On June 18, 30 Republic of China (ROC) nationals received this year’s Filial Piety Awards (孝行獎), a prize that celebrates outstanding examples of filial devotion. Zhou Dingli (周鼎立), the oldest person to receive the award, is 85 years old, while the youngest, Wang Zhilong (王志龍) is only 14. A foreign spouse from Indonesia was also honoured with the prize.
The Filial Piety Award ceremony was hosted by Wu Dunyi (吳敦義), Vice-President of the ROC, and Chen Weiren (陳威仁), head of the Ministry of the Interior which is also the organiser of the annual award.
The prize is an example of state-promoted filial piety (read my post about Filial Piety in Chinese Culture). To some extent, it is comparable to the promotion of filiality through awards and memorial arches in the Chinese Empire. In Taipei itself there is still such a memorial arch. It is located inside 228 Peace Park and was constructed during the Qing Dynasty. It is also comparable to other similar public events, such as the foot-washing ceremony held in Taiwan and China on Mother’s Day.
It represents the attempt to spread and cement moral values derived from Confucian ethics, and especially from family ideology. It is important to note that in East Asia such values are often considered expressions of human nature and inborn ethical instincts. But in fact they are connected to hierarchical and social mechanisms developed in Chinese culture over the centuries, and as such they should not be taken for granted, but analysed in their various aspects.
Most importantly, it should be remarked that filial piety is not based on equality and individualism, but on standardised social roles that the individual needs to fulfill. Wu Dunyi’s words are in this respect revealing. He stated that filial piety is the highest of all virtues (百善孝為先) – a deeply Confucian concept. He said that he chooses his friends according to their filial devotion to parents, elders, and children. “Can someone who is not filial be capable of respecting others?” he asked. Moreover, he said that filiality is a criterion for judging government officials. This echoes the old imperial belief that only a filial son could become a good minister.
Chen Weiren stated that he hoped the award would inspire people to value filial piety, because this is “the quintessential virtue of Chinese culture” (孝道是中華文化最精髓的美德).
85-year-old Zhou Dingli, a retired soldier born in mainland China, was honoured for taking care of his 96-year-old brother and his brother’s 98-year-old wife. The latter has been suffering from dementia for several years. Zhou said that when he was young and the family was poor, they took care of him, and now he is repaying their kindness as they need someone to take care of them in their old age.
14-year-old Wang Zhilong takes care of his father who had a leg amputated. He has become his father “right foot”, “helping push his father’s wheelchair when they visit doctor [sic!], emptying and cleaning his father’s chamber pot and bathing him.“
Pan Yulian (潘玉蓮), an Indonesian-born woman who married a Taiwanese, has been the main income earner in the family since her husband became paralyzed. She takes care of her children and her parents-in-law.
The Filial Piety Awards were established in 1983 to promote the virtue of filial piety through examples from real life.