There is an organ shortage worldwide and particularly in China. Many researchers in the field of bioethics agree that Confucianism impedes the modern notion of organ donation due to its position on “filial piety” (xiao) in terms of “not damaging one’s body.” The Confucian concept of xiao demands that children obey their parents, serve them diligently, bury them respectfully and worship them afterward. It also proclaims that a person’s body, hair and skin are gifts from their parents that cannot be damaged.
This essay intends to show that such an interpretation of the Confucian concept of xiao is misleading because it is based on a misreading of an important statement from the Xiaojing (Classic of Filial Piety). According to some exegeses, the idea of “damage” in the original text should be understood as “damage via criminal punishment” instead of a general kind of “damage.” The author contends that it is equally problematic for people to consider keeping one’s body intact as a supreme principle in Confucian moral teachings. Although filial piety is a key principle in Confucianism, it is not the primary factor holding back organ donation. Although traditional Confucian principles emphasize the “wholeness of the body,” they do not prevent many Confucian scholars from taking different views, as Confucius claims that “the man of humaneness (ren) is one who, desiring to sustain himself, sustains others.” This essay concludes that a new interpretation of the Confucian text and its meaning would help to encourage more people to volunteer as organ donors.