Filial Piety: Tradition and Modern Challenges
Positive Social

Filial Piety: Tradition and Modern Challenges


Filial Piety is an ancient ethical principle drawn from Confucianism. It refers to the expression of fraternal love through the virtues of love, respect and reverence towards elders, specifically parents. This is a widely acknowledged tradition in the East-Asian communities. It rose from the ideals of Confucianism and Daoism. These ideas prove to be the moral or ethical guides of the people and affect their daily lives and beliefs. This concept is considered a cornerstone for familial and societal harmony, shaping individual behaviour and societal norms.

The ideals of Filial Piety promote good conduct towards elders by taking care of them, respecting them, fulfilling their needs, showing love towards them, taking their advice and carrying out sacrifices for them after their death. These practices are seen in the Mediterranean and Roman cultures as well. These acts are considered a way of repaying our elders for the hardships they have faced and the sacrifices they have made for supporting their children. Hence it is considered an important obligation towards our elders and ancestors.

Read More: Mental Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet

Several occasions and rituals are designed to convey these regards to them. It is considered as a representation of righteousness and humaneness of an individual. It is considered important for the social order as it also includes loyalty towards the ruler or the king in certain cases. In the case of women, it may be perceived in the form of acts of service towards the family, particularly the husband. It includes five basic values physical care, love, acts of service, respect and obedience. These values shape our manners and behaviour, like salutations to elders, polite and respectful tone etc.

In certain families, the seating arrangement during familial occasions is also a depiction of this reverence. In this way, the supremacy and authoritative position of elder members is respected. Similar values can be seen in Indian cultures as well, where the ideal son is imagined through the idea of Shravan Kumar, who represents the responsible and obedient son. These ideas and values are built and upheld on the basis of patriarchal norms of society.

Read More: Parenting with Neurodiversity: Nurturing Diverse Minds

When seen from a psychological perspective, this idea is used for intergenerational studies of human relations and kinship relations, to understand the division of responsibilities and powers among parents and children. It is useful in the field of family counselling, where it can help resolve conflicts within families. It can also be studied about cognitive functioning and moral development of a child under the influence of these filial values. For example, the stages of cognitive development given by the Lawrence Kohleberg’s Theory of Moral Development can be inferred in the following way:

  • Self-Interest: aligning interests to the expectations of parents
  • Social Contract: adhering to traditional norms of family dynamics in the society
  • Principles: defining personal ideals and principles around these responsibilities
  • Good boy/Good girl Attitude: meeting these expectations of elders for societal approval
  • Avoiding Punishment: through obeying the commands of parents, several times out of fear
  • Law and Order (morality): ensuring the parent’s happiness by fulfilling duties towards them

Hence the growth and development of the child and their morals takes place under the influence of cultural values and societal expectations. Thereby affecting their cognition, emotions, behaviours and intentions. Parental care and filial piety are therefore seen as supplementary ideas. However, these values differ from one culture to another.

While on one hand under the Confucian and Daoist ideas, reverence for parents and elders is morally regarded, on the other hand, Buddhist ideals believe in gaining enlightenment by moving away from such worldly duties. An example of places where these Confucian ideals are prevalent is China where there are laws and policies designed that hold children accountable towards their parents.

Read More: How Parental Well-Being is Important for Healthy Family Relations

Negative effects of Filial Piety

  • These obligatory ideas conflict with the modern ideas of freedom, equality and individuality.
  • It suppresses the individuality of the child by forcing them to abide by the pre-decided principles and values of the family.
  • Sometimes the parents may take undue advantage of the child by emotionally manipulating the child for their own needs.
  • It can become an unwanted burden for the child who does not wish to maintain a relationship with the parents, due to any reason.
  • Psychological distress in the form of guilt and shame can consume a child in case he fails to meet the expectations of the family or society.
  • This expectation to meet the demands of the parents is so deeply ingrained in the child from childhood itself that it leads to stress and forced obligation. Particularly in the case of men who are expected to meet the demands of the family.
  • These ideas reinforce the discriminative gender ideals of the society, where the son is expected to take responsibility for the family and in case he fails in doing so, it is frowned upon.

Read More: The Depths of Indian Psychology: Traditions and Modern Insights

Therefore, when seen from a socio-cultural perspective, Filial Piety is an extremely important value as it upholds the social order. Hence any form of disobedience or disrespect towards elders or deviance from this order would be seen as an unacceptable act. However, with evolving times and the emergence of modern values of freedom, individual rights and sovereignty, society is slowly moving towards an individualistic outlook. Because over time people have realised that this social order in itself is discriminatory and highly segregated.

Therefore in today’s day and time, contentment and happiness for oneself has gained more prominence than adhering to the age-old norms of Cultures. Without strict hierarchical structures in society, people can communicate with each other more freely, offering support in tedious situations. This change in approach while dealing with relationships has been further strengthened by the rising conversation and awareness regarding mental health and well-being. Hence people today are more free to make their own choices based on their own principles and reach out for help when needed, than ever before.

References +
  • Yonemoto, M. (2016). Filial Piety. In The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan (1st ed., pp. 21–50). University of California Press.
  • Holzman, D. (1998). The Place of Filial Piety in Ancient China. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 118(2), 185–199.
  • Zou Shu Cheng. (2015). INSTITUTIONALISING FILIAL PIETY. In G. R. Barmé, L. Jaivin, & J. Goldkorn (Eds.), Shared Destiny (pp. 14–17). ANU Press.

Leave feedback about this

  • Rating