China Updates Ancient Guide to Filial Piety
For 600 years, a set of folktales taught Chinese children how to respect their parents. Now the government has released a new version, hoping that jibes better with the modern era.
By Malcolm Moore
For 600 years, Chinese children have learned how to respect their parents by reading a set of classic folktales, including one story about a 14-year-old who strangled a tiger to save his father.
The 24 Exemplary Stories of Filial Piety, collected by Guo Jujing, a scholar from Fujian province who lived in the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368), has rarely been out of print, and is still available at every good Chinese bookshop.
But now it has a rival: 24 Guidelines for Filial Piety, an updated version designed by Chinese government bureaucrats to encourage good behaviour in the "modern era".
The original text is full of heroic deeds performed by children on behalf of their parents.
One eight-year-old boy offered himself as a human sacrifice for swarms of mosquitoes so his mother and father would not be bitten.
Another man stripped off his clothes and used his body to melt the winter ice so that he could fish out a fresh carp for his stepmother.
A government official, meanwhile, held his nose and tasted his father's stool to check for symptoms of illness, while another woman used her breast milk to feed her toothless great grandmother.
The modern version, however, is more prosaic.
"Teach your mother and father how to use the internet," it offers. "Visit them as often as possible during the holidays"; "Listen carefully to their stories".
Li Li, a spokesman for the My Heart With Old People project, a government-funded group which was behind the idea, said: "The new version reflects the spirit of the old text, but also reflects our new society.
"We chose the bits of advice after speaking to the elderly over the past two years about what they wanted. We felt the need to do an update because the old version is simply impossible to live up to."
Filial piety remains the centre of China's moral compass, and has been incorporated into all of the country's major religions and belief systems.
In recent years, the government has taken steps to make respect for parents part of Chinese law, inserting an article compelling children to visit their parents into a draft amendment on the Rights of Senior Citizens at the National People's Congress.
Guo's exemplary stories are known individually to most Chinese, and many other tales have been added over the years. Today, the stories are still carved onto tombstones and they even exist as an app for the iPhone.
14th century examples of filial piety
1. Yang Xiang: As a 14-year-old, he strangled a tiger to save his father.2. Wang Xiang: He used his body to melt winter ice in order to catch fresh fish for his stepmother.3. Guo Ju: He proposed burying his three-year-old son alive so the family would have be able to give more food to his mother.4. Zeng Shen: In the mountains gathering wood, he felt his mother's pain when she bit her finger.5. Liu Heng: Even though he was the emperor of Han, he did not sleep for three years while he mother was ill, and tasted all her soups and medicines for quality.
21st century "guidelines" for filial piety
1. Spend as many holidays with your parents as possible2. Throw birthday parties for your parents3. Teach your mother and father how to use the internet4. Listen attentively to your parents' stories5. Take your parents for regular health check-ups