Fulfilling Filial Piety: Is there “Room” for Improvement?

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Img Credit: WSJ.com
Img Credit: WSJ.com

Filial piety is the Confucian virtue of xiao which teaches respect for our parents, elders, and past generations of ancestors. This virtue stands at the forefront of Confucianism and is regarded as the highest norm and the ultimate foundation of ethics.  All morality and civilization come from it. (1)

In Confucianism, a child’s obedience is expected to continue beyond the death of a parent. Filial piety not only paves the way to self-cultivation so that one can aspire to become a virtuous person (junzi), but also helps to secure the nation and society as a whole as being virtuous for decades and generations to come. As Confucius advised: “He who has grown to be a filial son and respectful younger brother will be unlikely to defy his superiors and there has never been the case of someone inclined to defy his superiors and stir up a rebellion.” (Analects 1:2)

Confucius put a strong emphasis on respect and reverence as the core concepts of filial piety. In practice, one should perform it in accordance with propriety (li). The Analects states that Confucius once said, “When your parents are alive, serve them in accordance with the rites; when they pass away, bury them in accordance with the rites and sacrifice to them in accordance with the rites.” (Analects 2.5)

Img Credit: gokunming.com
Img Credit: gokunming.com

On April 6, the concept of filial piety was applied through the celebration of one of the most important festivals in the Chinese calendar, the Quingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day. Families gathered together on the day to pay respect to their deceased ancestors. Several traditions are performed to honour the deceased, including presenting ancestors with raw food, decorations and gifts; however cleaning an ancestor’s gravesite, or tomb sweeping, has been emphasised as the concrete expression of practicing filial piety. (2)

As many families are provided the opportunity to demonstrate this “concrete expression” of filial piety to their beloved ancestors, some 100,000 people are not. Due to the lack of space for proper burial sites, Chinese families are deprived of the dignity to lend proper respect to their dead. The waiting time for a permanent resting place in Hong Kong is becoming longer, as the once two-year wait has now lengthened to nearly five years. Burial sites are soaring in price as supply fails to catch up with demand.  For fear that their property price will go down; most people are refusing to allow permanent resting places to be built in their backyard, a phenomenon known as NIMBY. In response to this issue, the Chinese government is offering financial incentives to families who choose an alternative option – the scattering of ashes into the ocean. Despite the cash incentive, few families are willing to take up the sea burial option, as they would prefer to stick to traditional burial cemeteries. (3)

The people of China are in a dilemma as they struggle to find the best way to honour and respect their ancestors.  Is there “room” for improvement when fulfilling filial piety in the modern world? Our answer would be yes – The application of Confucianism in modern society can play an important role in reviving filial piety.

What do you think can be done to restore filial piety in the 21st Century? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Read our next post titled, A Modern Museum Teaches the Traditional Lessons of Filial Piety to learn what unique effort the Chinese government is making to re-introduce filial piety as a core value in society.

A Modern Museum Teaches the Traditional Lessons of Filial Piety

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Img Credit: dailymail.co.uk
Img Credit: dailymail.co.uk

A museum in China’s Sichuan province has been created to reinforce one of Confucius’s core values and to teach current and future generations the true meaning and virtue of filial piety.  The Modern Filial Piety Culture museum dedicates itself to the topic of filial piety and provides visitors with examples of devotion and sacrifice involved in the act of filial piety.

Several exhibits portray the practice of filial roles.

One exhibit includes a carriage which two sons pulling their mother in a carriage. They walked through over 600 towns and cities across China to fulfil her dying wish to travel. They wore out 12 pairs of shoes in the process and some of these shoes are on display beside the carriage.

With the one-child policy in place, the responsibility of filial piety usually falls on a single offspring. The museum hopes that the examples they provide will inspire the younger generation to perform filial acts even better.

“They may feel guilty that they don’t care enough for their parents and return home to wash their parents’ feet. That’s the kind of result we are hoping for, said Museum founder Liao Lin. ”

To read the full article click here.

