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Published by: Emmes Peeyem on Nov 29, 2010
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Familism in Confucianism
Nai-Hua, KoShu-Te University, TaiwanConfucianism, a great humanistic Chinese philosophy, is rooted in Chinese society asone of the fundamental of culture. Although 2500 years after Confucius established his virtueteachings and rules for social reform, the beliefs and customs that he advocated are still alivetoday in Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam in addition to Chineseareas (Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong). Confucianism has deep influences andtremendous impact on how the Chinese live their lives, and how the Chinese teach theiryounger generation to live their lives. In Chinese society, Confucianism is regarded as a codeof conduct, a set of virtue that should be obeyed and delivered as a part of Chinese traditions.In other words, Confucianism is composed of moral, social, political and religious teachingsbuilt up by Confucius and the ancient Chinese traditions. It is extremely important and also adefinite duty for Chinese people to behave.In Taiwan school education, Chinese classic philosophy is taught and discussed from junior high school education. The students were mostly anxious for understanding the literalmeanings than the thoughts in the ancient articles because of the entrance examines. After theinnovation of education system, there are more emphasis on idea inspiration than meaningmemorizing in Chinese courses at school. The Chinese classics are continuously taught untilthe university level. However, it is a question that how much the young generation can reallyunderstand the spirit of Confucianism and follow the teachings as beliefs by school educationsince the environment and the way young generation value things is changing.In the study of Yang and Cheng (1987), four groups of Confucian values preserved inTaiwan were pointed out as below:(1) Family: family and clan responsibilities, obedience to one’s elders(2) Group: acceptance of the hierarchical structure of society, trust in andobedience to authority, commitment to the solidarity, harmony, norms of the group(3) Job-orientation: education, skills, hard work, frugality(4) Disposition: austerity, calmness, humility, self-controlEither in the family teaching or school education, having concern towards the others, towardsthe entire group is usually emphasized in Chinese society. Each person doesn’t exist as anindividual, but a part/a member of the family or group. Therefore, a person has to behave byfollowing the ethics with the responsibilities that concern to the group he belongs and theposition he stands on. It is a duty for Chinese people to live in this way, and the value of lifepresents its splendour after morality accomplished.According to the Hofstede’s (1980) measure of individualism, Taiwan is ranked as theposition 44 of 53, which means it is a highly collectivistic society. Individualism andcollectivism are cultural “syndromes”. They reflect attitudes, beliefs, norms, roles, self-definitions, and values. Collectivism reflects the relative emphasis on the collective, such asthe union of family, work group, tribe, and nation. The major difference between collectivistsand individualists is that what they pay attention to (Triandis, 1990). Collectivists definethemselves by using group attributes, see behaviour as reflecting group influences, seesuccess as due to the help received from others, and failure due to internal factors. Thus,collectivists are context-dependent (Cohen, 1991). Collectivists focus on ascribed attributesof the other, such as family background, age, sex, and so on. The other person’s groupidentity is crucial to the collectivist. Groups are perceived as homogeneous, and in-groups are
more homogeneous than out-groups. Furthermore, for collectivists, behaviour must be“appropriate” and whether attitudes are or are not consistent is trivial matter for them.
Emphases on Family
Confucian philosophy has been the most powerful influence shaping the Chineseculture, the conceptions of Chinese for thousands of years. Undoubtedly, it is composed of the dominant value system in Chinese societies. In Confucianism, nothing is more importantfor good government and peace than proper family relationships. In Confucianism, the familyis the framework for establishing graceful interactions with others. It is still the single mostimportant social institution in imparting ways of learning to be human. Therefore, familyeducation is importantly attached as a component for the children’s growth.
The Five Cardinal Relationships
The ethical arrangements for interpersonal relationships established with the conceptsof benevolence (ren), righteousness (yi), and propriety (li) in Confucianism. Behaviour thatfavours people with whom has a close relationship can be termed benevolence; respectingthose for whom respect is required by the relationship is called righteousness; and actingaccording to previously established rite or social norms is called propriety. Confucius advisedthat social interaction should begin with an assessment of the role relationship betweenoneself and others along two social dimensions: intimacy/distance and superiority/inferiority(Hwang, 1999).In Confucianism, how to make harmony in dealing with relationship issues isemphasized. The component of hierarchy is certainly important. To demonstrate thishierarchy are the five cardinal relationships as below (Kim, 1979):
1. Parent-Child 
The parent-child relationship is considered life’s most stable, unchanging, lastingrelationship. Filial piety is the main emphasis symbolizing the ethics in thisrelationship. In Chinese traditional concepts, only a son can make efforts to the family, and adaughter is worthless because she will be one of the other family’s belongings anyway.Therefore, sons won almost all the parents’ love, and stand on a higher position thandaughters in the family. Thus, a daughter’s filial piety to her parents was less critical than ason’s. In fact, in the original wording of this relationship was father-son. This relationshipcould expand to the relationship between elder generation and young generation. Theyounger generation should show his/her respect to the elders in the society.
