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Filial Piety in Modern China

In general terms filial piety refers to the respect given to one’s parents and ancestors. It is a highly held virtue in China. The respect to parents and ancestors should be shown through working hard in order to earn material wealth and money that will be sufficient to support the parents. Other aspects of filial piety include courtesy and not a rebellious attitude, ensuring that you give birth to male children who will take care of the parents in old age, and showing remorse in case of sickness, misfortune or death and be sure to engage in sacrificial rituals should the parents die.

This discussion looks at filial piety from the traditional China and how it continued being upheld up in modern China. Most importantly, this discussion seeks to answer the following question; is filial piety an outdated tradition or an eternal virtue in modern China? To begin with the discussion, I shall interpret the concept of filial piety from the perspective of Confucianism. Confucianism is a Chinese doctrine developed by a philosopher whose name was Confucius.

The main focus of this doctrine is on matters of morality and it has had great impact on the Chinese culture both in traditional and modern China. According to Confucius filial piety is not just loyalty and respect to one’s parents. Instead the loyalty should be extended to all elders without any favors and regardless of their family ties and must be seen to be sincere by all means . As we shall see later in this discussion filial piety is very important in the Chinese society as it is the doctrine on which this society is built upon.

Besides referring to loyalty to one’s parents, there are other connotations that are attached to filial piety in traditional China. Filial piety in the traditions of China also refers to continuity of the family lineage once the parents die. It therefore means giving birth to male heirs who are expected to carry the family name years after the parents are gone. Filial piety in the traditional China was also understood to mean the worshipping of ancestors, laying one’s life for one’s siblings, loving one’s siblings and behaving to avoid disgrace to the family.

It was compulsory for children to learn and master this doctrine mainly because it was seen as a foundation for all other virtues that were valued in the Chinese culture. According to scholars of Confucianism filial piety was viewed as the root of all good conduct and it was argued that without this doctrine human beings would be rebellious, disorderly and unsuccessful in life. The second reason why filial piety was taught to children was because in Confucianism a hierarchy existed and thus children need to learn to respect those above them .

Mencius who was one of the great pioneers of filial piety always said that the foundation of an empire was in the state and that of the state was to be found in the family. In this regard it was considered very important to inculcate the right teachings in children so that they may from a tender age learn to respect the father who is the head of the home. In essence this meant that when they grew up they would also respect the leaders and higher authorities. To the traditional Chinese society filial piety was not merely a code of conduct but was also perceived as a code of thought.

According to Confucius sincerity was the most important aspect of filial piety. Filial piety was very much observed in the traditional China society. However with time, it is evident that slowly this very important virtue in the Chinese culture is getting twisted and eroded and may be at risk of being forgotten as the trend continues. The erosion of filial piety is attributed to some factors; some of which are discussed below. The erosion of filial piety began during the Han dynasty. During this period all traditions in the Chinese society underwent tough challenges as individualism took over.

Filial piety being one of the most highly held virtues of the Chinese culture somehow managed to survive the erosion but was to be later attacked in 1919 during the infamous May Fourth Movement. During this period quite a number of intellectuals like Wu Yu and Lu Xun heavily criticized filial piety claiming that it was the cause of the authoritarian kind of government whose citizens lacked creativity and originality in their ideas. This was said to be a stumbling block to economy development and modernization in China .

Those opposed to the concept of filial piety also argued that the connotation of loyalty and obedience as promoted by filial piety eliminated any element of protest and rebellion which were important in bringing about any radical change in the society. Some intellectuals argued that the concept of filial piety was actually a form of hypocrisy because if a father wants his son to abide by this concept he does this by instilling fear in him. This means that the son does not abide by the doctrine voluntarily but just because he is in fear of his father.

Upon growing up and having his own freedom and liberty such a child is likely to depart from this concept and thus the main purpose of the concept is defeated. During this period, the rise against this concept was so strong that for one even those who were ardent supporters seemed to be losing the strong grip they had in this concept. Although the May Fourth Movement was the major cause of erosion of filial piety the Cultural Revolution also did play a major role in the twisting of this concept as students were taught to be active both socially and politically.