The world farewells “A True Giant of History” who leaves behind a blend of East-West values

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Image Credit: The Washington Post
Image Credit: The Washington Post

Nations have united with Singapore to bid farewell to the first Prime Minister of Singapore and also a leader who has come to be known as the founding father of modern Singapore.  Lee Kuan Yew passed away last Monday at age 91.

More than 1.2 million Singaporeans formally paid their respects to Lee and nearly half a million queued to visit his body at parliament house. World leaders, both former and current, came together for the event. Singapore government has declared seven days of national mourning and flags will fly at half-staff on state buildings .(1)

US President Obama honoured Lee Kuan Yew for transforming Singapore from,  “a backward colonial entrepot into a shining high-tech economy.” He praised Lee as, “A true giant of history.” (2)


Over 100 thousand people braved the heavy rain and lined a 15km route through the city to farewell Singapore’s founding leader.

Lee Kuan Yew
(Img Cred: Reuters: Edgar Su)

Lee Kuan Yew’s Blend of East and West

Lee Kuan Yew brought a blend of Eastern and Western values when leading the nation of Singapore. The British educated Lee Kuan Yew had brought Confucian values to his fledgling nation. A law graduate from Cambridge University, the young Lee used his legal background to enter politics and direct him for a future in leadership and nation-building. He encouraged the strengths of  Singapore’s society with its cultural emphasis on hard work, family, education and responsibility.

The Eastern value of responsibility can be understood by Confucian thought as fulfilling one’s obligations to family and society as well as supporting righteous government.

In an article titled, Lee Kuan Yew, the Man who Remade Asia, Orville Schell stated“Family, diligence, filial piety, education and obedience to authority are values that Mr Lee viewed as binding agents for developing countries in need of methods for maintaining order during times of rapid change.” (3) In other words, these values can be applied to other countries with different cultural backgrounds.

Of the values that Schell identified, perhaps the strongest shared by Confucius and Lee Kuan Yew is that of family.

As Lee wrote in his book titled From Third Word to First: the Singapore Story – 1965-2000,

“Singapore depends on the strength and influence of the family to keep society orderly and maintain a culture of thrift, hard work, filial piety, and respect for elders and for scholarship and for learning.”

In what other ways did Lee Kuan Yew blend Eastern and Western values? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment!

Apply now to speak at the International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society

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Applications are still open for the 2015 International Symposium titled Confucianism and Modern Society.

When: Thursday, May 14 and Friday, May 15
Where: Bond University

How can I attend as a speaker or as a guest?
Simply contact Paulina via pguttorm@bond.edu.au before April 7 to express your interest in becoming a speaker or  by May 8 if you would like to join us as an audience member!

Symposium Theme

A joint collaboration between the Bond University Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies and Beijing Foreign Studies University Center for East-West Relations, this inaugural symposium seeks to identify problems, opportunities and innovations that may benefit from the interaction of Confucian thought with contemporary life.

Proposal Submissions

The Organising Committee invites proposals for presentations that address the central symposium theme of “Will the vitality of the Confucian tradition serve and advance modern society”, along with expressions of interest for panel and round table participation.  Proposals should be brief (100-250 words) and include a working title and subject matter overview.

Confirmed Speakers

Keynote Address 1: Confucianism and Business
Dr Yang Xiaohua (San Francisco University) – What Confucius can teach us as China goes global?
Respondent: Dr Caitlin Byrne (Bond University)

Panel 1: Confucianism – Business Ethics and Governance
Speaker 1:
Mr Alan Chan (Singapore) – Confucian Entrepreneurship
Commentary: Professor Raoul Mortley (Bond University)
Speaker 2: Mr Reg Little (retired Australian diplomat and author) – Confucian ethics and the 21st Century Global Business
Speaker 3: Miss Luan Yilan (Beijing Foreign Studies University) – The Chinese Interpretive Context of “Democracy”
Panel Chair: Rosita Dellios

