The Mencius strikes a surprisingly modern Freudian note in its observation that sexual love is rooted in feelings for one's parents. Like the concept of libido, desire in the Mencius is the same feeling rerouted toward different objects. According to the Mencius, not only does love for parents serve as the model for adult sexual desire, it supercedes it and should never be outgrown. That is, ideally, the yearning for one's parents should continue well into old age. (5A.1) Observing that children did not automatically follow this ideal, the early Confucians tried to encourage it by educating children in filial piety. This was understood to be a job for males, and according to the Xunzi, women were incapable of participating. However, faced with the task of teaching children to love them, Confucian fathers encountered particular problems. How do you train a child to love without undermining that affection through the process of attempting to force it? In Freud's model the son learns to give up the pleasures of being nursed by his mother, and to identify with and love his father because he becomes aware of his need for his father's protection. Thus civilization defines the son's maturity as relinquishing his oral drives and replacing them with an appropriate genital object. By contrast, in the Mencius' model, the aim for children is not to replace the oral desire for the mother with genital desire. In the context of Confucian patriarchy in the Warring States (453-221 B.C.E), producing male offspring was essential, yet the trajectory of substituting genital for oral drives is actually a temporary deviation in the Mencius' ideal. This paper will contrast the Mencius to the Xunzi, in order to argue that in the Mencius, the method for achieving mature love is to reinforce the oral drives--with fathers implicitly teaching children to identify with their mothers so that the sons might subsequently become something like wet-nurses for their parents.
Copyright © 2007 Parerga. This chapter first appeared in Liebe - Ost und West: Love in Eastern and Western Philosophy.
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Geaney, Jane. "The Gendered Feature of Parental Love in Early Confucian Philosophy." Liebe - Ost Und West: Love in Eastern and Western Philosophy. Ed. Hans-Georg Möller and Günter Wohlfahrt. Berlin: Parerga, 2007. 99-113. Print.