The Father Behind the Hero Yue Fei

Evan Mantyk, Contributing Writer

As Father’s Day approaches, we look back in wonder at some of the greatest fathers in China’s long history. They give us a new appreciation of fatherhood and its crucial role.

The legendary hero Yue Fei (1103-1142) of the Song Dynasty is today an undying symbol of self-sacrifice and devotion to one’s country. Time and again he defeated invaders in spite of great odds. A master martial artist, he also showed great kindness to his soldiers. Even though his story came to a tragic end, he has since been revered for centuries as a paragon of loyalty and virtue.

A large part of his tale involves his mother, who famously tattooed the words, “serve your country loyally” onto his back. But what about Yue Fei’s father?

It is often thought that Yue Fei’s father drowned when Yue Fei was but a baby—at least that is how one fictionalized version of the story tells it. Historical records, though, suggest that his father was alive well into Yue Fei’s young adulthood. Moreover, his father’s support and strong emphasis on education helped shape Yue Fei into the great leader and hero he ultimately became.

Records indicate that Yue He was a magnanimous dad who taught his children to be so, too. During times of famine, he would encourage his family to eat a little less so they could distribute the remaining food to those in need. If crops from neighboring farms spread to his fields, he would harvest them when ripe and return the harvest to the rightful owner. Seeing how gentle and good-natured Yue He was, crooks sometimes took advantage of him, borrowing money and not paying back, or even outright stealing from him. But Yue He would remain light-hearted and simply let it go. Over time, his fellow villagers came to hold him in the highest esteem.

Yue He’s son, Yue Fei, was an obedient and intelligent child. Yue He hired a private tutor to teach Yue Fei history, ancient classics, and calligraphy—he wanted Yue Fei to be competent in martial arts and literature. He believed that receiving a well-rounded education would broaden his son’s perspective and provide greater opportunities for his future.

Yue Fei excelled in his education. He mastered Chinese literature and became a proficient writer, later composing many famous poems, including the celebrated “The River Turns Red.”

For his martial arts training, Yue Fei was sent to learn spear fighting under a teacher named Chen Guang. Yue Fei soon became so adept that he was undefeated nationwide. His father then sent him to study with Zhou Tong, a local military hero. Under his strict tutelage, Yue Fei also mastered archery—he was able to pull a 400-pound bow and shoot arrows using either hand with perfect accuracy.

Soon after, China was invaded from the north and even the capital was in danger. Yue He advised his son to be loyal and willing to sacrifice for his country. Yue Fei enlisted in the army and went on to become a powerful general who led his famously disciplined troops to many victories against the Jurchen invaders. Even till the last day of his life, when he became the victim of political schemes, Yue Fei’s core values never wavered.

Yue He played a crucial role in Yue Fei’s historical achievements. He passed on to Yue Fei his spirit of kindness and love for the country and its people. He also provided Yue Fei with a well-rounded education and his full support, nurturing him to become an expert in both literature and martial arts. A saying often associated with Yue Fei is “Excelling in both literature and martial arts.” This saying would not exist were it not for Yue Fei’s father. Yue He helped guide the way for one of history’s greatest heroes and has left our generation a shining example of fatherhood’s crucial role.

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