Successful Aging In the Division of General Medical Disciplines

Culturally Appropriate Geriatric Care:
Fund of Knowledge

Cultural Beliefs and Practices: Role of Confucianism

Confucianism, the teachings of Confucius during 500 BC, has played an important role in forming Chinese character, behavior and way of living. (Eliot 2001; Guo 1995) Its primary purpose is to achieve harmony, the most important social value.

Confucianism strongly emphsizes:

This is achieved by everyone having well defined roles and acting towards others in a proper way.

Central Ethical Principal

“Ren” is the central ethical principle, and is equivalent to the concepts love, mercy, and humanity. It is best explicated by Confucius in the following statement: “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” This ethical principle is further strengthened by the Buddhist tradition that merit is accumulated by doing merciful acts, which leads to a better next life through reincarnation.

Five Cardinal Relations

There are five cardinal relations (“wu lun”):

  1. Sovereign-Subject
  2. Father-Son
  3. Elder-Younger Brother
  4. Husband-Wife
  5. Friend-Friend

The family is the center and comes before the individual. The father is the undisputed head of the family. With regard to filial piety (“xiao”), sons, especially the oldest son, have specific obligations toward the family and are expected to respect and care for parents (McLaughlin & Braun, 1998). In pre-modern China, the act of suicide was not necessarily deviant behavior if it was associated with duty or loyalty to the family.

The Proper Way

“Li”, the “proper way” or “propriety”, includes a set of rules for interaction with others and the role system. Control of emotions, restraint, obedience to authority, conforming and “face” are highly valued and important.

(Additional references for the section: Lassiter, 1995; Tseng & Wu, 1985)

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: