Classic of Filial Piety
Xiao Jing or Classic of Filial Piety (Chinese: 孝經; pinyin: Xiàojīng; alternative transliteration Hsiao Ching) is a Confucian classic treatise giving advice on filial piety; that is, how to behave towards a senior (such as a father, an elder brother, or ruler).
This document probably dates to about 400 BCE. It is not known who actually wrote the document. It is attributed to a conversation between Confucius and a disciple named Zengzi (曾子). A 12th-century author named He Yin claimed: "The Classic of Filial Piety was not made by Zengzi himself. When he retired from his conversation (or conversations) with Kung-ne on the subject of Filial Piety, be repeated to the disciples of his own school what (the master) had said, and they classified the sayings, and formed the treatise."
There are eighteen chapters:
1. The Scope and Meaning of the Treatise (or "Opening Explanation").
Zhong Ni (Confucius) was at home, and Zheng Zi was in attendance. The Teacher said, “The Former Kings have a most important virtue and way of conduct, to make the world harmonious, the people practice peace and cordiality, and neither above nor below have resentment. Do you know what it is?”
Zheng Zi got off his mat and said, “I, Shen, am not clever; how would I know it?” The Teacher said, “Xiao is the foundation of virtue, and is what all teaching grows out of. Sit down; I will tell you.
“The body, hair and skin, all have been received from the parents, and so one doesn’t dare damage them—that is the beginning of xiao. Establishing oneself, practicing The Way, spreading the fame of one’s name to posterity, so that one’s parents become renowned—that is the end of xiao. Thus xiao starts with serving one’s parents, progresses with serving one’s lord, and ends with establishing oneself. The ‘Great Refined Odes’ say, ‘Do not just commemorate your ancestors; cultivate your virtue .’”
2. Filial Piety / Xiao in the Son of Heaven.
The Teacher said, “He who loves his parents does not dare to do evil unto others; he who respects his parents does not dare to be arrogant to others. Love and respect are exerted to the utmost in serving the parents, and this virtue and teaching is extended to the people; the example is shown to the whole world beyond China. That is the xiao of the Son of Heaven. The book Fu on Law says, ‘One person has cause to celebrate; the multitudes rely on that.’
3. Filial Piety / Xiao in the Princes of States (or "Feudal Dukes" - zhu hou 諸侯).
“Above others but not arrogant, then one can dwell on high but not be in danger. To economize and calculate carefully, then one can be full and not spill. (Translator’s note: being full without spilling means having lots of wealth but not wasting it.) To dwell on high without danger, then noble rank can long be maintained. To be full without spilling, then wealth can long be maintained. With noble rank and wealth not leaving his person, then one can protect one’s state and make one’s people harmonious. That is the xiao of the feudal dukes. The Book of Poetry says, ‘Apprehensive and cautious, as if approaching a deep abyss, as if walking on thin ice.’
4. Filial Piety / Xiao in High Ministers and Great Officers (or "Ministers" - xing da fu 卿大夫).
“They dare not wear what is not of the Former Kings’ Method of clothing, or speak what is not of the Former Kings’ Method of speech, or practice what is not of the Former Kings’ virtuous conduct. Therefore if not of the Method it is not spoken; if not of the Way it is not practiced. In speaking there is no choice in what to say; in conduct there is no choice in what to practice. One’s speech fills the world yet there are no wrong words; one’s acts fill the world yet there are no complaints of vice. When one is qualified in those three things, then one can maintain one’s ancestral temples. That is the xiao of the Ministers. The Book of Poetry says, ‘Never unprepared day or night, in order to serve one person.’
5. Filial Piety / Xiao in Inferior Officers (or "Officers" - shi 士.)
“Take from how one serves his father to serve one’s mother and the love is the same. Take from how one serves his father to serve one’s Lord and the respect is the same. Thus the mother takes the love while the lord takes the respect; the one who takes both is the father. Thus when serving the lord in accordance with xiao one is loyal; when serving elders in accordance with respect one is compliant. Not losing loyalty and compliance when serving one’s superiors, one can preserve one’s position and maintain one’s sacrifices. That is the xiao of the Officers. The Book of Poetry says, ‘Rise early and sleep late; don’t bring shame to those who have given you birth.’
