Hong Kong’s troubled first family was in the news again recently. On the Halloween weekend, Leung Chai-yan, the chief executive’s daughter, was filmed slapping her mother, Regina Leung Tong Chingyee, twice on the face, in Lan Kwai Fong. It’s obvious to all, and her parents have said as much, that the 24-year-old has mental health issues. Whatever one’s political stance, one wishes the Leungs well, for things must be difficult in that family.

Striking one’s parents is considered a heinous act in most societies, especially so among Chinese, for whom xiao, or filial piety, is considered the highest virtue.

Gao Yang (529-559), who founded the Northern Qi dynasty, was an able ruler during the early years of his reign. Later, however, Gao began to exhibit signs of psychotic behaviour, such as ordering random mass murders and devising cruel execution methods that included boiling or sawing prisoners alive. His mental disorder was exacerbated by his alcoholism. Angered by his drunkenness and debauchery, his mother Dowager Empress Lou once struck him with her walking stick. “You old hag!” a drunk Gao shouted at his mother. “How dare you reproach me! I’ll send you to the barbarians tomorrow and make you their wife!” He then accidentally struck his mother, causing her to fall.

In penance, a guilt-ridden Gao whipped himself and swore to stop drinking.

He didn’t keep his promise, however, and drank himself to death, at the age of 30.