In this collaborative paper, we will review the concepts familismo/familialismo, related to the Latino/Hispanic culture, and Xiao, related to the Chinese culture. Both concepts have roots in family relationships, a topic we found was common as we discussed our own cultures (Chilean, similar to Latino/Hispanic culture, and Chinese) in our group Zoom meetings. We will conveniently make separate entries on familismo/familialismo and Xiao across the different sections of the paper. In the entries on familismo/familialismo, there are references to research that employ the English words “familism” or “familialism,” although the studies focused on Latino/Hispanic families. In such cases, the words will be changed to familismo for the sake of consistency.
We could say that familismo and familialismo are equivalent to “familism” and “familialism” in English. For Spanish and English, the words come from the words familia and family respectively. Both familia and family originated from the Latin word familia. The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines “familism” as a cultural value that describes the strong relationships and the dynamics of interdependence and collaboration within the family, with priority to group interests over individual interests (American Psychological Association, n.d., a). The Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology features a specific entry on familismo, detailing that it depicts the beliefs and attitudes that operate within Latino families, and that it is closely connected with the values of respect and trust (Jackson, 2006). As for its origin, although not entirely clear, familism is associated with Christian groups in England in the sixteenth century (Garzón, 2003). Coincidentally, familismo is a cultural value that influences the Latino/Hispanic’s spirituality, which is heavily influenced by Christianity (Campesino & Schwartz, 2006).
According to Ortiz (2020), familismo helps to foster a deep sense of attachment between the members of the Latino family (p. 421). For their research, Valenzuela and Dornbusch (1994) distinguished three expressions of familismo. The first one is the structure of the family, which Ortiz (2020) further defines to consider, in addition to the one or two-parent family structure, the extended family members (such as grandparents, cousins, etc.), friends, or even acquaintances. The second expression is the familismo behavior that the Latino person overtly expresses, such as constant contact with other members of the family or financial support (Ortiz, 2020). Finally, the third expression is the familismo attitudes, which are internalized and perpetuated through “feelings of unconditional loyalty, unquestionable solidarity, and faithful reciprocity” (Ortiz, 2020, p. 422). Therefore, we could summarize familismo/familialismo as terms used in the psychology field as the equivalents of familism/familialism to refer to the strong family relationships among Latinos/Hispanics, including extended family members, with shared elements of respect, trust, loyalty, interdependence, reciprocity, attachment, and a high importance given to family goals over individual goals.
The corresponding concept of familismo in Chinese culture is Xiao (孝). Xiao is commonly translated as “filial piety” in English, but some researchers prefer to use the term “filiality” (Chan & Tan, 2004, p.1). Xiao is defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the attitude of obedience, devotion, and care toward one’s parents and older family members, and the basis of the individual moral conduct and social harmony (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). According to Xinhua (Hanyu) Dictionary, the meaning of the Chinese character for Xiao contains four elements: 1) to serve and obey your parents wholeheartedly; 2) mourning; 3) mourning apparel; and 4) family name (Online Xinhua (Hanyu) Dictionary). As a well-known Chinese proverb said, “Xiao is one of the virtues to be held above all else” (baishan xiao wei xian, 百善孝为先). In the Analects of Confucius, Confucius uses a rhetorical question to stress that filial piety and fraternal submission are the roots of all benevolent actions (xiaoti ye zhe, qi wei ren zhi ben yu, 孝悌也者，其为仁之本与) (Legge, 1893). The concept of Xiao defines the ideal relationship between all kinds of family members, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Xiao has influenced all aspects of Chinese culture, both in past and present times.
As for its origin, although it has been elucidated further in the field of philosophy and sociology by Confucius, and his interpretation is well-known to the public, the concept of Xiao has existed long before Confucianism appeared. Cao (2016) concludes that there are mainly four views on the time when Xiao was established. Some specialists claim that the character for Xiao appears in the oracle bones, and most agree that it occurs in Western Zhou (1045-771 BCE) sources (Chan & Tan, 2004). Holzman (1998) suggests that the earliest appearance of the word for filial piety is on a bronze vessel that could be dated to the very last years of the Shang dynasty or the earliest years of the Zhou, that is, around 1000 BCE. Although we cannot determine the specific time when the concept of Xiao appeared, some major factors of the era have contributed to the emergence of Xiao. In relation to economic factors, during the long development process of the agrarian civilization in China, people needed to constantly fight against nature and accumulate experience bit by bit. Because the process of accumulating experience was quite slow, and to avoid unnecessary loss of people, it was necessary to experience authority or guidance and management, which gradually formed the concept of respecting the elderly. Besides, agrarian civilization also provided people with material goods that were needed to support the elders (Ma, 2019). In politics, the patriarchal social system (constructed by blood ties) of family and country was the political basis of the appearance of Xiao (Cao, 2016). Culturally, the idea of ghosts and gods of Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism, and Taoism had an impact on the emergence of Xiao and its development.
