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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The philosophy of filiality in ancient China : ideological development of ancestor worship in the Zhanguo period Ikezawa, Masaru


Filiality (xiao) has been a significant concept in Chinese culture. Its significance is shown by the fact that its idea was elevated to a system of philosophy by Confucians in the Zhanguo period (475-221 B.C.E.). The purpose of this study is to clarify why filiality was important and what the philosophy of filiality essentially meant. Filiality was not merely a familial ethic. In the Western Zhou period (the 11th c. to 770 B.C.E.), it meant sacrifices to ancestors. Filiality toward fatherhood was essentially obedience to headship of lineage groups, and it was expressed in ancestor worship. When lineage gradually collapsed in the Chunqiu period (770-475 B.C.E.), its significance must have been restricted. In fact, however, filiality was given a new meaning by Zhanguo Confucians. First, Confucius emphasized the mental aspect of filiality, and then Mencius thought of filiality as the basis from which general ethics were generated. The various ideas of filiality were collected in a book: the Book of Filiality. This book, presenting the dichotomy between love and reverence, argued that a father-son relationship had an element shared by a monarch-retainer relationship and that filiality should be shifted into loyalty. The essential achievement of this philosophy was the recognition of the dualistic nature of human beings; any human relationship was a social relation between two social roles as well as an emotional connection between two characters. The former was the basis for culture and society. It was the aspect of culture inherent in human nature that should be developed to bring about social justice. This dualism was derived from the ambiguity of fatherhood in ancestor worship. As ancestor symbolized the social role of lineage headship, the philosophy of filiality symbolically connected fatherhood to the social role of authority in general. Filiality was identified with devotion to the absolute basis for humans and society that was symbolized by fatherhood. This thesis, analyzing ancient Chinese philosophy of filiality, presents a hypothesis concerning the essential structure of ancestor worship, which can be summarized as the symbolism representing higher levels of authority on the basis of parental authority.

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