The Ethics of Confucius, by Miles Menander Dawson, , at sacred-texts.com
WITH the Chinese, as with the ancient Romans, the family is the social unit, and Confucius has much to say on this subject. As he connected propriety, the relation of a man to his fellows, with self-development, so he does even more intimately the relation of a man to the members of his household.
Prerequisites to its Regulation. "What is meant by 'The regulation of one's own family depends on his self-development' is this: Men are partial where they feel affection and love, partial where they despise and dislike, partial where they stand in awe and reverence, partial where they feel sorrow and compassion, partial where they are arrogant and harsh. Thus it is that there are few men in the world who love and at the same time know the bad qualities of them they love or who hate and yet know the excellences of them they hate. Hence it is said, in the common adage: 'A man does not know the wickedness of his son; he does not know the richness of his growing corn.' This is what is meant by saying that if
there is not self-development, a man cannot regulate his family." (Great Learning, c. viii.)
The idea expressed in this passage from "The Great Learning" seems to be that the love of an inferior man for his family is not really affectionate regard for the welfare of wife or child but merely an indulgent disposition, permitting them, partly through favour, partly because to take the trouble to regulate them is too great a detriment to his own personal comfort, to go their own way without restraint. Such, the sage conceives, is the conduct of the inferior man whose partiality so blinds him to the faults of those whom he loves, that he cannot bring himself to correct them. The superior man, he holds, should be, and indeed necessarily is, of the contrary view and practice. Of this it is said in the "Li Ki": "The superior man commences with respect as the basis of love. To omit respect is to leave no foundation for affection. Without love there can be no union; without respect the love will be ignoble." (Bk. xxiv., 9.)
Precisely the opposite of mere indulgent laxity is indicated as the course of the superior man in respect to his family; and it is asked by Confucius with full assurance as to what the reply must be if veracious: "Can there be love which does not lead to strictness with its objects?" (Analects, bk. xiv., c. viii.)
The essential mutuality and the prerequisites of that union of hearts upon which alone true
marriage may rest, and by means of which alone lifelong existence in the closest of human relations is tolerable, are well set forth in this sentiment from the lips of I Yin, the minister of King Thang, which is found in the "Shu King": "To evoke love, you must love; to call forth respect, you must show respect." (Pt. iv., bk. iv., 2.)
For the purposes of discipline within the family, as well as for material support and protection, the woman was counselled to subject herself to the man. In the "Li Ki" it was ordered thus: "The woman follows the man. In her youth she follows her father and elder brother; when married, she follows her husband; when her husband is dead, she follows her son." (Bk. ix., 10.)
About the worst that, in the opinion of Confucius, could be said of any man, was this remark of Yu, in the "Shu King," speaking of Ku of Tan, son of Yao: "He introduced licentious associates into his family." (Pt. ii., bk. iv., 1.)
The delights of a well-ordered household, where love and harmony hold sway, are pictured by the sage as follows: "It is said in the Book of Poetry: 'A happy union with wife and children is like the music of lutes and harps! When there is concord among brethren, the harmony is delightful and enduring. Thus may you regulate your family and enjoy the delights of wife and children!' The Master said, 'In such a condition parents find perfect contentment.'" (Doctrine of the Mean, C. xv., v. 2, 3.)
Wedlock. "The observance of propriety commences with careful attention to the relations between husband and wife." (Li Ki, bk. x., sect. ii., 13.)
In these words, the "Li Ki," the book of the rules of propriety, celebrates the prime importance of the marriage relation and of the useful principles for the regulation of human conduct which spring out of it. This was a favourite and familiar idea of Confucius and will be adverted to frequently in the development of his theories of the regulation of the family and of the government.
In his days, as in these days, there were not wanting those who saw in marriage a mere ceremony, conformity with which added no element of sacredness to a natural and necessary relation. These were rebuked in the "Li Ki" in these terms: "He who thinks the old embankments useless and destroys them, is sure to suffer from the desolation caused by overflowing water; and he who should consider the old rules of propriety useless and abolish them, would be sure to suffer from the calamities of disorder. Thus if the ceremonies of marriage were discontinued, the path of husband and wife would be embittered and there would be many offences of licentiousness and depravity." (Bk. xxiii., 7, 8.)
Again in the same book this is put tersely and pointedly, thus: "This ceremony [i.e., marriage] lies at the foundation of government." (Bk. xxiv., 11.) In the "Doctrine of the Mean," the
[paragraph continues] "duties of universal obligation" are given as follows: "The duties are between sovereign and minister, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger brother, friend and friend." (C. xx., v. 8.)
In the "Elder Tai's Book of Rites" (bk. lxxx.), are certain advisory regulations as to the choice of a wife, chiefly that she shall be of a family of a high standard of moral conduct and shall not be a daughter of a disloyal house, of a disorderly house, of a house with more than one generation of criminals or of a leprous house, nor be taken if the mother is dead and the daughter is old.
