Filial piety: letting your father-in-law nurse at your breast

Today in my ongoing series of photos from my travels over the years, this shot of a statue depicting "filial piety" (a young mother allows her motherfather-in-law to nurse at her breast while her son cheers her on) from the awesomely weird Haw-Par Villa, a Tiger Balm-sponsored statue-garden/Confucianist theme-park in Singapore and Hong Kong. I've heard rumours that it's now defunct, which is a crine shame. Link, Link to more photos of Haw-Par Villa


  1. The mother in law has conspicuous sideburns. You know, for a woman. Are we positive the young mother isn’t tricked into some PERVERTED PERVERSION???//

  2. Aside from being a little weirded out, I’m with Remmelt – there’s a gender misattribution here. And shouldn’t it be shrine shame?

  3. wikiwiki-olson free-oh!


    One theme central to Confucianism is that of relationships, and the differing duties arising from the different status one held in relation to others. Individuals are held to simultaneously stand in different degrees of relationship with different people, namely, as a junior in relation to their parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to their younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe strong duties of reverence and service to their seniors, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. This theme consistently manifests itself in many aspects of East Asian cultures even to this day, with extensive filial duties on the part of children toward parents and elders, and great concern of parents toward their children.

    Social harmony — the great goal of Confucianism — thus results partly from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order and playing his or her part well. When Duke Jing of Qi asked about government, by which he meant proper administration so as to bring social harmony, Confucius replied,

    “There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.” (Analects XII, 11, tr. Legge).

    [edit] Filial piety

    “Filial piety” (Chinese: 孝; pinyin: xiào) is considered among the greatest of virtues and must be shown towards both the living and the dead (ancestors). The term “filial”, meaning “of a child”, denotes the respect that a child, originally a son, should show to his parents. This relationship was extended by analogy to a series of five relationships (Chinese: 五倫; pinyin: wÇ”lún)[1]:

    1. Sovereign to subject
    2. Parent to child
    3. Elder to younger brother
    4. Husband to wife
    5. Friend to friend (Older friend is higher in rank/class than younger friend)”

  4. This wasn’t even the most disturbing part of the whole park. It was a really popular venue around the Chinese New Year period back when I was a kid in the 80s, so I went every year, and my parents would gleefully take me through the tunnel depicting Hell and the wonderfully graphic depictions of just how they would dismember you in the afterlife if you were bad person when alive. Cory’s Flickr site has beautiful pictures of it.

    It certainly explains my adult self’s predilection for dismembering plastic toys and painting them red with marker ink, that’s for sure.

  5. please forgive me, it’s just too good;

    Eighteen levels of Hell

    In Taoist and Buddhist mythology, hell is made up of ten courts, each ruled by one of the 10 Yama Kings and 18 levels in which wrongdoers are punished.

    In some literatures, there are references to 18 types or subtypes of hells, or 18 hells for each type of punishment, rather than just 18 levels of hell. In some literatures, there are different types of punishment on each level.

    The concept of ’18 levels of hell’ started in the Tang Dynasty. The Buddhist text Jian Di Yu Jing (間地獄經) mentioned 134 worlds of hell, but was simplified to 18 levels of hell for convenience.

    1. Chamber of Wind and Thunder – People who kill and commit heinous crimes out of greed are sent here for punishment.
    2. Chamber of Grinding – Wealthy men who do no good and waste food are ground into powder in this chamber.
    3. Chamber of Flames – People who steal, plunder, rob and cheat are sent here to be burnt.
    4. Chamber of Ice – Children who ill-treat their parents and elders are sent here to be frozen in ice.
    5. Chamber of Oil Cauldrons – Sex offenders such as rapists, lechers, adulterers are fried in oil in this chamber.
    6. Chamber of Dismemberment by Sawing – Kidnappers and people who force good women into prostitution suffer the fate of being sawn in this chamber.
    7. Chamber of Dismemberment by Chariot – Corrupt officials and landlords who oppress and exploit the people are dismembered by a chariot in this chamber.
    8. Chamber of Mountain of Knives – People who cheat customers by earning more than they should, profiteers who jack up prices and cheat on the quality of goods are made to shed blood by climbing the mountain of knives.
    9. Chamber of Tongue Ripping – Gossips who stir trouble and liars suffer the fate of having their tongues ripped out in this chamber.
    10. Chamber of Pounding – Cold-blooded murderers are pounded in this chamber.
    11. Chamber of Torso-severing – Scheming and ungrateful men have their torsos severed in this chamber.
    12. Chamber of Scales – Crooks who oppress the innocent, people who cheat on the quality of goods and daughters-in-law who ill-treat their in-laws have hooks pierced into their body and hung upside down.
    13. Chamber of Eye-gouging – Peeping toms who go around peeking and leering have their eyeballs gouged out in this chamber.
    14. Chamber of Heart-digging – People with evil hearts have theirs dug out in this chamber.
    15. Chamber of Disembowelment – Instigators, hypocrites and tomb-robbers have their bowels dug out in this chamber.
    16. Chamber of Blood – Blasphemous crooks who show no respect to the gods suffer the fate of being skinned in this chamber.
    17. Chamber of Maggots – Crooks who use loopholes in the law to cheat and engage in malpractice are being eaten alive by maggots in this chamber.
    18. Chamber of Avici – Crooks who have committed heinous crimes, brought misery to the people and betrayed the ruler are placed on a platform above an inferno. The unlucky ones fall off the platform into the inferno and burn while the lucky ones remain on the platform. These spirits are never to be reincarnated.”

