Confucianism Filial Piety In Chinese Religion
Filial Piety in Chinese Religion
Filial piety was an integral part of Chinese culture and therefore was embraced by three of China's main religions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. Among the three, Confucianism, with its well documented social hierarchy, supported the ideals of filial piety the most. Buddhism and Daoism also supported filial piety in some of their texts, but had monastic systems that prevented monks and nuns from being filial children.
The term filial piety refers to the extreme respect that Chinese children are supposed to show their parents. It involves many different things including taking care of the parents, burying them properly after death, bringing honor to the family, and having a male heir to carry on the family name (Brians 1). Practicing these ideals is a very important part of Chinese culture. Therefore, one would expect that filial piety would be incorporated into the major religions of China as it has been.
The ideal of respecting and behaving properly towards one's parents fits perfectly with Confucianism's ideal of respecting and behaving properly towards all elders. Confucius himself addressed the subject in the Analects:
When your father is alive observe his intentions. When he is deceased, model yourself on the memory of his behavior. If in three years after his death you have not deviated from your father's ways, then you may be considered a filial child. ("Confucian Teachings" 20).
According to Confucius, respect to one's father while he is alive is a given -- something that even animals do. But, to be a filial child, one must respect his parents even after their death. Confucius goes on to cite further specific examples of what a filial son should do for his parents. Among them, children should never offend their parents, never speak badly of them, not travel far away without purpose, always be conscious of their parents age, and protect them whenever necessary (21). These things were not all that was required of a filial child. Rather, they were an just a few rules that Confucius' disciples felt were important enough to be included in the Analects.
The concept of filial piety was exhibited in other Confucian texts as well, such as the Book of Rewards and Punishments. Although this text was technically a popular religious text, rather than a Confucian one, it highlighted many Confucian ideals, such as filial piety. It describes good, virtuous people seeking immortality as those who "exhibit loyalty to their ruler, filial piety to their parents, true friendship to their older brothers" (143). Contrarily, those who are evil "insult their ruler and their parents behind their backs" (143). According to this text, it is impossible...
Loading: Checking Spelling0%
The Ambition of Confucianism Essay876 words - 4 pages China, a country that is bonded with 5000 years of histories, is crossed with different religions. Among all the religions, the greatest impact that has on people is Confucianism. Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system that was created by Confucius, a philosopher. It is sometimes seen as more of a philosophy than a religion. Yet, it is deeply respected by the people for its influences and teachings. One of the...
Confucianism Essay1174 words - 5 pages Confucianism *Missing Works Cited* Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious teaching built up by Confucius on the ancient Chinese traditions, and still is the state religion down to the present day. Confucianism aims at making not just a man of virtue, but the man of learning and good manners. The perfect man must combine the qualities of a saint, a scholar, and gentleman. Confucianism is a religion without...
Confucianism and Taoism1181 words - 5 pages Confucianism and Daoism are two influential schools of thoughts that have existed in ancient China around the 6th century BCE. The former, led by the politician and philosopher Confucius, proposed that humans live in society according to a set of predefined rules and that they transform society through political action. Whereas the latter, led by the philosopher Lao-Tzu, promoted the idea of inaction; people should go with the flow instead of...
Chinese Philosophy Essay1431 words - 6 pages Three areas of philosophy emerged amidst the chaos and constant warring of the Zhou era. The three were called Confucianism, Daoism, and legalism. They were Chinese philosophies that were thought to be the best ways to rule and achieve order in the society. Confucianism believed that a ruler's job was to set a good example, and not order. Since people were thought of as naturally good, they would following the right path based on their own...
Legalism and Confucianism558 words - 2 pages Joseph MartinezGlobalLegalism and Confucianism were both forms of solutions to the many problems China had. Legalism though was only a short time, it set the foundation for written laws. Confucianism on...
Confucianism v. Democracy1064 words - 4 pages Although originally a scholarly practice and moral philosophy, Confucianism has been applied to many aspects of Chinese society. Its principles have infiltrated familial relations, social structures, religious institutions, and political systems. The application of Confucianism in politics has, in particular, undergone the most flux throughout the...
Chinese Influence on Korea and Japan1046 words - 4 pages Chinese Influence on Korea and Japan Today, Japanese and Korean civilizations are advanced, wealthy, and independent with their own system of government and religious beliefs due to the influences from China. The majority of Asia experienced changes in government and dealt with inter and intra state conflicts when the countries were most susceptible to influences from alliances made with other countries. The Tang Dynasty/ Silla alliance...
The Reinvention of Confucianism in Northeast Asian Societies3550 words - 14 pages The Reinvention of Confucianism in Northeast Asian Societies The following is an examination of Confucianism is Northeast Asian states. In particular the essay will focus on China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in an examination of how each of these states has individually adapted and reinvented Confucian ideals and notions to serve the specific circumstances of each state. The essay will trace the reinvention and subsequent development of...
