Even as China becomes a modern superpower, its president looks back a thousand years for ideas in family values, often recounting in his public speeches the mothers of Yue Fei and Mencius in ancient stories as exemplary mothers and virtuous wives.1 Despite the patriarchal principles behind his view, why have these stories themselves been not long forgotten? Do these simplistic, enduring tales really have something to teach Asia’s modern parents?
Yue Fei’s life protection plan
Yue Fei was a twelfth-century military general revered in Chinese culture for his unwavering patriotism. Although he has annals of legends about his illustrious career, the one story of his mother, Lady Yue, has perhaps been told more times than his own.
Common legend has it that one day, Yue Fei denounced the pirate chief Yang Yao and passed on a chance to become a general in his army. Lady Yue was thankful but her instincts made sure he was protected for life.
She told her son: ‘I, your mother, saw that you did not accept recruitment of the rebellious traitor, and that you willingly endure poverty and are not tempted by wealth and status… but I fear that after my death, there may be some unworthy creature who will entice you. For this reason, I want to tattoo on your back the four characters Utmost, Loyalty, Serve, and Nation.’ She picked up the brush and wrote out the four characters along his spine. She pricked out the four words with her sewing needle and painted the characters with ink mixed with vinegar so that the colour would never fade2 … effectively inking his son’s insurance policy for life.
Throughout his military career, Yue Fei’s tattoo would more than once save his life. In one instance, when a traitor chancellor of the kingdom arrested him on treason, he only had to reveal his tattoo to the court to prove his innocence.2
Her endearing act is as modern and simple a reason as our own: because we’re not always there by their side.
Today the paths our children choose to play and grow in are just as real and life-threatening as young Yue Fei’s. Adolescents are often a forgotten minority when it comes to health risks. They are just as susceptible to pollution, unbalanced diet, alcohol or substance abuse, diseases and physical injuries as the rest of us. Yet, they are less knowing of and ready for the consequences. In Southeast Asia, one in ten children aged 10–19 years are overweight. Globally, they lead in numbers in obesity, road traffic injuries and interpersonal violence. And half of all mental health disorders start by age 14.3
That’s why more parents are buying life insurance for their children. Just as Lady Yue did, we can and should do something to reduce the foreseeable risks and dangers overshadowing our children, and make sure they are financially-prepared to afford the best care possible if the need ever arises. In the modern environments that our children live in today, there is really no such thing as overprotecting. If you plan on starting early, consider junior accounts which combine insurance with savings and enjoy rates as high as a month’s FD, with a tenure based on the child’s years to financial independence or until they can truly fend for themselves.
Mencius’ education policy
For Asian parents, there’s no cost or sacrifice too huge for a child’s education.
The mother of Mencius, the sage second only to Confucious, probably made the best case for this. As a young child, his mother moved the family residence three times not willing to settle for less than a perfect environment to raise her son. Her last move brought them close to a public school where her son was caught on with the proper mannerisms and words of the neighbouring scholars and imitated them. Only then was she satisfied. ‘This,’ she said, ’is the proper place for my son’.4
Mencius’ mother also famously said, ‘While I was carrying this boy in my womb, I would not sit down if the mat was not placed square, and I ate no meat which was not cut properly—thus I taught him before he was born.’4
The moral of the story? To raise them well, prepare to make some sacrifices early on.
China’s young parents seemed to heed their legendary mother’s advice. Since the early 2010s, there has been a trend of setting aside hard-earned cash to pay small premiums for child insurance and investment-linked plans. The idea is to give their children the freedom to redeem the policy in future—whether in their twenties for a university course they like, or later in their thirties to use as downpayment on their first home5 or as capital for a startup. This way, they also secure the future that their children want.
The reality is education is also extremely expensive these days. A market study in 2015 showed that Malaysian parents spend more than half of their earnings on tuition fees throughout our children’s university studies.6 A decade on and with growing inflation, we will definitely be spending more when the time comes. So starting early is really the key. Whether it’s a higher education plan or an investment-linked protection plan which matures towards the university years, you can start with smaller, more affordable sums of deposits and premiums.
Two legendary mothers can’t be wrong. We Asian parents, more than others around the world, make huge sacrifices to provide our children with the tools to succeed in life. But with so many choices, we often lose sight of the original plan. Their stories teach us focus. To go back to the basics of protection and education. And to trust our own motherly instincts. While solutions and approaches have changed over the ages, the Asian parent’s intent remain the same. This is where twenty-first century protection policies and education plans can best safeguard and prepare your children for the future. Mencius’ mother moved three times. Lady Yue accomplished it with four simple words. Today you can start with a few strokes of a pen.
But first, consult your Relationship Manager on which savings, insurance or higher education plans best suit them. Most of our plans for children are premium investment-linked to give both life insurance protection and the opportunity to maximise returns over a short, medium or long term—so there would be one that is just right for each child. If you’re not yet a parent, you might want to consider a similar plan for your parents to help finance their retirement age or as a gift, a small return for all the years of investing in their children.
1 Asia Dialogue, Xi Jinping’s Family Values, 22 September 2017. 2 Sir Yang Ti-liang, General Yue Fei, 1995. Translated and abridged from Qian Cai, Shuo Yue Quanzhuan, 1684 or 1744. 3 World Health Organization, Adolescents: health risks and solutions, 13 Decemeber 2018. 4 All China Women’s Federation, Mencius’ Mother: A Symbol of Chinese Mother, 12 May 2008. 5  BBC News, Insurance increases as Chinese protect young and old, 5 August 2011. 6 Expert Market, The Most Expensive Places to Send Your Kids to University, 2015.