Mr. Zhang, his wife Cui, and their son, Shanguo, lived during the Sui Dynasty, today’s Hebei province. Shanguo lost his father when he was very young; Mr. Zheng fought for his country and died. Shanguo’s mother had to raise him alone. It is said that his mother was an extremely virtuous and capable woman—after the death of her husband, she put great emphasis on her child’s moral development.
Shanguo became governor of the state Yi when he was 14 years old, inheriting the high rank of his father. When he went to the court to judge public affairs, his mother used to sit on a chair behind a curtain in the back of the room and listen carefully to how her son assessed the situation, and to help him with his decisions. Every time Shanguo made a wrong decision or lost his temper, his mother was very sad, crawled under a quilt, cried, and ate nothing all day.
Afterwards she said to her son: “I am not angry with you. Rather I am ashamed of myself! Your father was honorable and sincere and never misused his public function in order to draw personal benefits. He devoted himself to his country. I only want you to strictly adhere to the principles of your father.” She also added: “When I raised you, I used too much love and not enough strictness in your upbringing. If that continues, how can you maintain justice toward all people and be just to your country? If this continues, you will undermine our family tradition and violate the commandments of a servant of the people. If that comes to be the case, how could I face your father when I die?”
Even though her son occupied a high post and had a high income, Mrs. Cui was never arrogant, nor did she enjoy her wealth. On the contrary, she made herself a role model for other people, continuing her handicraft and leading a simple live. Even though her son did not understand why, his mother wove every day until late in the evening. The mother said to him: “Your father wanted to distribute his wealth to relatives and friends. How could I dare to enjoy this wealth all by myself? Everybody, whether noble or insignificant, has obligations. Without fulfilling ones duties, how can one only enrich oneself in life?”
Through the example of his mother and with the help of her instructions, Zheng Shanguo continued to take his obligations more seriously, learned to control himself and refused to conduct himself autocratically.
Finally, he became a righteous, incorruptible, highly qualified official.