Ancient Chinese Culture1053 words - 4 pages While the fertile banks of the Tigris, Euphrates, and Indus rivers were giving rise to thriving civilizations in the Middle East and India, the same was happening along the banks of the Yellow River in China. A civilization arose untouched by the outside world in parallel to those of Mesopotamia, Harappa, and Mohenjo-Daro. The Yellow River civilization not only mirrored the advances made in the other two civilizations but also contributed unique...
Complementary: The Sacred and the Secular1280 words - 5 pages Contrary to common belief, religion is composed of both religious—divine reverence, and irreligious elements—politics and philosophy. Reciprocally outlining Chinese ideals, this complementary blend of religious and irreligious elements allude to harmony of opposites without conflict. However, widely interpretative, the Western term “religion” prevents clear distinction between religion and philosophy when applied to Ancient Chinese religion,...
Confucianism1995 words - 8 pages Confucianism A philosopher named Confucius founded Confucianism in China 2,500 years ago. Confucianism is a system of ethical behavior and social responsibility that became the great traditions of the East.1 It played an important role in the evolution in Chinese culture over the centuries. It has influenced near-by countries and had made a mark in the history of religion. There are today over six million people who call themselves...
The most valuable and relevant characteristic of Chinese culture is its artistic quality. This has been a significant quality acknowledged by many international scholars. It was about half a century ago, an American scholar, George Rowley, wrote in the preface of his Principles of Chinese Painting characterizing Chinese culture saying: "The Chinese way looking at life was not primarily through religion, or philosophy, or science, but through art." This scholar’s statement is correct and to the point, but he has not provided an explanation of the meaning of "artistic." In fact, no scholar there-after has done any proper explanation. Now, the author of this essay will attempt an exploration of the meaning of being artistic. The most effective method is comparing the artistic with the scientific.
The basic interest of the scientific consists in observing and understanding of a natural matter, particularly the matter’s reality. But the basic interest of the artistic concentrates in appreciation or creative performance, with the interest of attaining beauty rather than factual truth. As to the approaching method, the scientific one concentrates on analysis or experimentation, using symbols in a direct or logical way, but the artistic one concentrates on intuition or imagination, with the use of symbols in a suggestive or metaphorical way. In addition, the subject-matter of the scientific has to be factual and rational, but the subject-matter of the artistic does not need to be factual or rational at all. As to the performance process, the scientific has to be logical and following a definition as well as an experimental order, but the performance of art can ignore this kind of logical matter. Instead, the artist’s performance consists in creation or imitation of a model as well as a natural object. As to their functional performance, the scientific performs the function to establish knowledge and technology, and the artistic, instead, just nourishes human feeling and establishes some styles of personal action. In the main, modern Western culture is scientific, but Chinese culture is still artistic, even in common life. A very unusual characteristic of Chinese culture is the dominant function of the artistic, which has controlled other aspects of the culture. What is relevant to this essay is the influence of the artistic upon the moral aspect of life. In a certain sense, Chinese morality has been shaped and established by the function of the artistic. At the same time, this artistic function has provided an opportunity for the birth and growth of filial piety.
The morality of Chinese culture has the following four qualities: (1) Artistic quality. (2) Humanistic quality. (3) Self-control quality. (4) Harmonization quality. The first quality has been explained in this essay to some extent. The second one is related to the first, but is also related to the major theme of this essay. Chinese humanism in morality, exhibits itself as a major contrast to the morality of the traditional Western world. In traditional West, the ultimate moral authority is God or Spirit. All the moral rules are based on this Spirit. But in Chinese culture, the ultimate moral authority is still the human world. In a certain sense, Chinese morality has transcended the world of spirits or the world of religion. This means, in Chinese culture, the practice of moral life is not following the spiritual authority or God, but to follow humanistic reflection and sensitivity. Filial Piety is a humanistic expression of an individual’s natural feeling toward his parents, without any relation to God or a spiritual authority. As to the third quality, self-control is the control of oneself without following God or Spirit. This quality is not possessed in the same way by individuals of the traditional Western world since they need to obey God or Spiritual Authority. As to "harmonization," it is also a Chinese artistic moral action. This moral action represents an interest of acceptance of varieties of ideas and ways of performance. It is in fact a very important condition for the growth of social life.
To sum up, characteristics of Chinese culture are too many to mention. What we can do in this essay is just selecting what is relevant to filial piety. The relevant aspects include what is artistic, what is naturally humanistic, and what is special interest for promoting humanistic morality. Filial Piety is just a natural product of these cultural qualities, and itself, is also a cultural quality of Chinese culture.
