Is Filial Piety Still A Thing?

For myself, yes.

Personally, I grew up in a very working class neighbourhood. Everyone who could work did, taking it in turns to look after us children. Mum and dad weren’t married, and didn’t live together, so she counted as a single mum. The same could be said for my sister, who had her first child just eighteen months after I was born.

Our family was so large, with so many different struggles, that we would often have to share beds, or sleep on the floor, and give whatever hand-me-downs we could to one another. There were arguments after arguments, and on more than one occasion my niece and I fell down the stairs as small children when an argument became too heated.

But, the moment someone else came along and started causing trouble, we stepped up. A bully starts causing trouble at school? Every relative of a similar age would plot how to handle the bully and make them back off. If someone insulted a parent, us kids would find a way to harass them. If someone mistreated my sister, the family would find a way to get them to go away and stay the hell away.

Family is messy, but you don’t mess with family.

When my family members grow old, I’m fully prepared to look after them, house them, feed them, whatever it takes. And I’ll happily do the same for my boyfriend’s family, no matter the insults or arguments that may happen over the years. Because for me, family is the most important thing.

When I went to China to study for a year, it often grated on my nerves to have random Chinese people come up to me and say “Why don’t you Westerners care about family?” or “Why do you stick your parents in old folks homes?” And it was always in the most judgemental, nosy tone; after a while, it started to really p*** me off. But at the same time, I kind of get it.

Not everyone can look after their families. Not everyone has the emotional capacity to watch someone they’ve admired, or seen as a strong figure, slowly grow weaker and weaker before your very eyes. There are times when the best thing for everyone is to ask for help, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If I wanted to build a house, I’d call on outside help from someone who knew how to handle it. If someone needed surgery, I’d sure as hell ask for outside help from someone else, because I can’t handle that.

And for some people, their workload is already far too much to be able to take on family care too.

Personally, I feel like filial piety has to be a personal choice. What suits one person will not suit another.

And it seems, at last, that the message is finally reaching China.

The book Private Life Under Socialism: Love, Intimacy and Family Change in a Chinese Village by Yunxiang Yan is a perfect eye opener for just how much family life has changed in recent decades. His book is a study held throughout the 90s, looking at how public romance is becoming more acceptable, women are gaining more power and respect, and the elderly are increasingly neglected and ignored by the young. It’s a fascinating read, and I’d really recommend it for anyone interested in anthropology, sociology, and China. Here’s a link:

I had to read this book for an assignment at university, and the idea of looking at intimate relations in China intrigued me. Something a little saucy, something a little risqué….and I could get a grade for reading it! It seemed perfect.

And I have to admit, the more I read the more questions I found myself asking. How much of the change was caused by the rise of socialism, and how much of it was there all along, just waiting for a chance to happen? Do people blame Western influence? Is this a long-term development? How will care for the elderly and vulnerable change?

Honestly, I think these are the questions that must have been running through Yunxiang Yan’s mind as he conducted this study. The significant shift in society is so great that more and more people are committing suicide for fear of being mistreated and neglected by their own loved ones as they grow older. Some of the younger generations are growing increasingly mercenary, taking their parents for al they have, and it’s genuinely heartbreaking. The Chinese government and justice system is not doing enough for their poor and elderly, and even social justice and indignation seems lacking. I’m not usually one to push for social justice, but God damn! People aren’t pushing enough for government help or rights, and many have taken to sucking up to their children instead, with the hopes that it’ll earn them a place in the family home in their golden years.

I will say, it isn’t all heartbreak and sorrow. Women are receiving better treatment in the home and in public – they can actually have a say on how their own homes are being run! They’re not having to kowtow to mother-in-laws, or their husbands. Instead, their finally receiving appreciation for what they sacrifice for their families, and to be honest, I can’t help but feel that it’s about bloody time!

And we can’t forget the men. Young men, while faced with the challenges of finding a good career and maintaining the family, have the most freedom and independence one could ask for. They have more choice over a wife, more choice over their jobs, and more choice over their homes.

It is, unfortunately, still limited by the Chinese government, but it’s a step in a very interesting direction. And I for one, can’t wait to see what implication it will have in the future.

Published by Academic Research

I love studying and sharing. If you find anything in Chinese that you want translating, send it my way and I'll see what I can do!

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