Keynote Address 2:  Harmony, reciprocity and engagement: Confucian approaches to modern life
Professor Shan Chun (China University of Political Science and Law) – Confucian Humaneness in Modern Human Rights Politics?
Respondent:  Professor Bee Chen Goh (Southern Cross University)

Panel 2: Confucianism in Modern Society
Speaker 1:
Dr Tian Chenshan (Beijing Foreign Studies University) – Confucian Values in a Changing World Cultural Order – The Predicament
Speaker 2: Dr Rosita Dellios (Bond University) – Confucius and Women
Speaker 3: Professor Wen Haiming  (Renmin University of China) – Significance of Confucianism: Cultivating oneself as Concretizing one’s Intentions
Speaker 4: Dr Yu Lei (Renmin University of China) – Confucius’s Thoughts of “He” (和) and Its Influence on China’s Foreign Strategy: China’s Path to its “Peaceful” Rise at Systemic and Sub-systemic levels
Panel Chair:  Samad Aftab

Round Table Discussion with Audience:
Confucianism for the 21st Century
Speaker 1:
Dr James Ferguson (Bond University) – Title TBC
Speaker 2: Dr Nguyen Ngoc Tho (Vietnam National University) – Confucianism and humane education in contemporary world
Speaker 3: Ms Vivian Man Wai Fung (Sino-Aust Culture Association Inc) – Good ethics, good business
Moderator:  Dr Jonathan Ping (Bond University)

Applying Confucian Values for Entrepreneurial Development and Improved Business Ethics

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Image Credit: Ancient.eu
Imgage Credit: Ancient.eu

To Confucius, the ideal person is a scholar bureaucrat, not a successful entrepreneur. His (or her) priority should be on serving society at large, not on making personal gains and profit. Does this suggest that Confucian values are completely irrelevant to modern entrepreneurial development?

It has been argued that Confucian values such as obedience, respect for authority and emotional control are not naturally compatible components of a common entrepreneurial standard, (1) however these and other Confucian values can play a positive role in entrepreneurial prosperity for China and the rest of the world if applied correctly.

Confucian entrepreneurs can be defined as those who apply traditional Chinese cultural values in respect to maintaining the moral beliefs of Confucianism in all aspects of business practice. Though sometimes Confucianism is viewed as hostile to entrepreneurship, it has played a vital role in the study of Confucian entrepreneurs “as it initially meant intellectuals and has served as a set of political ideas practiced within a hierarchy of ethical obligations to family and community.” (2)

In a research study conducted by Ying Fan of Durham University Business School, titled, “Chinese Cultural Values and Entrepreneurship: A Preliminary Consideration,” a link was established between Confucian values and entrepreneurial attributes. Confucian values were applicable to positive interpersonal relations in business practice and in the workplace, in regards to successful human resource management in particular. These values included: trustworthiness, Ren (compassion, humanness), Li (ritual, etiquette), harmony and tolerance of others. These values of interpersonal relations can generate a more successful human resource management. Business philosophy can be guided by Confucian values of long term orientation, resistance to corruption, and nurturing of guanxi (relationships), which can be utilised for improvement of networking and developing positive business connections.

Confucian values can aid in the creation of entrepreneurs who are true leaders of society, and who hold a sense of righteousness and de (moral power). Confucius believed that leaders were expected to rule in a way that is just and moral. This view of practice could have the potential to create entrepreneurs who perform ethical business practice. Under Confucian values, if businesses are governed righteously, they will succeed.

Although it can be maintained that there are a number of Confucian values that may not necessarily impact positively on entrepreneurship development – for example, lack of initiative and innovation (due to the possible disruption of the existing order and threat to social harmony), if righteousness and profitableness are balanced equally, moral values can be reached and play a positive role in shaping and maintaining ethical business practice. This, in turn, will create profitable business and most importantly, ethical obligations to family and society can also be achieved.