Now, it should be the time for us to ask a major question:
What is Filial Piety? This question appears so general that it could be interpreted in many different ways. Because of many different meanings of the question, there could be many different answers. Now, we have to set a limit on this question. This limit consists in the relevance of filial piety to Chinese culture. So, we can ask specific questions instead of a general one. A specific question which is relevant could be: What is the position of filial piety in Chinese culture? This question could be considered relevant to the major theme of this essay. An immediate answer could be: Filial piety is a kind of natural feeling. But this answer is not yet to the point, since there are many types of natural feeling in human life. So, we have to ask another question specifically: What is the unique quality of filial piety in Chinese culture? A proper answer could be: Filial piety in Chinese culture is an individual’s natural feeling toward his parents. It is composed of natural sensitivity, caring love, sincere concern, and even natural respect. In fact, all these are natural consciousness toward an immediately related person--a parent. These feelings, in Chinese culture, are not products of a Spirit. So, we can also say, that these feelings are humanistic, because they are the product of purely human beings.
Now, let us move from the natural to the cultural. Culturally filial piety is the leading principle or fundamental basis of Chinese morality. Before dealing with filial piety, let us ask a simple question: What is morality? The question itself appears very simple, but the answers can be complicated. In the current Western world, some maintain that the source of morality is reason. Some maintain that it is sympathy, and some insist on the ultimate value of universal love. There are still many other answers. But in Chinese culture, morality consists in value judgments based on human relations. Filial piety just refers to the most immediate and necessary human relation. An individual, as usual, could have many types of human relations. Examples may include relations with friends, cousins, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. But none of these relations are more immediate or necessary than the relation of a child to his parents. So, filial piety is the most fundamental relational basis from which other types of moral feelings are developed. Confucius clearly confirmed this point saying: "Filial piety is the foundation of morality." This confirmation is meaningful if the action of filial piety is well-understood in its relation with human life.
The relation between filial piety and human life is also a substantial topic. Now, for the sake of relevance and for the sake of simplifying selection, we are going to explore how filial piety performs its action in life. The most relevant aspect is its position in family life. Family has been an extremely important substance of Chinese society. Family is naturally prior to society or country. Integration of family is a necessary starting point for attaining a well-controlled country or a peaceful world. As to the relations within a family, the Chinese people emphasize the relation between parents and children, particularly emphasizing children’s love and respect for their parents. So, Chinese family life is, in reality, the life of filial piety. Even up to now, Chinese families are still controlled by the reflective power of the concept of filial piety. In addition to its control of family life, filial piety has also powerfully controlled the social life and many other aspects of Chinese culture. So, filial piety is not only a foundation of morality, but also a fundamental basis of Chinese culture.
This section is, in fact, a continuation of last section. The main theme of last section is "the position of filial piety in Chinese culture." A simple question comes up to ask: What is the position? The answer given in last section is that "Filial Piety is the leading principle or fundamental basis of Chinese morality." This answer has already touched upon a very important relation between "filial piety" and "Chinese culture." This section will just continue to provide further observation and exploration.
First of all, a very important relation between the two is their mutual creation. Instead of being created by God or a Super-Spirit, filial piety has been a product created by Chinese culture. In traditional West, moral principles, in general, are created by God or Spiritual Authority. But in China, all the principles are products of human culture, or cultural creation. The human creative process started with the beginning of Chinese culture, together with the birth and growth of human feeling toward one’s parents. The feeling is, in reality, the feeling of filial piety. At the same time, this type of feeling performs educational function to create family life, social life, and cultural life. This creative operation appears a response to the initial creative process. In a certain sense, filial piety and Chinese culture are just co-subjects or co-objects, being a creator or a creature of each other. In this mutual-creative process, both filial piety and Chinese culture are interacting together, and even integrated together.
Now, we move to a second important topic. This topic is very unique in the world. In traditional West, religion is valuable and necessary. But in Chinese culture, there exists no formal religion at all. According to the common sense of Chinese people, China has three major religions. These religions are Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Nevertheless, Confucius is natural and humanistic. He is not a God, but only a human being.
Then, how can Confucianism be called a religion? As to Taoism, it is not a formal religion at all. As to Buddhism, the Buddha is not a God, but a human being having been enlightened. So, Buddhism is totally different from other religions of the world. According to Buddhism, any person can become a Buddha through the process of enlightenment. Now, a question is: Is Chinese culture without a religion? The answer to this question is both "yes" and "no". The affirmative answer just confirms what has been considered a fact. The negative answer just recognizes a different one. In our essay, this different one is the recognition of filial piety as a substitute for religion in Chinese culture.
