Show respect, buy your mom an iPhone
For 600 years, Chinese children have learned how to respect their parents by reading a set of classic folk tales, including a story about a 14-year-old who strangled a tiger to save his father.
The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety, collected by Guo Jujing, a scholar who lived in the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368), has rarely been out of print and is still available at every good Chinese bookshop.
But now it has a rival: 24 Guidelines for Filial Piety, an updated version designed by Chinese government bureaucrats to encourage good behaviour in the "modern era".
The original text is full of heroic deeds performed by children on behalf of their parents.
An eight-year-old boy offered himself as a human sacrifice for swarms of mosquitoes so that his mother and father would not be bitten. A man stripped off his clothes and used his body to melt the winter ice so he could fish out a fresh carp for his stepmother.
A government official held his nose and tasted his father's stool to check for symptoms of illness, and a woman used her breast milk to feed her toothless great-grandmother.
The modern version, however, is more prosaic.
"Teach your mother and father how to use the internet," it offers. "Visit them as often as possible during the holidays," it says. "Listen carefully to their stories."
Li Li, a spokesman for a government-funded group behind the idea, said: "The new version reflects the spirit of the old text but also reflects our new society. We chose the bits of advice after speaking to the elderly over the past two years about what they wanted. We felt the need to do an update because the old version is simply impossible to live up to."
Filial piety remains the centre of China's moral compass and has been incorporated into all the country's major religions and belief systems.
In recent years, the government has taken steps to make respect for parents part of Chinese law, inserting an article compelling children to visit their parents into a draft amendment on the Rights of Senior Citizens.
Guo's stories are known to most Chinese and many other tales have been added over the years. Today, the stories are still carved on to tombstones and they even exist as an iPhone application.
Filial piety, 14th century style:
- Wang Xiang: He used his body to melt winter ice to catch fresh fish for his stepmother;
- Guo Ju: He proposed burying his three-year-old son alive so the family would be able to give more food to his mother;
- Zeng Shen: In the mountains gathering wood, he felt his mother's pain when she bit her finger;
- Liu Heng: Even though he was the Emperor of Han, he did not sleep for three years while his mother was ill, and tasted all her soups and medicines for quality.
- Filial piety, 21st century style:
- Spend as many holidays with your parents as possible;
- Throw birthday parties for your parents;
- Teach your mother and father how to use the internet;
- Listen attentively to your parents' stories;
- Take your parents for regular health check-ups.