Jul 23, 2020 in History

The Confucian Family

Confucianism is an idea developed from the teachings of the popular Chinese philosopher Confucius, during the time of a continuous civil war nearly 2,000 years ago. Confucius lived in the Dark Ages and he had a passion of living in a civilized and great empire surrounded by peace, pleasures, and prosperity across the state. He worked hard and endured many challenges, for instance, looking for an employment opportunity in minor courts. He also preached his ideas of Confucianism in reorganizing society. Confucianism is a system of philosophy that puts emphasis on the practices and conduct of people in their daily life. Confucianism is also a set of moral rules and ethics that prescribes how people in the family should relate to each other, as it held that human is a social being naturally. The Confucian family has played a critical role in promoting harmonious and peaceful society through the family cultivation of respect, politeness, kindness, and humanness, which shaped its members’ character.

The family is regarded as the important primary unit of society and not the individual or the community. The Confucian family generated values that were natural, moral, reasonable, ideal, and virtuous (Yao 197). Members of the community also loved and cared for each other. Therefore, the ideals of Confucianism were that relationship within the family unit was fundamental, and families were firmly grounded on hierarchical order - male over female, husband over wife, sovereign over a subject, parent over child, and old over young. It also encouraged families to develop favor for the male children over the female ones and recognized the effectiveness of extended families in bringing security to its members and nurturing the value of humaneness to the child.


The culture of Confucianism advocates that each individual should struggle to ensure that the family prospers (Lecture 1 3). Family members were nurtured by values of love and benevolence, thereby becoming the pillars of appropriate behavior. This behavior developed gradually into the sets of rituals and ethics referred to as rites. Therefore, the traditional system of politics in China was a family-nation system directed by the rites and ethics. Members of society comprehensively identified themselves with one family, under the family-nation system of government that promoted a strong sense of equality among its citizens. Family-oriented values were embraced especially in the times of crisis by all the citizens, which boosted the national unity as large family resulting in patriotism and nationalism. According to Yao, Confucius strongly advocated the governments’ role of inducing a code of ethics among the people (family members) (198). The Confucian family lived in peace and worked together, and the nation was able to stand firm. In Confucianism, respect was the idea for the government of the people, thus the Chinese style of democracy.

In the Confucian family, the teachings of humanness and basic sense goodness are the heart of family values. It is critical in developing a moral relation of one individual to the other. The belief of the perfect man and goodness had firm implications to the Chinese political system (De Bary 89). The political leaders in a Confucian state were to provide education that will transform its citizens. The role of friendship in the Confucian family is important in promoting family relations and personal growth. The Confucian family, according to Yao, believes one to have friends who are good as one is, and he further argues that one can be built by the true friends who always do good things and contribute to making a better world (198). The key concepts of Confucianism are value of family hierarchy, harmony, and value of education. However currently, members of society place more emphasis on their own autonomy.

Confucianism filial piety is a virtue of family hierarchy, and it means a reciprocal relationship between parents and child, while the child is expected to show respect to his or her parents and the elderly. Thus, the adepts of Confucianism highly value the filial piety and belief that children who obey and respect their parents will become responsible, good citizens and great leaders in future. However, in a Confucian family, any child who shows rebellion towards the authority of his or her parents will face severe consequences (Yao 188). Thus, children will have no choice but to conform to their parents’ authority and power. The Confucian family was seen as a small nation, while the state was the extension of the family and the love between parents to children, brothers, and sisters naturally evolved to the love in society. Another English philosopher John Ruskin once said, “if you got the schools right, then you won’t need prisons” (Yao 201). It is believed to relate to the ideas of Confucianism

Confucianism has also promoted social harmony in the context of human life. Chinese children have no difficulty in following instructions because of the grounded basis of harmony within the family. Harmony, according to Confucianism, is maintained through children’s conformity to the parents’ authority, avoiding conflicts, and following the well-defined roles and responsibilities of every member of the family. Hence, to date, Chinese children have a tendency of learning more behavioral rules as compared to children in the Western regions. Confucian political theory placed great emphasis on conflict resolution through mediation rather than the use of complicated rules to establish wrong and right to achieve social harmony. On the part of the government, an appropriate administration was put in place to bring social harmony in the state (Lecture 2 4).

Confucianism had a substantial influence on education. It was considered a family responsibility to ensure the educational success of their children; it was related to one’s social class. According to Yao, they are four social strata centered on one’s occupation: farmers (nong), scholars (shi), businessmen (shang), and workers (gong) (178). The scholars were the highest class and they made the overall decisions that affected entire society. Farmers too were respected due to their ability to provide food to entire society, while workers had to labor and use their skills to survive. The lowest class was the businessmen who earned status through their accumulation of wealth (Yao 185). Currently, the system of moral values of the Confucian family is regarded as the ideal one to all the humankind.

Confucius, according to De Bary, believed in the family-nation political system (86). It held that any leader could eliminate all society problems by working with the family in ensuring that family values were instilled. Therefore, the political rulers were expected to show the ability to govern themselves in order to govern others. Confucius’ ideas were to get the families and the rest of society on the right track; thus, schools were to take care of themselves. The Confucian family life was lived in the family and it was believed that good families produced good children while the bad ones produced the bad children. Thus, for any important political job system, one had to come from the right families (De Bary 89). In the modern Chinese politics, the influence of Confucianism is rooted, for instance, in the New Life Movement of the early 20th century.

The Confucian families, according to Yao, put great regard to the ordinary activities of human life, believed in the existence of gods (shen), and respected the gods and heavens (187). The Confucian liturgy was headed by the Confucian ritual masters and priests to worship the gods in the Chinese temples that were believed to be built for their ancestors. Moreover, their teachings were concerned in the belief that human beings were good and humane. Thus, the Confucian family ensured the upholding of righteousness and the need to do well. All the family members were to act in everyday life as per the laws of Heaven and do what was right and fair. They also believed that religious rituals produced significant experiences and generated good life. Additionally, the spiritual and moral ideals of Confucianism enabled each member of the Confucian family to reconcile the inner and outer differences, which would be of great help for one to be a good ruler and redeem the whole world (Yao 189).

Despite the great contribution of the Confucian family, it is affected by regional customs, economic realities, globalization, socio-political factors, and individual differences that threaten to tear apart its harmony. It has created the difficulty in living in extended family system, and each member of society places greater emphasis on one’s own autonomy and independence.

In conclusion, the value system in the Confucian family is both rational and humane because it has been developed through the tireless efforts of millions of all family members who appreciated the idea of peace and love to prevail. These values have helped in uniting their nation and the world. Currently, the system of moral values of the Confucian family is regarded as the most suitable or even ideal one for all people to follow. In modern day, Chinese civilization is related to the Confucian family-like social structure. The Chinese family plays a vital role in pursuing the greatest form of world culture in the next future. However, just like in other cultures today, the Confucian family may be affected by the regional customs, economic realities, globalization, socio-political factors, and individual differences.


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