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Code of conduct embedded in family instructions

Author  :  ZHANG JIAWEN     Source  :        2017-09-19

             Family Instructions Persevered for Generations    

Author: Han Sheng

Publisher: SDX Joint Publishing Corporate

Family instructions, which refer to codes of conduct formulated by respected, intelligent individuals that describe expected behavior among family members, embody the richness and profoundity of traditional Chinese culture. They contain information on expected behavior and career management. These rules, which contain advice on education, etiquette, cultivation and aspirations, as well as paths toward officialdom and careers, can nurture ideals for scholars, maintain social order, and complement aspects of culture covered by the national rites and legal system.

Feng Cheng, author of Family Instructions Persevered for Generations, summed up the characteristics of family instructions: First, they have high fidelity. Family instructions are only preserved within families. They are not used to gain face. Mixing social codes of conduct and the social experiences of family members, family instructions have few empty words, while many of them pertain to confidential achievements. Second, family instructions are practical. Aimed at children’s education, they incorporate ethical doctrines into daily life to ensure that the regulations are applicable in reality.

In the book, Han analyzed important works of family instructions, such as The Analects of Confucius, The Family Instructions of Master Yan, The Roots of Wisdom, and Testaments of Zeng Guofan, as well as literary records of distinguished families. He discarded the word-byword illustrative method, and interpreted the family instructions with historical context and specific cases.

The power of traditions lies in bringing up new generations. Virtues like benevolence and comity are first revealed in family instructions. Every generation expects to pass their experience of success down to their descendants, hoping that they will lead a better life than their ancestors’ generations, and thus the family could prosper throughout multiple generations. Consequently, the abstract instructions from a father’s generation, made up of personal experience, knowledge and inspiration, is also preserved from previous generations. These are combined with historical twists and turns, and passed down to the younger generations, asking them to earnestly practice what they are told to do to achieving happiness without making detours. We can see from this that family instructions are not empty talk but akin to daily necessities like rice, salt and cooking oil.

Ancient family instructions originated in the Western Zhou Dynasty; took form in the Han Dynasty; matured in Sui and Tang dynasties and peaked in Ming and Qing dynasties. However, in modern times, family instructions have gradually lost popularity as globalization and industrialization have changed family structure and population mobility. Also, the desire for quick success and instant benefits have weakened modern people’s cultural awareness. However, history tells us that only culture can truly shape a family, and the continued existence of family traditions may rely on the preservation of family instructions.

Editor: Yu Hui

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