History as Past Ethics: An Introduction to the History of Morals

By Philip Van Ness Myers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
CHINESE MORALS: AN IDEAL OF FILIAL PIETY

I. IDEAS, INSTITUTIONS, AND HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCES DETERMINING THE CAST OF THE MORAL IDEAL

With the exception of the teachers of the ancient Hebrews, the leaders of thought of no people have so insistently interpreted life and history in terms of ethics as have the sages of the Chinese race. And, excepting the Hebrew teachers, no moralists have so emphasized duties while leaving rights-- upon which the Western world in modern times has laid such stress--to take care of themselves.1

Introductory

It cannot fail to enhance our interest in a study of the ideal upheld by these teachers of morality, if we recall that this ideal of character has for upwards of three thousand years exercised an incalculable influence upon the moral life of probably a fourth of the human race and is the cement of a social structure that has outlasted all others of the ancient world.

The cast of this moral ideal affords a good illustration of the way in which the moral type of a people is molded by religious and philosophical ideas, social institutions, race experiences, and physical environment. Following our usual method of exposition we shall begin our examination of Chinese morality by first casting a glance at some of the agencies which have been especially influential in the creation of the ethical standard.

There are two religious elements in Confucianism which have special significance for Chinese morality. These are, first, the state worship of Heaven and of the lesser gods of the sky and earth; and second, the popular cult of ancestral spirits.

Confucianism: the state worship of Heaven and the popular worship of ancestors

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1
Cf. Martin, The Lore of Cathay ( 1901), p. 226.

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