Why Care? A Feminist Re-appropriation of Confucian Xiao

  • Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 4)


This chapter concerns the contemporary debate on the intersectionality of Confucianism with feminism in general and its compatibility with care ethics in particular. My intent here is to propose a hybrid feminist care ethics that is grounded in Confucianism by, on the one hand, integrating specifically the concepts of xiao 孝 and ren 仁 into existing care ethics so as to strengthen and broaden its theoretical horizon and, on the other, revising Confucian gender requirements in light of feminist demands for gender equity. It is my take that Confucian xiao 孝, as the root of ren 仁, is a moral vision that sees human inter-dependency as a strength in, and not a distraction from, human flourishing. In the same way, care ethics also starts with meeting the caring needs of one’s intimate loved ones, and caring relations in the personal realm for care ethicists have an ontological primacy. Morality for Confucius as well as for care ethicists, unlike the Kantian, liberal model that emphasizes detachment and personal autonomy, simply cannot bypass one’s affective ties in the familial realm. In the following, I will provide a hybrid account of care ethics and Confucianism – Confucian care – in which caring for the socially dependent and vulnerable starting with one’s loved ones is viewed as constitutive of the substance of one’s sense of the self; it forms part of one’s life’s journey to self-realization, not only in the realm of morality, but also in the realm of feminism as well.


