"Let the Parents Forget You" : Filial Piety (xiao 孝) in the Zhuangzi

Wai Wai CHIU*

*Corresponding author for this work

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It is well known that traditional Chinese culture gives special weight to family life and understands and arranges other forms of social interaction by drawing on ideas of family (Liang 1969: 11–13), especially the idea of filial piety. Since the twentieth century, however, the traditional conception of filial piety has been negotiating its place in the process of modernization and facing the West. As Li Chenyang states, “filial morality is one of the areas that deeply divide traditional China from the contemporary West” (Li 1997: 219). In academia, there is a continuous debate on whether traditional conceptions of filial piety are still relevant in contemporary societies. Not surprisingly, the debate usually revolves around Confucianism, and relatively little has been said about whether non-Confucian schools can contribute to our understanding of the issue at hand. In this chapter, I contribute to this debate from a different perspective. I articulate a conception of filial piety by drawing on the Zhuangzi, in particular its ideas of “forgetting” (wang 忘) and “authenticity” (zhen 真), and its tendency toward egalitarian modes of interaction. I argue that there are at least two major differences between Zhuangzi’s conception of filial piety and that of its Confucian counterparts. First, Zhuangzi does not exalt the family as a special organization for moral cultivation. Second, Zhuangzi does not regard filial piety as a moral requirement, at least not with the stringency or even sacredness usually contained in Confucianism. I also argue that such a conception better fits contemporary views on family life, mainly because it situates the interaction between parents and children within a more egalitarian framework and allows for a more flexible approach.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDao Companion to the Philosophy of the Zhuangzi
EditorsKim-chong CHONG
PublisherSpringer, Cham
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783030923310
ISBN (Print)9783030923303
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2022

Publication series

NameDao Companion to the Philosophy of the Zhuangzi
ISSN (Print)2211-0275
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8780

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


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