The propriety in confucianism is the greatest principle of living. When society lives by li it moves smoothly. Confucius saw the embodiment of this society in the idealized form of feudalistic government, illustrated by the Five Relationships: kindness in the father, filial piety in the son; gentility in the eldest brother, humility and respect in the younger; righteousness behavior in the husband, obedience in the wife; humane consideration in elders, deference in juniors; benevolence in rulers, loyalty in ministers and subjects.
Propriety in Social Relationships
In Confucian thought, human nature is innately good, but can be corrupted when people step outside of their proper roles. When people in authority abuse their power, or when subjects disrespect their superiors or try to usurp other people’s roles, relationships, and society, break down. In the Confucian view, many of today’s social problems stem from this breakdown and the resulting confusion and chaos.
In order to live the ideal life, it is necessary to fulfill one’s role within family and the community, and propriety in social relationships is just as important as duty to family. All relationships are modeled on the concept of filial piety: everyone should be treated with respectful reverence. Confucius said that relationships should be based on reciprocity and loyalty. For instance, a child is obligated to obey the parents, but the parents are also obligated to show kindness to the child.
Confucianism sees all human interactions in terms of five basic relationships: father-son, husband-wife, elder brother-younger brother, ruler-subject, and older friend-younger friend. In each, both parties have an obligation, and by living up to this obligation, they help maintain balance and harmony in their relationships and in society.