The Mother of Yue Fei, One of the Four Virtuous Mothers

Evan Mantyk, Contributing Editor

The story of the Northern Song Dynasty's famous general Yue Fei and his loyalty has been passed down through the ages. Friends who have purchased the Yue Fei T-shirts from Shen Yun Collections must have heard of this heart-wrenching legend. And those who have admired Shen Yun's early pieces must have also heard of the story of Yue Fei's mother tattooing the characters on his back.

According to legend, a man named Wang Zuo came to surrender to Yue Fei and wanted to become sworn brothers with him. Yue Fei couldn't refuse the money he gave as a gift, otherwise it would be disrespectful, so he handed it over to his mother. Unexpectedly, shortly after, Yue Fei changed his mind and decided to not invite Wang Zuo to stay. He asked his mother to take out the money and return it to Wang Zuo.

His mother was puzzled and asked him, "My son, your friend just wanted to stay for a few days. Why didn't you even leave him a meal and let him go? What's the reason?" 

Yue Fei told his mother that Wang Zuo was actually someone who used sweet words to persuade him to surrender to the enemy. After thinking for a moment, Yue Fei's mother said to him, “My son, go out and arrange the incense and candles; set up the incense table in the main hall. Wait for me to come out.”

After Yue Fei followed his mother's instructions, his mother came out with his wife and lit incense and candles. After paying respects to the Ancestors of Heaven and Earth, Yue Fei's mother asked him to kneel down while his wife ground ink, and she said to Yue Fei, “As a mother, it is good to see my son not accepting the gifts of treacherous rebels, willingly enduring poverty, and not being greedy for riches and honor. But I'm afraid that after I die, those unscrupulous people will come to tempt you again. If my son loses his will for a moment and does something disloyal, wouldn't it ruin his reputation for the rest of his life? So today, I want to pray to the Ancestors of Heaven and Earth, and engrave the words ‘Serve the Empire Loyally’ on your back. I hope you will be a loyal minister. After I, your mother, pass away, those people who come and go will say: ‘What a good person, teaching her son to have honor, being loyal to the Empire, leaving a lasting reputation!’ Then I can smile in the afterlife!”

So Yue Fei took off his upper clothing, and his mother used a brush to write the characters “Serve the Empire Loyally” on his back. Then she pricked him with an embroidered needle. When she saw Yue Fei's flesh tremble, she asked if it hurt. 

Yue Fei said, "Mother, you didn't prick me yet, so how could it hurt?" 

His mother shed tears and said, “I know you're afraid I'll be too soft, deliberately saying it didn't hurt.” 

So she clenched her teeth and finished writing the characters, then painted them with ink. They would never fade.

Shen Yun Performing Arts’ early work in 2008 vividly depicted the process of Yue Fei's mother tattooing the characters. The portrayal and dance movements of the actress playing the role of Yue Fei's mother expresses the tormented process of a mother watching her son, who she watched grow from a baby in swaddling clothes to an adult, risk his life for a higher cause. The audience is left to ponder: what incredible strength does it take for a mother to be willing to send her own flesh and blood, which she carried in her womb for nine months, to an unknown battlefield? All hesitations are put aside and pure righteousness shines forth in each movement of the needle—the pure beauty of the mother’s conviction is reflected in the pure beauty of the expressive classical Chinese  dance. 

As a descendant of Yue Fei, Yue Ke of the Southern Song Dynasty compiled "Record of Yue's Achievements in the Kingdom of E," specifically recording Yue Fei's life story. It also records a story about Yue Fei's mother.

Yue Fei was naturally filial and did not leave his mother’s side. But, after the Northern Song Dynasty fell into turmoil, his mother ordered him to join the army to serve the Empire. Under his mother's repeated urging, he left his wife behind to take care of his mother and followed the Emperor across the river alone. After the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty, Yue Fei was trapped behind enemy lines and couldn't contact his mother. He searched for his mother day and night, but for several years there was no news. One day, someone suddenly brought news from his mother. His mother said, "Tell my son to serve the Emperor with all his might, and don't worry about me." Yue Fei immediately sent someone to pick her up, but due to the enemy’s obstruction, eight out of ten attempts failed. Finally, he succeeded in bringing his mother back. When Yue Fei saw his mother, he cried with relief, knelt down, and begged for forgiveness for his unfilial conduct, even though he was just following her will.

Behind every great man, there is a great mother. Exemplary and virtuous, Yue Fei's mother along with Yue Fei's spirit of loyalty, have been passed down through the ages and are still celebrated today.

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