The one inexorable rule as regards marriage was this: "The Master said: 'A man in taking a wife does not choose one of the same surname as himself.'" (Li Ki, bk. xxvii., 34.)
This, rather than any other rule based upon kinship, was enforced because the wife was considered to merge herself in her husband's family, to join in sacrifices to his ancestors and to give her life over to bearing and rearing sons to continue his race and to preserve his ancestral temples. She thus lost her relationship to her own kindred, during the continuance of the marriage relation, and permanently unless it were dissolved by divorce; and therefore relatives on the mothers' side, however near, were not considered to be within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity, while relatives on the father's side, however remote, were so esteemed.
In the "Tso Chuan" or "Tso's Commentary" the following reason for this rule is given: "When husband and wife are of the same surname, their children do not do well and multiply."
This observation, applied, however, to relatives on either side, is in harmony with the most modern discoveries concerning the effect of persistent inbreeding as well as modern views of propriety. In "Spring and Autumn" and later in the "Code of the Tsing Dynasty" (c. x.), this was extended to proscribe marriages within certain degrees of relationship on the mother's side. The wife became, by her marriage, of the same rank as her husband, thus being identified closely with his family. In the "Li Ki" it is said of this: "Though the wife had no rank, she was held to be of the rank of her husband and she took her seat according to the position belonging to him." (Bk. ix., sect. iii., 11.)
The demoralizing "morganatic" marriage, indulged by certain royalties of Europe, is accordingly unknown in China.
As a part of the ceremony of marriage, the bridegroom went in person to bring his bride home to his father's house, where she became a member of his father's family and a daughter to his mother. This is referred to in the "Li Ki" as follows: "The bridegroom went in person to meet the bride, the man taking the initiative and not the womanaccording to the idea that regulates the relation between the strong and the weak." (Bk. ix., sect. iii., 8.)
In the same book there is recorded an argument upon the propriety of this custom, in which Confucius is represented as taking part. The record runs as follows: "The duke said, '. . . For the bridegroom in his square-topped cap to go in person to meet his bride, is it not making too much of it?' Confucius looked surprised, became very serious and said, 'It is the union of two surnames in friendship and love, to continue the posterity of the sages of old, to supply those who shall preside at the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, at sacrifices to ancestors, at sacrifices to the spirits of the land and grain; how can you, then, call the ceremony too great?'" (Bk. xxiv., 10.)
Mencius thus quotes from the Ritual the instructions which the bride's mother gives her in view of the approaching nuptials: "At the marriage of a young woman, her mother admonishes her, accompanying her to the door on her leaving and cautioning her with these words, 'You are going to your home. You must be respectful. You must be careful. Do not disobey your husband!'" (Bk. iii., pt. ii., c. ii., v. 2.)
Though the Chinese girl was brought up, then as now, with matrimony in view as her goal, and though she was trained with an eye to subjection to her husband in the regulation of the family and to obedience to her husband's mother in the home, it does not appear that she was trained in respect to rearing of children; for of this it is said in "The Great Learning" (c. ix., v. 2): "If
a mother is really anxious to do so, though she may not hit precisely the wants of her child, she will not be far from it. There has never been a girl who learned to bring up a child, that she might afterwards marry."
Concubinage was then and theretofore, as now, also an institution in China and is recognized by Confucius and rules laid down also for its regulation. The relationship was treated as not less regular than that of marriage but it involved lower standing for the concubine and her offspring; notwithstanding which frequently the wife's younger sister became the concubine, not without the active connivance of the wife, lonely amid unfamiliar surroundings and longing for the companionship of her own kin. The wife had dominion in the home over concubines and their children.
The double standard was therefore known and its consequences openly accepted, though in the majority of homes one wife reigned supreme and, as has been seen, it was such a home the felicity of which Confucius portrayed in his tribute to the marriage relation, quoted at the close of the next preceding subdivision.
Concubinage was deemed not merely permissible but commendable when the wife remained barren or even when there were daughters but no son to perpetuate the name of the husband and maintain the altars of devotion of his ancestors. Had it been otherwise, undoubtedly divorces, with their hardships, would have been more common
and would have extended to most cases of infertility, even though no personal incompatibility accompanied it.
The institution of concubinage cast no doubt upon the parentage of any child; no other woman could claim the maternity nor was the paternity of the child of the wife or of the concubine rendered dubious thereby. To this circumstance, perhaps, is attributable the countenance given to this form of the double standard. The contrary condition, i.e., that want of fidelity on the part of the woman exposes her progeny to question as to their paternity, doubtless accounts for the great stress then and ever placed upon fidelity on the part of woman. This applies, of course, to concubine as to wife and for the same reason; but constancy is, notwithstanding, deemed pre-eminently the virtue of a wife.