  1.  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/80529984-876b-11e3-9c5c-00144feab7de.html#axzz3UoIN8EAa
  2. http://www.ijlass.org/data/frontImages/gallery/Vol._1_No._1/7.pdf

Leading scholar provides insight into Confucian Entrepreneurship

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professor tu wu

Internationally recognised and leading Confucian scholar, CKGSB Honorary Professor of Humanities Tu Weiming discusses how the virtues of a Confucian entrepreneur can benefit not only shareholders, but serve and influence society at large. (Click on image above to view article and watch video)


Confucius said of the ruler:
The junzi (morally noble person or persons) do not mind being in office; all they mind is whether they have qualities that entitle them to office. They do not mind failing to acquire recognition; they are too busy doing the things that entitle them to recognition.

(The Analects 1.16 and 13.13, adapted from Forbes  and Chicago Now)


You may also be interested in reading: “Why China Doesn’t Have It’s Own Steve Jobs.” Panos Mourdoukoutas discusses Schumpeterian entrepreneurship and what China can do to create its own celebrated entrepreneurs.


Chinese businesses should rely on Confucius, not Steve Jobs, for management tips by Lily Kuo.

We would love to hear your opinion on this topic!
Please leave us a comment 🙂 

Can Confucian thought help us rise above the dome?

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blue skysThe state of China’s environmental health, specifically air quality, continues to be a hot topic throughout China and the world. Public concern has sparked huge debate, particularly with the release of the documentary Under the Dome.  Additionally, the National People’s Congress (NPC) has put pollution at the very forefront of its agenda. As environmental concerns grow worldwide, revisiting Confucian texts and commentaries from an environmental perspective could help enlighten modern society in facing this challenging issue.

Confucian philosophy holds that there is basic order in the universe and a natural harmony linking human kind and the moral universe known as tian or Heaven. This moral universe includes humankind’s relationship with Earth. Earth can be understood as the source of economy and nourishment, as well as our environmental heritage. Scholars of Confucius may pinpoint the environmental problem to a lack of balance between Earth’s sustainable development and the quest for profit at all costs.

Sam Crane, a professor of Chinese Politics and ancient Chinese philosophy at Williams College, points out in his article titled “Green Confucius” that, “Profit has infected the relationship of man and environment and, ultimately, has undermined the ability of many Chinese people to protect their social relationships (think of all of the health problems that have harmed families as a result of pollution).”

Self-awareness with regard to the balance of relationships must be created across a wide spectrum in 21st century life, this includes not only with people and societies, but relationships with the environmental resource base as well.

In an article titled Confucian Ethics and the Environment, scholar Li Tianchen uses ancient Chinese sources to attribute “ecological and environmental protection as a matter of concern to the national economy and people’s livelihood.” He draws attention to the following quote by Xunzi, an ancient Confucian philosopher who emphasises human responsibility towards nature:

“Respond to it with peace and order, and good fortune will result. Respond to it with disorder, and disaster will follow. If the foundations of living (i.e., agriculture and sericulture) are strengthened and are economically used, then Nature cannot bring impoverishment…But if the foundations of living are neglected and used extravagantly, then Nature cannot make the country rich.”

confucius quote

The loss of Confucian wisdom has led to an environmentally regressive trend in which the xiaoren – the Confucian term for a petty-minded self-seeking individual – reigns supreme. The people, corporations and systems that put profits ahead of other considerations may be contrasted to the junzi, the morally noble person. The junzi is viewed by Confucius as the role model who upholds a nurturing relationship between nature and humanity.

Deputy Minister of the Environmental Protection Ministry Pan Yue once said that “the core of traditional Chinese culture, both Confucianism and Taoism, is harmony between Man and nature and it should be revived as a way to tackle today’s environmental problems.”

Could going back to Confucian insights help ignite a new sense of environmental awareness and ultimately lead to a rise above the dome?

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment!