During the period of the Eastern Han Dynasty, residing in the Louyang District of Henan Province was a celebrated man named Le Yangzi. He was well respected for his moral integrity and scholarship. His achievement, however, was said to be attributed to his wife’s exhortation and help.
One day Le Yangzi found a piece of a gold ingot on the road. (Translator’s note: People used silver and gold ingots for trade in the early days.) Elated, he brought it home to his wife, fully expecting her to stare at it, wide-eyed and with enthusiasm. But his wife frowned as if deep in thought, and without even glancing at the gold ingot, said in a serious tone, “I have heard that an incorruptible man does not drink water from the Stolen Spring1 and an honorable man does not eat the food handed out with spite in the name of charity. Yet, you have found a lost gold ingot, decided to keep it, and have no intention of returning it. Aren’t you blemishing your character?”
As if splashed with a basin of cold water, Le Yangzi was stunned, but quickly recollected himself and sobered up. He felt extremely ashamed of his behavior and hurriedly put the gold ingot back where he found it.
Seeing that Le Yangzi realized his mistake quickly and made amends, his wife was very happy and loved him dearly. She then again urged him, “While you are still young, why don’t you go out to look for a Teacher and further your studies? When you become a learned man some day, you will get somewhere.” So Le Yangzi bid farewell to his wife and left home in search of a teacher to study under. A year later, he felt homesick and returned home. Surprised to see him, his wife asked, “How is it that you have completed you studies so quickly? Is there a particular reason?” Le Yangzi answered, “It’s been a long time, and I miss home. There is no other reason.”
The wife empathized and took care of Le Yangzi’s needs for a few days. Then, standing in front of the loom, she said to her husband, “I feel lonely and miserable too, weaving at home and on my own. But, we are still young. A bit of hardship will temper us for the better. Take a look. This is how I weave the silk. The silk thread is very fine. It goes through the shuttle back and forth repeatedly to build up an inch of material. Then, inch by inch, it grows to a yard and then a bolt . If I cut the silk on the machine with a knife now, I would have wasted all my previous effort, wasted my many days of hard work. Similarly, when you go seeking a Teacher to study, you should be persistent. Only through days and months of cumulative hard work will you build up your knowledge and accomplish something.”
Very much moved by his wife’s words, Le Yangzi decided to start afresh. With great determination, he went away to study again. For seven years, he went in search of renowned teachers and studied under them, and he did not go home. Finally he became a learned person of impeccable character, and gained great respect.
When Le Yangzi’s wife died, the chief of the local prefecture gave her a highly honorable burial service. The Emperor of the imperial court also conferred upon her the title, “Woman of Loyalty and Propriety.” In the book “Historical Records of the Eastern Han dynasty,” the above saga was recorded. Regrettably, her full name was not properly entered.
(1) Stolen Spring – The name of an ancient spring, located near the present Sishui County, Shandong Province. It was said that after drinking water from the spring one would become greedy and oblivious to moral integrity.