Ancient Chinese Parenting Philosophy: Emphasis on Virtue and Moral Behavior (Part 2)
Yan Zhitui and “The Principles of Yan’s Family”
“The Principles of Yan’s Family”
Yan Zhitui was a scholar and educator in the Northern and Southern Dynasties. He was born into gentry and was influenced by the Confucian ethical code of etiquette. He believed in divine beings and in cause and effect. “The Principles of the Yan Family” is a summary of his life and scholarly pursuits and advice to his sons. The book was later regarded as a guide for family education, and became very influential. There are twenty chapters in this work, each covering a wide range of content with an emphasis on cultivating moral character and virtue. It promotes traditional Confucian aspects of education, placing emphasis on sincerity, a righteous heart, self-cultivation, regulating the family, on up to sound advice on ruling the country. This work is strongly influenced by Buddhist thinking and contains rich cultural connotations. Yan stated that when educating future generations, one needs to help them establish lofty aspirations and goals, follow the principles of morality and virtue, endure any suffering, and pay attention to cultivating integrity. Yan Zhitui said, “If one has goals, one will be able to endure and overcome challenges and eventually accomplish those goals.”
Yan Zhitui believed that the main purpose of education is to broaden one’s heart, cultivate virtue, and do good deeds to benefit society. First, he said, the motivation needs to be righteous. The education of an individual must include the study of noble and excellent books, and cultivating moral character. The student must concentrate, work hard, and exchange experiences with others. Yan emphasized the importance of early education for children, the earlier the better. His own three children started reading and memorizing classical poetry and literature when they were three years old. When the children asked, “We know we should read, but why do we need to read so early?” Yan Zhitui told the children, “The earlier you read the classic books, the better. When you are young, you have a great memory. The books you memorize now will stay with you for your entire life.” Yan Zhitui also taught his children that they must keep studying and learning throughout their entire lifetimes and stay diligent, regardless war or other tribulations. He encouraged his children to study history. Yan Zhitui said, “Reading books and understanding principles is important. [Then] at any time, especially at critical moments, one will know what to do.” His children were all highly accomplished, with a strong sense of duty.