5th International Symposium of Familiology: “Family – Politics – Globalization”

Zbigniew Wesołowski SVD: “The Virtues of Xiao (Filial Piety) and Ti (Brotherly Obedience) as Two Pillars of Confucian Familism and Liang Shuming’s First Aspect of Confucius’ Religion”

Faculty of Theology of the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland


In imperial China (221 BC – 1911), filial piety (xiao) and brotherly obedience (ti) were two core values of family life. Confucian familism made filial piety a cornerstone of the entire social order. The original use of the word xiao from the Western Zhou dynasty (ca. 1045–771 BC) refers primarily to ritual services to deceased parents and ancestors. Later, the Confucians of the Warring States (475–221 BC) thought of xiao particularly as showing obedience and displaying respect towards parents. After the late Warring States, the Confucians again reinterpreted xiao extending it to a political dimension, i.e., obedience and respect to one’s lord. Since then, xiao as the dutiful submission of children to their parents has become the basis for both self-cultivation and the political order. Filial sons were also understood as loyal retainers to meet the needs of the emerging bureaucratic state in imperial China. Down through the centuries, parents constantly taught their children to treat elders with filial piety and brotherly obedience, this behavior being a central measure of the children’s moral worth. In Liang Shuming’s (1893–1988) understanding, Confucian familism with its two pillars of xiao and ti is a kind of religion. Although Confucian thought on the family still has its value and relevance in present-day China, it is increasingly exposed to many challenges. This situation is a consequence of the profound transformation of traditional family ethics, values and institutions brought about by the processes of modernization and globalization.