Filial Piety Filial Piety In Korean there is an expression, “Neri Sarang” which roughly translates as “descending love.” It expresses the notion that love is something pure imparted from parents down to their children, not the other way around. Children, in turn, are given the onerous task of honoring their parents. This notion of children’s obligation to their parents, commonly known as “filial piety,” continues to hold major sway over Korean society and its values despite the concept’s ancient roots. Everyone was a child at some point and most people will be parents at some point in their lives. Despite the commonality of these experiences, it is no mean feat fulfilling the roles of parent and child. There’s a saying that “just as a tree can never enjoy peace for the ever-blowing wind, parents will never wait for their children to properly honor them, no matter how earnest the desire.” Meeting the demands of filial piety is a monumental and ceaseless endeavor. The following video interview compares the ideals of Hyo with reality. When asked how they believe they should honor their parents, children give answers like “do well in school” and “take care of their needs.” However, when parents are asked the same question they simply ask for “a single phone call” and “for their children to be healthy.” What does this mismatch say about the role of Hyo in contemporary Korean society? This page seeks to answer that precise question while also providing some historical context. “What do your parents mean to you?” Hyo in Korean Folktales Filial piety was deeply rooted in Korea long before the arrival of Confucianism from China. Evidence of this lies in some of Korea’s traditional folktales, one of which, “The Story of Shim-Cheong Yi,” is synonymous with Hyo. The story describes a daughter, “Shim-Cheong Yi,” who sacrifices herself to the King of the Sea in order to give her blind father the ability to see. Although this story rooted in Buddhist teachings is well-known and has been remade into media of all kinds, is it really fair to say that Shim-Cheong, the “filial daughter” represents the genuine meaning of Hyo? What parent would be selfish enough to see their child dead simply for the ability to see? Besides this extreme example, there are many other stories surrounding Hyo that have been carried forward to the present. The Story of Jieun (12C) This story is from the book, “History of the Three Kingdoms (삼국사기)” Once upon a time, there was a woman named Jieun who remained single until the age of 32 in order to care for her widowed mother. Over time, their financial situation grew dire and Jieun was forced to sell herself into slavery just to obtain some rice for her mother and herself. Upon hearing this news, Jieun’s mother wept alongside her forlorn daughter. A passing knight happened to witness this scene and, being so moved by Jieun’s actions, sent her and her mother 100 bags of rice as well as new clothing. After hearing the same story, other knights followed suit, as did the king himself, sending 500 sacks of rice and granted the two of them a house to live in. Although the ending is quite different, this story ultimately became the inspiration for the tale of Shim-Cheong Yi. The Tale of Son-Sun (13C) “The Tale of SonSun” is a story related to the practice of Go-Ryeo-Jang, and this story is written in the book, “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (삼국유사)”. It recounts the story of Son-Sun, a filial son who, when faced with financial hardship, decides to take his young son to the forest and bury him rather than his mother. However, when Son-Sun arrives at the intended burial site, he discovers a large stone bell. Amazed, he brings his son and the bell back the village. When he rings the bell, it lets out a sound so beautiful that the king hears and decides to give him a bounty of grain in return for the bell. The family the lives happily ever after. The Go-Ryeo-Jang, a False Story “Go-Ryeo-Jang” refers to the practice widely believed to have been followed during the Goryeo era of carrying the elderly and infirm into the mountains and leaving them there to die. The existence of such a heartless tradition is rather shocking given its stark opposition to Hyo. However, despite its being widely believed, the news above reports that there is no basis for such a custom in any records from the Goryeo period. Rather, it has come to light that Go-Ryeo-Jang comes from a traditional Chinese story made to look like a Korean one during the Japanese colonial period. The idea that Koreans once followed this custom is merely a holdover from that fabrication. The Beauty and Value of Hyo The Korean concept of “Hyo” (효) simultaneously embodies the ideals of filial behavior and maintains a uniquely Korean character. Within the framework of a Confucian society, embodying Hyo is considered the greatest virtue. Arnold Toynbee’s Amazement at Hyo In 1973, renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee had the opportunity to learn about Korea’s notion of Hyo from several Korean scholars. Deeply