6. Filial Piety / Xiao in the Common People.
Using Heaven’s Way, sharing in Earth’s bounties, being prudent with their persons and thrifty in their expenditure, in order to support their parents—this is the xiao of the common people. So from the Son of Heaven to the common person, there is none who has been constant in his xiao yet has the problem of not doing what he should.”
7. Filial Piety / Xiao in Relation to the Three Powers.
Zheng Zi said, “Extreme indeed is the greatness of xiao!”
The Teacher said, “Now, xiao is the principle of Heaven, the righteousness of Earth, and the (proper) conduct of the people. The principle of Heaven and Earth—people’s affairs should follow that principle. We should study Heaven’s brilliance and take advantage of Earth’s bounties in order to bring harmony to the world; that way the teaching is not stern and yet it is successful, the governing is not severe and yet good order reigns.
"The Former Kings see that, if the people are taught thus, they can be converted. Therefore when the Kings set an example of universal love the people do not abandon their parents. When the Kings explain morals and righteousness, such conduct becomes popular among the people. When the Kings set an example of respect and letting others go first the people do not quarrel. When the Kings use courtesy and music to guide the people they become harmonious and cordial. When the Kings clarify good and evil the people know what is forbidden. The Book of Poetry says, ‘Awe-inspiring high government official teachers, the people all look up to you.’
8. Filial Piety / Xiao in Government.
The Teacher said, “Back when the Enlightened Kings use xiao to govern the world, they do not dare neglect even the subjects of small states; how much more so when it comes to the dukes and the nobles of various ranks? Thus the Kings obtain all the states’ affection, with which the Kings serve their ancestral kings. The ruler of the state does not dare to bully the wifeless and the widowed, so how can he bully the officers and the people? Thus he gets the affection of all the families, with which he serves his ancestral lords. The ruler of the family does not dare to offend his servants and concubines, so how can he offend his wife and sons? Thus he gets people’s affection, with which he serves his parents. This way, when alive one’s parents can relax; when deceased their spirits can enjoy the offerings. Thus the world comes to be at peace, natural disasters don’t happen, and rebellions and disorders don’t arise. That is how the Enlightened Kings use xiao to rule the world. The Book of Poetry says, ‘When there is great virtue , states from all four directions comply.’”
9. The Government of the Sages.
Zeng Zi said, “May I ask whether, of the Sages’ virtues, there is any greater than xiao?
The Teacher said, “Of all the species in the world, humans are the most precious. Of all human conduct, nothing is greater than xiao. In xiao nothing is greater than revering the father. In revering the father nothing is greater than associating him with Heaven.
"Let us study the Duke of Zhou. Formerly the Duke of Zhou makes Countryside Sacrifices to Hou Ji (the Ancestor Of All Zhou People—translator) in order to associate him with Heaven, and makes Ancestral Sacrifices to King Wen (the deceased father of the then Son of Heaven and his brother, the Duke of Zhou -translator) in the Great Palace Hall in order to associate him with God on High. Therefore all (nobles—translator) within the country come, each in his post, to help with the sacrifices. So, of the Sages’ virtues, what is greater than xiao?
“Thus parents give birth to the child and raise him at their knees, then become stricter as the days pass . The Sages follow this strictness to teach respect, and follow the closeness to teach love. The teachings of the Sages succeed without being stern; their governing brings good order without being severe. That’s because they follow what is natural. The Way between the father and the son is Providence-given (i.e. God-given–translator) nature and is the relationship between the Lord and his Ministers.
“One’s parents give birth to one—there is no continuity greater than this. One’s Lord personally assumes the role of being the superior over one—there is no generosity greater than this. Thus for he who does not love his parents but loves others, we call that perverse virtue. For he who does not respect his parents but respects others, we call that perverse courtesy. If one makes right follow wrong, then the people will have no principle to follow. They will not come to good but will come to a vile virtue. Even if a Noble Person gets it, he will not value it.
