An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Xiaojing 孝經

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Xiaojing 孝經 "Book on filial piety" is a Confucian text focusing on social relationships, especially that between father and son. It is traditionally attributed to Confucius himself, but this attribution has been doubted since the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279). It is assumed, instead, that it was compiled by disciples of Confucius or by Confucian scholars at the end of the Warring States 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) or in the course of the early Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE).

The received version is a product of the Song period and includes the commentaries of Emperor Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755) from the Tang period 唐 (618-907; the zhu 注 commentary), and the Song period scholar Xing Bing 邢昺 (the shu 疏 commentary). Although it attracted attention already in earlier ages, it only became part of the Confucian Canon during the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126).

The Xiaojiang is divided into 18 paragraphs. The central term of the book is filial piety (xiao 孝), which is seen as the core concept of the Confucian social system. Filial piety is, according to Confucian philosophy, a social guideline established by Heaven and an appropriate principle of society codified by the Earth. Filial piety was seen as the foundation of all other virtues and of all human actions. Nothing was of greater importance than filial piety. With the help of piety, a ruler was able to govern his country justly, and through it all people would bring order and harmony into their families. Filial piety, the relation between father and son, was reflected in the sphere of the state by the relationship between a ruler and his ministers. In this respect, loyalty (zhong 忠) was the analogon to the principle of filial piety as used in the private sphere. In the relation of two brothers, it could be compared with the love of the younger brother for the elder (ti 悌).

The Xiaojing gives concrete instructions for the display of filial piety. It had to penetrate all points that father and sons share and all social interactions in which both sides are involved. The body was given to a son by his parents, and filial piety meant not to harm the own body. Thus suicide or shaving one’s hair like a Buddhist monk showed poor filial piety. The concept also implicates that sons had to revere and to honour the family name and the commemoration of their parents, as expressed in ancestor veneration. The highest form of venerating one's parents was to achieve a high position and a high social standing (li shen 立身). The own position would have an impact on the fame of the ancestors. Of course, physical care for parents was also part of the concept of filial piety, an aspect which is still of great importance in modern society, where often the state does not safeguard the social welfare of elderly people so that it has to be shouldered by a younger generation. Filial piety even includes the rituals and mourning rites to be performed on the death of a parent (see examples from the ritual Classic Liji 禮記). In traditional China one had to leave office at the death of the father and to pass through a three years long phase of mourning, two years in the case of a deceased mother. The own social position also had an impact on how filial piety was conducted. The emperor, as Son of Heaven, did not only have to be filial to the personal parents, but also had to venerate Heaven and to take care for the people, his virtual children.

The Xiaojing defines the requirements for each rank of nobility, the feudal lords (zhouhou 諸侯), the grand ministers (qing dafu 卿大夫), and the lower aristocracy (shi 士). The common man (shuren 庶人) had to follow the path of Heaven, share the fruits of the soil with others, be sincere and economical and nourish his parents. Missing filial piety should, as the Xiaojing suggests, be punished by criminal law.

Chen Ying 陳瑛 (1987). "Xiaojing 孝經", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1006.
Jin Zhongming 金忠明 (1996). "Xiaojing 孝經", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed., Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Jiaoyu 教育卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 95.
Xu Hongxing 徐洪興, Wei Feng 未鋒 (1992). "Xiaojing 孝經", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed., Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhexue 哲學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 125.

Chen, Ivan (1908). The Book of Filial Duty (London: John Murray).
James Legge (1899). The Shu King, the Religious Portions of the Shih King, the Hsiao King (Oxford: Clarendon). [The Sacred Books of the East. III]
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).

Further reading:
Chan, Alan K.L., Tan Sor-hoon, eds. Filial Piety in Chinese Thought and History (London/New York: RoutledgeCurzon).
Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (2003). "The Book of Filial Piety (Xiaojing) and The Book of Filial Piety For Women (Nü xiaojing)", in Robin R. Wang, ed., Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty (Indianapolis: Hackett), 372-390.
Lu, Miaw-fen (2006). "Religious Dimensions of Filial Piety as Developed in Late Ming Interpretations of the Xiaojing", Late Imperial China, 27/2: 1-37.
Pan, Feng-Chuan (2015). "Filial Piety, the Imperial Works, and Translation: Pierre-Martial Cibot and The Book of Filial Piety", in Lawrence Wang-chi Wong, Bernhard Fuehrer, eds., Sinologists as Translators in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries (Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong: Research Centre for Translation, Institute of Chinese Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Chinese University Press), 87-126.
Shin, Jae-ho (2014). "Translation and Sinicization: Xiaojing translation in Toba Wei and Mongol Yuan", In Kwan Uganda Sze-pui, Wong Lawrence Wang-chi, eds., Translation and Global Asia: Relocating Networks of Cultural Production (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press), 31-54.