China’s citizens are growing old at an alarming rate. The increase in the country’s elderly population has created profound social and economic complications that can be solved only by appropriate policies and moral decisions on caring for aging people. Who will take care of the elderly? Should elderly people depend on their families or on the government? The author of this paper shows that filial or familial piety—the Confucian ideal of moral responsibility for one’s elderly relations—is intrinsic to the traditional Chinese value system, and should continue to shape Chinese society today. The author contends that filial piety is the key ethical principle of Confucianism based on its metaphysical foundation of the Dao. Instead of talking about the rights of elderly people, we should emphasize the moral duty of their adult children.
However, the traditional emphasis on filial piety has been challenged by social changes in the last few decades, especially since China’s economic reform. There are fewer and fewer households with “three generations under one roof,” due to China’s urbanization and one-child policy. More and more people are choosing to invest in institutional care (such as nursing-home care and residential care) as an alternative to traditional familial care. Despite these changes, the author maintains that filial piety, as the core value of the Confucian ethical system, should play an important role in modern Chinese society. Supporting one’s elderly relations (both emotionally and financially) offers not only a practical solution to the problem of elderly care in China, but also an ethical way for family members to fulfill their moral duties and maintain family solidarity. Although Western approaches to community care that combine formal and informal sources of support may in some cases help to meet the welfare needs of vulnerable elderly people in China, a complete rejection of traditional filial piety is far from appropriate. The author concludes that commitment to the traditional ethical value of filial piety enables people to live together in peace and harmony.