China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In the West, the degree to which children, either adult or still dependent, have filial obligations to their parents is highly debated. By contrast, filial piety serves as one of the essential virtues in the Confucian tradition, which had not only dominated pre-modern East Asian societies but is recently promoted by the twenty-first century Chinese government. Loving one’s parents, in turn, is said to be the most fundamental and strongest human emotion praised by Confucians. This paper highlights the complexities of affection owed to parents as presented in the Analects and the Mencius. While young children have strong emotional attachment to parents, adults’ love to their parents is sporadic and inconsistent. To address the deficit of emotions in adults’ interaction with their parents, Confucians use the young children’s mindset—strong affection to parents—to both justify and motivate filial actions. This paper criticizes the view that simply equalizes consanguineous affection to xiao (filial piety). It contends that xiao, as a virtue, cannot be automatically generated by original family affection. Instead, filial-oriented rituals, as Confucians advocate, are supposed to foster an affectionate relation between parent and child.