Traditional Chinese values governing family life have been heavily influenced by Confucian philosophy and ethics. In the philosophy of the Master of Wisdom, the world and the life that people are privileged to live are not necessarily considered the best of worlds or of lives, and yet they are the only ones we have to experience. The quest for spiritual fulfillment was met not through a search for final salvation, but through an effort to achieve harmony in this world, in this life. In the Confucian system, this valued harmony could be achieved and maintained through observing the five basic relationships of society: those between a ruler and his subjects, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger siblings, and friends.
These five relationships demand loyalty and respect, and also evince a social order based on highly personality interrelationships. In Confucian thought, a social order is ordained by Heaven, and its order is maintained by people knowing and fulfilling their given places in life. The other great philosophical system of Asia, Buddhism, also left its legacy in Chinese folkways. Buddhism teaches compassion, a respect for life and moderation in behavior. Self-discipline, patience, modesty, and friendliness in relation-ships, as well as selflessness, are qualities which are highly valued in Buddhist canon.
Individualism is devalued, with a corresponding emphasis placed on dedication and loyalty to others. The tenets of Confucianism and Buddhism are complementary and have played a major role in shaping the lifeway’s of the societies touched by their teachings. Whether represented by lineage membership or, as in the U.S., by the bonds of blood assumed on the basis of common surname, kinship is basic to the definition of the relationships that are important in everyday life and to an individual’s prerogatives. The importance of the family in Chinese culture cannot be over-emphasized. The family is the institution that provides the individual with his or her basic reference group, the source of personal identity and emotional security throughout life. The family exerts control over its members through a well-defined structure of hierarchical roles and a clear code of interpersonal conduct.
The family also provides the mechanism whereby cultural awareness values are transmitted across the generations, and preferred ways of dealing with the world and coping with life’s difficulties are taught to new culture carriers. Within the family, filial piety or the respectful love of parents is of paramount importance. The Chinese child is taught to behave only in ways which will not bring shame to his or her parents. The effect of one’s behavior on one’s parents and clan must be the major consideration governing action.
The dominance of elders and males in family and clan life are extensions of the Confucian principle of filial piety. Concern for avoiding situations of family and personal shame, for attending to obligations to others, and reticence regarding personal hurt and discomfort are behavioral patterns acquired through instruction and imitative learning. Individual family members are taught to subordinate their individual needs and goals to those of the family. Toward that end, the expression of complaints and personal concerns is discouraged as a threat to family solidarity. The ideal family is a multi generational household with patrimonial descent and patriotically residence. Because the bonds of kinship are considered both to be primary and to last throughout life, great care is taken to ensure that new family members (through marriage, for ex-ample) will be assets to the lineage. Selection of a wife involves the evaluation of the candidate regarding her suitability as a daughter-in-law and as a potential mother to the next generation. A marriage is thus a family and clan matter, involving the future of the lineage, and should be negotiated with much family discussion and ultimate decision making by family elders.