Filial piety, or xiao is a concept originating with Confucianism that outlines the way in which family members should interact with each other. It is based on a hierarchical relationship, in which parents and older family rank more highly than children and younger family members, and men rank more highly than women. In the Confucian system, those of higher rank have the responsibility to care for and raise those of lower rank, and those of lower rank in turn have the responsibility to respect and obey those of higher rank. There are also a number of related concepts in Confucianism, including ren, or altruism, and yi, or righteousness, as well as concepts of state governance.
In its most basic form, filial piety is relating appropriately to one's family members. For young family members, this includes respecting elders, obeying them, taking care of them as they age, advising them as necessary, and loving them. For those who are older, it includes providing for the younger ones, raising them correctly, giving them the opportunities they need to succeed, and teaching them how to be a good person. It is seen as the concrete application of the love that is seen to naturally exist between family members. All of the tenets of xiao apply to both living and dead family members.
Practically speaking, xiao breaks down into several key responsibilities. Parents and elders have the responsibility to provide for children and raise them to have the appropriate suzhi, or cultivation. This includes giving them every opportunity they possibly can, such as enrolling them in good schools, smoothing the way for them to get a job, or buying them things and giving them money. Additionally, elders often provide care for grandchildren or other younger family members if their parents are working or studying. Due to this, many Chinese people live with several generations of family members.
In return for the care and material goods, children and younger family members are expected to be obedient and to take advantage of the opportunities elders give them. By doing this and becoming successful, they can bring pride or face to the family, so that their parents can see that their work and raising has paid off. Younger family members also are expected to care for their parents when they get old and no longer work, and to produce children to continue the family line.
In addition to relationships with living family members, filial piety is also required in relationships with ancestors. This usually takes the form of ancestor worship. Many families visit their ancestors' tombs or shrines periodically to provide them with food, money, or goods they might need in the afterlife, and having a continuous family line is seen as very important, since it guarantees that there will always be someone to look after those who die. As a whole, the ancestors are seen as supporting China and in need of respect, since they may influence how the world works for the present generation.
The concept of filial piety is closely related to other Confucian concepts, including ren and yi. For instance, if a child is lacking in ren, then his elders have a responsibility in terms of xiao to help him develop it. These concepts can even trump other obligations, in some cases. For example, if a father was doing something wrong, then his child would be obligated by yi to correct him.
The rules for family relationships are also connected to beliefs about how a government or a state should be run. In Confucianism, the family is taken as a model for the state, with the leader as the father of the family and the subjects as the children. As such, citizens of a country are seen as owing piety to their leader, and he or she is seen as having a responsibility to care for them and teach them the appropriate way to act.
This concept originated with Confucius, who was a Chinese teacher and politician in the 3rd and 4th century BCE. His work formed a philosophy that later took on religious significance, and it still widely practiced today. Xiao specifically was first mentioned in The Classic of Filial Piety, which contains instructions on how to act in specific types of relationships. It is thought to date back to about 400 BCE.