Aug 27, 2014 By Margaux Schreurs ,

Confucius is everywhere. His sayings, his name, and even his picture. But how much of Confucius’ teachings have actually made it through China’s long and tumultuous history into modern day China? Because his teachings are so varied, this article will focus on filial piety, the self and ritual.

Confucius was born in 551 BC, to an older father and a much younger mother who was a concubine. Unfortunately, he never saw himself as the famous thinker he eventually turned out to be, as he passed away before his teachings became popular in China.

His moral teachings emphasized self-cultivation, ancestor worshipping and constructed society in terms of a hierarchy based on five main relationships: father and son, ruler and subject, husband to wife, older brother to younger brother, friend to friend.

Confucius in China

Xiao: Filial Piety

Filial piety is visible in so many aspects of Chinese society, even today, especially in terms of family structure.

There is still a lot of pressure on the Chinese to take care of their parents, and when these parents become grandparents they are still extremely involved within the family. Walking around a residential area in the mornings or evenings, for example, you will always see grandparents proudly accompanying their grandchildren. In fact, in both the cities and the countryside the grandparents are prime caretakers for their grandchildren, living in the same house. Through all this, the majority of citizens will financially and emotionally take care of their parents. 

Having spoken to a few of my Chinese friends about this, they all agree that they cannot go abroad fo           r a very long time because their parents will get older, and they will take care of them when they do. The alternative of course, was to take their parents abroad with them, but most agree that taking them away from their friends and community would be cruel.

Face and Zhongyong – Doctrine of the Mean

Zhongyong, or the Doctrine of the Mean, is a doctrine of Confucianism. Zhong stands for bent neither one way nor another, whereas yong represents unchanging. The goal of the Doctrine of the Mean is to maintain balance and harmony, and follow a path of duty; it is thus a doctrine to help improve the self.

Prior to the 20th century, this concept was integrated into the national education system, and was a key part of the Imperial exams. Even today, this doctrine is present in the education system, as China’s education system has a very strong focus on maintaining an orderly nation, and pupils are taught from a young age to focus on the self.

There are also clear links between Zhongyong and ‘saving face’, a concept which is extremely well ingrained in modern Chinese society. For example, refusing a drink when somebody offers it to you will cause the other person to lose face. Or, on a much simpler level, when you ask for directions and the person does not know, they would much rather lie to you than tell you they don’t know, as it would lead to them losing face.


Ritual has long been an important part of Chinese history, starting off with emperor worship and Confucianism, which ensured that most Chinese citizens were kept in line. However, with increasing materialism, consumerism and neo-liberal elements in Chinese society, the importance of ritual seems to be waning. This is especially so in the cities, where many houses do not have altars anymore.

However, some rituals are still present in China today, which is particularly apparent during the celebration of major traditional festivals. One example includes the burning of paper money to send to ancestors during Hungry Ghost Festival, which is a long standing ritual that still lights up the streets of even the busiest of Beijing’s streets a few times a year.

From a different angle, however, emperor worshipping is clearly not the same today, meaning that there has been a serious decline in ritual over at least the past five decades; but maybe that is for the best. Confucianism is often labeled as having stunted Chinese growth, as it did not allow for individuals to rise, innovate, or disagree with authority.   


A society very hardly disposes of all of its past, and China is no different. Strong family relations and a strong sense of filial piety are something that China has inherited from Confucius. Moreover, the influence of Confucianism is not only evident in China, but is very clear in South Korea too. However, ritual, especially in the religious sense, has seen a decline, while some traditions that surround festivals are still prominent; and thankfully so, because they define a lot of Chinese culture and make China a lot more interesting for us all to live in.

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Keywords: Chinese society Confucianism in Chinese society

6 Comments Add your comment



It would appear Confucius is responsible for some of China's worse features "The enslavement of children by their parents" and not forgetting "social retardation also known as face".

Aug 27, 2014 07:12 Report Abuse



Confucius also say Girl who fly plane upside down crack up

Aug 27, 2014 14:34 Report Abuse



yup, looks likw this is the "son of a much younger mother who was also concubine" who got Chinese so deeply mired in rigid views, objectification and inconsiderateness.

Aug 27, 2014 16:59 Report Abuse



'His moral teachings emphasized self-cultivation, ancestor worshipping and constructed society...' LOL... self-cultivation in 'modern' china = f(self-bank-account-cultivation, self-shitting (both literally and figuratively) in public, self-bragging...etc.) Of all the celebrations and interactions you had with mainlanders, the TV programs you watched, ever heard ONE, out of 1.3+ billion, wishing world peace? Global village is another joke, ever asked any mainland Chinese what his/her idea of global village is, and what the rest of the world is there for?

Aug 28, 2014 11:30 Report Abuse



Words to live by.

Aug 31, 2014 02:12 Report Abuse



Filial piety is visibly declining in so many aspects of Chinese society, even today, especially in terms of family structure. Many kids take their parents' money and then abandon the destitute parents, or grandparents

Oct 27, 2015 05:20 Report Abuse