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摘要:中国传统文化孝Chinese traditional culture -- Filial piety Since ancient times, the traditional China has taken Xiao (obedience within the family) as an unshakeable moral standard. In this report, I will discuss why filial piety was essential to......

中国传统文化——孝 Chinese traditional culture -- Filial piety

Since ancient times, the traditional China has taken Xiao (obedience within the family) as an unshakeable moral standard. In this report, I will discuss why filial piety was essential to rulers, how they acted to strengthen Xiao’s status and their possible solution when service to the family conflicted service to the state.

From a family’s view, “bond” was an important word in China. Traditional Chinese were inclined to tighten their family bonds and fought against any attempt of splitting their families. Furthermore, Confucian interpreted the whole state as a family and every member should bond together when disputes and wars with other countries arose, which obviously met the ruling class’ need. So, to construct a harmonious society, the first step that the ruling class took was to promote ideologies that our country was a big family where we shared interests and losses, using Confucianism as a weapon. 

Next, we have to understand what Xiao represented in Chinese dynasties. From a modern view, we may expect Xiao to be no more than kindly taking care of our parents. Yet, the definition of Xiao in a premodern China was more rigorous and demanding, and traditional Chinese rulers had broadened this concept into politics through all sorts of measures, which made it even more complex. That was, societies at that time promoted that one should never show any signs of noncompliance to the elder and always stay loyal to his emperor. In this way, dynasties, like Han, Ming and Qing, all harmonized the devotion within a family together with that within the state.


Such an characteristic was called the parallel conception of society, which was pervasive in Confucianism. The system of Confucianism covered almost every part of our daily life, from eating manners to moral requirements, from domestic education to diplomatic issues. It acted as a textbook when it came to proper manners of a gentleman and a powerful state.

Another important factor of Confucianism’s popularity occurred in the Later Han Dynasty, when a famous successor of Confucianism, Dong Zhongshu, equaled the imperial power to “the supreme ultimate”, which undoubtedly catered to the need of the emperor. Thus, ever since Han dynasty, the governments had endeavored to develop Confucianism. The reason why it overruled almost every period since Han was that it highly fulfilled the ruler’s need of establishing an easy-to-rule state.

When it came to the priority of filial issues, many people may put forward a question: what if the interest of one’s father conflicted with that of the Emperor. To answer this problem, we have to uncover the real aim of constructing a filial-obedience-dominated society. As we know from those collected history materials, the image of the ruling class was usually depicted as a noble man who sincerely listened to every word of his parents. That’s because such a glamorous figure would effectively convince his subjects to respect and support him. Secondly, Xiao and Ti were vital standards in acquiring a satisfying official career. If we compared the imperial examination to be a single-plank bridge, Xiao and Ti would mean to open up a brand new way to earn a career. If one devoted all his life to serve the elderly and managed to make his story well-known, he would save a lot of time preparing for those tedious examinations and get a direct ticket to serve his country. For these reasons, filial obedience became the mainstream.
当谈到孝顺的首要问题时,很多人可能会提出这样一个问题:如果父亲的利益与皇帝的利益发生冲突怎么办?要解决这一问题,就必须揭示构建“filialpha -顺服型社会”的真正目的。从收集的历史资料中我们知道,统治阶级的形象通常被描绘成一个认真倾听父母每句话的贵族形象。这是因为这样一个富有魅力的人物会有效地说服他的臣民尊重和支持他。其次,“孝”和“悌”是获得满意仕途的重要标准。如果我们把科举比作一座独木桥,萧和提就意味着开辟了一条崭新的职业道路。如果一个人把他的一生奉献给老人,并使他的故事为人所知,他就可以节省大量的时间准备那些繁琐的考试,从而得到一张直接的票去报效他的国家。由于这些原因,孝顺成为主流。
Besides, the ruling class had utilized the concept of Xiao to foster absolute obedient minds. The emperors believed that a man who complied with his elders would be easier to govern, and then orders could be taken more effectively. To realize this assumption, the whole society was immersed in stories like the 24 stories of filial piety. These stories exaggeratedly elaborated how children should dedicate all their time, even their heirs and lives, to meet some unreasonable requirement of their parents. They were popular for its impressive plots and touching family bonds. Children grew up under this environment would never say no to any order of their elders, superiors and the Emperor.

In addition, death was a majestic event in Chinese society. It involved a series of a complicated funeral, mourning and periodical tomb-visitings. I think it was the time when conflict between devotion to families and dedication to the state appeared. Most bereaved officials may ask for a chance to quit and go back to their hometown to express their Xiao and love to the deceased by standing as guards at the bier and looking after funeral events. Unwilling to break an obedient circumstance, the Emperor usually temperately accepted his officer’s resignation and called him back shortly after the funeral came to an end. Then, the sheep-like officer had no choice but to take the offer to avoid cruel punishment, and his retirement ended as well. Acts like this though may arouse frustration to some extent, the rulers usually took out a considerable amount of gold and other rewards as a compensation for their loyalty and filial piety. Through a combination of forceful orders and gentle remedy, the Emperor kept his faithful subordinates without violating filial piety.

Except from Confucianism and funerals, dynasties like Ming Dynasty also emphasized women’s education. Books, such as Ban Zhao’s Admonitions for Women and Song Ruozhao’s Analects for Women made detailed explanation on female’s proper behaviors in an orthodox society. These works were widely read in every family who hoped their daughters to be regarded as virtuous and sensible woman. It hogtied women’s behavior from eating, serving husband and parents-in-law to ritual decorum, which could be called an encyclopedia of female manners. Perhaps due to its thorough elaboration, it locked women’s mind in a tiny frame without any space for free thoughts. I could sense how the orthodox ideologies rooted in traditional Chinese women’s minds when reading their poets and other works in premodern China.


In this way, the government “produced” wives and mothers of similar values and behaviors and thus indirectly took the development of each family within its domain in control. 通过这种方式,政府“生育”了价值观和行为方式相似的妻子和母亲,从而间接地带动了每个家庭在其控制范围内的发展。

In traditional China, each dynasty aimed to maintain a stable and prosperous social environment. Xiao issue, as a respectful quality, was especially stressed and became a powerful tool to establish a group of loyal and obedient officers by marking itself as a valuable standard in selecting officials. At the same time, the Emperors turned to Confucianism to prove its supreme status over anyone else in the world. Even if a useful subordinate resigned from his current post to carry out his responsibilities of filial piety when the Emperor could always use carrot and stick to ensure his advantage in conflicts like this. At the same time, a tiny but significant female power was raised up after continuous ethical nurture, which served to ensure a stable country by maintaining domestic peace first.





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