1st Edition

The Evolution of Chinese Filiality Insights from the Neurosciences

By Deborah Lynn Porter Copyright 2022
    332 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    332 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    This unique book brings a fresh interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of ancient Chinese history, creating a historical model for the emergence of cultural mainstays by applying recent dramatic findings in the fields of neuroscience and cultural evolution.

    The centrality in Chinese culture of a deep reverence for the lives of preceding generations, filial piety, is conventionally attributed to Confucius (551-479 B.C.), who viewed hierarchical family relations as foundational for social order. Here, Porter argues that Confucian conceptions of filiality themselves evolved from a systemized set of behaviors and thoughts, a mental structure, which descended from a specific Neolithic mindset, and that this psychological structure was contoured by particular emotional conditions experienced by China’s earliest farmers. Using case study analysis from Neolithic sky observers to the dynastic cultures of the Shang and Western Zhou, the book shows how filial piety evolved as a structure of feeling, a legacy of a cultural predisposition toward particular moods and emotions that were inherited from the ancestral past. Porter also brings new urgency to the topic of ecological grief, linking the distress central to the evolution of the filial structure to its catalyst in an environmental crisis.

    With a blended multidisciplinary approach combining social neuroscience, cultural evolution, cognitive archaeology, and historical analysis, this book is ideal for students and researchers in neuropsychology, religion, and Chinese culture and history.

    1. Introduction 2. SEEKING a Chinese Filial Mind Module 3. The Evolution of a Chinese Nervous System 4. Ecological Inheritance, Prestige and the Evolution of a Chinese Leadership Mindset 5. The Deep History of the Western Zhou Ritual Reform 6. Neurohistory, Filiality and Historical Change in China


    Deborah Porter is Professor of Global Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies. Her interdisciplinary research on the impact of shameful secrets on cultural production spans a wide swath of time and geography, including Early China, and fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Western Europe, Russia and Korea.

    "This book takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining social neuroscience, cultural evolution, cognitive archaeology, and historical analysis, to investigate the origins and evolution of filial piety, a central concept in the ethical system of Confucius. Starting from an analysis of the psychological depiction in Confucian doctrine of a paradigmatic filial son as reflected in the Analects, the author reveals an implicit dissonance between the presumed positivity of filial behavior and the unbearable grief entailed by enacting the prescribed filiality demanded by tradition. Borrowing from neuropsychological concepts, Porter (Jackson School of International Studies, Univ. of Washington) turns to the evolutionary conditions that would account for the prominence of this structure of emotions and behaviors as embedded in the concept of filiality. She establishes a line of pre-Confucian cultural evolution deeply rooted in the ancestral past, from the Neolithic way of thinking—developed by China's earliest farmers on the basis of their experience of agriculture and relationship with the constellations—through the dynastic culture of the Shang state, where the links between astronomical knowledge, prestige status, and kingship become stronger, to the Western Zhou state, where Porter explains the dynastic Ritual Reform on the basis of the same emotional structure. Porter argues that the filiality later elevated by Confucius resulted from this line of evolution."

    --X. Li, University of Colorado