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Reciprocity and the Five Human Relationships

[Excerpt from the Analects of Confucius]

Zi Gong asked: "Is there any one word that can serve as a principle for the conduct of life?" Confucius said: "Perhaps the word 'reciprocity': Do not do to others what you would not want others to do to you."


Robert Oxnam :: The importance of reciprocity, and the mutual responsibility of one person for another, is essential to understanding the five basic human relations suggested by Confucius.

Irene Bloom :: Very prominent in the Confucian tradition is the idea of the five relationships. The relationship between, if you take it according to Mencius, parent and child, minister and ruler, husband and wife, older and younger brother, friend and friend. Those five relationships and the fact of human relatedness are of crucial importance in the Confucian tradition.

[The order of the five relationships is taken from that given by Confucius' most famous follower, the philosopher Mencius (active 372-289 BCE).]

Wm. Theodore de Bary :: In the first four cases, you're talking about differentiated statuses. Now the point is not to necessarily confirm or reinforce the status difference but to understand what it is that establishes a responsibility between those two pairs in the relationship.

Excerpt from Sources of Chinese Tradition, Wm. Theodore de Bary, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), Analects 15:23.