  6. @ #10 –

    I’m glad they have a place for rapists. Dante seems to have forgotten about rapists, and it is important to have a well-organized realm of eternal torture.

  7. There is a similar episode described in The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck… During the big migration following the 1929 crisis, an old man is too weak to eat anything and get his life saved temporarlilly thanks to a nursing woman offering her breast…

    Maybe this is the same sort of context, in which case it would be a beautifull gesture, rather than something perverted (Although, I have to admit, it made my mind wonder with envy when I first read it…)

  8. @13 that closing scene was the first thing I thought of. And then rumors about athletes who drink breast milk because of the belief that it strengthens them..I think one MTV Cribs episode featured breast milk in the fridge.

  9. No, no, Takuan, that is not organized enough. I want a place specifically designated for rape. I mean, rape, as a sin, is going to put you in somewhere in Dante’s inferno, but he doesn’t even mention rape by name, I don’t think. This Taoist/Buddhist hell has twice as many levels. It’s just all-around a more efficient and more organized hell.

  10. I’m curious about the term “crine shame”… what exactly does that mean? … is that crine as in endo crine?…. as in “secrete”?

  11. Well, that’s the first time I ever googled for “bible daughter father breast”, but couldn’t find the reference. I’m 99% sure that there’s a similar Old Testament story. For some reason, I think the father was sanctified but not the daughter.

    btw crine = crying, I’m pretty sure.

  12. Rumors of Haw Par Villa’s defunctitude are slightly exaggerated, at least in Singapore. Daily tours from 9 to 7, and free admission. :)

  13. @13, @15, @19 I vaguely remember this as a Chinese story from my childhood. The father-in-law has been unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to starve to death. Whenever the daughter-in-law visits, she and her son are thoroughly searched by the guards to make sure they are not smuggling in any food. She keeps her father-in-law alive, as depicted, and after some time he is released for ‘miraculously’ surviving for so long without food. At least that’s how I remember it, does anyone have any more specific information about this as a Chinese story?

  14. I believe it’s a Christian tale as well, one that illustrates Charity. There are a number of paintings that depict a young woman breastfeeding her starving father in prison.

  15. I saw this photo and was reminded of a time when I would watch in amazement as my ex sister-in-law nursed her 4 year old.

    Wow…that certainly brought back some mental images I was trying to distance myself from.

  16. I am a chinese, from the cloth I think it is a chinese thing. I think this statue is trying to show a very famous ‘filial’ event/legend in chinese history. In the old time in China, two most important core moral ideas: loyalty to the emperor and filial respect to your parrents. To educate the common people, a serie of legend/events including 24 stories are formalized.
    This is actually one of them, I guess, it is #17 in this serie and story is a man name Cui, shannan, his grandma is very filial, and she breast-fed her ‘mother-in-law’ when she is too old to eat. I guess somehow the storyline is still there, but maybe the creator of the statue or the person made caption simply made a mistake.
    The sequence of these events are not fixed, here is english version of the stories, the #10 is about this.
    And a painting for similar theme is here: (in chinese)×9-29.htm

  17. Man, I can’t get my head around that. What’s particularly strange is that that situation probably involves no sexual titillation at all…

  18. I’m pretty sure I saw something similar to what #21 describes in a French film years ago. A peasant is put in jail without food, and his wife keeps him alive by breast feeding him. Can’t remember the name of the movie, but it was just a sort of aside to a totally separate plot.

    Adult nursing is creepy enough, but husband-wife is definitely less creepy than FIL-DIL.

  19. @ 29: …Ti— *headdesk*

    @ 13: Yah, Grapes of Wrath was the first thing I thought of when I saw this.

  20. crine, n.

    (kra{shti}n) [a. It. crine or ad. L. cr{imac}n-is hair: cf. F. crin hair, horse-hair.]

    1. Hair, head of hair. Also attrib.
    1614 SYLVESTER Du Bartas, Bethulia’s Rescue I. 160 Priests, whose sacred Crine Felt never Razor. 1768 Bristol Jrnl. Oct., Hose of Goatskyn, Crinepart outwards. 1865 Athen. No. 1969. 119/3 Both crines look like ill-made wigs.

    2. Hawking. = CRINET 2.
    1883 SALVIN & BRODRICK Falconry Brit. Isles Gloss. 150.

    crine, v.

    (kra{shti}n) [app. a. Gael. crìon to wither, f. crìon dry, withered.]

