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The erosion of filial piety by modernisation in Chinese cities



Whether filial piety or financial support to older parents is eroded or maintained through societal modernisation is an unresolved issue in China and a matter of widespread concern. Whereas structural-functionalist theories predict erosion, alternative views suggest that modernisation reduces filial piety only minimally or conditionally. One possible condition that resists the modernisation effect is education. The impacts of modernisation and its interaction with Chinese education are therefore the focus of this study. Using various sources, the paper reports analyses of the relationships between the levels of modernisation in six Chinese cities, measured by average gross domestic product per capita, the average wage and the percentage of the workforce that are employed in the service sector, and variations in expressions of filial piety and cash payments to parents. Representative samples of the cities' adult residents were used. It was found that filial piety and cash payments were lower when the citizen was in a city with higher or more advanced modernisation, and that the reduction in affirmations of filial piety associated with higher modernisation was less among citizens with higher education. It is concluded that educational policy and practice can be a means to sustain filial piety in the face of modernisation.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Chau-Kiu Cheung, Department of Applied Social Studies, City University of Hong Kong, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong, China. E-mail:


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The erosion of filial piety by modernisation in Chinese cities



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