Selfless Acts of Brotherhood

Ancient Chinese painting on a blue porcelain tray.

Every family has their own stories of selfless acts of brotherhood which are passed on to future generations like timeless treasures. (Image: Linqong via Dreamstime)

Selflessness is one of the rarest virtues, and selfless acts often move Heaven and Earth. They may also lead to tangible rewards in the human world. In the long river of history, every family has their own stories of selfless brotherhood — brothers who fought for justice, brothers willing to give their lives to uphold righteousness, brothers mercifully fearless of epidemics — these true stories in history plant eternal affection and give gentle solace to people, as well as provide all kinds of enlightening strength to posterity.

The power of gentleness

During the Ming Dynasty, there was a scholar named Chen Shi’en, a native of what is now Henan Province. His family had three brothers, and he was the second in line. The older brother was a filial and honest man, but his younger brother was idle and carefree from a young age. He left the house as early as the sun rose every day and did not return until the sun had set.

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The elder brother always scolded and corrected him sternly, but he still did as he pleased. When he saw this, Chen Shi’en said to his older brother: “Your behavior damages the brotherly love we have and is not helpful.”

So from then on, Chen Shi’en personally waited at the door every night for his younger brother and opened the door for him when he returned. He asked him how he was and offered him warm food, saying: “Are you hungry? Let me make you something hot to eat.”

Chen selflessly waited at the door every night for his younger brother and opened the door for him when he returned.
Chen Shi’en selflessly waited at the door every night for his younger brother and opened the door for him when he returned. (Image: Baoyan via Dreamstime)

This went on day after day until his younger brother was finally moved and sincerely apologized, reforming his behavior so that he stopped returning late.

Several years later, Chen Shi’en was admitted to the Imperial College, and his official career gradually flourished. At that time, his older brother had already passed away, but his sister-in-law, Wu Shi, was still alive.

One day Wu Shi’s younger brother, Wu San, came to visit his sister. Wu San wore an old hat and ragged clothes, and he looked poor. When Chen Shi’en saw him, he invited him to sit down and have a meal together with him.

At that time, Chen Shi’en’s younger brother just happened to come home and saw this uninvited guest. He said to his second brother: “We have already given him enough to eat and drink, why do you invite him to sit as a guest?”

Chen Shi’en said: “Our sister-in-law has no children and she has been a widow since she was young. While he lived, she took very good care of our older brother. I am very moved and respect her very much. People say that love for a house extends to its occupants, so why not invite her brother to sit and eat together?” His younger brother was very impressed by his words.

Chen Shi’en had two sons, Wu Sheng and Wu Hsiang, both of whom became scholars.

Selfless brothers both volunteer for a dangerous job

Sun Ji was born during the Da Ming period of Emperor Xiaowu of the Southern Song Dynasty. At that time, men were being conscripted to join the army and were then sent off to the border. According to the imperial edict, one man must go from each family. Sun Ji’s younger brother, Sun Sa, agreed to go.

Those sent off to guard the border faced the prospect of death.
Those sent off to guard the border faced the prospect of death. (Image: Sang Lei via Dreamstime)

When she heard about it, Sun Ji’s wife said to him: “Husband, you are the head of our family. How can you let your brother take this dangerous job? Before your mother died, she entrusted your younger brother to you. He has not yet married and has not yet established a family. You already have two sons, so even if you die on the battlefield, you will have no regret that there is no successor.”

After hearing his wife’s words, Sun Ji immediately went to the county government to express his willingness to serve on the border instead of his younger brother Sun Sa. His younger brother, Sun Sa, would not agree and did not want his older brother to serve in the army on his behalf.

The two brothers competed for this dangerous job, which made Zhang Dai, the governor, suspicious, so he separated the two brothers and sent a servant to investigate privately. After some detailed investigation, the servant reported to the governor that the brothers were both happy and willing to die. Zhang Dai was touched by the selflessness of the two Sun brothers and wrote a form for them to submit. As a result, the two brothers received a royal decree granting them exemption from conscription.

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