Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety: Huang Xiang Fanned the Pillow and Warmed the Bed for His Father

Stories about exemplary filial conduct abound in Chinese history. The Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety were chosen and compiled by Guo Jujing from the Fujian Province during the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368 CE) while he was mourning the death of his father. He recounted the feats of filial children towards their parents from the age of the primordial Emperor Shun down to his own era. Even today, these stories form an important part of orthodox Chinese virtue.

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During the Han Dynasty, a nine-year-old boy named Huang Xiang became famous as a model of filial service to his father. His mother had just died, and the young boy noticed that his father was wasting away with grief and loneliness. He resolved to make it his business to cheer up his father. After making that decision, there was no job in the house too troublesome for him, and he performed his chores with vigorous, positive energy. His only concern was to spare his father worry and anxiety. While Mr. Huang read by the light of a candle, Huang Xiang, in the sticky heat of the summer’s evening would fan the pillow on his father’s bed so that his father would be cool when he went to sleep.

In wintertime, when the freezing winds and drifting snow turned the world to ice, the little boy would first hop into his father’s bed to warm up the blankets. Then he would call his father in to come sleep in the cosy nest he had made.

Mr. Huang was deeply touched by his son’s considerate treatment, and his mind was greatly calmed. To have such a rare person as his son, who spared no details in serving as a dutiful child, was certainly a blessing. The story of Huang Xiang’s behaviour spread far and wide. Eventually his reputation as an exemplary filial son reached everyone in the land. “There’s no one to compare with Huang Xiang anywhere”, was a verse that could be heard throughout China.

Magistrate Liu Hu heard of a nine-year-old filial child in his district who understood the principles of filial respect, and made a special petition to the Imperial Court for recognition of Huang Xiang.

A verse in his honour says,
In winter months he warmed the bed just right;
And fanned the pillow on hot summer nights.
In knowing how to be a filial son,
In all these years, Huang Xiang’s still number one.

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