2. Ruler-Subject 
This relationship symbolizes loyalty. The ruler-subject relationship can be seen as anextension of the parents- child relationship, just as parents care for their children. In the sameway, it is an obligation for the ruler to take care for his subjects. To put loyalty into practice,one as a subject or a child ought to respect and obey the ruler or parents because it is morallyright and obligatory to do so.
3. Elder Brother-Younger Broth
erThe elder brother-younger brother relationship represents the inherent higher status of someone who is senior in age, experience, and therefore, presumably, wisdom. Furthermore,this kind of relationship is not restricted only to blood brothers. It can be extended to anysenior-junior relationship in the group, organization, and society.
4. Husband-Wife
In stark contrast to American culture, the Confucian husband-wife relationship has beenmarked by segregation. This relationship is standing on the status of man and woman inChinese society. In ancient Chinese society, marriage did not signify the formation of a newfamily. Instead, marriage signified the extension of an existing family, namely, of course the
husband’s. More succinctly, it is the one singular purpose for marriage to provide malechildren to perpetuate the husband’s family line. Even in modern society, this traditionalthought is still rooted in old generation, and it brought the conflicts between generations.Under this kind of circumstance, there are only absolute obligations waiting for a wife topractice, such as obedience towards her husband, towards the parents-in-law.
5. Friend-Friend 
The friend-friend relationship is based on mutual trust and faithfulness. Therelationship between two friends most closely resembles the American ideal of equality.We can find that three of the five cardinal relationships (Parent-Child, Elder Brother-YoungerBrother, Husband-Wife) are concerned with familial relationships, and the other two areconsanguineous relationships. The conjugal relationship is considered as the least importantfamilial relationship. This can partially explains why a man cannot stand on his wife’s sidewhile there is a conflict between his wife and parents. This illustrates the situation clearly thatin a Confucian society, blood is indeed thicker than water as Chinese people usually say. Inaddition, it should be noted that, except for the relationship between friends, the relationshipsare vertical between superiors and inferiors.
 Ideal Confucian Family System
In a Confucian-based society, we can find that it is plain to emphasize, not onlyhierarchy, but also the family. Referring to the relationships and interaction between familymembers, there were five characteristics for the ideal Confucian family system as below:• Only the paternal line relatives were regarded as relatives.• Social class and rights were transmitted only from fathers to sons.• The sole authority in the family rested with the father who held control over thechildren.• Marriages were allowed only with those outside the blood clan.• First-born males held the right to lineal succession.
The Family as One Body
The Confucian concept of filial piety is constructed on the simple fact that eachindividual’s body exists solely because of his parents. Therefore, each individual shouldnever forget that he won’t be in this world if his parents didn’t exist. In Confucians saying,there was a description about the family members:Father and son are one body; husband and wife, brothers, are all one body. The relationshipbetween father and son is like that between head and feet. Husband and wife are acombination of two separate parts of one body; brothers are the four limbs. (
Confucian Rites
:Chapter on Mourning Dress)Confucians conceptualized the family by analogy to the human body. Each role in thefamily represents a distinct part of the human body, and together they constitute aninseparable entity. The Confucian configuration of ethical arrangements within a family alsocorresponds to the body structure. The up-and-down relationship between head and feetrefers to the superior and inferior positions of father and son. Children’s bodies originatefrom their parents’, and continually children will have their own families. The younggeneration will be oriented towards the old one. Relationships between senior and juniormaintain a rank order (Hwang, 1999). In addition, the Confucian ethical system is based notonly on the principle of respecting the superior, but also on favoring the intimate.
Filial Piety
As a foundation for the life or perfect goodness, Confucius insisted mainly on the fourvirtues of sincerity, benevolence, filial piety, and propriety. Of all other virtues, filial piety is

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