'Desperate' sons often abuse elderly mothers
Whether in history or tradition, things seem to run somewhat to the extreme in China. This is the impression I get from "The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety" by Guo Jujing, a Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) scholar. Known in Japan under the title of "Nijushi-ko," this is a collection of 24 stories of people who served their parents and other relatives with exemplary filial devotion and self-sacrifice.
For instance: Wang Xiang's mother craved fresh fish in the dead of winter. He lay down on a frozen river until the ice melted and he was able to catch fish.
Guo Ju was so poor that he could not put enough food on the table for his family. He decided to bury his infant son alive, so his mother would have more to eat.
To protect his mother from being bitten by mosquitoes at night, Wu Meng made himself the "bait" for the blood suckers by sleeping naked, smearing himself with alcohol to attract the bugs.
The extent to which all these 24 "paragons" went in their practice of filial piety is quite extraordinary, but I also notice that many of the stories are about sons and their elderly mothers. Perhaps that's because mother-son tales are most likely to pluck at people's heartstrings.
Sadly, however, elderly people in present-day Japan are often victims of abuse by their own sons. This was shown by a recent Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare survey of elderly abuse.
The survey found that 37 percent of in-family abuse was at the hands of sons, whereas those being abused by husbands or daughters accounted for 14 percent each. As about 80 percent of the victims were women, the most typical pattern of abuse seems to be that of sons treating their mothers harshly.
I have heard that abuse is most likely to occur in two-people households consisting of one parent and one child. As the average man tends to be unfamiliar with housekeeping, he can become desperate, especially if his mother requires nursing care.
Feeling helpless, his affection for his mother can eventually turn into loathing. It pains me greatly to imagine the internal torment the abusers themselves must be suffering.
"The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety" is parodied in one classic rakugo comic tale. It is about a bad son who suddenly decides to be good to his parent. Hoping to draw mosquitoes to himself, he drinks himself to sleep. But when he wakes up, he realizes he has not been bitten at all. The punch line is that while he snored away, his old mother stayed up all night by his side, fanning the bugs away.
If this is the extent of grievance one causes one's elderly parent, I suppose it can be readily forgiven.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 9(IHT/Asahi: October 10,2007)