Filial Piety Personal Autonomy Care Ethic Confucian Ethic Moral Cultivation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ames, Roger T., and David L. Hall (trans.). 2001. Focusing the familiar: A translation and philosophical interpretation of the Zhongyong. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  2. Ames, Roger T., and David L. Hall (trans.). 2003. Daodejing: A philosophical translation. New York: Ballantine Books. (For the concept of xiao, see especially Ch. 18 and 19.)Google Scholar
  3. Ames, Roger T., and Henry Rosemont Jr. (trans.). 1998. The Analects of Confucius: A philosophical translation. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  4. Arneson, Richard. 1997. Feminism and family justice. Public Affairs Quarterly 11(4): 345–363.Google Scholar
  5. Baier, Annette C. 2000. Hume: The reflective women’s epistemologist? In Feminist interpretations of David Hume, ed. Anne Jaap Jacobson. University Park: The Penn State University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chan, Alan K.L., and Tan Sor-Hoon (eds.). 2004. Filial piety in Chinese thought and history. London: Routledge Cruzon. (Anthology on various historical studies and applications of xiao.)Google Scholar
  7. Daxue 大學. 1994. In Zhu Xi 朱熹, The four books 四書. Tainan: Dayou Chubanshe.Google Scholar
  8. Dixon, Nicholas. 1995. The friendship model of filial obligations. Journal of Applied Philosophy 12(1): 77–87. (A revision of Jane English’s “friendship model” of filial duty.)Google Scholar
  9. English, Jane. 1989. What do grown children own their parents? In Vice and virtue in everyday life: Introductory readings in ethics, ed. Christina Sommers and Fred Sommers. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers. (The pioneering piece on the “friendship model” of filial duty.)Google Scholar
  10. Gilligan, Carol. 1993. In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hall, David L., and Roger T. Ames. 1987. Thinking through Confucius. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  12. Held, Virginia. 2006. The ethics of care: Personal, political and global. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Herr, Ranjoo Seodu. 2003. Is Confucianism compatible with care ethics? A critique. Philosophy East & West 53(4): 471–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Holzman, Donald. 1998. The place of filial piety in ancient China. Journal of the American Oriental Society 118(2): 185–199. (A textual study of the origins of xiao.)Google Scholar
  15. Ivanhoe, Philip J. 2007. Filial piety as a virtue. In Working virtue: Virtue ethics and contemporary moral problems, ed. Rebecca L. Walker and Philip J. Ivanhoe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Johnston, Ian (trans.). 2010. The Mozi: A complete translation. New York: Columbia University Press. (For Mozi’s discussion of xiao, see especially Ch. 14–16: Universal Love I-III.)Google Scholar
  17. Journal of Chinese Philosophy. 2009. Special edition. Femininity and feminism: Chinese and contemporary. 36(2).Google Scholar
  18. Keller, Simon. 2006. Four theories of filial duty. Philosophical Quarterly 56: 254–274. (Rejects all three existing theories of filial duty: debt, gratitude and friendship and instead proposes the “special goods” theory.)Google Scholar
  19. Kittay, Eva Feder. 1999. Love’s labor: Essays on women, equality, and dependency. New York: Routledge. (A study of care ethics and the theory of disability.)Google Scholar
  20. Kittay, Eva Feder. 2002. Love’s labor revisited. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 17(3): 237–250. (A response to a collection of essays commenting on Kittay’s Love’s Labor.)Google Scholar
  21. Knapp, Keith N. 1995. The Ru reinterpretation of Xiao. Early China 20: 195–222.Google Scholar
  22. Knoblock, John. 1999. Trans. Xunzi, 2 vols. Hunan: Hunan People’s Publishing House. (All the translations of the Xunzi are Knoblock’s translation, unless noted otherwise.)Google Scholar
  23. Kristeva, Julia. 1977. About Chinese women. Trans. Anita Barrows. New York: Urizen.Google Scholar
  24. Lai Tao, Julia Po-Wah. 2000. Two perspectives of care: Confucian Ren and feminist care. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 27(2): 215–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Langton, Rae. 2000. Maria von Herbert’s challenge to Kant. In Ethics: Classical Western texts in feminist and multicultural perspectives, ed. James P. Sterba. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Include the translation of the correspondences between Maria von Herbert and Kant.)Google Scholar
  26. Lau, D.C. 1970. Mencius. Harmondsworth/New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  27. Legge, James (trans.). 1885. Li Chi (Liji): Book of rituals, 2 vols. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.Google Scholar
  28. Li, Chenyang. 1994. The Confucian concept of Jen and the feminist ethics of care: A comparative study. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 9(1): 70–89. (The pioneering piece on the comparative studies of Confucian ren and care ethics.)Google Scholar
  29. Lin, Yutang. 1989. On growing old gracefully. In Vice and virtue in everyday life: Introductory readings in ethics, ed. Christina Sommers and Fred Sommers. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Okin, Susan Moller. 1989. Justice, gender, and the family. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  31. Okin, Susan Moller. 1999. Is multiculturalism bad for women? In Is multiculturalism bad for women?, ed. Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nussbaum. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (A collection of short essays responding to Okin’s original essay and Okin’s concluding remarks on the essays.)Google Scholar
  32. Phillips, Anne. 2007. Multiculturalism without culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (The latest attempt to provide a solution to the tension between multiculturalism and feminism.)Google Scholar
  33. Raphals, Lisa. 2004. Reflections on filiality, nature and nurture. In Filial piety in Chinese thought and history, ed. Alan K.L. Chan and Sor-hoon Tan. London: Routledge Press.Google Scholar
  34. Rosemont Jr., Henry. 1996. Classical Confucian and contemporary feminist perspectives on the self: Some parallels, and their implications. In Culture and self: Philosophical and religious perspectives, East and West, ed. Douglas Allen. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  35. Rosemont, Henry Jr., and Roger T. Ames (trans.). 2009. The Chinese classic of family reverence: A philosophical translation of the Xiaojing. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  36. Ruddick, Sarah. 1980. Maternal thinking. Feminist Studies 6: 342–367. (The pioneering piece on care ethics.)Google Scholar
  37. Russell, Bertrand. 1922. The problem of China. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  38. Schott, Robin May (Ed.). 1997. Feminist interpretations of Immanuel Kant. University Park: Penn State University Pres. (A collection of original and translated essays on the study of Kant as pertaining to feminism.)Google Scholar
  39. Shun, Kwong-loi. 2003. Xiao (Hsiao): Filial piety. In Encyclopedia of Chinese philosophy, ed. Antonio S. Cua. New York: Routledge. (A useful summary of the concept of xiao in Confucianism.)Google Scholar
  40. Slote, Walter H. 1998. Psychocultural dynamics within the Confucian family. In Confucianism and the family, ed. Walter H. Slote and George A. Devos. Albany: State University of New York Press. (A collection of essays on the study of Chinese family.)Google Scholar
  41. Sommers, Christina. 1989. Philosophers against the family. In Vice and virtue in everyday life: Introductory readings in ethics, ed. Christina Sommers and Fred Sommers. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Tu, Wei-ming. 1985. Confucian thought: Selfhood as creative transformation. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  43. Tu, Wei-ming. 2001. Tasan lecture #3: A Confucian response to the feminist critique. The Tasan Lectures, Korea, November. Accessed 17 June 2011.
  44. Wang, Su 王肅. 1996. The school sayings of Confucius 孔子家語. Taipei: Sanming Shuju. (For the textual origins, see Michael Loewe’s Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide, The Society for the Study of Early China, 1993.)Google Scholar
  45. Watson, Burton (trans.). 1968. The complete works of Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi). New York: Columbia University Press. (For the concept of xiao, see especially Ch. 4, 14, 29 and 31.)Google Scholar
  46. Williams, Bernard. 1981. Moral luck: Philosophical papers 1973–1980. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wolf, Eric R. 1982/1997. Europe and the people without history. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  48. Wolf, Margery. 1994. Beyond the patrilineal self: Constructing gender in China. In Self as person in Asian theory and practice, ed. Roger T. Ames, Wimal Disanayake, and Thomas P. Kasulis. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  49. Woo, Terry. 1999. Confucianism and feminism. In Feminism and world religions, ed. Arvind Sharma and Katherine K. Young. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.West Oahu Philosophy Humanities DivisionUniversity of HawaiiKapoleiUSA

Personalised recommendations