Confucian Analects Quotes and Commentary 為政 Wei Zheng #6
(PD) Patriarchs of Zen cropped, sized, color enhanced, and text added by Larry Neal Gowdy.
Copyright ©2019 June 03, 2019
Filial piety is not an easy phrase to define in modern English cultures... even if known what filial piety is, still it is not easy to give words to.
Public domain translations from section #6 of Wei Zheng:
"Meng Wu asked what filial piety was. The Master said, "Parents are anxious lest their children should be sick." (James Legge, 1890)
"To a query of Mang Wu respecting filial piety, the Master replied, "Parents ought to bear but one trouble—that of their own sickness."" (Anonymous, 1900)
"Meng Wu asked the duty of a son. The Master said, He should not grieve his father and mother by anything but illness." (Leonard A. Lyall, 1909)
"Meng Wu Po asked for a definition of filial piety. The Master said: There is filial piety when parents are spared all anxiety about their children except when they happen to fall sick." (Lionel Giles, 1910)
Giles added in his footnotes: "It is astonishing that Chu Hsi should have tried to improve on the old commentators here, and almost equally astonishing that Legge should have followed him, with this result: "The Master said, Parents are anxious lest their children should be sick" (and therefore children should take care of their persons)!""
The original words:
A direct word-per-word translation:
'Meng Wu uncle inquire filial.
Zi say: 'Father mother alone their suffering it(him) worried.''
The sequencing of emphases within the sentence appear to suggest four best plausibilities...  'Father mother, alone, their suffering, him worried.'...  'Father mother alone their — his suffering — worried.'...  'Father mother alone, their suffering it(the suffering is-) worried'...  'Father mother alone, him suffering it worried'
All four interpretations speak of valid concepts...  the parents alone within suffering, the child is worried for the parents...  the parents are worried about the child suffering...  the parents being alone, their suffering is the emotion of worrying...  the parents alone, the child's suffering is being worried (for the parents).
The third interpretation, however, is neglected and pushed aside because it does not relate to the topic of 'filial'.
Giles' translation deserves additional consideration because of Giles' background, but, as is much too often discovered, one's background knowledge does not always relate to topics outside of the person's own firsthand experiences. There are many commentators for all ideologies, and it is very common for the commentators to form cliques that disagree with other cliques' interpretations of the same ideology's words. Giles' idea "to improve on the old commentators here" surely has weight of value, but there is no weight of compelling reason of why the 'old commentators' themselves must have been 'exactly' correct in their own interpretations.
Today, right now, an American and a UK person, both speaking English, frequently have trouble understanding what the other is saying, not because of the English words, but because of how the English words are used within the different cultures. As Chesterton had pointed to within his writings, Americans exaggerate to the stars when pressing a metaphor, while the British jump down a trap door when pressing a parallel metaphor. Giles' firsthand experience with the Chinese language during the early 20th century does not mandate that his language — nor the language of the 'old commentators'' — accurately grasped the ancient words' meanings.
It is excessively optimistic for an individual to assume that they can accurately interpret another person's thoughts from over twenty-five-hundred years ago... the plausibility, is all but zero.
Nevertheless, regardless of which of the three useful sequences of sentence structure that an individual might choose, the underlying concept remains stable... parents and children caring for each other.
Parents alone and suffering, the child being worried for the parents... filial.
Parents worried for the child's suffering... filial.
Parents alone, the child's suffering is his own worrying for his parents... filial.
There are many variations of definitions behind what 'filial' is supposed to actually imply, but the act itself — that of caring of the heart for other people — relies upon many variables itself, and cannot be a valid 'filial piety' if the ingredients that create warmth of heart are not present.
Some of the Confucian quotes speak of filial piety as being an outward behavior that may not require the possession of inner warmth of heart... the cold outward behavior, it is an act of obedience, and is not filial at all... it is subservience to social pressure. The junzi, of a thinking mind, and of a warm heart, is naturally filial... while the Confucian 'middle way' is as an enforced social custom for everyone else.
Many modern cultures tend to think of Confucian ideas as being philosophical and religious, without having relevance to modern life... the modern cultures not knowing, that their callous hearts are an expression of tiny minds.
One teaching, only one teaching that I have voiced in my life... care about other people. Only one other known source has voiced similarly... Confucian quotes.
Underlying concept of filial:
Parents alone... suffering... the children's hearts hurting with worry for the parents.