Mrs. Wang was a strange old woman. She had been guarding a coffin in the main hallway of the 3-room family house for 20 years.
This coffin remained there after her husband, Wang Laotou, died and left her with three sons. At that time, the eldest son had just gotten married and the two younger sons were still in school.
It was not easy to raise three children, let alone three sons. During his lifetime, Wang Laotou made ends meet by selling small items. He made some money, but also suffered quite a bit of hardship.
Wang Laotou sometimes left home for a few months at a time, even up to half a year. Sometimes he could make a lot of money, and sometimes he would come home empty-handed. He slept in the wilderness, was attacked by bandits, and was bitten by a dog. Life was not easy for him.
When Wang Laotou went out to make a living, Mrs. Wang took care of the three sons at home and farmed a few acres of land. Fortunately, her mother-in-law was still alive and helped her with some housework.
Wang Laotou knew that his wife worked very hard, and for many years, he cared deeply about her.
When their eldest son got married, they built a 6-room tile house for him. That house was the talk of the village. However, good fortune did not last long. Wang Laotou suddenly became seriously ill and was bedridden. Slowly, his sickness became an incurable disease.
Wang Laotou had made a coffin for himself earlier on in his life and nailed it together with rivets. He said that he would never use this coffin. Just before the moment of Wang Laotou’s death, he talked to the three sons and Mrs. Wang: “The coffin is left to your mother after I die, and inside it is the family treasure. When your mother dies, she can decide who will inherit it from her.”
After the death of Wang Laotou, Mrs. Wang used the rest of the money to build another tile house for the second son and his bride.
By the time the third son wanted to get married, there was not enough money left to build a third house. So that son had to live in the family house with his mother. At this time, Mrs. Wang wanted to have one of her married sons vacate their home and move in with her so the youngest son could have a tile house to get married in. Unfortunately, their wives would not agree to that.
Finally, Mrs. Wang offered to give up the family heirloom to get her sons to move in and keep her company. Slowly, three sons and wives would take turns to live in the family house for a year with her.
Twenty years passed peacefully, and the three sons were doing well financially. Despite having better houses, the rule of taking turns to make sure their mother was properly cared for remained unchanged. Mrs. Wang was very happy.
One day, Mrs. Wang felt that her days on the earth were about over, so she called her sons and told them that she wanted to leave the family treasure to the eldest son, to keep in trust but not to sell, and the two younger sons were responsible for supervision of her wishes.
After Mrs. Wang passed away, the three sons endured their grief and opened the coffin.
To their surprise, there was a scroll inside, and all three sons thought it must be a master’s valuable calligraphy and painting.
However, after opening it, the three sons burst into tears. The family’s treasure was written in a neat brushstroke: “Filial piety comes before hundreds of other virtues.”
Translated by Yi Ming