The Reconciliation of Filial Piety and Political Authority in Early China

Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 16 (2):187-203 (2017)
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Abstract

This essay traces changes in the relationship between filial piety and loyalty in early China. During the Spring and Autumn and early-mid Warring States periods, a conflict existed between the two values. Confucian thinkers such as Confucius and Mencius put a priority on filial piety, while Shang Yang 商鞅 regarded it detrimental to the state. However, scholars later tended to reconcile the values, as is evident in the Xiaojing 孝經 and the “Zhongxiao 忠孝” chapter of the Hanfeizi 韓非子. The two texts reconcile filial piety with political authority, and show that the two values are based on the same foundation. Ancient Chinese legal documents are in agreement with the same trend. Early Chinese governments made unfiliality illegal and permitted the head of a family to have very strong authority over other members of the household. Still, governments maintained control of individual households by putting the head of the family’s authority under political authority.

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