The Mongols: Continuity in the Yuan Dynasty

The Mongols were the most devastating of the nomadic warriors from Central Asia.

By the 14th century, they controlled a vast amount of territory which was eventually divided up into different zones or Khanates, ruled by the descendants of Genghis Khan (which means “universal ruler”).

The Mongol heartland and the extent of their empire

The Mongol heartland and the extent of their empire

In China, the Mongol rulers became known as the Yuan Dynasty. The document below illustrates that (at least in China) the Mongols did not force their subjects to abandon all of their customs.

Examples of Filial Piety
Freezing in a Thin Coat in Obedience to His Stepmother
Min Tzu-chien had lost his mother at a young age. His father remarried and had two more sons with his second wife. She always dressed her own sons in thickly padded robes. But to her stepson she gave only a thin coat padded with cattails [instead of cotton]. One winter day, when Min Tzu-chien was told to hold the reins of his father’s cart, he was shivering so badly that he dropped the reins. This way his father found out that his wife dressed his oldest son very poorly. In his rage he decided to dismiss his second wife. But Min Tzu-chien said: “If she stays, one son will be freezing. But if she leaves, all three sons will suffer from the cold.” When his stepmother heard this, she changed her attitude towards Min Tzu-chien.

Allowing Mosquitoes to Feast on His Blood
During the Chin [Qin] Dynasty (4th-5th Century CE), a boy named Wu Meng was already serving his parents in exemplary filial piety although he was just eight years old. The family was so poor that they could not even afford a gauze net against the mosquitoes. Therefore every night in the summer swarms of mosquitoes would come and bite them. Wu Meng let them all feast on his naked stomach. Even though there were so many, he did not drive them away. He feared that the mosquitoes, having left him, would instead bite his parents. His heart was truly filled with love for his parents.

Sacrificing His Son for the Sake of His Mother
Kuo Chi, who lived during the Han Dynasty (200 BCE-200 CE) and his family were very poor. He had a three-year-old son. Even though there was little food, Kou Chi’s mother would always give part of her share to her grandson so that he did not suffer hunger.

One day Kuo Chi said to his wife, “We are so poor and needy that we cannot give mother enough to eat, and on top of this our son is eating part of mother’s share. It were better if we buried our son.” He started digging a grave. When he had dug a hole of about three chih(3), he discovered a pot filled with gold and the inscription: “Officials may not take it, people may not steal it.”

Wearing Children’s Clothes to Amuse His Parents
During the time of the Chou Dynasty (11th-3rd Century BCE), there was a man named Lao Lai-tzu who was by nature extremely filial. He took care of both his parents and provided for them with the choicest delicacies. After he himself turned seventy, he never spoke about his age. He often wore clothes striped in five colors and acted like an infant in front of his parents. He would carry a bowl of water to them, and then stumble on purpose. Lying on the floor he would cry like a little child in order to make his parents laugh.

Crying in the Bamboo-Grove and Making the Bamboo Sprout
During the era of the Three Kingdoms (3rd Century CE) there lived a man named Meng Sung, also known as [Meng] Chien-wu. He had lost his father during his childhood. When his mother was old and sick she craved fresh bamboo-shoots even though it was winter. Sung had no idea how he could get them. In desperation, he went into a bamboo grove, clasped a bamboo stem and broke into tears. His filial devotion moved heaven and earth and they forced the earth to crack open. Numerous shoots of bamboo came out. Meng Sung carried them home and made them into a soup for his mother. As soon as she had eaten she felt much better.

Cleaning his Mother’s Chamberpot
Huang T’ing-chien of the Sung Dynasty, also known as [Huang] Shan-gu,became a member of the Hanlin academyduring the Yuan-Yu reign (1086-1094 CE).
He was by nature extremely filial. Even though he was such an esteemed and famous person, he served his mother with utmost devotion. Every evening he would personally clean his mother’s chamber pot. Not a moment passed without his fulfilling his filial duties.

For consideration:
Which Chinese tradition values filial piety? Why might the conquering Mongols have allowed such a tradition to continue?