The dignity of marriage and of procreation is thought by Confucius and his followers to be such that the husband and wife, together with Heaven, form a "ternion," co-operating to people the earth, in that wherever there is true marriage, there also God is to give the increase. It is thus put in Ku-liang's Commentary: "The female alone cannot procreate; the male alone cannot propagate; and Heaven alone cannot produce a man. The three collaborating, man is born. Hence any one may be called the son of his mother or the son of Heaven."
And in "Many Dewdrops of the Spring and
[paragraph continues] Autumn" (bk. lxx.), this passage strongly emphasizes the function of the divine forces in the reproduction of men: "There has never been a birth without the collaboration of Heaven. God is the creator of all men."
In the "Li Ki," the sacredness and permanence of marriage are thus inculcated: "Faithfulness is requisite in all service of others and faithfulness is especially the virtue of a wife. Once mated with her husband, all her life she will not change her feeling of duty to him; hence, when the husband dies, she will not marry again." (Bk. ix., sect. iii., 7.)
Divorce. In the Confucian conception of marriage, based upon the ancient Chinese customs, there seems to be more constraint about entering into wedlock than about continuing in it.
Thus a father might choose the bride for his son, though of course conceivably the son mightbut under the Chinese rules of family discipline, seldom wouldrefuse to accept the choice. The father of the bride was then approached by the father of the prospective bridegroom; his consent was the consent of his daughter. Of course, again, she could refuse to acquiesce and a considerate father would not coerce her choice; but filial obedience and confidence were often the only elements operative in determining that choice.
It was thus, indeed, that the marriage which resulted in the birth of Confucius came about. It was between a widower of seventy years, already
the father of nine daughters but of only one son, a hopeless cripple, on the one hand, and a maiden of seventeen years on the other, both of whose older sisters had declined the offer while she followed her father's counsel.
Once wedded, however, the husband and the wife were free to separate at will and without constraint, save as the authority of the husband's parents over himnot relaxed upon his marriagemight restrain him. Marriage, therefore, was treated as a contract which was at all times mutual, binding only as the parties continued to consent that it should bind. Either party could with a word dissolve it.
In the "Li Ki" the following account is given of the proper forms to be observed in divorcement: "When a feudal lord sent his wife away, she proceeded on her journey to her own state, and was received there with the observances due a lord's wife. The messenger accompanying her then discharged his commission, saying: 'My poor master, from his want of ability, was not able to follow her and to take part in the services at your altars and in your ancestral temple. He has, therefore, sent me, so-and-so; and I venture to inform your officer, appointed for the purpose, of what he has done.' The officer presiding on this occasion replied: 'My poor master in his former communication to you did not inform you about her and he does not presume to do anything but to receive your master's message, respectfully.'
[paragraph continues] The officers in attendance on the commissioner then set forth the various articles sent with the lady on her marriage and those on the other side received them.
"When the wife went away from her husband, she sent a messenger and took leave of him, saying: 'So-and-so, through her want of ability, is not able to keep on supplying the vessels of grain for your sacrifices; and has sent me, so-and-so, to presume to announce this to your attendants.' The principal party on the other side replied: 'My son, in his inferiority, does not presume to avoid your punishing him, and dares not but respectfully receive your orders.' The messenger then retired, the principal party bowing to him and escorting him. If the husband's father were living, he named himself as principal party; if he were dead, an elder brother of the husband acted for him and the message was given as from him; if there were no elder brother, it ran as from the husband, himself." (Bk. xviii., sect. ii., pt. ii., 34, 35.)
Though this was given in the "Li Ki" or book of the rules of propriety as a description of the customs of the ancients of high rank, it was intended, with such modifications in the matter of greater directness and simplicity as the lowliness and poverty of the parties might require, to supply rules of ceremony for the divorce of all mismated husbands and wives.
The utter absence of recrimination and abuse,
due of course to the circumstance that charges of evil conduct were not required as a condition to the divorce being allowed and that, instead, the mere will of either party was enough, contraststo the advantage of which need not be saidsharply and strongly with the invasion of family privacy, the exposure of family shame, and the defamation of character which accompany divorce proceedings under the laws of the advanced civilization of Occidental countries; and the contrast evokes the query: Do we thus assure the indissolubility of the marriage tie in a degree that more than offsets the mischief which divorce actions inflict upon society?
There was, and is, even under such a system, much moral restraint upon the wife to continue such, even though not satisfied with her lot. Her prospects of a second and happier marriage are often not alluring. The reception at her own home which she may expect, is not likely to be a warm welcome and it may be cold or even harsh. And if she has children, her lot is even more deplorable for, after very early infancy, they become members of her husband's family and are lost to her, forever. There is also the prosaic bread-and-butter question in many cases and it is presented in an aggravated form in a country where by general consent a virtuous woman's place is in a home.
Not the least of the mother's hardships if she be the mother of the eldest living son, who becomes,
after his father's death, the head of the family, is that after her death he may not go into mourning for her if divorced; for he is too completely identified with the service of the departed ancestors of the family of which he is the head and which she has abandoned.
