Filial piety, or showing respect to your parents and elders in the family, is an important virtue in Chinese culture –“family” being the key word. While a person might show reverence to other people or things in their life, the bonds of family are special and the person has to perform the distinctive set of relation in daily ritual.
But Chinese state media seem to want to expand the definition of filial piety. In a news feature last week, China Central Television (CCTV) introduced a new way of thinking about the term — “showing filial piety to the state”.
The piece featured two interviews addressing the question of how people should perform filial piety in their day-to-day lives. A young medical doctor answered, “We should show filial piety to the state first, there is no family without the country.” And an elderly man said, “Showing filial piety to the state is a form of filial piety, we do whatever the state tells us to do.”
This not only blurs the lines between family and state and private and public, but it also is a throwback to ancient China, when emperors would justify their rule with the idea that all Chinese were one big family.
Many netizens found CCTV’s use of the term ridiculous. Writer Wu Gou wrote onpopular Chinese social media platform Weibo:
We can only show filial piety to our family. Filial piety and loyalty are sometimes conflicting. Such conflict is reflected in the common expression that we can’t fulfill both loyalty and filial piety. The Confucians see the moral dilemma between the two and deal with the problem by putting filial piety before loyalty: You can cut your connection with the emperor for your father’s sake, but you can’t cut your connection with your father for the emperor’s sake. The expression of “showing filial piety to the state” is absolutely ridiculous.
Weibo user @Wolfman1989 stressed that family should come before the state:
What the hell is this “showing filial piety to the state”? Family exists before the country. Without families, who is there for the Chinese Communist Party to rule over? If the current government does not exist, we can just select another one. Please be logical before you speak. The state is there to serve the people, we are the boss. The state should be the one bowing to the people, how dare you talk about showing filial piety to the state? CCTV is such a stupid ass.
Yu Ge believed the term is another name for “family empire”:
By merging the country and the father together into one, the state also merges the family and the family tribe into a “family empire”. For the ruler, to see the country as his family means the country’s policies will become family business or they take the country’s polices as family business and put political ethics aside. All they see is family ethics. In their eyes, people are their offspring who have to show filial piety to the state.
Under the family empire, people are left with no choice, as lawyer Yu Yang explained:
Loyalty is a choice and is relative, as expressed in the phrase, “A good servant chooses their master to serve”. Filial piety is absolute and not a choice ¡ because people are born into a set of relationships and even if the parents are bad, they have to accept the relationship. You see why they spend so much effort in mixing filial piety and the state together?
Wu Deyu was not surprised by the expression:
Don’t be naive. Currently the state, the party and the leader or the core are united as one. The latter two are more humble, so love and filial piety is connected to the country. This is the law that explains everything.
More netizens simply mocked the idea:
State father, I need to get married, can you give me an apartment? All I need is 60 to 70 square meters. State father, can you give me more attention and happiness… I will certainly show you filial piety…
The universe comes before the earth, the earth comes before Asia, Asia comes before the country. Don’t ask what the universe has done for you. Show filial piety to the universe first.
The most significant expression of filial piety is during a funeral. The son would cry loudly and hit himself to express his grief. So be prepared for such a performance of filial piety at the state’s funeral. Once the state is dead, we will have a holiday and all the males will mourn for three years. The expression of filial piety to the state is to urge for its early death…
Text: Global Voice by Oiwan Lam 19-02-2016