Dizi Gui (弟子规): The Highest Level of Filial Piety

The story of Min Ziqian, whose kindness moves his  contemptuous step-mother

Min Ziqian (闵子骞)
Min Ziqian (闵子骞) of the Spring-Autumn period (770 B.Cñ476 B.C) is a moral exemplar of filial piety.
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp

 By Jade Pearce |  


















At Home,

Be Dutiful to My Parents

What parents like, make an effort to possess.

What parents despise, carefully get rid of.

Injury to one’s body brings parents worry.

Injury to one’s character brings parents shame.

When parents love me, it is easy to be good to parents.

When parents detest me, then it’s truly virtuous to be good to parents.

When parents are doing something that’s wrong, counsel them to make them change.

Make my expression pleasant, and soften my voice.

If the counsel is not accepted, wait until parents are happy then counsel them again.

Weeping and wailing should follow, and beatings are borne without complaint.

Dizi Gui (Standards for Being a Good Student and Child) is an ancient Chinese text for children that teaches moral values and proper etiquette. It was written during the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (康熙帝) (1661-1722) by Li Yuxiu. 

Beneath the conservative, “old-school” verbose of this ancient classic, one can still find gems of wisdom that remain surprisingly relevant to our modern society. 

We all know that we should be filial to our parents and parents-in-law. But what if they upset us or treat us poorly?

When our parents or parents-in-law say things that make us upset, or create problems for us, it can be hard to still treat them with unconditional filial piety.

But as said in Dizi Gui, the highest level of filial piety is being good to one’s parents even in the face of ill-treatment. “When parents love me, it is easy to be good to parents. When parents detest me, then it’s truly virtuous to be good to parents.”

The Confucian philosopher Zengzi once said, “There are three levels of filial piety. The lowest level is only labouring for the parents. The middle level is bringing honour to the parents through one’s accomplishments. The highest level is to have no omissions. … Widely spreading the teaching of kindness so that everything can benefit, this is having no omissions.”

One famous example is Min Ziqian, whose boundless kindness touched his abusive step-mother.

Min Ziqian’s Filial Piety Touches Contemptuous Step-Mother

Min Ziqian (闵子骞) lived in the country of Lu during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C – 476 B.C).

Min’s birth mother died when he was young, but his father remarried and had two children with his step-mother.

Min Ziqian respected and cared about both his father and step-mother, but his step-mother disliked him and frequently ill-treated him.

One winter, she made warm winter jackets for her two sons, using silk and thick cotton padding.

But for Min Ziqian, she made a thin jacket using the flocculent part from reed which appears cotton-like but doesn’t maintain heat.

It was a severe winter, and one day Min Ziqian’s father had business in town. He asked Min Ziqian to drive the carriage.

The air was frigid, and the wind blew hard. Dressed in his thin winter jacket, Min Ziqian’s hands and feet were so frozen he could not feel them, and he kept dropping the reins.

His father became very upset with him and scolded him for his clumsiness, but Min Ziqian didn’t say a word.

Min Ziqian’s father later noticed that his son looked very pale. He touched him and noticed that Min Ziqian was only wearing a thin jacket.

He took off Min Ziqian’s jacket and saw that the jacket was only made of reed. But then he recalled his other two sons were wearing warm silk and cotton jackets.

At that moment, Min Ziqian’s father realised the pattern of cruel treatment his wife had been inflicting on his son. This infuriated him so much that he flew into a rage.

He immediately drove back home and entered the house, yelling at the top of his lungs for his wife. She appeared and trembled before him. He angrily ordered her to leave the house and never to return.

But Min Ziqian knelt beside his stepmother and begged his father to give her another chance.

He burst into tears crying, “With mother in the family, only one child suffers coldness. Should she be gone, all three of your sons would freeze. Please, Father, let Mother stay!”

Min Ziqian’s father decided to give his wife another chance. Hearing what Min Ziqian had said, Min Ziqian’s step-mother was so deeply touched her attitude to Min Ziqian completely changed. She started to treat Min Ziqian as lovingly as she did her own sons.

The story of Min Ziqian’s filial piety has been spread widely since. His tale is honoured in the following poem:

Mr. Min, the widower, has an admirable son,

Who never grudged his second mother’s hateful, wicked ways.

“Keep her here at home!” he begged, while kneeling by the cart.

“Or else three boys will suffer from the biting wind and frost.”

Story adapted from Pureinsight.org


With mother in the family, only one child suffers coldness. Should she be gone, all three of your sons would freeze.

Min Ziqian to his father, speaking up for his step-mother despite her ill-treatment of him



Subscribe for Newsletter

Scroll to Top