    1. intr. To shrink, shrivel, contract from dryness.
    1501 DOUGLAS Pal. Hon. III. 845 All wycht but sycht of thy gret mycht ay crinis. 1724 RAMSAY Evergreen, Interl. Droichs xiii, I am crynit in for eild. 1818 SCOTT Hrt. Midl. xxxix, ‘And mine bairns hae been crining too, mon.’ 1849 MRS. CARLYLE Lett. II. 62 He had grown old like a golden pippin, merely crined, with the bloom upon him. Mod. Sc. The meat (in stewing) has crined into very little.

    b. trans.
    1847 Whistlebinkie (Sc. Songs) (1840) II. 165 The drouth it had krined up and slackened the screw. 1878 DICKINSON Cumbrld. Gloss., Crine, to overdo in frying or roasting.

    {dag}2. To sweat or clip (coin). Obs. rare{em}1.
    1513 DOUGLAS Æneis VIII. Prol. 97 Sum trachour crynis the cun{ygh}e, and kepis corn stakis.

    Hence crined ppl. a., shrunken, shrivelled.
    1861 RAMSAY Remin. 2nd Ser. 121 A very little ‘crined’ old man.

  21. I think this is a depiction of the story of a daughter feeding her mother-in-law (not father-in-law). I’m basing that mostly on the size of the older person’s foot – tiny, like it was bound…

  22. I love that she’s got a rag in her hand, as if she’s in the middle of her chores, and this is just one of them.

  23. frankly, i’m disappointed this practice died out. it would’ve given me something to look forward to in my old age.

  24. It’ll be squicky if it’s a /bonus/ that he’s /entitled/ to, but if he would /starve/ otherwise, than it’s still unsettling, but it’s fine.

  25. …and awww, I want to go back to 134 worlds, some things just can’t be lumped together. Rape is the worst crime of all, it’s a perversion of intimacy. Cheaters don’t belong in the same category, especially in an era in which marriage can be sanctioned rape, and true love lies outside of it.

    Where’s the hell for bad parents? You reap what you sow, not the other way around?

    Religion never made much sense.

  26. @#6 “5. Friend to friend (Older friend is higher in rank/class than younger friend)”

    Entering school a year late never tasted so sweet!

    And by sweet, I mean the sweet taste of breast milk.

    Coming out of my friends’ breasts. Because, you know, I’m older than all of them.

    It was funnier on the internet in my head.

  27. There is an old Chinese stand-up comedy (xiangsheng) routine — now banned for being too risque for public performance — that kind of relates to this:

    An old man takes sick with a rare disease. The doctor tells him “This is a serious illness, my friend, but we can cure it for you. There’s a special Chinese herbal medicine that will fix you right up. But there is one problem: the prescription requires that you drink milk with it.”

    “Why, that’s no problem.” the old man says.

    “HUMAN milk,” clarifies the doctor.

    “Well, that’s no problem either. It just so happens my daughter-in-law just gave birth to a baby. I can just get some milk from her.”

    “Sorry, but there’s one more requirement,” says the doctor. “The milk has to be drunk directly from the breast, otherwise it loses its effectiveness.” Whew. This might be a little tricky. What can he do? The old man has no choice but to directly approach the daughter-in-law with his problem. He explains his predicament to her, and she is quite understanding.

    “It’s a matter of life-and-death,” she says. “Of course I’ll help you.” So she timidly opens up her blouse and lets the old man suck the milk. But he has barely had one mouthful when the son — who had heard that his father was ill — returns home from work early. Opening the door and seeing his young wife there with his very own father in this rather compromising situation, he is understandably pretty pissed off.

    “Dad!” the son cries in shock. “What the hell are you doing?” The father, seeing his son’s displeasure, stands up indignantly and says, “So! I drink one mouthful of your wife’s milk and you get this upset? Have you forgotten how much of MY wife’s milk YOU drank when you were a baby?”


  28. I know this is a very old posting, but I just wanted to say that even though the person being breast fed appears to have sideburns, it is obvious, simply by looking at her feet, that she is meant to be a woman. The old lady has tiny, bound feet. Men did not bind their feet.

  29. The park has reopened to the public very recently, but that statue is no longer there. Among the different sights in Confucian philosophy/Chinese mythology and history that are renovated/repainted are:

    1. The 8 Immortals
    2. Lady White Snake
    3. Vices and virtues
    4. 10 courts of Hell
    5. Journey to the West

    However, there is a poster with a picture of the statue above. And it’s labelled as mother-in-law (to make it less shocking??)

  30. Har Par Villa is in Singapore…maybe one in Hong Kong also, but that pic looks like the one in S. I’ve never forgotten my “trip” there.

  31. I am certainly guilty of not fulfilling filial piety myself, although I am a bit shocked to see this at first, but I understand the meaning of what it was expressing. Thank you.


  32. Is the kid holding a vibrator? What does that have to do with any of this. It’s official I have been scarred for life.

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