THE BOOK OF FILIAL DUTY

The Book of Filial Duty, by Ivan Chen, [1908], at sacred-texts.com

II. THE TWENTY-FOUR EXAMPLES OF FILIAL DUTY

Instead of the Hsiao Hsueh, or Teaching for the Young, which is usually grouped with The Book of Filial Duty, I have chosen The Twenty-four Examples of Filial Duty by way of illustration to the Hsiao Ching. They are naive and terse, and yet not without their simple charm. Even where they lend: themselves to exaggeration, as in the story of the old gentleman who dressed himself in gay garments and frisked in front of his very venerable parents, they are not meaningless nor devoid of humanity. The lesson to be drawn is that our duty towards our parents is the first obligation in life, and that we should go, if necessary, to all lengths to fulfil it. Nothing is known of the authorship of these stories, or the time in which they are written. Each story is accompanied by its commentary, and probably the stories themselves originated during the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), the commentaries belonging mostly to the latter years of that dynasty. The period dealt with in these tales is a very wide one, and ranges from the time of the great Emperor Shun (circa 2300 B.C.) down to the Sung

[p. 13]

dynasty (A.D. 900-1200). There have been many editions of The Twenty-four Examples in Chinese, mostly embellished with quaint and original woodcuts, of which the figure on the cover of the present volume, kindly supplied by Mrs. Lionel Giles, is an example.

III. FILIAL DUTY AND PARENTAL LOVE

In conclusion, I hope none of my readers will imagine, from these examples and the treatise that precedes them, that Chinese family life is cold and repellent, and devoid of mutual love. The moment a tiny life enters the circle it is guarded by the triple walls of kinship. In the children our parents return to us; in the children we survive. All through Chinese history the exile longs for return to wife and children. All through Chinese literature you will find allusion to the love of little ones which has been the heritage of the Chinese from time unknown. The Book of Odes, quoted in Mr. Ku Hung-ming’s eloquent translation of the Chung Yung, or Conduct of Life, for this Series, says:

When wives and children and their sires are one,
‘Tis like the harp and lute in unison.
When brothers live in concord and in peace,
The strains of harmony shall never cease.
The lamp of happy union lights the home,
And bright days follow when the children come.

[p. 14]

With the Chinese the natural joys of life have always been the most sought after. Home, family, friendship, landscape, and flowers–these are the pleasures which they delight in. The religion of Confucius is the religion of daily life. On the side of the parent there is responsibility; on the side of the child, obedience, but not a blind one. Of the responsibility of parents there is no question. Confucius himself laid down the law when he sentenced a father, who had brought an accusation against his son, to be imprisoned with him. On being remonstrated with, he made this memorable reply: “Am I to punish for a breach of filial piety one who has never been taught to be filially minded? Is not he who neglects to teach his son his duties equally guilty with the son who fails in them? Crime is not inherent in human nature, and therefore the father in the family and the government in the State are responsible for the crimes committed against filial piety and the public laws.”

On the other hand, the obedient son must be able to discriminate and not follow blindly, when the father is at fault. In the Li Chi, or Book of Rites, it is written: “When his parents are in error, the son must remonstrate with them with respect and gently. If they do not receive his reproof, he must strive more and more to be dutiful and respectful towards them till they are pleased, and then he must again point out their fault.”

[p. 15]

The Chinese give respect to the living, and also reverence the dead. It is from the past that they have tried to learn, and the past is a pathway which the feet of spirits have trodden and made luminous. And, moreover, no man can escape from his ancestors, even if he go to the uttermost parts of the earth and dwell among strangers. Over the heads of the family the politician, ancient and modern, looks to the State. But China, from the shelter and security of her myriad bulwarks, has watched the sun of many empires rise and set.

NOTE

IN preparing this little book for the press, I am indebted to Mr. Lionel Giles and Mr. L. Cranmer-Byng for their kind assistance. Mr. Giles has revised the English spelling of Chinese names according to the system almost universally adopted by sinologues to-day; while Mr. Cranmer-Byng has made himself responsible for the Introduction. As regards The Twenty-four Examples of Filial Duty, due acknowledgment must be made to Vol. VI. of The Chinese Repository, which contains the only complete translation of these stories, and has been extensively drawn upon for the present work.

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