The hardships inflicted upon the husband by divorce may not be so serious. He must return the dower but he retains the more precious fruits of the marriage, his children. Yet consciousness of this very inequality, coupled with the traditional protective attitude toward the women of one's own family, must act upon the husband as a powerful deterrent, especially in view of the fact that he may seek through concubinage a more acceptable consort and mother for his children, without thus entirely displacing, humiliating, and perhaps greatly injuring his spouse.
In the Elder Tai's Record of Rites (bk. lxxx.), recognized causes for divorcing a wife are set forth as follows: "Disobedience to parents-in-law, failure to bear a son, adultery, jealousy of her husband, leprosy, garrulity, theft"; but the husband should not divorce her if she has no home to return to, if she has with him mourned three years for his parents, or if his condition was formerly poor and mean and is now rich and honourable. These rules are found in the code of the Manchu dynasty, also.
But in practice the only restraints upon the husband, other than the requirement that he
must return the dower, are, first, that he must obtain the approval of his father, if living, or his elder brother, if the father is dead, and, second, that his wife may, through her ranking male relative, appeal to the court if one of the three conditions under which divorce is not permissible is alleged to exist. The husband and his father or elder brother are sole and final judges whether or not one of the seven causes is present. The wife may divorce her husband with his consent, which means, again, with the consent of his father or elder brother, also; and, since she must return to her father or elder brother, she must of course first obtain their consent and approval. Divorce, then, is by the parties, themselves, and not by a court, though under certain circumstances subject to judicial review. It is not especially common in China; and monogamy is also there the rule. In other words the admonition with which the last chapter closed, is there well heeded, both as to union with but one wife and as to permanence of marriage, though both marriage and divorce are so little limited by law; as is also well said in the "Yi King" (appendix vi., sect. ii., 32): "The rule for the relation of husband and wife is that it should be enduring."
Parenthood. "Here now is the affection of a father for his sons: He is proud of the meritorious among them and ranks those lower who are not so able. But that of a mother is such that, while she is proud of the meritorious, she cherishes
those who are not so able. The mother deals with them on grounds of affection rather than of pride; the father on grounds of pride rather than affection." (Li Ki, bk. xxix., 29.)
The justice and discrimination which the superior man displays as a father, and without which he would act as an unreasoning animal rather than as a superior man, are tempered, however, by his natural affection for his progeny. Their relations are reciprocal, thus: "As a son he rested in filial piety. As a father he rested in kindness." (Great Learning, c. iii., v. 3.)
This mutual fondness is given apt expression in this saying: "Everyone calls his son, his son, whether he has talents or has not talents." (Analects, bk. xi., c. vii., v. 2.)
But its propriety and the extent of its application are better illustrated by this narrative: "The duke of She informed Confucius, saying, 'Among us here there are those who may be styled upright in conduct. If their father have stolen a sheep, they will bear witness to the fact.' Confucius said, 'Among us, in our part of the country, those who are upright are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of his son and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this.'" (Analects, bk. xiii., c. xviii.)
In the "Analects," Confucius says: "A youth, when at home, should be filial, and, abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and
truthful. He should overflow in love to all and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies." (Bk. i., c. vi.)
The cultivation of these qualities is necessary in order that he may be regarded as filial; for while, as will be seen, much stress is placed upon filial observances, the most important thing is to be a worthy son. Thus in the "Li Ki" it runs: "He whom the superior man pronounces filial is he whom the people of the state praise, saying with admiration, 'Happy are the parents who have such a son as this!'" (Bk. xxi., sect. ii., 11.)
The opposite picture is unflinchingly and unsparingly presented in these texts of the "Analects," already quoted: "In youth, not humble as befits a junior; in manhood, doing nothing worthy of being handed down; and living on to old age: this is to be a pest." (Bk. xiv., c. xlvi.) "I observe that he is fond of occupying the seat of a full-grown man; I observe that he walks shoulder to shoulder with his elders. He is not one who is seeking to make progress in learning. He wishes quickly to become a man." (Bk. xiv., c. xlvii., v. 3.)
Yet the mere shortcomings of youth are to be viewed charitably and judgment is to be suspended until time shall tell. This Confucius puts as follows: "A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal
to our present? If he reach the age of forty or fifty, and has not made himself heard of, then indeed he will not be worth being regarded with respect." (Analects, bk. ix., c. xxii.)
And one of the three things which he especially enjoins in relations to others is that all deal considerately with the young; he says in the "Analects" that his wishes are: "In regard to the aged, to give them repose; in regard to friends, to show them sincerity; in regard to the young, to treat them tenderly." (Bk. v., e. xxv., v. 4.)
The responsibilities of the father are of course more serious and grave. They extend even to the avoidance of such comradeship with his son as might be misunderstood and so tend to impair the son's veneration. Thus, as has already been quoted, it is said: "I have also heard that the superior man maintains a distant reserve towards his son." (Analects, bk. xvi., c. xiii., v. 5.)
