Filial Piety

Hsiao Ching

I The Scope and Meaning of the Treatise

(Once), when Zhong Ni1 was unoccupied, and his disciple Zeng2 was sitting by in attendance on him, the Master said, "The ancient kings had a perfect virtue and all-embracing rule of conduct, through which they were in accord with all under heaven. By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony, and there was no ill will between superiors and inferiors. Do you know what it was?"

Zeng rose from his mat and said, "How should I, Shen, who am so devoid of intelligence, be able to know this?"

The Master said, "(It was filial piety.) Now filial piety is the root of (all) virtue3, and (the stem) out of which grows (all moral) teaching. Sit down again, and I will explain the subject to you. Our bodies?to every hair and bit of skin?are received by us from our parents, and we must not presume to injure or wound them. This is the beginning of filial piety. When we have established our character by the practice of the (filial) course, so as to make our name famous in future ages and thereby glorify our parents, this is the end of filial piety. It commences with the service of parents; it proceeds to the service of the ruler; it is completed by the establishment of character.

"It is said in the Major Odes of the Kingdom:

Ever think of your ancestor,
Cultivating your virtue."4


1. This is the zi or "style" of Confucius.

2. Zeng Zi speaks in fourteen sayings in the Analects, e.g., 1.4. He names himself a bit later by his ming or "given name," Shen. His name is traditionally associated with the virtue of filial piety; see, for example, Analects 1.9 & 19.17 & 18.

3. "All virtue" means the five virtuous principles, the constituents of humanity: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, knowledge, and fidelity.

4. Shi III, i, ode 1, stanza 6, p. 431. Mao 235.
II Filial Piety in the Son of Heaven

The Master said, "He who loves his parents will not dare (to incur the risk of) being hated by any man, and he who reveres his parents will not dare (to incur the risk of) being contemned by any man.1 When the love and reverence (of the Son of Heaven) are thus carried to the utmost in the service of his parents, the lessons of his virtue affect all the people, and he becomes a pattern to (all within) the four seas. This is the filial piety of the Son of Heaven.

"It is said in (the Marquis of) Fu on Punishments:

The One man will have felicity,
and the millions of the people will depend on (what ensures his happiness)."2


1. Many translators have missed the passive force of this construction.

2. Shu Jing, vol III of The Chinese Classics, p. 600.

III Filial Piety in the Princes of States

"Above others, and yet free from pride, they dwell on high, without peril. Adhering to economy and carefully observant of the rules and laws, they are full, without overflowing. To dwell on high without peril is the way long to preserve nobility; to be full without overflowing is the way long to preserve riches. When their riches and nobility do not leave their persons, then they are able to preserve the altars of their land and grain, and to secure the harmony of their people and men in office1. This is the filial piety of the princes of states.

"It is said in the Book of Poetry:

Be apprehensive, be cautious,
As if on the brink of a deep abyss,
As if treading on thin ice."2


1The king had a great altar to the spirit (or spirits) presiding over the land. The color of the earth in the center of it was yellow; that on each of its four sides differed according to the colors assigned to the four quarters of the sky. A portion of this earth was cut away and formed the nucleus of a corresponding altar in each feudal state, according to their position relative to the capital. The prince of the state had the prerogative of sacrificing there. A similar rule prevailed for the altars to the spirits presiding over the grain. So long as a family ruled in a state, so long its chief