Posts Tagged ‘xiao’

Xiao Shouldn’t be Translated as “Filial Piety”

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Some people ask me why I translate xiao into English as “being good to parents” rather than the prevalent translation of “filial piety”.  That’s because “filial piety” is open to cultish interpretation.


What cultish interpretation?  Well, around 1000 C.E., an intellectual movement came into dominance in China, and some people in that intellectual movement added some tendencies toward absolutes, excesses, metaphysics and cultish thinking onto Confucianism, originally a set of reasonable and practical tenets.

什么过度崇拜?就是公元一千年左右,有一股思潮在中国上升为主流,而这思潮中的一些人,对本来是一套合理实用原则的孔教,加上了一些绝对、过分、形而上学、过度崇拜等倾向 。

When it came to xiao some people with this mode of thinking advocated a sort of god-like worship of one’s living parents, a self-deprecating all-pervasive guilt feeling, constant self-punishment as a form of “offering” and piety, excessive emphasis on obedience and prostration, excessive grieving to the point of quitting all duty and staying night and day next to the parent’s grave for a full three years, and so forth and so on.


It was precisely when this mode of thinking was at its zenith, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), that Jesuit missionaries working at the Emperor’s court coined “filial piety” as the term for xiao.


I think xiao should mostly be a normal day-to-day activity of being good to parents and acting in their fundamental interests.  No god-like worship of one’s living parents is needed, no self-deprecating all-pervasive guilt feeling is called for, and no extraordinarily painful, self-punishing, excruciating exertion or sacrifice need be involved, except under certain special circumstances.  Instead of a subjective state of mind, i.e. a “piety”, I think xiao is more of an objective state, i.e. a way of conduct, indeed, as Confucius and Zeng Zi have said in Xiao Jing (The Classic of Xiao), a whole way of living one’s life.


Thus I think it is more accurate to translate xiao as “being good to parents” than as “filial piety”.


Feng Xin-ming  冯欣明

July 6, 2008 edited July 11, 2008

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Xiao is not Just Duty   孝不限于义务

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

People ask me why I translate xiao as being good to parents and not being dutiful to parents or being dutiful as a son or daughter. It’s because xiao is more than just duty; it is a whole way of living one’s life. Xiao Jing, the first and most authoritative Confucian work on xiao, says that the xiao of people occupying various positions in society, such as emperors, ministers, officers, commoners, and so forth, is to be good at their callings. Xiao Jing also says that to be xiao, one must not only serve and provide for one’s parents well, but must also engage in good conduct both inside and outside the family.


Also, being dutiful often conjures up grim-faced carrying out of some painful task or of some sort of sacrifice, but xiao also includes the normal day-to-day life, the normal day-to-day interactions with parents, some of which may be joyful, like playing and not drudgery. One example is keeping parents up-to-date on one’s activities and situation, which is one of the demands of xiao (see verse 12, p.7 Xiao Jing : often truly xiao offspring have such a good relationship with the parents that updating them means enjoyable and relaxing conversation that all parties look forward to. Another example is respectfully listening when parents teach: offspring should have a relation with parents healthy enough that offspring realize the teaching from parents are greatly beneficial and something to look forward to. Teaching by parents can be fun and enjoyable: I remember well myself looking forward to and greatly enjoying the Sunday afternoon teaching of Chinese classics by my father to my brothers and me as young children.


Therefore, I feel xiao is better translated as “being good to parents”.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering - 1

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Happy New Year! It’s already 2008! Hey, we are one year further into the beginning of the Chinese cultural Renaissance that will mark the next couple of centuries, and that’s something to celebrate for sure!

Well, let’s deal with a charge levied by those who have misunderstood traditional Chinese culture that the traditional Chinese/Confucian teachings, like the ones in Di Zi Gui , are oppressive and take away personal freedom. Why do, say, offspring have to be xiao (good to their parents)? Why do subjects have to obey their governments? Why do wives have to respect their husbands? Where’s choice? Where’s freedom?

Well, for one thing, the traditional Confucian teachings about offspring being xiao, subjects being obedient, and wives being respectful don’t mean blind and abject submission the way people nowadays so wrongly think. It’s right there in the Confucian classics: offspring, subjects and wives all have the duty to voice opposition and dissuade parents, governments, and husbands, respectively, from moral unrighteousness. So it’s not blind obedience that the authentic, as opposed to the misrepresented, old Confucian teachings teach.