They were taught that in order to be free and liberal they had to openly air their opinions and speak out that which was not right even if it was done by those by those in top authorities. It is during the Cultural Revolution that children were taught that patriotism was of great importance and that love for one’s country had to come first before their families. These teachings were contrary to the concept of filial piety. At this point it was clear that the firmly held concept was finally getting eroded. Children were allowed to openly criticize their parents.

It is during the Cultural Revolution the collapse of this highly held doctrine was evident due to the social and political stress that China was going through at the time Another major cause of erosion of this concept was modernization. Starting the year 1980 a new policy was introduced in China which was known as the Open Door Policy. Under this policy the government allowed importation of products and ideas from other countries and especially countries of the west. By so doing the young people in China at the time were exposed to a lot of western content which was liberal and preached freedom for all.

The western culture portrayed the concept of filial piety as a weakness in the Chinese culture which hindered growth and development of the economy and the society at large. It must not be forgotten that the western culture value individualism and perceives the individualistic concept as the center of power, freedom and progress in the society. The youth in China therefore by being exposed to western culture through music, television and literature imitated what was being done in the west and slowly got carried away by the western culture.

The filial piety concept slowly got killed as nobody was observing this virtue . There were several implications that came as a result of the erosion of this very important virtue. The most serious of all the implications was the incident that took pace on 4th of June 1989. The incident came to be known as Tiananmen Incident. In thus incident students took to the streets protesting against the government something which had never been seen or witnessed in the history of China anytime before.

This was the best demonstration that filial piety was long gone and that the traditional China was no longer there. Instead it was the modern China whose belief system had totally changed with the mindset of the people having been influenced by the individualistic western culture. From this incident, a few inferences were made which showed that the students had greater love for their country more than their families and they were ready to die for the sake of democracy instead of wishing to leave and take care of their parents as required by the filial concept .

Another major consequence that was notable as a result of erosion of this highly held concept was the rise of criminal cases among the young people in China, what is commonly referred to as juvenile delinquency. One notes that the concept of filial piety demanded high level of discipline towards one’s parents and leaders. This concept thus promoted high level of good behavior and level headedness especially among the young people.

However with the erosion of this concept the young people became unruly, they engaged in criminal activities and the society who at first embraced the western began to feel the weight of the western culture and felt the pinch of paying the price for abandoning their traditions. When western culture became widely spread in China there was a 70% rise in criminal cases among the youth which was considered alarming . So then after being eroded does t5his mean that the concept of filial piety was totally forgotten in China even after being observed for many centuries? Is filial pity being observed in modern China?

The answer to this question is yes. Some people may wonder how true this statement is but the fact of the matter is that filial pity is still observed in China bust not in the traditional manner in which it was observed previously. The magnitude of importance with which this concept was observed previously has since diminished and the concept has since been modified so that it suits the lifestyle of people in modern China. The young people in modern China have since taken charge over their lives and parents unlike in traditional China play a very minimal role in shaping the life of their children.

For instance in traditional China parents were very instrumental in deciding the marriage partner of their children. However in modern China parents do not have much say on the marriage partner of thief children. Instead it is the children who go out to look for suitable people with whom they can enter marriage with. As the society in China continues to undergo drastic and radical changes many are still of the opinion that filial piety is one of the doctrines that ought to be preserved.

It is argues that China should just borrow from the set but instead there should be an exchange of cultures so that the west can also borrow filial piety as a part of Chinese culture. It is obvious that a country like the United States of America need such a concept as it will help them review the treatment of their elderly despite their social class. Conclusion: In conclusion therefore filial piety is an important concept which all societies should consider borrowing from China. If only such a concept is implemented in most societies then the world would obviously be a better place for all of us to live in.

It is important for people to understand how filial piety works and how it brings orderliness and sanity in societies. Words: 1945 Bibliography: Henry, Rosemont Jr. & Roger, T. Ames. The Chinese Classic of Family Reverence. Washington: Routledge. 2008. Ikels, C. Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Africa, London: Stanford University Press, 2004. Roger, T. Ames and Henry, Rosemont Jr. The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation. New York: SAGE. 2002.

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