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China's Media Wants You to Love the State as Much as You Love Your Family

The old man said, " filial piety to the state is a form of filial piety, we do whatever the state tells us to do." Screen capture from CCTV.

The older man says, “Showing filial piety to the state is a form of filial piety, we do whatever the state tells us to do.” Screen capture from CCTV.

Filial piety, or showing respect to your parents and elders in the family, is an important virtue in Chinese culture –“family” being the key word. While a person might show reverence to other people or things in their life, the bonds of family are special, requiring the performance of a distinctive daily ritual of duties.

But Chinese state media seem to want to expand the definition of filial piety. In a news feature last week, China Central Television (CCTV) introduced a new way of thinking about the term — “showing filial piety to the state”.

The piece featured two interviews addressing the question of how people should perform filial piety in their day-to-day lives. A young medical doctor answered, “We should show filial piety to the state first, there is no family without the country.” And an elderly man said, “Showing filial piety to the state is a form of filial piety, we do whatever the state tells us to do.”

This not only blurs the lines between family and state and private and public, but it also is a throwback to ancient China, when emperors would justify their rule with the idea that all Chinese were one big family.

Many netizens found CCTV's use of the term ridiculous. Writer Wu Gou wrote on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo:

孝的对象,只能是亲人。孝与忠之间,有时候难免有冲突,此即常言所说,忠孝难两全。儒家承认这种难以两全的道德困境,并作出儒家式的价值排序:可为父绝君,不可为君绝父。孝优先于忠。所谓“孝顺国家”的说法,简直滑天下之大稽。

We can only show filial piety to our family. Filial piety and loyalty are sometimes conflicting. Such conflict is reflected in the common expression that we can't fulfill both loyalty and filial piety. The Confucians see the moral dilemma between the two and deal with the problem by putting filial piety before loyalty: You can cut your connection with the emperor for your father's sake, but you can't cut your connection with your father for the emperor's sake. The expression of “showing filial piety to the state” is absolutely ridiculous.

Weibo user @Wolfman1989 stressed that family should come before the state:

孝顺国家是什么吊玩意?从来都是有家才有国,没有千千万万个家中共统治谁?可是没有现在的政府,我们完全可以民选一个新的政府出来,搞清楚逻辑关系再说话。国家是为公民服务的,我们就是来当大爷的,没让国家跪下就不错了,还他妈我们孝顺国家?央视真傻逼。

What the hell is this “showing filial piety to the state”? Family exists before the country. Without families, who is there for the Chinese Communist Party to rule over? If the current government does not exist, we can just select another one. Please be logical before you speak. The state is there to serve the people, we are the boss. The state should be the one bowing to the people, how dare you talk about showing filial piety to the state? CCTV is such a stupid ass.

Yu Ge believed the term is another name for “family empire”:

国家与父亲一体化的侧面,则是国的家庭化、家族化,此之谓“家天下”。对权力者来讲,把国当家,国事便成家事,或者说,他们惯于以家事的视角处理国事,以至政治伦理弃若敝屣,家庭伦理大行其道。国家属性如此,权力者眼里的国民,则尽是孝子贤孙,要他们“孝顺国家”

By merging the country and the father together into one, the state also merges the family and the family tribe into a “family empire”. For the ruler, to see the country as his family means the country's policies will become family business or they take the country's polices as family business and put political ethics aside. All they see is family ethics. In their eyes, people are their offspring who have to show filial piety to the state.

Under the family empire, people are left with no choice, as lawyer Yu Yang explained:

忠是可选择的、相对的,所谓“良臣择主而侍”,但孝却是没有选择的、绝对的,因为谁都只有一双父母,一般而言父母再怎么样儿女也得受着,可见,把孝顺及于“国家”用心多么良苦。

Loyalty is a choice and is relative, as expressed in the phrase, “A good servant chooses their master to serve”. Filial piety is absolute and not a choice ¡ because people are born into a set of relationships and even if the parents are bad, they have to accept the relationship. You see why they spend so much effort in mixing filial piety and the state together?

Wu Deyu was not surprised by the expression:

何必孤陋寡闻,在当今国家、党、领袖或称核心三者是一致的,只是后两位比较谦虚,所以无论是爱还是孝顺都把第一位推在先。只要明白这个道理就一通百通了。

Don't be naive. Currently the state, the party and the leader or the core are united as one. The latter two are more humble, so love and filial piety is connected to the country. This is the law that explains everything.

More netizens simply mocked the idea:

国家爹,我要结婚了,能不能给我整个房?六七十平方就行!国家爹,能不能多多关心我,让我快乐成长?……我以后一定会好好孝顺你的……

State father, I need to get married, can you give me an apartment? All I need is 60 to 70 square meters. State father, can you give me more attention and happiness… I will certainly show you filial piety…

有宇宙才有地球,有地球才有亚洲,有亚洲才有国家。不要问宇宙为你做了什么,先孝顺宇宙!

The universe comes before the earth, the earth comes before Asia, Asia comes before the country. Don't ask what the universe has done for you. Show filial piety to the universe first.

孝子的最大功能是出殡时披麻戴孝,摔孝子盆执哭丧棒。孝子们时刻准备着,国丧之时哭天嚎地,养殡千日用在一时。国死之始,全国公休,丁忧三年。孝顺论是咒国家早死…

The most significant expression of filial piety is during a funeral. The son would cry loudly and hit himself to express his grief. So be prepared for such a performance of filial piety at the state's funeral. Once the state is dead, we will have a holiday and all the males will mourn for three years. The expression of filial piety to the state is to urge for its early death…

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