International Interdisciplinary Scientific Conference: „Marriage and Family in Different Cultures and Religions"

Zbigniew Wesołowski SVD (Wei Siqi 魏思齊) :

Family in Chinese Culture: Weak and Strong Points of Confucian Familism

Paper presented at the International Interdisciplinary Scientific Conference: „Marriage and Family in Different Cultures and Religions" (20-21 May 2019, Sankt Augustin (Germany)

Organizers of Conference: Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule SVD St. Augustin and University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Faculty of Theology)


The beginnings of family and family life in the history of humanity, inclusively in China, can be traced back to its legendary age. The later stories about this age seem to stress the first marriage taboo in Chinese history, i.e., a taboo on consanguineous marriage (middle Neolithic Age: from 5,000 to 3,000) and also the second marriage taboo in Chinese history, i.e., a taboo on endogamous marriage (late Neolithic Age: from 3,000 to 2,000) which strictly banned the marriage between blood brothers and sisters, and it only allowed marriage among different social groups. The traditional Chinese family as such can also be characterized by the following six structural traits: 1) patrilineal, 2) patriarchal, 3) prescriptively virilocal, 4) embedded in a kinship group, 5) sharing a common household budget, and 6) normatively extended in form. In this article, the author – against the background of historical development – first explains these six characteristics of the traditional Chinese family, and then concentrates on the Confucian understanding of family, i.e., the Chinese familism, which understands family as the only suitable and adequate locus of nascency, development and cultivation of human feelings, beginning with their instinctive faculties in xiao (filial piety) and ti 悌 (brotherly obedience). In these two core family virtues of xiao and ti is the locus classicus for so-called Confucian role ethics as moral thinking based on family, family members, and their roles. The Chinese familism, understood by the author as a tendency of humanity as co-humanity only through family, has its limits both in theoretical (i.e., ethical and political) and practical (historical) dimension. However, Confucian thought on family with its stress on filial piety has still its present-day value and relevance, and anchors the heart of Chinese social order. Needless to say that the relations between parents and children are to be regarded as one of the most urgent problems in our contemporary world, ranging from the United States of America and European countries to China and other Asian countries. In his “Conclusion,” the author brings his conviction that the human emotion of love, being a variety of strong and positive emotional and mental states learned first in family – and especially in its form as a love between man and woman – will be the most formidable problem and challenge in the nearest future. Education, also being a cultural universal, – and in view of traditional China also in the form of family education – as an incessant pedagogic instruction of shenjiao 身教, i.e., teaching others by one’s own good example would be an excellent instrument for shaping a healthy human psyche and the future of humanity.