Meng Mu Teaching Her Son-孟母教子

Mencius, whose given name was Ke and courtesy name was Ziyu, was a native of the State of Lu during the Warring States period, located in present-day Zoucheng, Shandong Province, China. He was another prominent figure in the Confucian school of thought after Confucius. He inherited and developed the teachings of Confucius and authored the book “Mencius,” which has been passed down through the ages. He is revered by later generations as a “Second Sage.” The combination of Confucius’s and Mencius’s teachings formed the core of Confucian culture, known as the “Way of Confucius and Mencius.”

Mencius’s upbringing was not privileged, and he did not have exceptional learning conditions. Besides his personal efforts, the education provided by his mother was also indispensable for him.

It is said that in order to provide Mencius with a good environment for growth, his mother moved their residence three times. Initially, their home was close to a cemetery, where Mencius often played. Concerned about the influence of this environment, his mother moved them to a bustling market area, where Mencius learned about commerce by observing the merchants. Later, they moved to a place near a school, where Mencius began to learn proper etiquette. His mother was pleased with this arrangement, and they settled there permanently, a practice known as the “Great Migration Teaching.”

When Mencius was very young, his father passed away, leaving his mother, Mrs. Zheng, to raise him single-handedly. She maintained her integrity and discipline, supporting her son by weaving and washing clothes for others. At first, they lived on the outskirts of a village near a cemetery. Mencius often played there, imitating the mourning rituals of funeral processions with the neighboring children. Concerned about this influence, his mother decided to move closer to a market, where they lived next to a butcher’s shop. Mencius observed the activities of the merchants and butchers, learning about trade and slaughter. Unhappy with this environment as well, his mother relocated them once again, this time near a school. There, Mencius witnessed the proper etiquette and rituals practiced by officials during the New Year celebrations. Satisfied with this environment, his mother decided they should stay there permanently.

Mrs. Zheng not only paid attention to the environment in which Mencius grew up but also focused on setting a good example through her words and actions. Once, when their neighbor slaughtered a pig, Mencius asked his mother why they did it. She replied that it was to provide meat for them to eat. However, later she regretted her response, realizing that if she deceived him now, it would teach him dishonesty. So, she bought meat from the neighbor to show that she had not lied to him.

For decades, Mrs. Zheng tirelessly devoted herself to Mencius’s education, not only nurturing him into a great scholar but also becoming a model mother for future generations. Later generations honored Mrs. Zheng, along with the mothers of the Northern Song Dynasty literary figure Ouyang Xiu, the patriotic general Yue Fei, and the Jin Dynasty military leader Tao Kan, as the “Four Virtuous Mothers,” with Mrs. Zheng being recognized as the foremost among them.