Anxiety over the Filial Body Discussions on Xiao in Early Confucian Texts

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Jianjun He



This paper reexamines the concept of filial piety (xiao) from a specific perspective, asking how filial piety is performed by and observed on the body. I argue that in pre-Qin and Han Confucian texts, there was a strong anxiety over the potential hypocrisies of filial deeds; that is, the fact that filial piety could be abused and transformed to become a mere show intended for gaining fame and reputation. Because of this, early commentators felt the need to create methods and criteria for evaluating filial piety. One important way to do this was to examine how filial piety was materialized through the ritual performance of the body. Filial piety was thus embodied and evaluated in terms of corporality. Ironically, this embodiment of filial piety had its own paradox as filial piety could become oversimplified as physical care of the parents and the ritual of xiao be reduced to a performance.

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