For another thing, for every imperative to discharge an obligation there’s a reciprocal imperative for the other party to discharge a reciprocal obligation: while offspring have to be xiao, parents have to be kind; while subjects have to obey the government, the government has to be competent and to listen to the subjects; while wives have to respect their husbands, husbands also have to respect their wives.

So where is the oppression? Where’s the lack of freedom? Or of choice?

Well, actually, our critics reply, the problem is, why does traditional Chinese Confucianism insist that offspring must be xiao, subjects must be obedient, and wives must be respectful, no matter how they feel about it? Why do they have to do all that even if they dislike, despise, or even hate their parents, or governments, or husbands? Isn’t that oppressive? What about choice? What about freedom?

Aha! So that’s it! You are criticizing the Confucian teachings, good sirs and madams, because they say that people should carry out their Cardinal Obligations, no matter how they may feel towards the other party in the Cardinal Relationship! You are absolutely right; Confucian teachings do insist that one carries out one’s Cardinal Obligations no matter what one’s subjective feelings are towards the other party in the Cardinal Relations: offspring must be good to their parents, subjects must obey their governments, and wives must respect their husbands, even if there’s “no love in the relationship.”

So the real complaint by those who characterize, wrongly of course, Confucian teachings as oppressive and anti-freedom is that Confucianism places obligations above “love.” And when “love” is not allowed to have free, supreme sway, when one cannot act according to one’s subjective feelings of the moment, then why, our critics say, that’s unfree! That’s oppression!

Yes, yes, true, absolutely true: quite unlike the modern day insistence by the Westernized world, i.e. most of today’s world, that some subjective feeling loosely characterized as “love” hold supreme sway over human relationships, Confucianism teaches that the Relationship-Defined Cardinal Obligations hold supreme sway over human relationships. (See my blogs from Feb. 27 to April 29 of 2007.) Why, even if there’s “no love” between two spouses, at least not for the time being, they must discharge their obligations towards one another of respect and of building a life and a family together. Yes, quite true, that’s what our critics are complaining about: they want the “freedom” to pick and choose whether and when they need to discharge their obligations in a relationship, as well as which obligations to discharge, but no, Confucianism is against that. For Confucianism, being in a relationship means you must discharge all your obligations at all times to the other party. Faithfully. Without fail.

And this very insistence by traditional Chinese culture, by Confucianism, misrepresented as being oppressive and anti-freedom, is actually, exactly, the most liberating and empowering of all traditional Chinese, i.e. Confucian, precepts. Imagine: as long as you keep discharging your obligations, the other party is obliged to discharge his or her obligations to you in return! How liberating! How empowering! This is true freedom! Freedom from fear, from insecurity, from the capriciousness of fancy and fickle feelings of the moment, in a word, from the myriad ills that human relationships in today’s Westernized world are prey and captive to.

We’ll elaborate further on this liberating and empowering aspect of traditional Chinese culture, of Confucianism, in blogs to come.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Xiao 孝 Has Never Meant Blind Obedience or Blind Submission

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

There is a totally unfounded idea among a lot of people that xiao means blind obedience. Why, just the other day someone came up to me and said, we can’t just say xiao; we’ve got to say xiao for modern people, because nowadays you can’t have just blind obedience. Goodness! Does xiao mean blind submission to authority? Is that what the sages have taught?

No, definitely not. As we can see from just Di Zi Gui (“Rules for Students”) alone, even such a text, meant to be a primer for children, teaches that parents may be wrong sometimes. Moreover, Di Zui Gui teaches that when parents are being unrighteous, xiao requires offspring to remonstrate and dissuade. Di Zi Gui (see P. 9) actually spends a lot of time on how to remonstrate and dissuade, and on persisting in doing so even if one incurs wrath and punishment from one’s parents.

One of the most important Confucian works, the “Annotations to the Thirteen Classics (十三經注疏)”, says that there are three things that are very un-xiao, and one of them is to blindly obey one’s parents even when there is error and thus to entrap one’s parents in moral unrighteousness. (於禮有不孝者三,事謂阿意曲從,陷亲不義,一不孝也。)

In Xiao Jing (孝經), when Confucius is asked whether if a son is obedient to his parents, then he should be considered xiao, Confucius says, “What kind of talk is that? What kind of talk is that? (是何言歟?是何言歟?)” Then he goes on to explain that having a son who will remonstrate and dissuade keeps a father from falling into moral unrighteousness.

