General Anthropology Division
Group Flash Presentation Session
Chinese people’s understandings of self and society are historically centered around the concept of family. The state-endorsed Confucianism promoted an ideal family model where filial piety—the responsibility to care for, respect, and obey senior parents—was one of the virtues to be held above all else. However, since the post-Mao era in late 1970s, the “individualization of Chinese society” (Yan, 2009) began to severely undermine the long-established family structure and intergenerational relationships. Consequently, more older adults are living in “left-behind” or empty-nest households, receiving less care from their children than previous generation. However, older adults have demonstrated more positive attitudes than negative ones—expressing content in their current situation and speaking highly of their filial adult children. Given this huge contrast, how are we to make sense of older people’s appreciation of their children’s filial performance compared with the less care they have actually received? First, I argue that the definition and practice of filial piety are recalibrated to maintain meaningful intergenerational relationships and allow a set of flexible care arrangements suitable in multiple locations. Second, I will analyze how different social institutions and public discourse play their roles in contributing to the reproduction and reformulation of filial piety. Through this study, I intend to illuminate not only the reformulation of aging and care per se in contemporary China, but also how people simultaneously reflect on the existential inquiries of personhood, morality and nationhood through embodied experience and everyday life across different stages of human life course.