Filial Piety: A Virtue Prized Above All Others

Elderly Chinese parents pose for a photo with their daughter in a restaurant.

In traditional Chinese culture, loving, respecting, and caring for one's parents is the virtue prized above all others. (Image: Linqong via Dreamstime)

In traditional Chinese culture, filial piety — loving, respecting, and caring for one’s parents — is the virtue prized above all others. The following is a modern-day story about how children should practice filial piety.

Xiao Li came from a rather poor family in his village, but he was fortunate enough to go to college. After graduating, he became a civil servant and was the envy of the other villagers.

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Soon he settled down in the city and met a girl, Ah Xiu, who was also from a village. They got married after dating for two years. One day Xiao Li’s father came to the city to visit them and he told Ah Xiu:

“It is the planting season, and I need money to buy seed and fertilizer.”

In traditional Chinese culture, filial piety — loving, respecting, and caring for one's parents — is the virtue prized above all others.
Xiao Li’s father told Ah Xiu: ‘It is the planting season, and I need money to buy seed and fertilizer.’ (Image: timquijano via Dreamstime)

Ah Xiu did not show proper filial piety to her father-in-law

As soon as Xiao Li got home, Ah Xiu took him into the bedroom and said:

“Your dad is here, but I couldn’t get to the market to buy something special. Is it okay to cook what we already have in the fridge? Your dad also needs money to buy seed and fertilizer, do you think that 50 yuan will be enough? Let’s give him 50 yuan. If that’s not enough, he will have to think of something else.”

Ah Xiu gave her father-in-law 50 yuan and sent him home after dinner. A few days later, Ah Xiu’s mother came to visit. Ah Xiu was very excited and asked after she settled in: “Mom you need some money, right?” She told her mom to wait while she went to the market to buy fish, pork, and eggs to make a special dinner. When Xiao Li got home, Ah Xiu said:

“My mom is here so be nice to her. She needs some money, do you think 500 yuan will be enough? We’ll give her at least 500 yaun.”

Ah Xiu’s mom was very happy and left after supper with the 500 yuan. Ah Xiu got pregnant not long after her mother’s visit. When she asked Xiao Li whether he wanted a boy or a girl, Xiao Li said: “It’s better to have a girl.”  She asked him: “What is the matter with having a boy?” Xiao Li didn’t say a word.

Doctor holding a stethoscope to a pregnant woman's belly.
Ah Xiu got pregnant not long after her mother’s visit. (Image: Shao-chun Wang via Dreamstime)

The month when Ah Xiu was due to give birth, she went back to her mother’s home to rest. As she was leaving, Xiao Li told her:

“If you have a girl, be sure to tell me immediately, and I’ll be there as fast as I can. If you have a boy, I don’t want to know and you can give it to someone else.”

One day not long after this, Xiao Li learned from his mother-in-law that they had a baby girl. He was very excited and went to see his boss for a leave of absence. He then brought an abundance of supplies in preparation for his visit with his new daughter and his wife’s family. As soon as he arrived at his in-laws’ home, he put everything on the kitchen table and walked straight to the bedroom.

When he found out he actually had a son, he shouted: “I told you to call me when you had a girl, you can do what you want with this boy.” He picked everything up from the kitchen and was ready to leave when his mother-in-law took hold of his hand and said: “You are not walking out of here until you tell us why you dislike your son.”

Sleeping Chinese baby boy wrapped in a blue blanket.
Xiao Li did not even want to see his newborn son. (Image: Hongqi Zhang aka Michael Zhang via Dreamstime)

Xiao Li said:

“Ever since I was born, my parents exhausted all of their savings to raise me and send me to college. I finally graduated from college and have a good job. Ever since I married, we always visited my parents empty handed, even on their birthdays.

“My father came once to ask for money for seed and fertilizer, but your daughter only gave him 50 yuan. Just tell me how much can you buy with 50 yuan? When my father left our house, he had tears in his eyes and said: ‘What is the use in having a son?’ My heart bled upon hearing his words.”

“I am sorry, I didn’t know my daughter was so disrespectful toward your parents. Please forgive us for not bringing her up properly,” said Ah Xiu’s mother.

Ah Xiu’s mom then walked into her bedroom and yelled: “Get off that bed with your baby and get out of here, I don’t want a daughter like you.” Ah Xiu replied: “I am so sorry mom, I promise to change and be kind to my in-laws. Please let me stay here with the baby for a month.”

Xiao Li realized that Ah Xiu understood how he felt and came into the room and said:

“Mom, she has admitted her mistake, please give her another chance. I’ll pay for all of her expenses while she was here.”

To all the children in the world, be thankful that your parents are still alive. Please be kind to them, give them your time, and be grateful for them.

Translation edited by Kathy McWilliams

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