Filial Piety for the 21st Century


One of the comments on my last blog piece, which was about the ancient book by Guo Jujing called The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety,  asked whether the Cultural Revolution destroyed all Confucian thinking  as regards family values and filial piety.  The short answer is that superficially it did.  Traditional Chinese culture emphasised family unity, but during the Cultural Revolution family members  were encouraged to disown one another, and to accuse them of counter-revolutionary crimes, and this practice of betrayal was applauded. Young people were urged to challenge authority in the home, at school or university and in the workplace. Mao was the only one who was to be unchallenged.

As a result, this whole period – which was relatively short in historic terms – had a devastating effect on the society and changed attitudes to Chinese culture almost beyond recognition. It has taken a long time for this damage to be repaired, and the process is still on-going.

In August 2012 two Chinese organisations, the  All China Women’s Federation and the National Bureau of Senior Affairs – with Government backing – released a list which uses that ancient book as a template for 24 suggestions as to how modern Chinese citizens could demonstrate filial piety. Some of the new exemplars have even been included in the draft of the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Seniors.

Needless to say the list has stirred up a whole hornet’s nest of discussion here in China, with some folk embracing the examples given whilst others excoriated them.  Weibo (Chinese Twitter/You Tube) has been red hot with netizens expressing their different points of view.

These are the 24 suggestions for how to practice Filial Piety in the modern age:

1. Regularly bring spouse / significant other / partner and children home to visit parents. 2. Spend holidays with parents as often as possible.                                                                         3. Hold birthday celebrations for parents.                                                                                       4. Cook for parents.                                                                                                                                  5. Call parents on the weekends                                                                                                            6. Give parents regular financial support.                                                                                        7. Set up care cards for parents with essential information such as contact numbers of   family members, blood type, and medical history, in case of emergency.                                 8. Sincerely listen to parents’ life stories.                                                                                          9. Teach parents how to surf the Internet. 10. Regularly take photographs of parents.                                                                                     11. Tell parents that you love them.                                                                                                       12. Help parents to realize their unfinished dreams.                                                                      13. Support their hobbies.                                                                                                                       14. Support widowed parents if they want to re-marry.                                                                   15. Regularly take parents for physical check-ups.                                                                        16. Buy appropriate insurance for parents.                                                                                         17. Regularly communicate your thoughts with parents.                                                             18. Take parents to important events.                                                                                              19. Let parents visit your workplace.                                                                                                  20. Take parents traveling.                                                                                                                 21. Exercise with parents.                                                                                                                     22. Participate in parents’ social events.                                                                                            23. Accompany parents to visit old friends of theirs.                                                                   24. Watch an old movie with parents.

One young man from Beijing seems to have taken suggestion 20 to heart. Fan Meng has hit the headlines here as he decided to take his Mum traveling.  Kou Minjun is 53 and has been in a wheelchair for years as a result of polio.  She had always longed to visit other places in China so her son planned to take her on a trip from Beijing (which is in northern China) way down south to Xishuangbanna  in the south-western province of Yunnan.  A distance of 3360kms. The trip has taken the pair 96 days (they set off on July 11th) because Fan Meng pushed his mum’s  wheelchair the whole way. He used the GPS on his smart phone to navigate, and they slept in their small tent or in cheap hostels en route. Fan carried their kit plus the tent in a big bag on his back, and they took the family’s pet dog with them.

I would be interested to know what you think of the list – what if these suggestions were presented to younger people in the west (possibly put up for discussion in schools) … would it be a good thing or a bad idea?

Some Chinese people argue that everybody should show their filial piety in the ways that are best for them, and there is no need for advice as to how often people should visit their parents and the ways in which they should express their love for them. However, the new code of conduct is not a law that people have to abide by.  It is simply meant to remind children that their parents need their care and attention.

Personally, I’m all for it – but then I would be, I’m 60+ and a grandparent, the idea of my children or grandchildren spending time with me is wonderful !!

About herschelian

Recently moved to Beijing from London - its all new to me! Trying to learn Chinese, and what makes this city tick.
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2 Responses to Filial Piety for the 21st Century

  1. I LOVE the concept of “netizens” but I can’t see all of this list going down well in the West. The idea of a parent visiting me “in the workplace” is a little creepy!! Difficult to judge really! Personally and being 60+ myself, I already did most of these things for my parentals and, as I have no children of my own, don’t expect much from my juniors!! The idea of respect flowing upwards should at all times and in all places be encouraged! (This is from someone who finds it difficult to believe that the UK is ruled by a group of – mainly – men who are younger than I am. I wish they were older!

  2. Edwin Wang says:

    This virtue of respecting the elderly has been preserved and practised in Taiwan (ROC) since KMT fled there in 1949. I am a product of that tradition :-) But I do think “The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety” is bordering on absurdity.

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