The ways of filial piety in early China

Thomas Radice, University of Pennsylvania


Filial piety (xiao) is considered a core value in Chinese (and especially Confucian) thought, but few scholars have fully investigated this concept in its earliest stages of development. Though commonly defined as "service to one's parents," the earliest sources show that the Chinese concept of filial piety grew out of the ritual feeding of dead ancestors. By the Warring States period (480--221 B.C.E.), however, it not only included service to one's living parents, it also became intertwined with many other issues in early Chinese thought. This study reveals the great complexity of filial piety in early Chinese sources through a thematic analysis that includes the issues of death, moral conflict, gender and politics. My analysis shows that filial piety was intricately connected to these topics, and that early Confucian texts endorsed several interpretations of filial piety. Consequently, they also treated these issues in different ways. In addition, competing views of filial piety were promoted by the critics of Confucianism, especially Mozi. His doctrine of "universal love" ( jian ai), interpreted by the Confucians and others as hostile to filial piety, was actually intended to help fulfill filial obligations. Thus, contrary to most discussions of early Chinese filial piety, my study shows it to be neither a singular concept nor the product of a single intellectual trend.

Subject Area

History|Philosophy|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Radice, Thomas, "The ways of filial piety in early China" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3225522.