Story From Ancient China: The Traditional Virtues of a Chinese Lady

March 6, 2014 Updated: March 6, 2014

Xiao Yixin (蕭意辛), the wife of Ye Lunu, an official of the Liao Dynasty (遼朝) (A.D. 916—1125), was known as a female role model in Chinese history who embodied the traditional virtues of a Chinese lady. She was descended from the royal family, as her mother, Princess Hutu, was the daughter of the emperor.

Xiao Yixin was beautiful as well as educated and intelligent. She married at the age of 20 and completely devoted her life to her husband and family.

Once, Xiao Yixin was chatting with her sisters-in-law when the sisters-in-law began discussing how to win their husbands’ affection by dispelling wicked spirits.

Xiao Yixin offered a different perspective. “Such practices are no match for propriety and etiquette,” she said.

When the others asked why, Xiao Yixin replied, “If we strengthen our character and improve our conduct to meet the proper standard, if we care for our elders well and show them respect and filial piety, if we are gentle and good-natured in our relationships with our husbands, and if we are generous and broad-minded with our younger generation, we will be living according to the principles of propriety and etiquette.

“If we are able to do this, we will naturally win love and respect from our husbands. If, on the other hand, we resort to an evil practice to win favour, how can we not feel guilt?”

Hearing this, the other ladies felt very ashamed.

Later, Xiao Yixin’s husband was exiled due to a false accusation. As Xiao Yixin was the daughter of a princess, the emperor wished for her to divorce her husband.

In response, Xiao Yixin pleaded, “Your Majesty, you are considerate of my family relationship to you and wish to save me from a life of exile and suffering with my husband. It is an act of great kindness indeed.

“However, a husband and wife must abide by moral principles; they should remain together in both good and bad times, and they should not part until death.

“I married Ye Lunu when I was young, and if I leave my husband when he is facing distress and difficulty in his life, that would be contrary to basic moral principles. How would that be different from the behaviour of an animal?

“I hope Your Majesty will show mercy by allowing me to accompany Ye Lunu in exile. I shall have no regret even if I die there.”

Moved by her plea, the emperor gave his consent.

At the place of exile, Xiao Yixin and her husband toiled and endured hardship every day; however, Xiao Yixin expressed not a word of complaint. Instead, she was even kinder and more respectful toward her husband.