Filial piety


The concept of filial piety originated from the Confucian philosophy. It is a very important virtue in the Chinese culture. Its Chinese character xiao 孝 is a combination of two characters lao 老 and zi . The formation of the character positions lao 老 on top of zi 子, which provides an imagery of an elder being carried by a son; a reflection of the word’s meaning.

In essence, filial piety dictates that one must respect and care for one’s parents when they are alive and mourn for them in death. These moral standards are basically common sense. After all, a majority of us owe it to our parents for being who we are today. So, it is only right for us to take care of them during their old age.

Based on this concept, many parents end up living with their children in their old age in Asian countries. In this aspect, the Western culture practises the ‘independent’ approach to handling old age. Parents prefer to stay on their own. As a result, many Western countries have good support system such as old folks’ home and nursing care services in place to take care of the aged.

While there are merits in being filial, the younger generation of Asian descent is starting to abandon this virtue and adopt the Western way of life where they prefer to live their lives separately. Hence, it is not surprising that there are so many cases where sick and old parents are left to fend for themselves at old folks’ home. Unlike the old folks’ home in Western countries, many of these homes in Asian countries including Malaysia are not well run and their occupants live in miserable conditions.

Does that mean that the younger generation are becoming less filial? This needs to be considered on a case to case basis. With the ever increasing cost of living especially in the developing Asian countries, it is getting harder and harder to make a living, let alone take care of an extended family. For those with parents suffering from illnesses, the medical fees and effort to take care of the sick can be a huge burden. Then, there is also the added load of financing children’s education. In short, providing for a family which includes aging parents has become a struggle for a growing number of people. So, can we fault those who abandon their parents at old folks’ home?

Many may argue that as filial sons and daughters, it is our duty to find a way to care for our aging parents no matter what. But how can one fulfil this duty if one’s survival is already in jeopardy? This is where the government of each country need to come in. More efforts should be put into managing the welfare of the aged. This is inevitable as the world is moving towards an aging society.

Personally, I would not want to burden anyone when I become old. Currently, the options available for the elderly in Malaysia are very limited. The stark reality is that either you die rich or sick and poor. For those who can enjoy your golden years, count your blessings. Honestly, I would prefer to die young rather than an ill, swivelled old hag with no one to lean on.

Coming back to the topic of filial piety, I would say that this virtue is still relevant but unfortunately the will and means to carry it out in modern times have made it extremely difficult for some. Sad but so true.

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  • Amelia says:

    Filial piety is a topic that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately as both my parents have finally officially retired. On one hand, I prefer to not have my parents live with me as they get older as I like my space. But because I’m a worrier, living nearby means that I can check up on them and make sure they’re okay. I don’t think I’ll ever want to see them in an old folk’s home unless they need the extra care that I am not qualified to provide.

    • Angie says:

      I think most people, if they had a choice, would love to care for their own parents. But given the medical cost and like you said lack of expertise to care for the sick, in some cases, makes it almost impossible to do it. Makes me feel sad thinking about it.

  • charlotte says:

    I’m learning so much on my a to z tour. Nice to follow and connect

  • Carrie-Anne says:

    I’ve encountered this concept in my beloved Tao Te Ching. Perhaps paradoxically, Lao-Tzu says in Chapter 18 that “When there is no peace within the family/Filial piety and devotion arise.”

    I think a family should decide for itself if they should/can afford to take care of an elderly relative at home, or choose a nursing home. If you can’t afford it, or it would be too much of a strain in other ways, you shouldn’t sacrifice domestic peace to honor your elders in a certain way.

    • Angie says:

      Well said, Carrie-Anne. There’s always this guilt about putting parents in nursing homes but if it does more harm to them and others by not doing so, I think filial piety should take a back seat.

  • Kari says:

    Interesting post! I think my mom would like to move in with me in her old age, but she’s afraid of my dogs!

  • […] brought up largely based on Asian values, I try to instil those values particularly filial piety into my son – the core concept of which is obedience and respect for parents. However, I’m sure […]


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