11 March 2011

Understanding the Bible of Filial Piety (Xiao Jing) in One Minute

Alternative Title: The True Meaning of 'Filial Piety' Xiao

The original and the English translation of the Book of Filial Piety 孝经 Xiao Jing can be found here.

I thought, as a Chinese, growing up in a traditional Chinese family, studied in a Chinese School up to Pre-University 2, I had good understanding of the a key Chinese virtue called 孝(Xiao) translated as "Filial Piety", and known widely as honoring and respecting our parents. In some extreme instance, it is interpreted as obeying our parents no matter what.  So for a long time, I did not bother to read the classic book on this topic called 孝经, The Bible on the Doctrine of Filial Piety. Why bother, when I know so much already. Whenever we feel like we know all, we better start getting humble and to learn again. After just completing a challenging but interesting work on coming out with a framework to analyze the Media (the Old and the New) Business Landscape, decided to read the 孝经 book for a change. To my surprise, this original definition of Xiao is very much wider in scope than the common understanding of it!

Key Differences - True Original vs Current Misunderstanding

Let me summarize for you what I found first and give you the evidences later (You can skip that part if you trust me :) ! )

If you think Xiao is only about children obeying their parent, then you are wrong indeed. The original definition is different from the common definition in three key ways:

  1. Firstly in scope, it is the practice for everyone, from Kings to the Common-people and not just children to parent.
  2. Secondly, it is two ways and not the typical one way of the lesser (the children, younger, employee) obeying the higher (the parent, elder, bosses).
  3. Thirdly, it is not about blindly obeying the orders of the higher. The practice comes under a higher order of Righteousness (义 yi). If the Senior issues order that is against the higher law of righteousness, then the Junior should advise and reprove the Senior (see Chapter 15 Giving Advice/Admonishments
Xiao (Filial Piety) is Love and Respect
Two Chinese words occur frequently in the book. They are Love 爱 and Respect 敬。  The  Elders should love the Younger while at the same time the Younger should respect the Elders. The doctrine of Xiao (Filial Piety) is then about Elder loving and Younger respecting 长爱幼敬 within a framework of righteousness.

The Book
The book was a discussion between Zheng Zi (Confucius‘ disciple) and Confucius. It is divided into 18 chapters shown in the Mind-map below. Chapter 1 is the starting definition and explanation of Xiao. The key explanation given by Confucius (Kong Zi) is
  •   夫孝,德之本也,教之所由生也。
    Filial Piety is the root of virtue. Education should begin with this.

  •   身体发肤,受之父母,不敢毁伤,孝之始也。
    Body, hair and skin are given by parents, taking good care our body is the starting of Filial Piety.

  •   立身行道,扬名于后世,以显父母,孝之终也。
    Develop our character and have the right conduct, leaving a good reputation, a good legacy, to glorify our parents, is the end of Filial Piety.  (This is what life is all about - leaving a good legacy on the world)

  •   夫孝,始于事亲,忠于事君,终于立身。
    Filial Piety begins with serving our parents, being loyal to our kings (bosses,government, country) and ends with good character ( a good standing). 
Note that the Chapter is the starting page. Confucius extended it with clearer explanation in the following 17 chapters. It is all summarized in the mind-map.

Bible of Filial Piety or Xiao Jing

We can also see that in Chapter 18 Mourning, the emphasis is not just about having a grand funeral for the deceased and a long period mourning, there is the need to care for the living. A key point is about taking good care of our parents when they are alive and then also have a good farewell. There is no point in having a grand funeral without taking good care of them when they are alive.


For those who are familiar with the Bible, the commandment about parents is about honoring our parents rather than just obeying our parents. Obeying our parents are for the time when we are children. When we grow up to become adults, while we may, in many ways, smarter than our parents, yet, we must always honor our parents.

Lim Liat copyrighted 11 March 2011
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