Filial piety is possibly the most important and fundamental virtue that has been governing the Chinese society for thousands of years. The concept applies not only to family settings but also encompasses almost all aspects of social life in China. To put it in a simpler way, filial piety means a general obedience of authorities, may it be at home, at work or at a national level. Sometimes, it’s even blind obedience, which is why the concept of filial piety explains so much about why China, both politically and socially, is what it is now.
As a classic, filial piety has been studied for thousands of years and one of the most influential teachings is the Twenty-four Filial Exemplars written by Yuan Dynasty scholar Guo Jujing. Filial piety stories used to be the first things kids learn at school. But in modern China, a country that has been said to gradually lose all its virtues, filial piety has not been a word you hear very often now.At the same time, as China is aging at an unprecedented pace (26% of China’s total population will be over 65 by 2050) and as the care for the senior has increasingly become a social problem, there is definitely a need to revisit the concept of filial piety.
Old principles won’t work anymore. In a time when younger generations are born the only child of their families and raised as little emperors and empresses, it’s hard for parents to be seen as the absolute authorities in family. In a time when authorities (the government) lose its credibility and individualism is rocket high, obedience is the last thing young people would pick up. In a time when 4-2-1 family structure is the norm (four grandparents, two parents, one child), it’s hard to say how much support seniors can expect. And in a time when millions of workers look for opportunities in a handful of big cities and leave their parents in empty nests, it’s hard to practice filial piety exemplars.
In early August, China’s National Bureau of Senior Affairs (全国老龄办) released the New 24 Filial Exemplars. Some articles in the new exemplars are even included in the new draft of Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Seniors. The New 24 Filial Exempars not only shows how the dynamics of family and of the parent-child relationship have changed in China, but also subtly tells a story of modern China as it is today.
1. Regularly bring spouse/significant other/partner and children home
2. Spend holidays with parents as often as possible
3. Hold birthday parties for parents
4. Cook for parents
5. Give a call to parents during weekends
6. Pocket money to parents is never too much
7. Set up “care cards” for parents
8. Sincerely listen to parents’ life stories
9. Teach parents how to surf the Internet
10. Regularly take pictures of parents
11. Tell parents that you love them
12. Help parents to finish their unfinished dreams
13. Support parents’ hobbies
14. Support widowed parent to re-marry
15. Regularly take parents to physical checkups
16. Buy appropriate insurances for parents
17. Regularly communicate your thoughts with parents
18. Take parents to important events
19. Let parents visit where you work
20. Travel with parents
21. Do exercises with parents
22. Participate in parents’ social events
23. Accompany parents to visit old friends of theirs
24. Watch an old movie with parents
Are you a filial son according to these exemplars? Reactions to the new exemplars are mixed. Some call them filial piety 2.0 that does a good job of capturing the modern meaning of showing care for one’s parents. Some others, on the other hand, think the new exemplars should not be released as behavior guidance because filial piety is much larger than 24 suggestions.
[Background: Wikipedia has a very good summary of what being filial means: “In more general terms, filial piety means to be good to one's parents; to take care of one's parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one's parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one's job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not be rebellious; show love, respect and support; display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one's parents, including dissuading them from moral unrighteousness; display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out sacrifices after their death.”]
The old Twenty-four Filial Exemplars: