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  • Gordon Dumoulin

“Caring for the Old and Nurturing the Young” 老有所养, 少有所依

Filial piety, actually a translation disliked by quite some Chinese and foreign researchers as it hints to some kind of religious or reverent devotion, has been one of the core pillars of Chinese virtues and ethics in Chinese society. It specifies moral norms that encompass material and emotional aspects of the parent–child relationship.

The character 孝 (xiào, filial piety) is comprised of an upper component representing age and a lower component representing child, indicating that the child supports and succeeds the parent. Filial piety not only specifies norms within the family, it also provides the social and ethical foundations for maintaining social order, a stable society. It has provided the moral underpinning for Chinese patterns of parent–child relations and socialization for millennia.

Ancient social values in China are not just behaviours possibly subject to disappear over course of time, especially in this era of huge economic and social transformation. Filial piety is rooted as DNA in Chinese culture and naturally adapts and evolves to new social and economic developments.

While for example strict obedience and exclusively father-son relations were some of the basic filial piety norms in older periods of times, today’s society shows other needs and norms such as quality time together, taking care of the health and providing happiness of the elderly.

Also a growing group of elderly are more economically independent and choose their own ways for travel, hobbies or nursing care. Filial piety can be seen as part of the family bond which is unconditional in any circumstance. The huge and rapid transformations in society also pose challenges between familial generations and might incite contradictions in expectations of filial piety. Distances between adult children and parents create as well new, special dimensions to the bond and ‘duties’.

About ‘nurturing children’, people in the West sometimes tend to see Chinese children as spoilt and ‘little kings and queens’. Chinese parents and grandparents often see the growth of a child as a natural process of expression, a dearest blessing and being fortunate to raise their children in positive circumstances. But what many people don’t see that children are naturally brought up in an environment with filial piety from day one.

In another post I talked about what is 'guanxi' in Chinese society, always remember and respect that each individual in your guanxi has their own filial piety, the closest circle around an individual. Read post here :

Behind 'guanxi' (关系)... China is not a market, it is a community...

While values and norms are subject to adaptation in changing society, two characters of filial piety always remain, it is part of Chinese society’s DNA and secondly it is unconditional. The pre-eminence of filial duty is clearly demonstrated by following Chinese saying: 百善孝為先 “of all virtues, filial piety is the first”

#china #chineseculture #chinesesociety #crossculturalawareness

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