Mencius’ Mother – 鄒孟軻母 (1/2)

The story of Mencius’ mother comes from the Lienü zhuan, written by Liu Xiang in the first half of the Han Dynasty around 18 CE. It uses anecdotes to illustrate the moral character of Mencius’ mother and emphasize the influence environment has on the upbringing of an individual. This is part 1 of 2 as partitioned in this weblog

Original Text Source:


The mother of Meng Ke(1) of Zou was called mother Meng, and lived near a cemetary. When Mencius was little, he enjoyed playing in the cemetary by jumping about, burying things and building things out of the dirt. Mother Meng said, “This is no place to raise a child,” and moved to a house next to the market. Mencius enjoyed playing as a merchant displaying his wares. Mother Meng once again said, “This is no place to raise a child,” and moved next to a school. Mencius enjoyed performing sacrifices, and displaying proper etiquette. Mother Meng said, “Now this place is really suitable for raising a child,” and settled down there.

(1) Meng Ke is the given name of Mencius.

孟子長,學六藝,卒成大儒之名。君子謂孟母善以漸化。《》云:“彼姝者子,何以予之?”此之謂也。孟子之少也,既學而歸,孟母方績,問曰:“學何所至矣?”孟子曰:“自若也。”孟母以刀斷其織。孟子懼而問其故,孟母曰:“子之廢學,若吾斷斯織也。夫君 子學以立名,問則廣知,是以居則安寧,動則遠害。今而廢之,是不免於廝役,而無以離於禍患也。何以異於織績而食,中道廢而不為,寧能衣其夫子,而長不乏糧 食哉!女則廢其所食,男則墮於脩德,不為竊盜,則為虜役矣。”

Mencius grew up, learned the six arts(2), and in the end became a great and renowned scholar. The gentlemen of the era said that mother Meng was skilled at gradually immersing her son in the proper ways. When the Shi Jing said, “That superb woman, what may I give to her?” it was referring to this kind of woman(3). When Mencius was little, he returned home after finishing his studies. His mother, who was spinning thread, asked, “What did you learn today?” Mencius replied, “Same as usual.” Mother Meng grabbed a knife and cut the cloth she was working on. Mencius asked why she did this and she replied, “When you neglect your studies, it is like me cutting this cloth. Listen… the superior man studies to make a name for himself, he asks questions to gain knowledge. Using this knowledge he is able to live a tranquil life when at home, and to avoid harm in the course of his duties. If you continue to neglect your studies in this way, you will condemn yourself to a life of menial servitude and will be unable to avoid harm and misfortune. How is this any different from making cloth to provide food, but neglecting the work when only half done? How could one provide clothes for one’s husband and children, or provide food so they do not starve?!If women abandon their method of obtaining food, and men become indolent in the cultivation of virtue(4), then they will become either bandits or servants. ”

(2) The six arts a gentleman was expected to master during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods were: rites, musics, archery, charioteering, writing and mathematics. In the later Warring States period the martial skills became less important to the increasingly intellectual shi (仕) class.

(3) This probably seems out of place to many. In this era, it was very common to analogize the situation by quoting the Shi Jing, which added weight and authority to one’s statements. The quote’s purpose is likely to to emphasize the author’s appreciation of mother Meng’s moral qualities.

(4) The cultivation of virtue and education are very closely linked in Confucian thought.


Mencius was afraid, and put great effort into his studies, studying night and day without rest under the tutelage of Zisi, and became a great scholar. The gentlemen of the era said that mother Meng understood how to be a mother. When the Shi Jing said, “That superb woman, what may I give to her?” It was referring to this kind of woman.

Published in: on March 16, 2008 at 12:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a great idea. Can you say more about what sorts of things you’ll be posting, what the sources of these texts are, and maybe a little about yourself?

  2. Thanks for the comment. I’ve just started this blog, so I’m still working out exactly how I want to go about things. In the near future, texts I might be tackling include parts of Zhuang zi, Xun zi, and possibly some from the Shi Ji. I’ve added a small about page and a link to the source I used for the text.

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