Thus, no, xiao has never meant blind obedience and blind submission, not in the old days, and not now.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Incorporating authentic Chinese culture into Daily Life

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

I’ve been asked by persons of Chinese ethnicity who are born in North America to write about incorporating authentic Chinese culture into daily life here in North America.

Well, the first thing about authentic Chinese culture is what I’ve been blogging about for the last few blogs: xiao, or being good to one’s parents. Traditionally, it also involves being good to one’s ancestors. See my paper on this website, 24 Ways to Carry out Xiao, for ways to be good to one’s parents and ancestors. Also, see The Classic of Xiao, written by one of Confucius’ disciples 2,500 years ago.

Carrying out xiao is the most important way to incorporate authentic Chinese culture into one’s daily life here in North America. In fact, all persons of Chinese ethnicity, no matter where they live, should do that. Actually, one doesn’t have to be of Chinese ethnicity, one can be of any ethnicity, and one should do that—everyone should carry out xiao. Whatever one’s ethnicity, religion, place of birth, etc., there should be no difference: it is only moral, just, civilized, and right that one repay the kindness from one’s parents.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Why Should One be Xiao, or Good to Parents?

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Why should one be xiao, or good to parents? Well, one practical and utilitarian answer is that only by so doing can one get one’s own children to be xiao to onesel. Kids learn mainly by example, and if one is not xiao or good to one’s parents then one can expect one’s own kids too, sooner or later, to not be xiao or good to oneself. Yes indeed, when I was a young boy my grandmother used to admonish my brothers and me: “Those who are xiao and compliant bear xiao and compliant sons; those who are disobedient and defiant bear disobedient and defiant children. (孝順還生孝順仔,忤逆還生忤逆兒。)”

There is another, more compelling case for being xiao: one should be good to parents because one needs to repay, or reciprocate, the kindness from one’s parents. Parents give birth to, raise and educate one, and that is a great kindness, or en- (恩). Indeed, of all people in the world, the persons who have done the most for one are one’s parents. If nothing else, they’ve given one one’s life. Even if they are adoptive parents, they have still raised and educated one. So one owes a huge debt to one’s parents. In traditional China, the repayment or reciprocation of kindness (報恩 bao` en-) is very important; it is considered a strict moral obligation to repay or reciprocate kindness, to bao` en- (see my blog of February 24, 2007). It would indeed be a great moral trespass to forget kindness and renege on one’s obligations. In Chinese, this repayment of the kindness from one’s parents is called bao` da` fu` mu^ en- 報答父母恩. That, according to traditional Chinese thinking, is the reason for being good to one’s parents, for being xiao.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Being Xiao 孝: One Should Frequently Update one’s Parents on one’s situation

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Di Zi Gui says that one must “always tell the parents when one goes out, and always see the parents face-to-face when one returns.” Di Zi Gui, p.7. One tells one’s parents when one goes out so that parents wouldn’t worry so much. One always sees one’s parents face-to-face when one returns so that parents could see that one is alright.

Why must one do that? The reason is that parents love their children deeply, and worry and fret about them when their condition is uncertain. Yes, the kindness of parents! As the classic Xiao Jing says, there is no greater kindness than this. So one must lessen their worry and their anxiety, and to do that one must tell one’s parents about one’s condition, including, when one is living at home, reporting to parents when one goes out and when one returns. One must update one’s parents frequently about one’s condition. That is one of the important ways to carry out xiao.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

When Not to Obey or Cooperate with Parents

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

According to Confucius, one must not obey or cooperate with one’s parents when doing so will land one’s parents in moral unrighteousness. Of course, this is an infreqent circumstance that one may, with luck, never encounter, but one must do one’s duty when the circumstance arises.

One day, one of Confucius’ foremost disciples, Zeng Zi, the author of the famous Xiao Jing (Classic of Xiao 孝經), stood still and let his father hit him over the head with a stick in a fit of rage. Zeng Zi almost passed out, and his father felt great remorse after. Zeng Zi, however, felt that he was displaying xiao by “accepting punishment from his father.” When Confucius heard about this, however, he got very angry. He severely reprimanded Zeng Zi for lacking xiao in having stood still instead of running away. Confucius said that only if his father was holding a thin twig should Zeng Zi have stood still to take the punishment. By letting his father hit him over the head with a stout stick, Zeng Zi was sinking his father into moral unrighteousness (陷父於不義). Indeed, what if Zeng Zi had died, Confucius asked. Then the father would have been guilty of a serious crime. Zeng Zi’s cooperation to let his father succeed in committing an offense against moral righteousness, Confucius stressed, was a great transgression against xiao.

