How to say 孝 in English? It is be nice and somewhat comply to parent. But how to say it in English? Former discussion mentions about filial piety, but I am not sure. It looks like a rare and unpopular word, despite it may explain it precisely. In Disney movie Mulan, it translates to devotion to family. That's definitely a mistake. I bet Disney just choose a similar but popular virtue to make it easier to understand. Maybe there is just no such a virtue, and not even a word for it in Western culture?

  • So, is it safe to say that there is no such culture 孝顺 in Westerners? I mean in Eastern culture feeding and housing parent is considered basic responsibility of 孝. But in Western culture it seems like a personal choose. Even one choose not, it is not a big deal. Not mention the part 顺. In Western movies adult children always fight or talk back to parents to the level that parents are born to be fight to.
    – Superuser
    Oct 12, 2020 at 6:36
  • Western culture is not completely devoid of filial piety, e.g., Honor thy father and thy mother is one of the Ten Commandments. (PS. There seems to be a whole wikipedia page written about 孝.)
    – Becky 李蓓
    Oct 12, 2020 at 7:14
  • 孝顺 is a foreign concept to the West because it is an aspect of 儒学. The commandment regarding honoring ones parents is not typically emphasized and doesn’t play a central role in organizing daily life the way 孝 does, and the influence of Christianity is noticeably fading away. Attitudes towards elders are influenced by a number of factors such as economic development and the devaluation of familial bonds and marriage versus the value placed on individual autonomy. Here it is common for people to put the elderly in separate facilities, where many have died from Covid-19 due to negligence
    – julian
    Oct 12, 2020 at 8:48

3 Answers 3


I submit that 孝 is a very Chinese concept. (It is possible that other ethnic groups in other parts of the less developed World may have similar concept, but not in present day Western societies, hence the difficulties here)

Translating it to mean mere "respect", "devotion to family", "love", does not capture it completely.

The very strict "practice" of 孝, ("practice" because the only way that 孝 could be shown or understood is by the "actions" or "conduct" of the children vis-a-vis their parents), applies even if the children do not love or respect or devoted to their parents because, regardless, it is incumbent upon the children to:-

  1. look after their parents in old age;

  2. to wear for a number of years certain mourning insignia on their arms to mourn their dead parents; and of course a proper if not grand burial;

  3. to accept without question the parent's choice of the children's spouses;

  4. generally to defer to the views of the parents on most issues governing the household which in most parts are patriarchal;

...and other practices which are peculiar to certain dialect groups.

Thus 孝 is not just an abstract concept, it is the practice of well-defined courses of actions or strictly prescribed conduct which the children must perform, in most cases publicly, to show 孝.

If there is 孝 from children to parents, there will, by natural extension, be 孝 in society in general, and upwards towards the Emperor and from him to Heaven and there will, therefore, be peace and harmony in the Universe.

So, the ancient argument goes, if there is not even any 孝 in a nucleic family unit, how could there be peace and harmony anywhere?


I would say that you are correct. The term "filial piety" is not widely known or commonly discussed in the US except when learning about Chinese culture specifically (perhaps Japanese and Korean culture as well, as they were strongly influenced by Chinese culture in the pre-modern era). The notion of "devotion to family" is much more accessible to a US audience and filial piety is not a familiar concept, so I'm not surprised Disney presented it this way, even though it is not correct.

In my experience, in English the meaning of 孝 is given as filial piety, which I understand to be a complicated concept with a long history involving respect for one's parents and elders in accordance with Confucian teachings and tradition, which entails certain duties, obligations, rituals, and modes of speech and behavior. In Chinese history classes I attended at my university in the US and in Chinese textbooks used at Chinese universities to teach foreign students Chinese, 孝 was discussed in the context of Confucianism and what it means for people to behave properly (ethically, even).

  • In the history class we briefly discussed 悌 as well.
  • The textbook used in one of the Chinese classes at 北京语言大学 I attended is 阶梯汉语·中级口语3. One of the new words taught in lesson 4 (p. 32) is 孝敬, whose meaning is given as "present gifts to show one's respect"

To get a sense for how this concept is understood in the West, here is an article from the Greater China Journal: Filial Piety (孝) in Chinese Culture.


There is no suitable direct translation. Usually "obedience (to parents/elders)" is chosen. But that is way too far. From the idiom 百善孝为先 (孝 is the top of all good deeds) you may understand a bit. You not only have to obey/comply, you need to be very kind and consideration towards your parents and grand parents. Most important of all is that you have to take care of them to their full satisfaction. This is a cultural thing. Hence no suitable direct translation.

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