this to Guo Ju. Neither the authorities nor commoners are to take it [from him]!’”
In the beginning, I really got in a sweat for the child, and my anxiety was not relieved until [the father] found that jar of gold. However, by then I no longer dared to think about becoming a model son, and I also feared that my father would be a model son. Life was becoming more and more difficult for my family, and I noticed that my parents constantly worried about everyday provisions. Besides, my grandmother was getting old. Had my father followed Guo Ju’s example, would it not have been me who should be buried? If everything worked out as in the story, with a jar of gold found in the end, it would certainly be a blessing from heaven, but I vaguely understood, despite my age at the time, that there might not be such a coincidence in the world.
現在想起來，實在很覺得傻氣。 這是因為現在已經知道了這些老玩意，本來誰也不實行。……不過彼一時，此一時，彼時我委實有點害怕：掘好深坑，不見黃金，連“搖咕咚”一同埋下去，蓋上土，踏得實實的，又有什麼法子可想呢。 我想，事情雖然未必實現，但我從此總怕聽到我的父母愁窮，怕看見我的白髮的祖母，總覺得她是和我不兩立，至少，也是一個和我的生命有些妨礙的人。 後來這印象日見其淡了，但總有一些留遺，一直到她去世——這大概是送給《二十四孝圖》的儒者所萬料不到的罷。
I find myself silly when I look back now, for I’ve learned that nobody put this old stuff into practice anyway. […] But things were different back then; I was really scared: what if the deep hole was ready, with no sign of gold, and the “shaking gudong” was buried along with [the child], soil put on top of it and stamped firm? I think, although such things never happened, since I read this story I had always been afraid to hear how poverty worried my parents and to see my white-haired grandmother, always suspecting that she and I could never coexist, or at least that she somewhat stood in the way of my life. Later, this impression gradually faded, but it was never completely gone until she passed away: the learned man who gave me that copy of Illustrations of the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars probably didn’t anticipate this.
* From Lu Xun, Zhaohua xishi 朝花夕拾 (in Lu Xun quanji 魯迅全集 vol. 2, Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2005), 262-64.
Image of Guo Ju from the Japanese edition of Illustrations of the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars cited by Lu Xun
Image credit: 教育学研究科・教育学部図書室 Graduate School of Education / Faculty of Education Library in the University of Tokyo, JAPAN
Detail of the album leaf depicting Guo Ju's story by Jiang Pu 蔣溥 (1708-1761)
Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei
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