The Wife of Yue Yangzi

Yue Yangzi (乐羊子) lived in the Henan (河南) Jun (郡) (where was in modern-day Henan Province) of the Eastern Han Dynasty. One day, he walked outside and saw a piece of gold on the road. He thought that someone lost it, but since no other one saw it, so he pocketed it with an overjoyed and nervous mind. He returned home and showed the piece of gold to his wife, “Look, I got a piece of gold on the road.” The wife said, “I once heard a person with lofty ideals won’t drink the water of a spring which is called ‘Stealing Spring’(盗泉), and a noble-minded person won’t accept the food which was handed out in contempt. Now you pocket the gold for your greed. Don’t you think it can sully your reputation?” Yue Yangzi felt very ashamed, and threw the gold away.

With the encouragement of the wife, Yue Yangzi went to a far city for studying. A year later, he returned home. His wife felt surprised and worried. The young woman knelt and asked his husband why he returned so early. Yangzi smiled and said, “No other reasons, just because I miss you very much.” The young woman said nothing. She took a pair of scissors and walked to her loom. She picked up a big cloth and said, “The cloth is from silkworm cocoons, and I spent very much time and painstaking effort on weaving silk threads into cloth, so silk threads can be a big cloth. But if I cut the cloth, all my efforts will be wasted. You, my dear husband, should be studious, and every day you must think what your demerits are, and then you can be a virtuous person. If you give up your study halfway, is it different from cutting the cloth?” Yangzi was moved by the words, and he decided to be a learned man. He returned to that far city, and continued to study. The young wife took good care of the younger sister of Yue Yangzi, and often asked others to take along her delicious food and new clothing to Yangzi.

When you see the above paragraphs, you must think that several years later Yue Yangzi finished studying and returned home, and then the young couple lived happily. In our middle school, the literature textbook collected the story, but only excerpted the above contents. So at that time, I thought the later life of Yue Yangzi and his wife would be romantic. However, last year I read the chapter “Stories of Women”(列女传) of the book “History of the Later Han”(后汉书) which is a historical work written by Fan Ye (范晔) in the Southern Dynasties (南朝), and then know this story has a tragic end.

The home of Yue Yangzi was very poor. Yangzi’s wife wove every day, and then sold cloth in the market, but the income was too small to improve the life of her home. One day, a hen wrongly ran into the backyard of Yue Yangzi’s home. The younger sister of Yangzi caught the hen and killed it by stealth. She cooked it. When she was preparing to eat the hen, Yangzi’s wife returned home from the market. Yangzi’s sister held her hand and wanted to share the hen with her. Yangzi’s wife asked the young girl how she got a hen, and the girl told the truth to her. Yangzi’s wife watched the savory hen, but she didn’t taste it. She dumbly shed tears. Yangzi’s sister asked her why she felt so sad. The wife of Yangzi said, “I am sad that we are so poor that the hen of others became our food.” Yangzi’s sister blushed, and she threw the savory food away.

One day, a robber saw Yangzi’s wife was a beautiful woman, and he evilly wanted to get her. The robber kidnapped Yangzi’s sister for forcing Yangzi’s wife to follow him. Yangzi’s wife heard the cry of the young girl, and then she held a kitchen knife and rushed to the outside. The robber said, “Put your knife down, and follow me, and then I will release the young girl. Or I will kill her.” Yangzi’s wife watched the sky and sighed. She was a pure woman who was loyal and faithful to her dear husband. She gathered up all her courage, and then, she cut her own throat by her knife! The young virtuous lady died. The robber was shocked. He released Yangzi’s sister, and rapidly ran away.

The governor (太守) of the Henan Jun heard the story of the young lady, and felt deeply moved. He ordered local officials to catch the robber and punished the man to death. And then he gave the best thin silk to the home of the lady. The young lady received an honorable burial. The governor conferred the title “Chastity and Righteousness”(贞义) on her.

When I read the story of the young lady, I finally understand that, why the Han Empire was so great, because our Chinese nation had excellent women as the wife of Yue Yangzi. Our Huaixia ancestors regarded white orchids as their soul. Be pure as an orchid, and die as an orchid, and leave the fragrance to the world.

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