In 1910, the Chrysanthemum Blossom Princess (Cúc Hoa Công Chúa), one of the figures in the entourage of the Three Sage Mothers, revealed a text in Nam Định on the topic of chosing a place to neighbor. The expression, “chosing a place to neighbor” (trạch lân xứ, 擇鄰處), is an unmistakable reference to an extremeley famous story from the Biographies of Examplary Women (Lienu zhuan) about the mother of Mencius. When Mencius was young, his mother moved the family three times. They first moved to a home next to a cemetary, then next to a market, and finally to a home next to a school.
The reason why they kept moving is because Mencius kept imitating the people around him. When he lived near a cemetary he imitated the mourners, and when he lived near a market he imitated the merchants and asked about the work of the butchers. In the end when they moved near a school, Mencius imitated the children as they recited the texts they were memorizing. At last Mencius’ mother had found the right “place to neighbor.”
The Chrysanthemum Blossom Princess begins her revelation on “chosing a place to neithbor” with a reference to this famous story, saying “Now look at the chosing of neighbors by Mencius’ mother.” However, her subsequent message is very different from that of the famous story she made reference to. Instead of arguing that people should chose an appropriate place to live, the Chrysanthemum Blossom Princess states that regardless of who people are, be they rich or poor, they have to get along with their neighbors. As such, if one’s children get in a fight with the children of a neighbor’s family, one should hit one’s own children first (đánh con mình trước), and should not abuse the children of others (không nên đánh chửi con người. This is the kind of behavior which will ensure harmony in the village.
The Chrysanthemum Blossom Princess also reminds people that they should always remember that the spirits are keeping a tally of people’s crimes, no matter how small, and that therefore they should heed her advice and get along if they do not wish to face the consequences of acting otherwise.
Realistically speaking, there were probably very few common people in China in the past who had the means to move in order to find a good environment to raise their children. So while the story of Mencius’ mother was extremely well known, my guess would be that it would have been impossible for most people to live up to.
What is interesting about this revealed text from Vietnam in the early twentieth century is that the Chrysanthemum Blossom Princess makes reference to Mencius’ mother but then makes a very different argument. Whereas Mencius’ mother moved to a good environment, the Chrysanthemum Blossom Princess argues that people have to make the best of their environment, because that is all they have.
While such an argument might sound positive in some ways, it was expressed in a society which was marked by inequality. Throughout the texts which the Sage Mothers revealed one finds over and over that they emphasize that people have to accept their lot in life. If one is poor, then one is poor and has to accept that. If one is a woman, than one has to accept the social rules that come with being a woman, i.e., that one must follow one’s father, huband and son, and that one must serve one’s parents-in-law.
So on the one hand, it is kind of amusing to see how the famous story of Mencius’ mother is “re-interpreted” in this revealed text, but at the same time it is also kind of depressing.
This revealed text is in a work called the Trí Trung Chân Kinh 致中真經, (1910), AB. 515, page. 14a.