The concept may be unfamiliar to many people, but “filial piety” is no stranger to the Chinese. Whether you are a native Chinese, or the offspring of Chinese immigrants who were born and raised abroad, it is rare not to feel its effects on your subconscious mind and behaviour.
Filial piety comes from the teachings of Chinese sage Confucius. It is a Chinese culture-specific family tradition that has already had a history of over 3,000 years and still exerts great influence in contemporary China.
So what does filial piety mean? It is defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the attitude of obedience, devotion, and care toward one’s parents and elder family members that is the basis of individual moral conduct and social harmony”. It is considered to be the greatest of all virtues in Chinese culture.
Supporting and serving one’s parents is seen as a duty: adult children are responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of their parents, as well as financial needs.
Filial piety includes deference to one’s parents’ judgements and decisions: the idea that “parents can never do wrong” still prevails. One of the most common phrase I have heard since I was a child is “whatever your parents do, is always good for you”.
The parents’ needs take precedence over their children’s: although many Chinese parents may claim that their children’s needs come first, in essence “Xiao” puts the parents’ needs and unlived dreams above their children’s.
They will probably be emotionally blackmailed, and be compared by their parents to the children of others who were more “filial”.
They won’t be considered trustworthy and respectable in society; instead, they’re viewed as shameful and of a bad character.
They may be spurned, isolated or ostracized by their extended family.
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