Chinese Legend about Zeng Zi

Context: I heard this legend from my friend (AL) in one of our calls where I asked him about Chinese tales and legends. This is one of the three stories that he told me. 


AL: “I think I heard this one from my Chinese teacher, but it also could have been from my grandparents who I was living with at the time. Do you know who Zeng Zi is?

Me: “Never heard of him, really.”

AL: “What about Confucious.”

Me: “Yea he’s that Chinese philosopher dude.”

AL: “Yeee. Zeng Zi was kinda like his disciple, and he was a very respectable and honest person. So one day, Zeng Zi’s wife was going to the market, and his son wanted to go to the market, too. Zeng Zi’s wife was in a hurry and didn’t want to bring her son along, so she told him to stay home. Her son started throwing a tantrum, so the mother told him that if he stayed home, she would kill a pig later so that they could have pork for dinner. I’m pretty sure that back then, pork and other good meat were only really eaten over holidays or special occasions, so the son was excited and agreed to stay home. Zeng Zi’s wife had no intention of killing a pig of course and only lied to her son to make him behave. However, when Zeng Zi’s wife came home from the market that day, she saw Zeng Zi sharpening a knife and getting ready to kill a pig. Zeng Zi’s wife told him that she wasn’t serious and only told their son that they were going to have pork for dinner to make him behave. Zeng Zi sternly replied that parents should not teach their children to lie because children won’t listen to their parents if they lie. He said that if she had lied to their son, their son would think that it is okay to lie to others as well. Because of this, Zeng Zi killed the pig and the family had pork for dinner.”

Me: “Who do you think the legend is aimed towards?”

AL: “I would honestly say that it is applicable to everyone. It serves as a lesson to both adults and children to be careful with what they say. There’s also the idea that although children have to respect and listen to their parents, their parents also have to act responsibly.”

Thoughts: When I heard the legend, I also thought that it was a lesson aimed at everyone. I think that the legend demonstrates the Chinese values of honor and respect. I also did some further research and realized that in this legend and most Chinese legends, the name of women are seldom mentioned unless they are the main characters or supposed to be regarded as extremely beautiful. Although this specific story is a legend, this reinforces what we’ve learned in class about tales and stories being sexist because history is sexist.