Two Ancient Chinese Stories: King Wen and King Wu

Like father, like son
July 27, 2018 Last Updated: August 10, 2018

A basic tenet of ancient Chinese beliefs was that of filial piety, or caring for one’s parents. Both King Wen and his son King Wu were excellent examples of this ideal.

King Wen of the Zhou Dynastry (1152–1056 B.C.). (Public Domain)

King Wen of Zhou’s Filial Piety

King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty, also known as Ji Chang, was a sage king in Chinese history. Although he reigned during the late Shang Dynasty, he was later given the honorary designation of founder of the Zhou Dynasty. He was the father of both King Wu of Zhou, the first emperor of the Zhou Dynasty, and the Duke of Zhou.

King Wen of Zhou was very faithful to his parents. According to historical records, when King Wen was a prince, he would visit his father three times a day. Every day, upon hearing the rooster’s call, he woke up and went to see his father. He would stand outside his father’s door and ask if everything was going well with him, and then he contentedly returned to his room.

If his father did not feel well, the servants would report to King Wen. After hearing that, he worried so much that he could not even walk steadily. Only after seeing that his father was fully recovered did his steps return to normal. Every time before King Wen delivered food to his father, he would check whether the food was too cold or too hot, and whether it tasted good or not. After his father finished the meal, he would ask what kind of dish he liked and if he had the same appetite as before. Then he would ask the cooks to prepare exactly what his father needed. He did this every day without fail.

King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty. (Public Domain)

Confucius Praises King Wu’s Filial Piety

King Wen’s second son, Ji Fa, later known as King Wu of Zhou, followed in his father’s footsteps and was very thoughtful, even when taking care of small matters.

According to historical records, one time, when King Wen was sick, Ji Fa served him by his side day and night without even changing his clothes. Only when King Wen ate a mouthful of rice did Ji Fa also eat a mouthful. If King Wen ate a bowl of rice, Ji Fa would also add a bowl of rice for himself. This lasted for 12 days. Only when King Wen recovered was Ji Fa at ease.

Later, after King Wen died, King Wu (Ji Fa) took over his father’s position. At this time, King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty was very tyrannical and everyone complained about him. Thus, King Wu overthrew King Zhou and became the first king of the Zhou Dynasty. His brother, the Duke of Zhou, continued their father’s legacy and ruled with benevolence.

Later, Confucius praised King Wu’s filial piety as setting an example for everyone in the world to follow.

Translated by Dora Li into English and slightly edited, these stories are reprinted with permission from the book “Treasured Tales of China,” Vol. 1, available on Amazon.