Stepmothers are often stereotyped, perhaps in part due to the treatment they receive in stories like Cinderella, as being wicked, unreasonable, and cruel. But in ancient China, in the state of Wei during the Zhou Dynasty, there once emerged a kind-hearted stepmother who, with virtues that are unimaginable today, positively influenced her five stepsons who treated her badly.
The story goes that the daughter of the Yang family named Meng Yang of the state of Wei gave birth to three more sons after she married general Mang Mao. Adding in the five sons Mang Mao had with his first wife, Meng Yang had eight children to take care of.
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The stepmother was disliked by her stepchildren
However, none of the five sons born to Mang Mao and his first wife liked Meng Yang. Even though their stepmother treated them very lovingly and generously, even taking care of them in terms of food, clothing, and housing far more than her own three children, they still did not like their father’s new wife.
Later, the third son from Mang Mao’s first marriage violated an order of the King of Wei and was sentenced to death according to the law. When she learned of this, Meng Yang was sorrowful every day and worked hard from morning till night to save this son who was not her own.
A person in the know said to Meng Yang: “These sons don’t like you, so why do you have to feel so sad about this and why do you have to run around so hard trying to rescue this son?”
Meng Yang replied: “If my own son did not like me, I would still try to rescue him by all means so that he could be saved from calamity and punishment. If I turned a blind eye to the suffering of the children from Mang Mao’s first marriage and was unwilling to do anything to save them, would it not be like they were motherless? It was for fear that they would become orphans that Mang Mao married me.
“Although I am a stepmother, I have to love and care for my children; otherwise, I cannot be called ‘kind’. If I only love my own children and neglect the children born to Mang Mao and his first wife, I cannot be called ‘righteous’. If I am so uncompassionate and unrighteous, how can I stand in the secular world? Although these children do not like me, how can I not be reasonable and not do a mother’s duty?
A few days later, these words of Meng Yang’s reached the ears of the King of Wei. The king of Wei was so moved by Meng Yang’s benevolent heart that he could not help but tell his ministers: “The stepmother Meng Yang is so loving, how can I execute one of her sons?”
When Meng Yang went to see the King of Wei to ask him to forgive her son, the King of Wei, who admired her kindness and righteousness, ordered that the son be forgiven for his crime.
When the son returned home after being rescued by his stepmother, the other four children born to Mang Mao and his first wife understood Meng Yang’s true character and admired her noble virtues. They gradually became close to Meng Yang and eventually respected her as if she were their own mother. The family lived together happily and harmoniously, and the eight sons, under Meng Yang’s care and instruction, later became the great rulers of Wei, the administrators or the scholars.
When people saw this, they praised Meng Yang for being a loving mother who could treat the children from her husband’s first marriage and her own children with the same loving attitude, so it was no wonder that all the children became virtuous and talented people and were selected as officials of Wei and became pillars of the state.
The value of having a “compassionate heart in all things” is really something not to overlook. Such kindness is the root of all goodness that can remove suffering and accumulate virtue.
Human relationships are indeed based on the core human values of loyalty, filial piety, benevolence, love, faith, and righteousness. Unseen, these values will naturally touch others, resolve a bad atmosphere or conflict-filled environment, and solve problems that even people with blood ties cannot solve.
Translated by Eva