Greater Self, Lesser Self: Dimensions of Self-Interest in Chinese Filial Piety

Jack Barbalet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


While self-interest is depreciated in Confucian ethics the processes of family relations in traditional China are animated by the self-interested actions of family members. The paper outlines the Confucian ideology of filial piety which is commensurate with the governance of family life organized hierarchically and through the senior male's management of the joint-family's collective property. The structure, operations and principles of membership in traditional Chinese families are indicated, highlighting the tensions within them between consanguinity and conjugality and their material bases. The differential operation of self-interested actions by husbands and wives is also presented. A non-Confucian model of the relational-self is outlined in which both the collective context of Chinese families and the self-interested actions of individual family members within them is explicated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-205
Number of pages20
JournalJournal for the Theory of Social Behaviour
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Confucianism
  • Filial piety
  • Greater- and lesser-self
  • Relational-self
  • Self-interested action


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