For thousands of years, Meng Guang (孟光)has been considered to be the paragon of wifely virtue; a woman of plain appearance but with great moral integrity.

During the Later Han Dynasty (AD 947-950) there lived in Pingling County, a learned and capable scholar called Liang Hong, styled Boluan. Liang Hong was a man who embraced poverty and shunned official appointments, and was greatly admired by all his neighbours. Local families regularly offered their daughters to him in marriage but he refused to consider their proposals.

It so happened that in the same district, lived a girl named Meng Guang, styled Deyao. The daughter of a country squire, Meng Guang was a homely girl. Nevertheless, she had strict ideas about what she wanted in a husband. Consequently, at the age of thirty, she remained unwed.One day her father, in exasperation, asked her who her ideal man would be. Her answer was simple: “I want to marry a man like Liang Hong.”

When news of this reached Liang Hong, he replied: “Well, let her marry me!”

The time for the wedding arrived and Meng Guang travelled to his home in her finest clothes. For seven days and seven nights, he showed no interest in his new bride. No longer able to endure his indifference, Meng Guang knelt before him and asked:

“I have heard that you are a person of great moral character who has taken a long time to marry. Well, so have I. Now that you here married me, please tell me what it is about me that offends you.”

Liang Hong replied:

“Your expensive clothes and heavy makeup disgust me! The only woman I would be willing to share my life with would be one who wears only a thorn hairpin and a plain cotton dress!”‘

It was then that Meng Guang understood everything. She put on a coarse cotton dress, discarded her makeup, bound up her hair and did all the menial and laborious tasks. Only then was her husband satisfied.

Some time later, the couple went to live in the mountains of Baling. They passed their days by growing crops, playing the qin, singing and studying.

After this, they travelled all over the country, earning their livelihood wherever they went. During this time, Liang Hong worked as a thresher. Every evening, when he returned home, Meng Guang would place the food she had prepared on a tray. She would then offer this tray to him by raising it to the level of her eyebrows to symbolise her deep love and respect for her husband.

To this day, the phrase “holding the tray level with the eyebrows” is used to characterise married couples who treat each other with love and respect.

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