filial piety

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(in Confucianism) the important virtue and primary duty of respect, obedience, and care for one's parents and elderly family members.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What is filial piety?

Filial piety is the Confucian virtue of honoring the elders in your family.

In English, we use an older, Latin-based expression to name this social principle of parental respect. Filial generally means “relating to a son or daughter” or “concerning a parent-child relationship.” Piety, here, is “dutiful respect.” Together, filial piety refers to a child’s service towards their parents as well as other older extended relatives.

Although the idea of “respecting your elders” exists in many cultures, the phrase filial piety is especially used in the context of respect for the elderly in Chinese families.

Why is filial piety important to Confucianism?

Filial piety is associated with Confucianism, a system of ethics, education, and statesmanship taught by Confucius and his disciples, stressing love for humanity, ancestor worship, reverence for parents, and harmony in thought and conduct. Confucianism originated in ancient China from the teachings of Confucius (551–479 b.c.).

Filial piety is one of Confucianism’s core virtues, and is related to the principle of ren, which means “humanity” or “benevolence.” So, filial piety is more than just obeying your parents or taking care of them when they are older. It also involves consulting your elders for advice and permission, putting your needs second, and being a positive representative of your family everywhere you go.

The concept of filial piety is detailed in the Classic of Filial Piety, a text believed to have been written in the 300s b.c. At this time, China was a feudal, patriarchal, clan-based society, and filial piety helped maintain social harmony. But, filial piety isn’t just ancient doctrine. Filial piety greatly influences generations of Chinese families today, and it is evolving to value more reciprocal, emotive relationships between generations.

Did you know ... ?

The Chinese term for filial piety is xiào (孝), pronounced roughly like [shee-ou]. The Chinese xiào became in Japanese during the 17th century, when the military shogunate adopted Confucianism.

What are real-life examples of filial piety?

Filial piety is often developed as a theme in Chinese or Chinese-inspired stories. In the 1998 Disney film Mulan, for example, Mulan becomes a warrior—so her father doesn’t have to—out of filial piety.

What other words are related to filial piety?

Quiz yourself!

True or false?

Filial piety is a Confucian virtue that originated in Japan.

How to use filial piety in a sentence