Good Stories from China: Harmonious Relationship Starts With Oneself

July 26, 2007 Updated: July 26, 2007

There was a businessman named Ma Wenan who lived in Xinghua County, Jiangsu Province in ancient China. Mr. Ma was well educated and had good manners. His wife, Ms. Wu, was smart, pretty, and good at doing housework, but she was a little arrogant and critical of others.

Ms. Wu didn't get along well with her mother-in-law. Every time Ma Wenan returned home from a business trip both his wife and mother would blame each other for all their troubles and refused to listen to each other. This made Mr. Ma very uneasy. He knew that his wife did not respect his mother, and he wanted to change that.

One day he came up with a plan to help his wife gain insight into her conflict with his mother.

The next time when Ms. Wu started to complain about her mother-in-law, Ma Wenan said, “I know my mother is too talkative, and I have thought about moving out. However, our relatives and friends don't know how difficult my mother is. If we move out so suddenly people will say that we have failed to fulfill our duty to our elders and that we are cruel and heartless. So you'll have to tolerate her for a month or two. Before we move out, if you can take care of my mother wholeheartedly, everyone will know of your great filial piety and how unreasonable my mother is. Then, no one will be able to criticize us.”

Ms. Wu was reluctant to accept the proposal. Ma Wenan continued, “We will move out soon. During the next few weeks, you can just treat my mother as if she is a respected guest. It is just a short time.”

Ms. Wu finally agreed. From that day on, she was incredibly nice and respectful to her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law noticed the change in the daughter-in-law, and she was very pleased. She was happy and became very considerate and kind to her daughter-in-law. Their conflict naturally subsided and their relationship improved.

Several days later, Mr. Ma noticed that his wife had not complained about his mother. He asked her, “How's my mother been treating you lately?” “Better,” she answered. Mr. Ma said, “Now that she is getting better, you'll have to attend to her even more carefully to show everyone how filial you are and how unreasonable my mother is. Only then can we can move out easily.” Ms. Wu nodded in agreement.

Several days later, Mr. Ma asked his wife, “How's my mother treating you?” Ms. Wu said, “Mother-in-law treats me so well now that I don't want to move any more. I am honored to stay by her side and fulfill my duties to take care of her.”

After that time, Ms. Wu got along very well with her mother-in-law. Everyone praised their family as a role model for respect and harmony between the two generations.

Source: The translation is adapted from