“The Noble Person is not like that. When speaking he thinks whether the words can be spoken; when acting he thinks whether the action brings happiness. His virtue and righteousness can be revered; his handling of matters can be emulated; his manner can impress; his interactions with people can be held up to what is right. With that he assumes the role of being the superior over , his people. Thus his people fear and love him, study and emulate him. Therefore he can succeed in his teaching of morals and execution of governance. The Book of Poetry says, ‘The virtuous Noble Person, his demeanor has no faults.’”
10. An Orderly Description of the Acts of Filial Piety / Xiao
The Teacher said, “This is how the xiao son serves his parents: during daily living he presents respect, when providing for them he presents happiness, during their illnesses he presents worry, during mourning he presents grief, when making offerings (to his deceased parents and ancestors — translator) he presents reverence. When he is prepared in these five things, then he is able to serve his parents. He who serves his parents is not arrogant when above, not rebellious when a subordinate, and not quarrelsome when with peers. Being arrogant as a superior leads to perishment; being rebellious as a subordinate leads to being sentenced; being quarrelsome when with peers leads to dueling. If these three things are not rejected, then even though one provides for one’s parents so sumptuously as to serve the Three Animals (beef, pork, mutton—translator) daily, one is still un-xiao.”
11. Filial Piety / Xiao in Relation to the Five Punishments.
The Teacher said, “The Five Punishments are applied to three thousand offenses , but none of them is greater than that of being un-xiao. Those who coerce their lords have no regard for superiors; those who reject the Sages have no regard for law; those who reject xiao have no regard for parents. That is the road to great chaos.”
12. Amplification of 'the All-embracing Rule of Conduct' in Chapter I (or "Broad and Crucial Doctrine").
The Teacher said, “For teaching the people to love one another there is nothing better than xiao; for teaching the people to be courteous and harmonious there is nothing better than ti (being respectful to elders—translator); for changing the customs and traditions there is nothing better than music; for making the rulers at ease and the people orderly there is nothing better than etiquette. The Teacher said, “For teaching the people to love one another there is nothing better than xiao; for teaching the people to be courteous and harmonious there is nothing better than ti (being respectful to elders—translator); for changing the customs and traditions there is nothing better than music; for making the rulers at ease and the people orderly there is nothing better than etiquette.
Etiquette is nothing more than respect. Therefore respect the father and the sons are happy; respect the older brother and the younger brothers are happy; respect the lord and the subjects are happy. Respect one person and thousands of people are happy. Respect the few and the many are happy—that is why it is called a crucial doctrine.”
13. Amplification of 'the Perfect Virtue' in Chapter I (or "Broad and Highest Doctrine").
The Teacher said, “The teaching of xiao by Noble Persons is not (just–translator) for what one sees daily on arriving home . Xiao is taught so that all who are fathers will be respected. Ti (being respectful to elders-translator) is taught so that all who are elder brothers will be respected. Being a good subject is taught so that all who are lords will be respected.
14. Amplification of 'Making our Name Famous' in Chapter I (or "Broadly Spreading One's Name").
The Teacher said, “The Noble Person is xiao in serving his parents, and so his loyalty can be transferred to his lord. He is respectful to elders in serving his big brothers, and so his compliance can be transferred to his superiors. He effects order when at home, and so his governing ability can be transferred to his position as an official. Yes, that is why, one’s conduct succeeds inside the home and one’s name comes to be established among posterity.”
15. Filial Piety / Xiao in Relation to Reproof and Remonstrance (or "Dissuading and Disputing").
Zheng Zi said, “if it’s about being kind and loving, being respectful, bringing peace to the minds of parents, and spreading one’s name—those instructions have already been heard. May I ask: if the son obeys the orders of the father, can that be called xiao?”
The Teacher said, “What kind of talk is that? What kind of talk is that?
“Formerly when a Son of Heaven has seven subordinates who will dispute him, even though he has no virtue he will not lose All Under Heaven (the Empire-translator). When a Duke has five subordinates who will dispute him, even though he has no virtue he will not lose his state. When a Minister has three subordinates who will dispute him, even though he has no virtue he will not lose his clan. With a friend who will dispute him, an Officer will not lose his good name. With a son who will dispute him, a father will not fall into unrighteousness. So when there is unrighteousness, then the son must not refrain from disputing his father and the subordinate must not refrain from disputing his lord. So when there is unrighteousness one must dispute it. How can obeying the father’s orders be considered xiao?”
