On-Lecture on Filial Piety in Contemporary China

Piety without Obedience? Popular Discourse on Filial Piety as a Resource for Morality in Contemporary China Lecture (online), December 17, 16:00–18:00

Registration at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMvcemgqD4pHtwbv3Xm1wsOHWP42K7I_RkN

Marius Meinhof received his PhD degree in 2017 at Bielefeld University. From 2013 to 2016 he held a doctoral research Position at Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology. In 2016, he joined the faculty of sociology at Bielefeld University as a research associate. He is currently the project leader in the DFG-funded project »Zivilisierte Familien. Diskurse der ›kindlichen Treue‹ in China im Zeitalter des ›chinesischen Traums‹«. His fields of research are China, Post-colonialism in China and Consumption, placing an accent on Governmentality in consumption.

This presentation will introduce findings from an ongoing research project on discourses on filial piety (孝) and traditional morality in contemporary China. In the context of aging society and discourses on moral decay in the reform era and informed by a new wave of nostalgia for traditional culture, the concept for filial piety has gained new popularity in Chinese discourse today. Concerns with filial piety as a resource for morality are visible in state discourse and social engineering projects, but they go far beyond the realm of the state: Within families as well as between peers of same age, intergenerational relations are understood and contested by invoking various definitions of filial piety. Interpretations range from demands for an unconditional piety towards parents, over ideas of a »piety without obedience« (孝而不顺), to a rejection of „stupid piety“ (愚孝), or even a flat-out rejection of filial piety as feudal and backward. Within this wide field of interpretations, intergenerational roles, mutual obligations, as well as boundaries between conjugal couples and their parents, are constantly negotiated and re-interpreted. At the same time, filial piety is often extended to wider social circles by claiming that even outside of the family, a truly filial person would not bring shame to one’s parents.

In recent years, literary and cultural works that evoke the cultural memories of classical Chinese traditions are gaining popularity in the global Sinitic-languages space and cyberspace. From literary to visual culture, from pop music to fashion, from state policies to daily rituals, these classicist articulations present Chineseness as complicated, multifaceted, multilingual, and cross-cultural. They raise important questions on the relevance of Chinese traditions today to China, to global Chinese communities, and to a future of »world literature«—as Goethe envisioned it nearly two centuries ago. In this multiannual lecture series, prominent scholars, writers, and artists will present fascinating case studies from their research or draw upon their aesthetic practices to elaborate on their understanding on these important questions. Such investigations demonstrate the abundant aesthetic and intellectual resources that the vast repertoire of Chinese cultural memories may provide to engage in a dialogue on the present and future of a global culture.

Concept of the lecture series: Zhiyi Yang, Professor of Sinology, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.

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