Xiao` (孝), or Being Good to Parents and Ancestors
In Traditional China, 孝 xiao`, or being good to parents and ancestors, is considered the foundation of civil society and the guarantee of moral behavior. (See Xiao Jing, “The Classic of Xiao.”) The idea is that when one is brought up being good to one’s parents and ancestors one will be conditioned to be good & respectful to all the other people that one deals with outside the family. Also, one will diligently fulfill the duties pertaining to one’s station in life, so that one will make one’s parents and ancestors look good, and so that one will maintain the means to support one’s parents and make offerings to one’s ancestors. Thus, the Emperor or Son of Heaven will rule well and be kind and respectful to his subjects, because he has been conditioned that way by xiao and because he wants to bring glory to his ancestors by winning praise from his subjects. Likewise, the Dukes, the Ministers, the Officers, and the Common People, i.e. all the classes of people in society, will also diligently fulfill their duties and be good and respectful to all people they deal with. Thus great order reins, and moral conduct is guaranteed.
Unlike most traditional societies, Traditional China has basically been a secular society. Organized religion has not been the dominant force in Traditional China. At the foundation of morality is not divine commandment but secular xiao`, taught by the secular philosophy of Confucianism. In order to understand the Traditional Chinese worldview, it is essential to understand xiao`.