Now, we are facing a new question: Why can filial piety take the place of a religion? Or, why can filial piety become a religion? To get a proper answer, we have to explore the nature and essential qualities of a religion, together with cultural environment. From the viewpoint of the author, the essence of a religion should possess: (1) an exploration of transcendent reality, (2) a spiritual expection for ever-lasting life, and (3) an accomplishment of a proper relation with immediate persons or spirits. The reason that filial piety can take the place of religion or can become established as a religion is simply that it has been naturally grown up with these three conditions. The first condition is one of intuition and well-trained speculation. The second one and the third one are psychological in humanistic and natural ways. Nonetheless, the third condition is, an exploration of the opportunity to attain a relation with immediate persons. This is a unique psychological operation. For Chinese culture, persons and spirits both belong to the human world. So, the expectation of this condition can be accomplished. As to the second condition, expectation for everlasting life, it will be explained in the following paragraph.
In the world of Chinese ethics, the essential meaning of filial piety is not only loving and respecting one’s living parents. It also implies the meaning of respecting and loving those parents and ancestors who have already died. Filial piety also performs a function to liberate human beings from the fear of death. In fact, in the whole world, death is a serious cause for the growing of religion. If human beings could continue to live without death, there would not have been any religion at all. Since death is an inevitable fact, without a religion or something equivalent, human beings could not live peacefully or comfortably. As indicated, filial piety performs an important function to liberate human beings from the fear of death. Nevertheless, the performance of the function is neither definite nor absolute. In Chinese culture, the initial way for conquering death is giving birth to a male-child, and hoping the male-child to continue to produce male descendants. According to Chinese traditional valuation, only the life of the male can attain continuity of family life. This is an important idea of a male-centered society. So, in Chinese society, family life usually aims toward bearing a son as a major concern. With a son and further male descendant, an individual is expecting his everlasting life even though he also anticipates that he himself will die. This type of family life in continuation is the life of filial piety. With the consciousness of filial piety, the family will work toward a production of Sons and grandsons, with the hope of everlasting life. Now, we can confirm that, filial piety is performing religious function in Chinese culture, but the performance is just artistic, natural, and humanistic.
In reality, the major purpose of this essay consists in an exposition of a unique quality of Chinese culture. This unique quality is filial piety which is not possessed or even shared by any other culture in the same way. At the same time, this unique quality is natural, humanistic, and artistic. Its birth place, growing field, and maturity home are just the same place, the human world. It is, certainly, the product of Chinese culture. But it also performs the creation of cultural qualities. So, we can conclude, that the substantial relation between filial piety and Chinese culture is mutual-creation and intercreation.
The author of this essay has been a performer of filial piety. He is also a sincere member and scholar of Chinese culture. When he completed his B.A., he was offered a teaching position in a high school. What has interested him the most was the teaching of Chinese classics, with a required text of HsiaoChing. In fact, this classical text has been established as a sageous text from the beginning of the Chinese culture. This indicates a great importance of filial piety, the basis of Chinese morality.
Unfortunately, in the contemporary world, filial piety and Chinese culture are no longer intimately related. It is probably the result of the influence of modernization. In the process of modernization, only physical science and commercial performance have been effectively covered. Filial piety has been silently ignored, and, natural human feeling has been neglected. If we want to maintain the value of our traditional morality, filial piety should receive a proper recovery through education. With an effective proper education, filial piety and Chinese culture can continue to perform their mutually creative life for the future world. (The End)
1. George Rowley, Principles of Chinese Painting (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), p. 3
2. In comparative approach, this essay just compare Chinese culture with traditional Western culture rather than the Western current culture. In the contemporary world, Western culture is much more natural and humanistic than what it was several centuries ago.
3. This quotation is selected from Confucius’ communication with Tseng Tzu. It has been recorded in the first chapter of HsiaoChing.
4. The English term "Taoism" covers, in reality, two types of Taoism in Chinese culture. The Chinese language terms are "Tao Chia" and "Tao Chiao". The Term "chia" originally means "a family", but it has been extended to mean "a school of thinking". The term "chiao" originally as well as currently means "teaching" and "religion". So, "Tao Chia" refers to the philosophy of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. "Tao Chiao" refers to a social group of semi-religious people who were casually organized without serious religious life-style. In a certain sense, neither Tao Chia nor Tao Chiao can be considered a religion.
5. This author has published articles on Chinese culture. In recent years, he has been working on his forthcoming book (in Chinese) ReflectionuponChineseCulture which will be published soon.
6. This teaching position was offered to this author in 1959 by Tak Ming High School in Hong Kong. Tak Ming’s Chinese original is the personal name of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. This high school was very well-known for its cultural performance in teaching.
7. HsiaoChing is one of the thirteen classics in Chinese culture. The term "Hsiao" means "filial piety," and the term "Ching" means "a classic." When a book is called "ching", it is a book of noble position. In the Chinese tradition, the thirteen classics are considered very noble in the culture.