Confucianism, Parenting and Abuse

I am not familiar with the term “child abuse”. When I think about my childhood, my parents did spank me, yell at me, criticized my actions, and other behaviors that hurt me. Do these actions count as abuse? Maybe.


Confucianism had been the moral standard in China for more than two thousands years. Although contemporary Chinese people no longer emphasize and treat Confucius ethics and philosophy as the only standard, his teaching and ideologies have been rooted deeply in Chinese society. Confucianism highly values the importance of filial piety, and believes obedience is the way to show filial piety to parents. In terms of family hierarchy and roles, parents are in more superior positions than their children. Based on such family construction, parents and children are not very close to each other. On one hand, children love and rely on their parents, and on the other hand, since parents are more superior, children must respect and obey them. Disobedience was traditionally viewed unethical and un-filial.

Filial Piety

I barely remembered why my parents beat me, yelled at me or criticized me, but I just remembered they did. When I talked to my friends about childhood abuse, we shared about the same experience. We remembered the tools that parents used to beat us, but we all forgot the reason why the conflicts started. And usually, the fights between my parent and I ended up with either seeking for help from my grandparents, and the other parent if my father and my mother were not at the same battle line, or I apologizing for whatever I did, though I did not admit in my heart. December 29th, 2007, it was my 17th birthday. I went back to my hometown and planned to celebrate with relatives and friends (I was in Christmas holiday, but my cousin wasn’t). My cousin came back from school during lunchtime, and my grandparents insisted him to take a nap, but my cousin wanted to play computer games with me. My grandparents were angry with him. To resolve the problem, my father slapped my face, blamed me for distracting my cousin’s nap and disobeying my grandparents. I felt humiliated and ran away from home for couple hours. In the end, my mother and aunt pacified me on the phone and asked me to come back to the party to protect everyone’s face, and my father never apologized to me. That was the worst birthday I’ve ever had. I wasn’t in the mood for party at all. Every time I think about this moment, I still felt angry with my father and hurtful. My father owed me an apology, but I cannot ask it back.

When I was little, every time my parents criticized me or beat me, I thought it might be my fault. When I grew up, I realized that my parents were not always right; it was just they were afraid to lose face in front of me. Most of conflicts between my parents and I ended up in silence, and we both chose to not mention them. This is usually how Chinese parenting looks like. Confucianism filial piety rooted in the culture so deeply, so individuals hardly change. I believe my parents were raised in the same way, or even worse. Right now, I do communicate with my parents often and we sometimes talked about my childhood, starting to understand each other. However, from my observation, my parents barely communicated with their parents. I think that’s how society evolves from generation to generation. Individual’s abilities are limited, but through education and acquiring more new information, deeply rooted ideologies can change.

Most of my friends and I are the first generation of one-child since the One Child Policy has been implemented in early 80s. We attracted the full attention from family. As the only child of my family, I know my parents love me and I was born in the right family. However, their behaviors in my childhood were still considered abusive. I shared the story of Look At Us Now, Mother! with my friends, the story ensembles ours. As Sigmund Freud says, “unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” All conflicts must be resolved, otherwise accumulating the unpleasant emotions inside will lead to explosion in the future. I like the way that Gayle Kirschenbaum chooses in the movie to remember and examine the past, and then forgives her mother. However, for me, the situation is different and more complicated. It is the culture. I experienced my parents’ love and criticism at the same time. Therefore, I choose to forget and forgive. Comparing to the love that they gave me, the abuse and harm are negligible. I don’t attempt to change the culture, but one day if I were parent, I would not treat my children in the same way as my parents did.

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