He must keep himself a veritable hero in his son's eyes, in order that he may command, and may be worthy to command, his admiration and reverence. This also he must achieve in very truth and not by deception; for in the "Li Ki" it is said: "A boy should never be permitted to see an instance of deceit." (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. ii., c. v., 17.)
Lest the son should thereby come to regard the. father otherwise than as an ever-watchful and loving guardian, happy in his son's well-doing and grieved, rather than wroth, at his misdoings,
it was enjoined by Mencius that the father should not be his son's tutor, for fear the necessary discipline estrange them, thus:
Kung-sun Chow said, Why is it that the superior man does not himself teach his son?
Mencius replied, The circumstances of the case forbid its being done. The teacher must inculcate what is correct. When he inculcates what is correct and his lessons are not practised, he follows them up with being angry. When he follows them up with being angry, then contrary to what should be, he is offended with his son. At the same time the pupil says, My master inculcates in me what is correct and he himself does not proceed in a correct path. The result of this is, that father and son are offended with each other. When father and son come to be offended with each other, the case is evil.
The ancients exchanged sons, and one taught the son of another.
Between father and son, there should be no reproving admonitions to what is good. Such reproofs lead to alienation, and than alienation there is nothing more inauspicious. (Bk. iv., pt. i., c. xviii.)
And in book v. of Pan Ku, a Confucian writer of the first century, the power of the father over the son was distinctly limited, as a matter of law, on the ground of the universal fatherhood of God, thus: "'Among all the lives given by Heaven and Earth, man is the noblest.' All men are children
of God and are merely made flesh through the spirits of father and mother. . . . Therefore, the father has not absolute power over the son."
Essentials of Filial Piety. "Our bodies, to every hair and shred of skin, are received from our parents. We must not presume to injure or to wound them. This is the beginning of filial piety. When we have established our character by the practice of this filial course, so as to make our name famous in future ages and thereby glorify our parents, this is the end of filial piety." (Hsiâo King, "Book of Filial Piety," c. i.)
It is remarkable and significant that it should in these modern days be necessary to say "filial piety." "Pietas" originally signified reverent devotion to parents and unflagging service of them. Through this the meaning, "service of the Heavenly Father," has been derived. Meanwhile the original meaning of the word has been lostindeed, as a serious duty, the very thing itself is near to have been lostand it is now requisite to use the tautology, "filial piety," to express the idea for which "piety" alone once stood.
The Romans and the Greeks, however, scarcely at any time knew filial piety of the same type as this institution of the Chinese; for, though they possessed their "Lares and Penates," or household divinities, making sacrifices to departed ancestors was probably never erected into a well-established, long-cherished, everywhere honoured practice.
The piety of the ancient Chinese, nevertheless, did not solely or even primarily consist in sacrifices to the spirits of the dead. It called for the greatest reverence and devotion while the parent is yet living. Its most important phase, indeed, was the obligation it imposed to live an honourable and creditable life, that the parents might not have occasion to blush for their offspring.
This feature cannot be overemphasized; for it is the chief sanction for ethical conduct, according to the morals of Confucius, aside from the ambition to become a superior human being as an end in, and of, itself. In the "Li Ki" this view is ascribed directly to Confucius, thus: "I heard from Tsang-Tsze that he had heard the Master say that of all that Heaven produces and Earth nourishes there is none so great as man. His parents give birth to his person all complete and to return it to them complete may be called filial duty." (Bk. xxi., sec. ii., 14.)
This is enjoined again and again in this book of the rules of propriety, as in the following: "The superior man's respect extends to all. It is at its greatest when he respects himself. He is but an outgrowth from his parents; dare he do otherwise than preserve his self-respect? If he cannot respect himself, he injures them." (Bk. xxiv., 12.)
The following more detailed statement from the same book is ascribed to Tsang-Tsze, himself: "The body is that which has been transmitted to us by our parents; dare any one allow himself to
be irreverent in the employment of their legacy? If a man in his own house and privacy be not grave, he is not filial; if in serving his ruler he be not loyal, he is not filial; if in discharging the duties of office he be not reverent, he is not filial; if with friends he be not sincere, he is not filial; if on the field of battle he be not brave, he is not filial. If he fail in these five things, the evil will reach his parents; dare he then do otherwise than reverently attend to them?" (Bk. xxi., sect. ii., 11.)
The reverential service, due to parents as an act of filial piety, is not confined to service of the father, though he is the more frequently mentioned; the mother is equally the object of the devotion and love of their offspring. Thus in the "Hsiâo King," or Book of Filial Piety (c. v.), it is said: "As they serve their fathers, so they serve their mothers, and they love them equally. As they serve their fathers, so they serve their rulers and they reverence them equally. Hence love is what is chiefly rendered to the mother and reverence is what is chiefly rendered to the ruler, while both of these things are given to the father."
