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Home  /  Inside China  /  Filial Piety – Tradition, Social Stability and TV Rating
Filial Piety – Tradition, Social Stability and TV Rating print version

Appreciating and supporting one's parents seems to be an emotional theme and an essential value, appearing frequently in the Chinese media and entertainment content. Why is filial piety such a concensus and how does the media and commercial TV use it for their own interests?

Every society has its sensitive buttons, topics and principles which almost all people can identify and be emotionally moved by. Politicians, journalist and TV hosts (as well as screenplay writers and editors) master the dynamics of such collective sensitive spots and have the ability to produce pure emotions in the heart of their listeners/readers/viewers. Such emotions later lead to a higher level of loyalty towards the emotion 'producers'.

Filial piety (孝xiào) and supporting one's parents when they reach an old age is an example for such sensitive spot. Perhaps politicians have are interested in inducing youngsters' motivation to support their parents in order to promote social stability in a reality in which the pension which elders receive is quite low, but why is caring and appreciating one's parents so stressed by the media?

Although even the older generations in China would agree that the modern competitive lifestyle has its difficulties, many still regard the 80后 (hòu) generations as spoiled and selfish. Although many of the 'little emperors' (小皇帝 xiǎo huángdì) have already found a job and got married, many people, particularly those who the traditional values are close to their hearts, fear that values such as filial piety are not inherent in the youngsters' behavior. Even many members of the new generation, when hearing about the difficulties their parents and ancestors have gone through in the turbulent years prior to the reform era, cannot argue with such assumptions.

When modernism, capitalism and individualism are developed to a very advanced phase, the government and media, each for its own reasons (although the media in China is directed by the government, there are some independent motives to its decisions, no doubt about that) try to soften the hearts of the people by emphasizing family values. In every national holiday, first school day (beginning of September) and national crisis times, leaders and newspapers strongly emphasize the importance of family unity and refer to such dates as an experience the family goes through together. However, even in normal days, one cannot open the TV without hearing a talent show candidate thanking his parents for sacrificing their blood and guts for his success (with tacky music played in the background, of course) or hear a psychologist-wannabe TV host explaining that supporting one's parents is actually a way of respecting oneself.

But why are viewers or readers emotionally involved in such scenes? When it comes to the media, it seems that stressing traditional values is a way for compensating for the intense commercialism which is induced by such productions. Numerous commercials and hidden consumer ads can make the viewers mind detached from a more inner essence, and hence when an emotional, more 'natural', moment is suddenly presented, viewers often feel themselves thirsty for some human emotion and become even more loyal viewers. The media is the number one expert when it comes to instant emotionalism, a phenomenon which is quite prevalent in media productions around the world.

Still, why are filial piety and family values a consensus among Chinese, after all offspring are experiencing objective difficulties when it comes to supporting the old? Perhaps the strong, charged with emotion, connection between the single child and his or her parents make this a perfect choice for a tears-inducing topic. The single child (独生子女 dúshēng zǐnǔ) is a new phenomenon (1980 and onwards), but in some ways it had made the relations between children and parents even stronger than in 'traditional' times. Although filial piety (and the high authority of the father or parents within the family) is less prevalent, the emotional responsibility a child might feel for his or her parents has not necessarily been reduced.

Guilt feelings play an important role here; when a child is aware of the fact that both parents has sacrificed their soul for his or her success, and no brothers and sisters could take the pressure of his or her back, then the thought of 'I could have done more' is never completely non-existing. The elders, on their behalf, cannot help but feeling that their own parents gave them a harder time compared to the liberal lifestyle their children are experiencing. Adding to that the emotional dependence of nowadays parents on their children (especially in an older age) the formers' behavior often contributes to the guilt feeling their offspring could experience.

Newspapers articles and TV shows occasionally also recognize the difficulties of being a single-child and the only parent supporter, but such items are a drop in a sea of 'asking' such youngsters to do an extra step for the well being of their elders. It is ironic that because traditional filial piety values still exist in Chinese hearts, even in the young generation, otherwise the media couldn't use them to manipulate and produce emotional moments which everyone could identify with. Even the strongest 'rebels' can barely remain indifferent when it comes to stories about the painful sacrifices parents make for the future of their single offspring.

With this on mind, the media and leaders can continue play on these soft spots in a way to preserve their power and popularity.

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