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Family obligation, which has an exceptionally high salience in traditional Chinese society, continues to be significant in contemporary China. In family relations in particular sentiments and practices morphologically similar to those associated with xiao (filial piety) remains intact in so far as an enduring set of expectations concerning age-based obligation continues to structure behavior toward others. Researchers pursuing the theme of “individualization” in Chinese society, on the other hand, argue that family obligations and filial sentiments have substantially weakened. The present paper will show that under conditions of cultural and social change in China filial behavior through family obligation continues to play an important role even though the conventions associated with the relevant expectations, attitudes and emotions have undergone significant change. The paper argues that the culture-system develops not merely through an internal dynamic and that family obligation must be understood in terms of the social and material context in which it operates and the nature of the motivations and imagery of the people that practice it.


School of Arts

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access


Authors accepted manuscript. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Qi, X. (2015). Filial obligation in contemporary China: Evolution of the culture-system. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45(1), 141-161. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, which has been published in final form at