The same book contains also the following statement of the reciprocal and mutual duties of parent and child: "The son derives his life from his parents and no greater gift could possibly be transmitted; his ruler and parent, his father, deals with him accordingly and no generosity could be greater than his." (C. ix.)
The effectiveness of filial piety as a motive of
well-doing and the inspiration which it supplies are well set forth in this passage from the "Li Ki" "The superior man, going back to his ancient fathers and returning to the authors of his being, does not forget those to whom he owes his life; and therefore he calls forth all his reverence, gives full vent to his feelings, and exhausts his strength in discharging this serviceas a tribute of gratitude to his parents he dares not but do his utmost." (Bk. xxi., sect. ii., 4.)
The following panegyrics of filial piety from the "Hsiâo King" show the exalted regard in which Confucius and his predecessors held this virtue, which indeed they made the foundation for all other virtues:
"There are three thousand offences against which the five punishments are directed; there is none of them greater than to be unfilial." (C. xi.)
"The disciple Tsang said, 'Immense, indeed, is the greatness of filial piety!' The Master replied, 'Yes, filial piety is the constant requirement of Heaven, the righteousness of earth, and the practical duty of man.'" (C. vii.)
"The disciple Tsang said, 'I venture to ask whether in the virtue of the sages there was not something greater than filial piety?' The Master replied, 'Of all creatures produced by Heaven and Earth, man is the noblest. Of all man's actions there is none greater than filial piety.'" (C. ix.)
Pious Regard for Living Parents. "Tsang-Tsze said, 'There are three degrees of filial piety. The
highest is being a credit to our parents; the next is not disgracing them; and the lowest is merely being able to support them.'" (Li Ki, bk. xxi., sect. ii., 9.)
Thus in the "Li Ki" the nature of filial piety toward living parents is indicated. Much the same is yet more urgently inculcated in another passage from the same book: "He should not forget his parents in the utterance of a single word and therefore an evil word will not issue from his mouth and an angry word will not react upon himself. Not to disgrace himself and not to cause shame to his parents may be called filial duty." (Bk. xxi., sect. ii., 14.)
The duty to support parents is in the "Li Ki" enjoined in these sweeping terms: "While his parents are alive, a son should not dare to consider his wealth his own nor hold it for his own use only." (Bk. xxvii., 30.)
Mencius has it: "I have heard that the superior man will not for all the world be niggardly toward his parents." (Bk. ii., pt. ii., c. vii., v. 5.)
In the "Hsiâo King" the sacrifice of personal comforts is commanded as necessary for even the lowest order of filial piety: "They are careful in their conduct and economical in their expenditures, in order to nourish their parents. This is the filial piety of the common people." (C. vi.)
Confucius was not wholly satisfied with this even as a statement of the duty of ordinary people. He deemed reverence, love, and obedience equally
necessary in order that there might truly be a sentiment of pious regard and not a mere counterfeit of it. This colloquy taken from the "Analects" illustrates his position: "Tsze-hea asked what filial piety is. The Master said, 'If, when their elders have burdensome duties, the young take the toil off them, and if, when the young have wine and food, they set them before their elders, is this to be deemed filial piety?'" (Analects, bk. ii., c. viii.)
Again, in replying to the inquiry of another disciple, he refers to this as follows: "Tsze-yew asked what filial piety is. The Master said, 'The filial piety of nowadays means the support of one's parents. But dogs and horses likewise are able to do something in the way of support; without reverence, what is there to distinguish the one support from the other?'" (Analects, bk. ii., c. vii.)
And to the query of yet another disciple he responded: "It is not being disobedient." (Analects, bk. ii., c. v., v. 1.)
In the "Li Ki" the same idea is put thus, involving both instant obedience and sincere respect: "When his father or his teacher calls, he should not merely say 'Yes' but also rise." (Bk. i., pt. iii., c. iii., v. 14.)
Yet mere obedience is not enough and there are not failing instances when neither obedience nor respect should restrain the son from remonstrating; as it is said in the "Hsiâo King": "When
unrighteous conduct is concerned, a son must by no means refrain from remonstrating with his father nor a minister from remonstrating with his ruler. Since, then, remonstrance is required in the case of unrighteous conduct, how can mere obedience to a father be accounted filial piety?" (C. xv.)
And in the "Analects," Confucius lays down the true rule of action in the following: "In serving his parents, a son may remonstrate with them, but gently; when he sees that they are not disposed to acquiesce, he should show increased reverence but not give up; and, should they punish him, he ought not to murmur." (Bk. iv., c. xviii.)
Remonstrance may not, however, be carried to excess and certainly not to such excess as is involved in exposing a father's shortcomings to the eyes of others or crying aloud his shame; for the "Li Ki" represents Confucius to declare, in conformity also with other sayings elsewhere: "The Master said, 'The superior man will overlook and not magnify the errors of his father and will show his veneration for his excellences.'" (Bk. xxvii., v. 17.)
