China’s cultural roots are deeply embedded in Confucianism. Confucius (Kong Qiu) was a philosopher who lived from 551 BC to 479 BC. His philosophies became the foundation upon which Chinese society was built and which sustained it for nearly 2,000 years, shaping the mores and behaviors of the Chinese. Confucius believed that moral behavior stemmed from the fulfillment of traditional roles and hierarchies. He defined five basic relationships, which he called wu lun. Each relationship represents a reciprocal obligation.

Emperor to Subject
An emperor must show his subjects kindness;
A subject must be loyal.

Father to Son
A father must provide protection and favor to his son; the son reciprocates with respect and obedience.

Husband to Wife
A husband has the obligation to provide for this wife; a wife respectfully submits.

Older Brother to Younger Brother
The older brother cares for his younger brother; the younger brother models himself after his older brother.

Friend to Friend
The relationship between friends is one of mutual trust.

The result of this system of interdependent relationships is a structure in which the lower level gives obedience to the higher level, a characteristic that extends from the family level to the national. From this basic framework come ideas of hierarchy, group orientation, and respect for age and tradition. And, although it may seem antithetical, it also creates a high regard for strict egalitarianism within each level of the hierarchy (albeit a different concept of egalitarianism than is generally held in the West). It’s important to remember that the basis of this system is not the subjugation of one person by another. It is concern for one person by another. According to Confucian thought, when one’s basic motivation is the well-being of another person, then one’s behavior is moral.