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Who Is Closer, Father or Husband?

In the moral principles of ancient China, a woman should be loyal to her husband. As a daughter, she should filially respect her parents. If a woman’s husband and her father had conflict, what would she do?

In 697 B.C., Zheng Li-Gong (鄭厲公), the monarch of the Zheng State, wanted to kill his prime minister Zhai Zu (祭足), because Zhai Zu monopolized the power.

Zheng Li-Gong was the nephew of the monarch of the Song State. He had once been in the Song State for a long time. In the Song State, he had a good friend Yong Jiu (雍糾) who was a young noble. When Zhai Zu visited the Song State, the Song’s monarch forced Zhai Zu to make a promise that he would expel his monarch Zheng Zhao-Gong (鄭昭公) and support Zheng Li-Gong to be the Zheng’s monarch.

At that time, a person would fulfill his promise at all hazards. So, a promise couldn’t be made easily. Zhai Zu was close to Zheng Zhao-Gong, but he had to keep his promise since he made it. When Zhai Zu returned home, he advised Zheng Zhao-Gong to leave the country. Then Zheng Li-Gong returned the Zheng State and Yong Jiu followed him. Yong Jiu married the daughter of Zhai Zu, and this woman was then called Yong Ji (雍姬, “Ji” was the family name of the woman).

Though Zhai Zu helped Zheng Li-Gong to ascend the throne, he still controlled the government power. Zheng Li-Gong was very dissatisfied with him. Zheng Li-Gong and Yong Jiu were very intimate, so Yong Jiu decided to help the monarch to kill Zhai Zu. Yong Jiu told Zhai Zu that he would hold a banquet in the suburb and invited Zhai Zu to attend it. Zhai Zu gladly accepted the invitation of his son-in-law. The plan of Yong Jiu was that his warriors in ambush would kill Zhai Zu as soon as the man attended the banquet.

However, Yong Ji perceived the secret plan. She was in dilemma, because she would lose her father or her husband, and she would be unfilial or disloyal, whatever she did. She had no idea.

Then, Yong Ji went to her parents’ home, and her mother was at home. Yong Ji’s mother felt surprised that her daughter suddenly came to visit parents, but Yong Ji quietly asked her mother, “Mother, can you tell me who is closer, father or husband?” Her mother smiled and said, “My dear daughter, any man could be the husband, but the father is only one. How do they compare each other?” So, Yong Ji knew what she should do.

When Zhai Zu returned home, Yong Ji said to her father, “My father, Yong invited you to attend his banquet, right?” Zhai Zu said, “Yeah.” Yong Ji said, “The place of the banquet won’t be his residence but the suburb. I feel suspicious, so I have to come to remind you.”

Zhai Zu was a wily politician, and he understood what his daughter’s words meant. He was merciless to his enemy. Zhai Zu quickly ordered his warriors to kill Yong Jiu. The death of Yong Jiu wasn’t enough to slake the hatred of Zhai Zu. He exposed the body of his son-in-law in public, and it’s also to overawe his opponents including the monarch. In the last moment, perhaps Yong Jiu still wasn’t aware that his wife betrayed him. Zheng Li-Gong knew Zhai Zu wouldn’t forgive him, so he had to run away to another country. Zheng Li-Gong didn’t forget his good friend Yong Jiu. He drove a chariot and carried Yong Jiu’s body away. When Zheng Li-Gong left the capital, he faced the body of his pitiful friend and said, “You plotted with a woman, so you deserved death.”

At that time, it was not shameful for a woman to remarry. But who would trust such a woman who betrayed her husband? Yong Ji might spend the rest of her life with a disconsolate heart. After her story, some other women faced the similar dilemma, and made different choices. But whatever a woman did, she was always a victim in conflicts between men.

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