Filial piety is the virtue par excellence of the Far-Eastern world. From it springs loyalty which is but the childlike obedience of a subject to the Emperor, who is regarded, in Chinese phrase, as "the father and mother of his people." On these two fundamental virtues the whole fabric of society is reared. Accordingly, one of the gravest dangers to Japan at the present time arises from the sudden importation of our less patriarchal Western ideas on these points. The traditional basis of morality is sapped.
There are no greater favourites with the people of Japan than the "Four-and-Twenty Paragons of Filial Piety" (Ni-jū-shi Kō), whose quaint acts of virtue Chinese legend records. For instance, one of the Paragons had a cruel stepmother who was very fond of fish. Never repining at her harsh treatment of him, he lay down naked on the frozen surface of a lake. The warmth of his body melted a hole in the ice, at which two carp came up to breathe. These he caught and set before his stepmother. Another Paragon, though of tender years and having a delicate skin, insisted on sleeping uncovered at night, in order that the mosquitoes should fasten on him alone, and allow his parents to slumber undisturbed. A third, who was very poor, determined to bury his own child alive, in order to have more food wherewith to support his aged mother, but was rewarded by Heaven with the discovery of a vessel filled with gold, on which the whole family lived happily ever after. A fourth, who was of the female sex, enabled her father to escape, while she clung to the jaws of the tiger which was about to devour him. But the drollest of all is the story of Rōraishi. This Paragon, though seventy years old, used to dress in baby's clothes and sprawl about upon the floor. His object was piously to delude his parents, who were really over ninety years of age, into the idea that they could not be so very old after all, seeing that they had such a puerile son.
Those readers who wish to learn all about the remaining nineteen Paragons, should consult Anderson Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Paintings, page 171, where also an illustration of each is given. The Japanese have established a set of "Four-and-Twenty Native Paragons" (Honchō Ni-jū-shi Kō) of their own; but these are less popular.
The first question a European will probably ask on being told of the lengths to which filial piety is carried in the Far-East, is: how can the parents be so stony-hearted as to think of allowing their children thus to sacrifice themselves? But such a consideration never occurs to a Chinese or Japanese mind. That children should sacrifice themselves to their parents is, in the Far-Eastern view of things, a principle as indisputable as the duty of men to cede the best of everything to women is with us. Far-Eastern parents accept their children's sacrifices much as our women accept the front seat,-with thanks perhaps, but as a matter of course. No text in the Bible raises so much prejudice here against Christianity as that which bids a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife. "There! you see it," exclaims the anti- Christian Japanese, pointing to the passage, "I always said it was an immoral religion."