Mencius, apparently, would yet further limit the right of the son to reprove; indeed, he would all but destroy it for he says: "To urge one another to what is good by reproof is the way of friends. But between father and son reproof is the greatest offence against that tenderness which should subsist." (Bk. iv., pt. ii., c. xxx., v. 4.)
In the same connexion, Mencius says: "There
are five things which are commonly recognized to be unfilial. The first is laziness about employing legs and arms, resulting in failure to support parents. The second, gambling and chess-playing and fondness for wine, with the same result. The third, prizing goods and money and selfish devotion to wife and children, with the same result. The fourth, giving way to the temptations that assail one's eyes and ears, thus bringing his parents to shame. The fifth, reckless bravery, fighting and quarrelling, endangering thereby the happiness and the support of one's parents." (Bk. iv., pt. ii., c. xxx., v. 2.)
Mencius also relates an extravagant but obviously apocryphal story of the filial piety of Shun, who however married without notifying his unforgiving parents, which act Mencius thus defends: "If he had informed them, he would not have been permitted to marry. That male and female should dwell together is the greatest of all human relations. Had he informed his parents, he must have missed this greatest of human relations and thereby have incurred their just resentment. Therefore was it that he did not inform them." (Bk. v., pt. i., c. ii., v. 1.)
This is also quite in keeping with another clever saying of Mencius, which likewise embodies an ethical principle much insisted upon in China: "There are three things which are unfilial and to have no posterity is the greatest of them." (Bk. iv., pt. i., c. xxvi., v. 1.)
Even in filial piety, more is not required of any man than he is able to do. Thus in the "Analects" it is related: "Tsze-hea said, 'If a man . . . in serving his parents exert his utmost strength . . . although men say that he has not learned, I shall certainly say that he has." (Bk. i., c. vii.)
In another place the test is made this: Does the general judgment of the son's treatment of his parents coincide with their reportalways sure to be favourable, no matter how he wrongs them? It runs thus: "Filial indeed is Min Tsze-Keen! Other people say nothing of him different from the report of his parents and brothers." (Analects, bk. xi., c. iii.)
King Wu is quoted in the "Shu King" as condemning unfilial and unfraternal behaviour in no uncertain terms as follows: "Oh Fang, such great criminals are greatly abhorred, and how much more the unfilial and unbrotherly! As the son who does not reverently discharge his duty to his father but greatly wounds his father's heart; and the father who cannot love his son but hates him; as the younger brother who does not regard the manifest will of Heaven and refuses to respect his elder brother and the elder brother who does not think of the toil of their parents in bringing up their children and hates his younger brother." (Pt. v., bk. ix., 3.)
In the "Analects," the disciple, Yu Tze, with feeling declares that all generous conduct flows from filial and fraternal sentiments, saying: "Filial
piety and fraternal submission, are they not the root of all benevolent actions?" (Bk. i., c. ii., v. 2.)
In the "Hsiâo King" the following encomiums for good and useful traits, flowing plainly out of early training in filial piety, are heaped upon him who has been truly filial: "He who serves his parents, in a high situation will be free from pride; in a low situation, will be free from insubordination; and, among his equals, will not be quarrelsome." (C. x.)
Mencius bluntly declares that filial piety necessarily results from a benevolent spirit and that one cannot exist without the other: "There never has been a man trained to benevolence who neglected his parents." (Bk. i., pt. i., c. i., v. 5.)
The assiduous, brooding care, resembling that of a mother for her infant child, which the son is expected to cultivate as regards his aging parents, is nowhere better illustrated than in this saying of Confucius: "The ages of parents may by no means not be kept in the memory, as an occasion at once for joy and for fear." (Analects, bk. iv., c. xxi.)
It is for this reason, also, i.e., that in the hour of need he may be within call, that this is enjoined by the sage: "While his parents are living, a son must not go abroad to a distance; or, if he should do so, he must have a fixed place to which he goes." (Analects, bk. iv., c. xix.)
Pious Observances after the Death of Parents. "Filial piety is seen in the skilful carrying out of
the wishes of our forefathers and the skilful carrying forward of their undertakings." (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xix., v. 2.) "While a man's father is alive, look at the bent of his will; when his father is dead, look at his conduct. If for three years he does not alter from the way of his father, he may be called filial." (Analects, bk. i., c. xi.)
These passages from the "Doctrine of the Mean" and the "Analects" enjoin the continuance of filial piety, unabated, after the demise of parents.
The filial piety of the poor may not be more than decent burial, with genuine grief and reverence; for it is not the expenditure or even the wealth of ceremony which constitutes the tributethough the absence of either, if it can be afforded, is unpardonablebut rather the spirit of real veneration and sorrow. Confucius says of this: "In the ceremonies of mourning it is better that there be deep sorrow than a minute attention to observances." (Analects, bk. iii., c. iv., v. 3.)
