At the end of the Ming Dynasty, there was a war led by Li Zicheng. During the war, a wealthy man from Shanxi named Yuan was forced to bring his only son to find refuge. But his son got lost during their hurried retreat. Yuan looked everywhere for him, but he was never found. Yuan was so devastated that he lost nearly all hope for life.
Yuan later journeyed to the south, where he pondered an old Chinese teaching that one needs a son to keep the family line alive. He decided to get married again. One day, he bought a pretty young lady whom he wanted to make his wife. But instead of being happy about her new life, the girl cried silently alone. Yuan was curious and asked her:
“It’s our wedding day. Why are you so unhappy? Can you tell me what’s bothering you?
The girl had tears in her eyes as she answered:
“I’m sorry, but I feel sad when I think of my past. Do you know that I was married and had a husband who was very kind to me, and who I love very much? But he is very sick these days.
“We couldn’t afford food anymore because of the war. My husband was so frustrated that he wanted to take his own life. In order to help and support him, I decided to sell myself so he could have money for the medicine he needs.
“But now there is nobody by his bedside though he is so ill. I feel very sad, and can’t hold back my tears.”
She again burst into tears.
Upon hearing his new wife’s words, Yuan felt sorry for her. He decided to send her back to her other husband that night. The man was sadly lying in bed alone. He was so surprised to see his wife again that his eyes shone with happiness. Yuan told the man:
“You are lucky to have such a good wife. She told me about you, and I felt sorry for both of you. I’ve decided to send her back to you so the two of you can be together. There’s no need to return the money you received from selling your wife.
“In fact, I will give you some more money. In the future, you can create a small business together so you can have some income.”
He warned him:
“Remember, you should never think of dying again; you should cheer up and bravely face your life because you have such a good wife. All paths are walked by men. As long as you stay hard-working, you will lead a happy life.”
These sincere words moved the couple to tears, and they repeatedly expressed appreciation for Yuan’s kindness. The couple worked very hard, and later lived an affluent life. They were grateful for what Yuan had done for them, and wanted to find a good young lady to be his concubine, but they couldn’t find one.
One time, they were in Yangzhou for business and saw a man selling a handsome young boy in the market. They decided to give the boy to Yuan as his companion. When they brought the boy to Yuan, he could hardly believe his eyes.
Right before him was the son he had lost in the chaos of the war — the boy he looked for everywhere, but could never find. Yuan held his son tightly in his arms.