Filial Piety

Filial piety is the cultural value and responsibility to treat one’s parents with the highest respect. Filial refers to anything related to a son or daughter, and piety refers to the virtue of being reverent and compliant. The value includes the notion of taking care of one’s parents, while showing love, respect, courtesy, and support. It includes the importance of avoiding rebellion, disgrace, or loss of face of one’s family and ancestors. It is a collectivist value, in that an individual respects the worth, beliefs, and standards of a collective (i.e., one’s family, tribe, ethnic group, or community) rather than of the individual. An individual is often expected to put her or his parents’ needs before her or his own. This may include making decisions that best benefit one’s parents and family, while making self-sacrifices for one’s parents.

The term derives from Chinese and Confucian traditions, which have been passed down to subsequent generations through storytelling. The most notable written work is The Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety, a collection of stories chosen and compiled by Guo Jujing during the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368 C.E.) while he was mourning his father’s death. In this collection are stories of exemplary actions of filial children from the times of primordial Emperor Shun down to the 12th century. For example, in “Wu Meng Attracts Mosquitoes to Drink His Blood,” the title character takes off his shirt at night to allow mosquitoes to bite him instead of his ailing parents. In these stories, the child’s actions are praised by the community, and she or he is revered for being an ideal respectful child.

Although filial piety was first coined as a Chinese term, it is a value that takes similar forms in other Asian and Latino/a cultures. Other East Asian cultures (namely, Japanese and Korean) subscribe to the afore-mentioned values of filial piety, whereas other Asian groups may have similar values with slight differences. Asian Indians may uphold dharma, which includes individual ethics, duties, and obligations to one’s family, while Filipinos may maintain utang ng loob (debt of gratitude), which embraces selfless obligations to one’s parents, with an expectation of reciprocity from other family members. In Latino/a culture, filial piety is most similar to familismo, which is a strong identification and attachment of individuals with their nuclear and extended families.

Because many Asian cultures tend to maintain specific gender roles (i.e., men as authority figures, women as caretakers), acts of filial piety may differ for men and women. Examples of filial piety for men may include holding provider roles (i.e., paying for parents’ expenses, making family decisions), whereas examples of filial piety for women may include more homemaking roles (i.e., cleaning and cooking for the parents/family). Examples of filial piety for both genders include individuals choosing colleges that would be most convenient for their parents (both geographically and financially) or an individual living at home as an adult to take care of her or his aging parents.

References:

  1. Ikels, C. (Ed.). (2004). Filial piety: Practice and discourse in contemporary East Asia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  2. Yeh, K.-H. (2003). The beneficial and harmful effects of filial piety: An integrative analysis. In K. Yang, K. Hwang, P. B. Pedersen, & I. Daibo (Eds.), Progress in Asian social psychology: Conceptual and empirical contributions. Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.

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