Filial Piety, Vital Power, and a Moral Sense of Immortality in Zhang Zai's Philosophy

Galia Patt-Shamir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present article focuses on Zhang Zai's (Chinese Source) attitude toward death and its moral significance. It launches with the unusual link between the opening statement of the Western Inscription (Chinese Source) regarding heaven and earth as parents and the conclusion that serving one's cosmic parents during life, one is peaceful in death. Through the analogy of human relations with heaven and earth as filial piety (xiao (Chinese Source)), Zhang Zai sets a framework for an understanding that being filial through life eliminates the fear of death. The article shows that filial piety as a root for morality enables a "sense of immortality," which is in fact a sense of morality. This moral immortality is elucidated through Zhang Zai's discussion on vital power (qi (Chinese Source)) as that which life is made of, which persists through ongoing transformation and enables a moral continuum. This continuum is manifested through filial piety, which transcends the limits between life and death, and thus makes physical death pointless as morality endures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-239
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Death
  • Filial piety
  • Immortality
  • Vital power
  • Zhang Zai


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