In early January, with solemn music playing in the background, more than 800 teenage students "kowtowed," or knelt down, in front of their parents in a traditional ritual of worship in a school in Shanghai's Jiading District. The students did so to pay obeisance to their parents in a show of filial piety. The school authorities claimed the ceremony was held to promote traditional culture and revive the virtues and ethics that are fast disappearing from society.
However, the event has sparked a debate. Supporters have underlined the importance of promoting traditional culture and rites. China is making great progress economically and socially. It is also integrating itself into the global system. However, there are growing concerns that a modernizing China is losing many of its excellent traditions. Critics argue that the move, tantamount to forcing youngsters into humility, was in contravention of the modern understanding of "mutual respect" and "equality."
Gao Fusheng (news.163.com): With more than 800 students kneeling down together in front of their parents, the display could easily have been read as being merely ceremonious in nature. However, its symbolic significance can't be ignored. Asking teenage students to kneel down in front of their parents will probably not dramatically change their behavior or lead them to act in a more polite way in daily life. The ceremony at least granted them a rare opportunity to demonstrate love and gratitude to their parents formally.
Primary and middle schools are critical stages for students' growth in addition to the formation of their values. How exactly to conduct education on filial piety represents somewhat of a quandary for schools. Solely imparting knowledge on the matter onto the young is not very effective, as they must be informed of how to apply these values in practice. Students need opportunities to show how truly grateful they are to their parents. The ceremony will provide better outcomes than were students never granted the opportunity.
The lack of filial piety has long been a social grievance in modern times. Whenever there are similar events, people tend to be critical, instead of undertaking concrete measures to promote filial piety in their own way. There is no rigid etiquette for how filial piety should be conducted. The modern era has brought with it a number of innovative new ways of doing this. As for this school's practice, although it may have been old-fashioned, its intentions were good, and attempts of this nature should be encouraged. We need to show more tolerance toward the various ways in which schools promote filial piety and traditional culture on the whole.
An outdated tradition
Zhi Feng (www.cnhubei.com): Kowtowing is a generic traditional ritual, not necessarily linked to filial piety per se. In order to clarify this issue, we need to trace the ritual back to its origin. In ancient times, the Chinese used to sit on the floor or mattresses. They would put their hands on their legs, and it was easy for them to salute others simply by leaning a little bit forward and putting their hands on the floor in front of them.
In the feudal era, people inferior in terms of social status were supposed to kowtow to those who were superior, a ritual that highlighted differences in the social hierarchy. Often considered as a symbol of inequality, it is a rite we would perhaps be better off cutting ties with.
Nowadays, the ritual of kowtowing is seldom seen except on very limited occasions such as funerals. Therefore, it's vital for schools to first make clear what message this or that traditional ritual sends before they begin to organize activities designed to promote traditional culture.