Xiao is a concept with rich connotations that have changed over time. In traditional Chinese culture, Xiaohas many distinct aspects, and each of them has a different evaluation standard. Ma (2019) distinguished six dimensions to the traditional Xiao behavior. First, Xiao means that children are required to maintain their parents’ basic life and try to improve their parents’ quality of life through the provision of material goods (shanyang, 赡养), such as money and food, when they grow up. Secondly, apart from the provision of material goods, children are supposed to give care and help their parents at an emotional level (zhaogu, 照顾). Thirdly, Xiao requires people to respect their parents and older family members (zunjing, 尊敬). In fact, with the continuous development of Xiao, the concept of respect has been integrated into almost every aspect of daily life, such as linguistic respect, spatial respect, celebrative respect, among others (Sung, 2001). Fourthly, Xiao is related to shunqin (顺亲), which means that children should obey and listen to the elderly without talking back or revolting. Fifthly, Xiao also means that children are supposed to protect the family by protecting family possessions, making the family feel proud of them, revenging for their parents, and so on. Last, but not least, the traditional concept of Xiao suggests that Xiao is a code of morality and behavior that accompanies the life of the individual (xiao wu shi zhong, 孝无始终), which means that children should behave following Xiao and hold a funeral based on Li (礼) after the parents pass away. According to Kutcher (2006), as early as the Shang dynasty, it was believed that ancestors in China controlled people’s destinies, so they were consulted through divination on the course of action the descendants had to follow. Elders, both living and dead, demanded the obedience of their juniors.
The aforementioned six dimensions to the traditional Xiao cover almost every aspect of interaction between children and parents, but some of those requirements are not applicable at modern times. Due to the changes in the family structure and the development of Chinese society, Xiao has been given a new interpretation. In addition to the concept of loving and respecting their parents, people are also supposed to respect all the elders in society and be kind to the plants and the trees in nature (Ma, 2019). Moreover, parents are requested to love and show respect for their children and strive to build an equal relationship with them (Du, 2005).
Former studies on Latino/Hispanic families focused on the changes in cultural values during the acculturation process of families in the United States, with familismo or familialismo proving to be a strong value (Marin et al., 1987, Sabogal et al., 1987). In their study, Sabogal et al. (1987) designed and used a scale with three factors by which familismo operates. These factors can help us to picture some functions of familismo inside the Latino/Hispanic family. The first factor is the feeling of obligation to support the family, both in material and emotional terms (Sabogal et al., 1987, p. 401). Because of this, each member is expected to help and be available to the family, and that feeling could lead to a strong pressure to be constantly present and helpful. The second factor is the perceived support from the family to solve problems (Sabogal et al., 1987, p. 401), which is central to Latino/Hispanic families and does not change with the acculturation process (p. 408). As Latinos/Hispanics are expected to be of help to their families, they also picture the family as a reliable provider of support. The third factor is the function of the family as a behavioral and attitudinal referent (Sabogal et al., 1987, p. 404), where individuals use family members as examples for their behaviors and beliefs (Ortiz, 2020, p. 422).
According to Ortiz’ (2020), family functioning and ethnic identity, in the case of Latino/Hispanic families, are intrinsically linked to self-actualization. The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines self-actualization as the complete realization of what one is capable of doing, with the maximum development of one’s abilities (American Psychological Association, n.d., b). As part of his research, Ortiz (2020) examines several studies on distinct cultural values in Latino/Hispanic families and summarizes familismo as a value associated with the following positive constructs: bonding/attachment, cohesiveness, interdependence, emotional support system, trust, loyalty, solidarity, and reciprocity. Through different studies, these constructs have been proven to contribute to the following self-actualizing outcomes: academic resilience, fulfillment, meaning, purpose, healthy coping, positive adaptation, and inspiration. At least on a micro-level, we can see many positive elements associated with familismo/familialismo.
