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The 60th Birthday Celebration: Respect for Seniors

China Today,October 26, 2017 Adjust font size:

The Chinese Tradition of Filial Piety

In traditional Chinese culture, filial piety is the foundation of all virtues. Caring for and respecting the elderly is seen as a basic moral tenet, and is also the essence of Confucianism.

There has always been a ceremony for the elderly in the folk customs of China. Among the common people, birthday parties are thrown for 60-year-olds, while in the royal family, emperors hosted celebrations for them in person. Emperors Kangxi (reigned 1654-1722) and Qianlong (reigned 1736-1796) of the Qing Dynasty both held grand ceremonies for 1,000 old men, to show respect for the elderly. People aged 65 and above were invited to the banquet and they sat as equals at the same table with the emperor, while the sons and grandsons of the emperors stood aside to pour liquor. Emperor Kangxi even composed an impromptu poem for the big occasion.

Many ethnic minorities have unique ways of showing their respect for the elderly. The huajia banquet is just one example. Holding huajia banquets to honor one’s friends and relatives is also one way to teach basic etiquette. When talking to their elders or to older acquaintances, the younger generation must use honorifics. When having meals, older family members and their guests eat alone at a separate table, while the children are responsible for serving. The elderly are served first, then the whole family is allowed to eat. The younger generation shouldn’t drink or smoke in the presence of their elderly relations, and when it’s unavoidable, should turn their backs to the table to show respect. At the table, family members sit and raise their cups according to their age. When encountering senior men on the street, people extend deferential greetings and make way for them to pass.

Respecting the elderly still means a lot in modern times. Caring for our parents is a fundamental virtue. The huajia banquet involves three generations: the elderly for whom the banquet is being held, the children who prepare new clothes and the dishes, and the grandchildren who make toasts full of love. This etiquette works to bind the relations of the whole family, and is conducive to carrying on the tradition of respecting the elderly in our society.

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