The Wife of Yue Yangzi

Yue Yangzi (樂羊子) lived in Henan in the Eastern Han Dynasty. One day, he walked outside and saw a piece of gold on the road. He thought that someone lost it, but since no other one saw it, so he pocketed it with an overjoyed and nervous mind. At home, he showed the gold to his wife and said, “Look, I got a piece of gold on the road.” The wife said, “I once heard a person with lofty ideals won’t drink the water of a spring which is called ‘Stealing Spring’ (盜泉), and a noble-minded person won’t accept the food which is handed out in contempt. Now you pocket the gold for your greed. Don’t you think it can sully your reputation?” Yue Yangzi felt very ashamed, and threw the gold away.

With the encouragement of the wife, Yue Yangzi went to a far city for studying. A year later, he returned home. His wife felt surprised and worried. The young woman knelt and asked his husband why he returned so early. Yangzi smiled and said, “No other reasons, just because I miss you very much.” The wife said nothing. She took a knife and walked to her loom. She picked up a big cloth and said, “The cloth is from silkworm cocoons, and I spent very much time and painstaking effort on weaving silk threads into cloth, so silk threads can be a big cloth. But if I cut the cloth, all my efforts will be wasted. You, my husband, should be studious, and every day you must think what your demerits are, and then you can be a virtuous person. If you give up your study halfway, is it different from cutting the cloth?” Yangzi was moved by the words, and he decided to be a learned man. He returned to that far city, and continued to study. His wife took good care of the younger sister of Yue Yangzi, and often asked others to take along her delicious food and new clothing to Yangzi.

When you see the above paragraphs, you must think that several years later Yue Yangzi finished studying and returned home, and then the young couple lived happily. When we were middle students, we only knew the above excerpted contents from a textbook. However, after I read the chapter “Stories of Women” (列女傳) of “History of the Later Han” (後漢書), a historical work written by Fan Ye in the Southern Dynasties, I found the tragic end of the story.

The home of Yue Yangzi was very poor. Yangzi’s wife wove every day, and then sold cloth in the market, but the income was too small to improve the living of her home. One day, a chicken wrongly ran into the backyard of Yue Yangzi’s home. The younger sister of Yangzi killed the chicken and cooked it. She wanted to share the food with Yangzi’s wife. Yangzi’s wife watched the chicken, but she didn’t taste it. She dumbly shed tears. Yangzi’s sister asked her why she felt so sad. The wife of Yangzi said, “I am sad because we are so poor that the chicken of others became our food.” Yangzi’s sister blushed, and she threw the chicken away.

One day, a robber evilly wanted to get Yangzi’s wife. He kidnapped Yangzi’s sister for forcing Yangzi’s wife to follow him. Yangzi’s wife heard the cry of the young girl, and then she held a knife and rushed to the outside. The robber said, “Put your knife down, and follow me, and then I will release the young girl. Or I will kill her.” Yangzi’s wife watched the sky and sighed. She was a pure woman who was loyal and faithful to her husband. She gathered all her courage, and then, she cut her own throat by her knife! The virtuous lady died. The robber was shocked. He released Yangzi’s sister, and rapidly ran away.

The regional governor heard the story of the lady. He ordered officials to catch the robber and punished the man to death. And then he gave fine silk to the home of the lady. The lady received an honorable burial. The governor conferred the title “Chastity and Righteousness” (貞義) on her.

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