16. The Influence of Filial Piety / Xiao and the Response to it.
The Teacher said, “Formerly the Enlightened Kings serve their fathers with xiao, and therefore serve Heaven with clarity. The Kings serve their mothers with xiao, and therefore serve Earth with perceptiveness. The elders and the juniors are harmonious with each other, and therefore both people above and people below are orderly and well governed. When the Kings are clear and perceptive with regard to Heaven and Earth, the gods will make evident their blessings.
“Thus even the Son of Heaven must revere someone, that is to say there is a father; and must defer to someone, that is to say there are older brothers.
“One pays respects in the Ancestral Temple because one does not forget one’s parents. One cultivates one’s character and is careful in one’s conduct because one fears bringing shame to one’s ancestors. Paying respects in the Ancestral Temple causes the spirits and gods to manifest themselves. When xiao and ti (being respectful to elders) arrives, one connects with the divine. This leads to illumination of the whole world, with no place not opening up. The Book of Poetry says, ‘From west to east, from south to north, no one thinks of insubordination.’”
17. Serving the Ruler (or "Serving One's Lord").
The Teacher said, “When a Noble Person serves his superiors, in advancing he thinks of fulfilling duty to the utmost, in retreating he thinks of remedying errors. He supports and helps along the good, and corrects and lessens the consequences of the bad. Therefore the superior and the inferior can be close with each other. The Book of Poetry says, “The heart is engaged in love; why not say it? , Store it in the middle of the heart, and never forget it.”
18. Filial Piety in Mourning for Parents.
The Teacher said, “When a xiao son loses his parent, he cries without trying to stop himself, his politeness is without pleasantry, his words are without adornment, when he dresses in fine clothes he feels uncomfortable, when he hears music he does not feel joy, and when he eats delicious food it is not tasty. This is sadness and grief.
"Eating after three days is to teach the people not to let dying injure the living, such that the damage (from the death-translator) does not destroy people’s nature. Such is the policy of the Sages. Mourning is not to exceed three years; this is to show the people that it has an end.
“Prepare for the deceased parent inner and outer coffins, burial clothes and burial blankets, and raise the coffin. Set out the offering vessels and mourn him. Beat the breast, jump up and down, and cry. With grief see him off to the burial ground. Divine a good grave site and place him there to rest in peace. Make a shrine temple to make offerings to his spirit. Conduct sacrificial ceremonies in the spring and autumn to regularly think of him.
“When alive, serve him with love and respect; when dead, serve him with grief and sorrow. The people’s duty is fulfilled, the obligations both during life and after death are fulfilled, and the xiao son’s service to his parents is at an end."
-End Xiao Jing-
- See http://www.tsoidug.org/Papers/Xiao_Jing_Comment.pdf for most of the text of the content.
- Barnhart, Richard (1993). Li Kung-lin's Classic of Filial Piety. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 0870996797. Dealing with the 11th-century artist Li Gonglin's visual interpretation, not the text itself. Freely accessible from the Museum.
- Bolz, William G. (1994). "Hsiao ching". In Michael Loewe. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Early China Special Monograph no. 2. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies. pp. 141–153. ISBN 978-1557290434. Scholarly overview of the nature, structure, origin, and history of the text, with select recent (circa 1993) studies, translations, and indexes.
- Chen, Ivan (1908). The Book of Filial Duty. London: John Murray. A public domain translation, freely accessible at archive.org.
- Rosemont, Jr., Henry; Roger T. Ames (2009). The Chinese Classic of Family Reverence: a Philosophical Translation of the Xiaojing. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. ISBN 978-0824833480. A recent scholarly translation, with extensive commentary and bibliography.
- Xiao Jing (Full text in Chinese with English translation)
- Xiao Jing (Full text in Chinese with Explanatory Commentary)