Mencius’ Mother – 鄒孟軻母 (2/2)

The story of Mencius’ mother comes from the Lienü zhuan, written by Liu Xiang in the first half of the Han Dynasty. 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 2 of 2 as partitioned in this weblog

Original Text Source:

孟子既娶,將入私室,其婦袒而在內,孟子不悅,遂去不入。婦辭孟母而求去,曰:“妾聞夫婦之道,私室不與焉。今者妾竊墮在室,而夫子見妾,勃然不悅,是客 妾也。婦人之義,蓋不客宿。請歸父母.” 於是孟母召孟子而謂之曰:“夫禮,將入門,問孰存,所以致敬也。將上堂,聲必揚,所以戒人也。將入戶,視必下,恐見 人過也。今子不察於禮,而責禮於人,不亦遠乎!”

Mencius married, and went to enter his bedroom. His wife was inside, and she was undressed. Mencius was unhappy, and left without entering the bedroom. Mencius’ wife then spoke of this to mother Meng, saying, “I’ve heard it said that the proper way for husband and wife to act in public should not influence their behaviour in the bedroom.(1) Today I slipped into the bedroom, and when my husband saw me, he suddenly became unhappy, treating me like a guest. A proper wife should not be made to sleep like a guest. Please allow me to return to my parents.” Mother Meng then summoned Mencius and said to him, “Listen, it is proper etiquette to ask who is there before you walk through the door, this shows respect. When entering the hall, you must raise your voice, to warn others you have arrived. When you enter the house, you must look downwards, to avoid offending with your gaze. Today, you did not act in accordance with propriety, but you scold others for their lack of propriety; Is this not far from reasonable?!

(1) A direct translation would be something along the lines of “The ‘way’ of husbands and wives does not extend into the bedroom.” This means that Mencius’ derision of lust is the proper way to act in public, but that he should let down his guard and be intimate with his wife while in the bedroom.

孟子謝,遂留其婦。君子謂孟母知禮,而明於姑母之道。孟子處齊,而有憂色。孟母見之曰:“子若有憂色,何也?”孟子曰:“不敏。”(2)異日閒居,擁楹而歎。孟母見之曰:“鄉見子有憂色,曰不也,今擁楹而歎,何 也?”孟子對曰:“軻聞之:君子稱身而就位,不為苟得而受賞,不貪榮祿。諸侯不聽,則不達其上。聽而不用,則不踐其朝。”今道不用於齊,願行而母老,是以 憂也。”

Mencius apologized, and kept his wife. The gentlemen all said that mother Meng knew proper etiquette, and clearly understood the role of the mother-in-law. Mencius was in the state of Qi, and had a worried expression on his face. Mother Meng saw this and asked, “Son, you seem worried. What is it?” Mencius gave a perfunctory answer, brushing her off. (2) Another day Mencius was leaning against a pillar while sighing. Mother Meng saw him and said, “Before, I saw you were worried, but you said it was nothing. Now you are leaning against a pillar and sighing, what is it?” Mencius said to his mother, “I’ve heard the following: The superior man seeks a position according to his abilities, he doesn’t try to illicitly gain rewards, he doesn’t have a greed for honor or the rank and salary of an official position. If the feudal lords do not listen to him, he will not deliver his advice. If they listen to but do not use his advice, then he will not step into their court. Now, Qi does not make use of my advice. I wish to leave, but I worry about you, Mother.”

(2) Mencius’ answer in the original text (不敏) does not make sense in its meaning of “not smart.” According to this article: “第一次回答’不敏’,答非所問,不知何意”. The author of the article goes on to promote his view that the 敏 is supposed to be a 殹, in which case the meaning of 不殹 would be 否也, meaning “It’s nothing.”


Mother Meng said, “Listen, according to ritual a wife is to prepare rice and grains, brew alcohol, care for her husband’s parents, and to sew clothing. That’s it. She must manage what is inside the home, and have no concern for what is outside it. The Yi Jing says, ‘She presents food, and seeks to do nothing else.’ The Shi Jing says, ‘She does not dress ostentatiously or adorn herself, and concerns herself with nothing but the food and drink she prepares.” We say for a woman to not have the desire to control things, there are three paths she must follow. When she is little she must listen to her father and mother, after she is married she must listen to her husband, if her husband dies, she must listen to her son. These are the proper relations. Now, my son has become an adult, and I am old. You must act based on your principles, and I will act based on ritual.” The gentleman all said mother Meng understood the role of a woman. When the Shi Jing says, “She carries a pleasant expression and a smile, teaching without anger,” it was referring to this sort of woman.


In praise: Mencius’ mother, her teachings made clear distinctions, she guided her son to studying the arts, made him to follow moral principles, his studies did not advance, she cut the loom to demonstrate a point, he became a virtuous man, at the top of society.

Published in: on March 19, 2008 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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