According to another famous Confucian thinkers, Mencius, going along with instead of dissuading parents from moral unrighteousness is the second greatest transgression against xiao (the greatest being not having offspring).

Therefore, it is a Confucian, i.e. traditional Chinese, principle that one must do one’s best to dissuade parents from doing what is immoral or unrighteous. According to the classic Di Zi Gui (”Students’ Rules”), one must, in a soft tone of voice and with a smile on one’s face, advise one’s parents against the matter that is morally wrong. If the parents don’t accept the counsel, then one waits until one’s parents are in a good mood and then again try to dissuade them. If that fails weeping and wailing follows, and even if one’s parents get annoyed and angry to the point that they hit one, one should not mind. ( Di Zi Gui, page 9)

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Why Children Need to Obey Their Parents

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Although obeying parents is a key precept in the Chinese teachings about xiao` 孝 (how-3 in Cantonese), among a lot of parents nowadays it’s no longer fashionable to demand that children be obedient. Often children ask, why should they obey their parents?

The reason is that parents have the duty to care for and educate their children, and children are:
1) Not as capable of and not as versed in logic and clarity in thinking as their parents;
2) Not as knowledgeable;
3) Weak; they have less self control, less resisteance to temptation, and less ability to defer gratification.

Therefore, yes, it is true: parents do know better. On many occassions then parents will have to tell children, for their own good, to do things that they don’t want to do, or to refrain from harmful things that they want to do. So it will be distasteful for the children. If they are not taught and required to obey their parents, on those occassions children won’t do what is good for them or refrain from what is bad for them.

Thus, precisely because parents have to get children to do things they don’t want to do, children must obey parents. If parents need only to get children to do things that are fun and enjoyable, there’s no need to demand obedience.

Besides, the very fact that children obey their parents and do things that are not enjoyable trains the children to be stronger, more self disciplined, more resistant to temptation, and more capable of deferring gratification.

Of course, as children grow older there should be less and less need to order them about, as they should know what’s good for them. By the time they are fifteen they should know right from wrong and should be responsible enough that parents don’t need to give them orders very much, if at all.

Of course, as the Confucian sages have pointed out, there is one circumstance where children should not obey their parents. We’ll talk about that next time.

Feng Xin-ming

Please click to see: My Website, All Blog Entries, or The Latest Blog Entries.


Web Design

Character and Conduct are More Important than Academics

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

“After achieving right conduct, if there’s energy left over then study books. 行有餘力則以學文。 ” (Di Zi Gui page 6.)

Conduct and character are most important and certainly comes before book learning, i.e., before academics. That is the traditional view of authentic Chinese culture.

Of course, I don’t mean to set the two up as opposite and mutually exclusive: conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other. Good heavens, no! In fact, the two should go together: the youngsters who have good conduct also know they should exert themselves at academics and achieve the best they are capable of. In fact, achieving the best one can in all areas of endeavor, study as well as career, is considered an indispensible part of xiao 孝 (how in Cantonese), or being good to one’s parents.

The reason I bring up conduct and character as being more important than and coming before academics is because there seems to be an idea among some parents that as long as their children get good grades, it does not matter that they are often impolite, inconsiderate, rude, self-centered, mean, disrespectful, and sometimes even dishonest, especially to parents and siblings.

Actually to not have good character and conduct is to not know how to interact with people, and to not know how to interact with people is to guarantee failure and misery in life. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no inner, moral strength, and to have no inner, moral strength is to not be able to cope with the many storms and setbacks that are bound to be encountered through one’s life. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no compass in life, to not know right from wrong, to bend every which way the wind blows and not be able to choose the correct option at critical junctures of life. Only with good character and conduct can a successful and happy life be guaranteed.

Therefore, yes, if one has to choose, choose conduct and character over academics!

Of course, that is usually not the choice; the choice is whether to have both conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other, or to have only academics.

Even though traditional Chinese culture is one that values and emphasizes academics for thousands of years, authentic traditional Chinese culture in all its wisdom knows that, despite the importance of academics, character and conduct is more important than academic success.

That is also why American elite colleges don’t look just at grades, but also at other characteristics that often have to do with character and conduct, to decide whether to accept applicants. Often the colleges will accept someone with outstanding character over someone with better academics.

Feng Xin-ming

Web Design