What Are the Five Relationships of Confucianism?


The five relationships of Confucianism are father and son, elder brother and younger brother, husband and wife, older friend and younger friend, and ruler and subject. Confucius saw these relationships as the building blocks of a civilized society. A particular set of behaviors must be maintained in each relationship, which comes from the development of deliberate traditions. Without them, he believed humans would return to anarchy.

According to Confucius, the first step toward building a better society was fostering lovingness, benevolence, compassion and a regard for all human life with dignity and empathy, "Jen," and providing everyone with a definitive and lasting guide, "Li," to human relationships and their importance. These relationships were based on propriety and reciprocity.

The family was the center and foundation of any society, said Confucius. The father-son relationship was based on love and nurture from the father and reverence and care in old age from the son. An elder brother should be gentle with his younger brothers and set a good precedence. Younger brothers should remain respectful. A husband provides kindness and security for a deferential wife, who listens and follows his lead.

Confucius emphasized that relationships beyond the family were just as important and had lasting effects on everyone in the kingdom. Kindness to everyone, regardless of status, nationality or race was the path of Jen, which was the only way to better one's self, family and society. The elder friend or acquaintance was considerate and trusting of the honest and respectful younger friend. Confucius affirmed that not only did subjects have a responsibility to be loyal to the ruler, but also that the ruler had a responsibility to act out of righteousness and treat his subjects with benevolence while ensuring peace and prosperity within his kingdom.