Mencius gives an interesting and reasonable, though scarcely verifiable, account of the origin of burial, in this abiding tenderness for the authors of one's being: "In the most ancient times there were some who did not inter their parents. When their parents died, they took the bodies up and cast them into some water-channel. Afterwards, when passing by, they saw foxes and wildcats devouring the bodies and flies and insects covering
them. The sweat burst forth upon their brows; they looked away, unable to bear the sight. For other people such perspiration did not burst out; but now their hearts' emotions affected their faces and their eyes. Instantly they hurried home, returned with spades and baskets, and covered the bodies. If this indeed was right, it is obvious that the filial son and virtuous man, in burying his parents, will behave according to propriety." (Bk. iii., pt. i., c. v., v. 4.)
This was advanced by Mencius in reply to an argument by the philosopher Mih, that there should be economical simplicity in funerals and burialsan argument often renewed to this day, the constant occasion for which shows how universal and deeply seated is the sentiment which provokes expenditure sufficient to afford what is deemed a suitable tribute of affection to the dead.
A stern duty, never to be shirked by a son, is to avenge his father if slain by the hand of an enemy. If the execution of the criminal law does this, well and good; but if not, the responsibility is on the son. In the "Li Ki" it is put thus: "With him who has slain his father, a son should not live under the same sky." (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. v., c. ii., v. 10.)
Otherwise, however, the immediate duty of the son is fully performed by his grief, by proper burial, and the prescribed period of retirement and mourning; as it is said in the "Hsiâo King": "The services of love and reverence to parents when alive,
and those of grief and sorrow for them when deadthese completely discharge the duty of living men." (C. xviii.)
This mourning, however, must be the genuine expression of grief, deep and unassuageable; else the slight and feeble character of the son's piety is apparent. Confucius deems this the severest and most reliable test of the earnestness and depth of filial devotion, saying: "Men may not have shown what is in them to the full extent, and yet they will be found to do so on occasion of mourning for their parents." (Analects, bk. xix., c. xvii.)
And he comments upon the mere show of it as comparable with two other destructive hypocrisies, as follows: "High station filled without indulgent generosity; ceremonies performed without reverence; mourning conducted without sorrowwherewith should I contemplate such ways?" (Analects, bk. iii., c. xxvi.)
The period of mourning for a father had been fixed at three yearsinterpreted as twenty-seven monthsbefore the time of Confucius. The following is his statement about it and the reason for it: "It is not till a child is three years old that it is allowed to leave the arms of its parents. And three years' mourning is universally observed throughout the empire." (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xxi., v. 6.)
During this period of mourning the son, if he can afford it, lives retired from the world, leaving the management of his affairs to others and abandoning
himself to meditation, spiritual communion with the departed, and grief. He utterly eschews meanwhile every alleviation of his sorrow, including very particularly the solace of music.
But, with the expiration of this long period of retirement, his mourning is by no means at an end. On the contrary it ends only with life itself. His father's name must not be spoken in his presence, except at the sacrifices upon the anniversary of his death; and never without tears. Thus in the "Li Ki" it is said: "The saying that the superior man mourns all his life for his parents has reference to the recurrence of the day of their death. That he does not do his ordinary work on that day, does not mean that it would be unpropitious to do so; it means that on that day his thoughts are occupied with them and he does not dare occupy himself, as on other days, with his private and personal affairs." (Bk. xxi., sect. i., 5.)
The greatest of all filial obligations to deceased parents, however, is creditable conduct; for by that only can that which they have created, their son, worthily represent what they have sought to accomplish in the world through him. The consideration of this phase of the Confucian conception of filial piety is most important since it is the sanction most relied upon to enforce all the injunctions, whether directly regarding self-development or its concomitant essential, propriety in relations with other human beings. This devotion both to living and to departed parentsthe
so-called "ancestor worship" of the Chinese; it scarcely extends beyond three generations in any case, and as regards the lowly, not beyond oneis the chief incentive, other than self-respect and the innate desire to grow and to become and be a superior human being, to which Confucius appeals.
In the "Li Ki" the nature of this appeal is thus revealed: "Although his parents be dead, when a son is inclined to do what is good, he should think that he will thereby transmit the good name of his parents and so carry his wish into effect. When he is inclined to do what is not good, he should think that he will thereby bring disgrace on the name of his parents and in no wise carry his wish into effect." (Bk. x., sect. i., 17.)
And in yet simpler and stronger terms in this passage: "When his parents are dead and the son carefully watches over his actions so that a bad name involving his parents may not be handed down, he may be said to be able to maintain his piety to the end." (Li Ki, bk. xxi., sect. ii., 12.)
This union of all the sentiments which compose the piety of a son toward his parents, both while they are living and after their death, is set forth in these words in the same book: "The superior man while his parents are alive, reverently nourishes them; and when they are dead, reverently sacrifices to them. His chief thought is how, to the end of life, not to disgrace them." (Bk. xxi., sect. i., 5.)
And in the "Shi King," the Book of Odes, it is thus beautifully phrased: