What Are the Five Basic Relationships in Confucianism?

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The five relationships of Confucianism are ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, older sibling and younger sibling, and elder friends and junior friends. The relationships are based on an element of Confucianism that emphasizes that a healthy spiritual existence begins at home.

Li is a concept within Confucianism that dictates how those who practice it should prioritize their lives. The five relationships of Confucianism fall under the concept of Li, which is based on the philosophy of Confucius that a healthy life required a structured society. To Confucius, a good ruler is benevolent, and the ruler’s subjects are loyal. A father is loving to his son, and the son demonstrates reverence to his father. A husband should be good to his wife, and his wife should, in turn, be obedient. An older sibling should be gentle to younger siblings, and younger siblings should be respectful of their older siblings. Finally two friends should be considerate and respectful of each other. Based on these principles, Confucius believed it was possible to form an ideal relationship with everyone people encountered throughout their lives. The fact that three of the five relationships are familial reiterates the key role that family plays in Confucianism.