moved by Koreans’ filial behavior and general reverence for the elderly, Toynbee cited Hyo as “one of humanity’s greatest ideals” and expressed a wish that it should “be preserved for many years and be spread to the West as well.” (article) Koreans’ Filial Nature According to Dr. YongHan Yi, the head of the Korean History Research Center, Hyo began as an element of personal morality that only became a social ideal in Korea when it was combined with notions of allegiance to one’s nation. Even as the overt concept of Hyo is disappearing, its underlying ideals and social norms are not. This can be seen in Koreans’ overwhelming support for laws meant to prevent elder abuse and preserve notions of properly caring for one’s parents. A Video Essay about Hyo Hyo is simply another part of daily life in Korea, whether in giving up seats for the elderly on the subway or viewing one of the many films that directly or indirectly idealize filial behavior. This video introduces Korea’s Hyo in its different forms and discusses ways in which it is changing. Another Side to Hyo Korea has seen some unique social issues stemming from the perversion of Hyo and Neri Sarang from their original meaning. In this section we will look at some such problems that occur when filial piety extends beyond the family unit and into society as a whole. Overly Controlling Parents Parents’ love for their children is a beautiful thing. In Korea in particular, making sacrifices out of love for the sake of one’s children is almost expected of parents. However, when such love turns into guiding every aspect of a child’s life, its beauty disappears. Bong Joon-Ho’s“Mother” Director Bong JoonHo’s film Mother deals with a twisted sense of motherhood. A mother whose son has been wrongly accused of committing murder goes outside the law in an effort to prove her son’s innocence. The film makes viewers ask themselves to what extent this deluded sense of motherhood is acceptable. Mama’s Boys and Mama’s Girls Although the concepts of “mama’s boys “and “mama’s girls” are obviously not originally Korean, the two terms have nonetheless come into popular usage in Korea. They describe individuals who remain excessively attached to their mother even after getting married. Such a relationship frequently gives rise to marital tension. Wife and Mother-in-law: The Never-Ending Conflict (Abnormal Summit clip starts from 4:49). Even though the relationship between a mother and a daughter-in-law can be tense in any culture, in Korea it tends to be more severe than in most. For example, holidays are days that many Korean women dread rather than look forward to due to the disagreements that are likely to spring up. Marketing campaigns like the one below poke fun at this culture. Changing Values on the Role of First Son and Daughter-in-law Traditionally when a son got married in Korea, it was assumed that he and his wife would take care of his parents in their old age. In particular, the eldest son was expected to shoulder most of the burden. Even now there are many proponents of this ideal. However, times are changing and there are also many individuals who consider this notion increasingly old-fashioned. They prefer alternatives like evenly distributing the responsibility across all the children, regardless of age or gender. Foreigners’ Thoughts on Assisted Living Facilities As the notion of directly caring for one’s parents becomes increasingly incompatible with people’s lifestyles, more and more children are choosing to send their parents to assisted living facilities or nursing homes. In this clip from “Abnormal Summit,” the representatives address this difficult choice from a range of cultural, psychological, and societal perspectives. Preserving the Beauty of Hyo The “Unfilial Fragrance” Game The variety show clip above depicts a game that tests how much celebrities know about their mothers. Their less than stellar performance gives cause to reflect on the widening gap between parents and their children. The “Call Your Parents” Campaign In the hustle of everyday life, it’s easy to lose touch with one’s parents. However, just one short phone call has the power to bring parents and children closer and confirm their mutual love and concern. The touching moments in the video above provide proof of this. Perspectives from Abroad In this special news segment, correspondents from several countries share their thoughts on Korea’s changing attitude toward Hyo and caring for the elderly. In addition, they lend insight on how the parent-child relationship is regarded in their native countries. Even the noblest ideas can easily be corrupted and made harmful when taken to the extreme. As a result, it is our hope that Hyo should serve not as a rigid dogma obligating children to honor their parents, but rather as encouragement to do so out of an earnest love for them. Respecting and taking care of one’s family is a wonderful concept wherever in the world one may reside. Moreover, it is a tradition whose worth we should consider deeply before leaving it behind.