Ancient Chinese taught their children that to succeed in "achieving a healthy family life, governing a nation, and conquering one's enemies," one must first cultivate one's moral character and virtue. Such ancient wisdom built on experience turned out to be of great value to future generations.
Zhuge Liang Taught His Son to Have "Great Ambitions and Far-Reaching Goals"
Zhuge Liang (181 – 234 AD) was a famous politician and military strategist in ancient China. He personified the Chinese virtues of loyalty and wisdom. He committed himself to serving the country and its people, worked unselfishly for the common good, and became a role model for future generations. He taught his children to be noble-minded.
At 54, Zhuge Liang wrote a famous book, Directive to My Children
, to his eight-year-old son, Zhuge Zhan. The book summarized Zhuge Liang's life by recounting his experiences. It also listed responsibilities to be carried out by his children. In this book, he asked his children to remain calm and composed, to continuously cultivate themselves, and to look within. He said that to achieve a noble character and moral integrity, one must be frugal. If one's heart is not free of desires, one is unable to clearly identify the goals in one's life, and if one's mind cannot be at peace, one cannot achieve great things. To realize one's ambition, one should continuously acquire knowledge. To gain true wisdom, one needs to be at peace and diligent. To attain success, one has to be determined.
Zhuge Liang held great expectations for his children. His children had no worldly desires, served the country loyally, and made great contributions to society and the nation. "Being at peace" and "being able to achieve high ideals" were the result of their cultivation and morality.
Ms. Kou Taught Her Children to Cultivate Their Moral Character to Serve the People
Kou Zhun (961 – 1023 AD) was a prime minister during the Northern Song Dynasty. He was upright, honest, and responsible for many of the imperial court's successes. Therefore, the Emperor trusted him greatly.
Kou Zhun's father died when he was very young. His family lived in poverty and his mother supported the family by weaving cotton cloth. Mrs. Kou often weaved until late at night while teaching Kou Zhun what would help him later in life. As a result, Kou Zhun was very diligent and succeeded in his studies. Kou Zhun went to the capital for the national civil service examination. He passed the exam and became an official government candidate. The good news reached his hometown. At the time, Mrs. Kou was very ill. Before she passed away, she painted a picture and handed it to Mrs. Liu, a relative, and said to her, "Kou Zhun will become a government official. If he does wrong, please show him this painting!"
Kou Zhun became the prime minister. To celebrate his birthday, he hired two theater troupes to entertain his fellow bureaucrats. Mrs. Liu thought it was the perfect opportunity and handed the painting to Kou Zhun. Kou Zhun looked at the painting titled "Teaching My Child to Study Despite Poverty" and read the poem written on the painting: "You studied diligently under the light of a candle. I hoped that you would cultivate yourself in order to serve the people well. I taught you to be hard-working and frugal, so do not forget that you were once poor when you become prosperous." This was obviously Mrs. Kou's will. Kou Zhun read it repeatedly and tears filled his eyes. He immediately canceled the birthday celebration. Ever after, he exercised self-control and took care of the people. He was impartial and selfless, and became known as a wise prime minister during the Song Dynasty.
Xu Mian Vowed to Leave a Spotless Reputation to His Heirs
Xu Mian (466 – 535 AD) was a politician and a wise official during the Liang Dynasty. Throughout his life, even though he held a high position in the imperial court, he was very strict with himself, fair in his dealings with others, prudent, thrifty, incorruptible, and did not acquire nor possess property. He gave most of his salary to poor relatives, friends, and common people, leaving him with no savings. His associates and old friends suggested that he acquire property for his heirs, and he replied, "Other people may leave property to their heirs, but I will leave mine a spotless reputation. If my descendents are virtuous and capable, then they will create their own wealth. If they are not capable, then it would not help even if I left them property."
Xu Mian taught his children to conduct themselves well and maintain moral integrity. He once wrote a letter to his son, Xu Song: "Our ancestors left us with a clean, untainted reputation. They never talked about acquiring and managing personal property. There is an old proverb, 'It is of greater value to teach descendents a book on morality than to leave them a bucket of gold.' After carefully evaluating these words, I understood that they carry profound meaning. Although I am not greatly talented, I do have hopes and wishes. I follow the wisdom of the ancient proverb and live by it. I will not stop midway. After 30 years in a high government position, some of my students and old friends urged me to acquire land and property for you while I still have a job and hold power. But I refused to consider such suggestions. I believe that you will all benefit greatly if I leave behind a precious, unblemished reputation." Xu Mian's heirs became well-known people of virtue.
It is most important that parents set examples by what they say and do. This influences children far more than material possessions can. Because children adapt easily, educating them well is of particular importance. Children will come across principles that they do not understand right away, but they can learn through actual experience. Therefore, it is important to guide them properly and lead them on a correct path. All parents wish to leave behind the best for their children. Money and property, no matter how much, can be gone in a moment. Only virtue and kindness can truly benefit children in the long term. Therefore, parents should be farsighted and teach their children to be virtuous and kind, to keep a clear head, to distinguish between right and wrong, and to choose the correct path in life.