chapter  4
Filial devotion for women: a Buddhist testimony from third-century China
Pages 20

Most studies on filial devotion (xiao) tend to focus either on the virtue as transgender moral excellence or on the relationship between the male child and his parents. This peculiar focus, of course, can be justified since the majority of our textual records on the subject portray filial devotion in transgender terms or illustrate the virtue in praxis, usually involving a male child either as a paragon or a travesty of it. It appears that only a male child can be called filial or unfilial. The female child seems to belong to a different moral category altogether. Indeed, the Xiaojing (Classic of Filial Devotion) has virtually nothing specific to say about female children as bearers of the highly acclaimed virtue.1 Similarly, Liu Xiang’s (77-6 bce) Lienü zhuan (Biographies of Women), a monumental work that would sanction womanly behavior in China for ages to come, classified various types of women according to their virtues or the lack thereof, and the category of filial devotion was curiously missing. Where were the girls and women when praises for filial devotion were administered? Historical evidence seems to compel us to conceptualize xiao in a broader matrix of cultural and political underpinnings.