According to Yeh (2003), Du (2005), we can divide the functions of Xiao into two kinds——for individuals and for society.
For individuals, Xiao has a beneficial effect on personal growth and interpersonal relationships (Yeh, 2003). The results of some empirical studies support the idea that the values embodied in filial piety support warmth, love, harmony, and close family ties, all of which facilitate intergenerational relationships (Sung, 1990, 1995). Moreover, the results of Zhang and Bond (1998) on the analysis of relationships between the endorsement of filial piety and both universal and indigenous personality traits among Chinese subjects, show that filial piety correlates with some positive aspects of the personality. In addition, under Confucianism, the parent is required to be loving (fu ci, 父慈), and children are supposed to be filial (zi xiao, 子孝). These two requests complement each other, helping to reduce conflicts between parents and children (Yeh, 1999) and to create harmonious and loving family relationships (Du, 2005). In contrast, some scholars have found that Xiao can have some harmful effects on personal development. Boey (1976) found that excessive education of filial piety may lead to children’s inflexibility and poor cognitive development.
For the whole country and society, the concept of Xiao is a driving force that promotes a more stable state. In ancient China, filial piety towards parents was linked to loyalty to the ruler. This was expressed in the Han proverb: “The Emperor rules all-under-heaven with filial piety” (Kutcher, 2006). Xiao became a keystone of morality and helped emperors to establish and enforce their authority. On the other hand, in contemporary Chinese society, both beneficial and harmful aspects of Xiao exist simultaneously. Despite the concept of Xiao having a negative influence on the innovation and vitality of a country due to the possible negative effects on the cognitive development of younger people, instead of building a rigidly stratified feudal society, the modern concept of Xiaocontributes to the construction of an equal, harmonious, and friendly society through loving family relationships (Du, 2005). Indeed, it is the power of constant change that has allowed the culture of Xiao to survive for 3000 years.
Familismo / familialismo
In general, Latino/Hispanic families treat the problems of each member as family problems, since they share the knowledge that problems can be solved together and that they can always find support among their relatives (Sabogal et al., 1987). For example, it has been observed that Latino/Hispanic patients are often accompanied by several family members in health centers in the United States and that they are actively involved in the patients’ healthcare (Dayer-Berenson, 2014). Familismo has also proven to contribute to psychological health as it facilitates closeness and support (Campos et al., 2014). At the level of parent-child relationships, according to Romero and Ruiz (2007), research on familismo and parental monitoring have found that favorable family factors are linked to fewer risky youth behaviors (intake of cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, or aggressive behaviors) (p. 145). Concerning the importance of family goals over individual goals, a study by Calzada et al. (2010) surveyed Dominican and Mexican mothers in the United States regarding American values. The respondents viewed the orientation of American families as achievement-oriented and, therefore, inconsistent with a familistic orientation. They also viewed American children as being disconnected from the needs of their parents.
As previously mentioned, familismo can be positively associated with academic achievement. In response to previous studies establishing family obligations as a hindrance in academic achievement in Latino/Hispanic children, Valenzuela and Dornbusch (1994) claim that familismo can lead to achievement when complemented with high parental education. Ortiz (2020) further comments that familial connectedness, in the case of Latino/Hispanic families in the United States, contributes to positive adaptation in school. Another contributing factor is self-regulation, which children can learn through their families to control their emotions and behaviors. Stein et al. (2013) highlight that, although familialism includes aspects that can interfere with Latino adolescents’ attendance to school, such as the obligation of providing aid to the family, there are associated values that may be supportive.
In the context of work environments, Osland et al. (1999) explored different cultural behaviors in Latin American organizations. Although they do not associate the phenomenon explicitly with familismo/familialismo, they mention that Latino employees often ask for permission to be absent to attend to family obligations. In addition to this, they observed cases of nepotism in many of these organizations, apparently due to inherent trust in relatives and/or the obligation to find jobs for them. Therefore, we can see that family obligations are not left aside even in the workplace, which can lead to negative situations, such as the cases of nepotism.
As mentioned above, Xiao has been regarded as a representative of Chinese traditional cultures and there are many cases and examples associated with this concept. However, as time passed, people came to realize the weaknesses and negative effects of the traditional perspective of Xiao, which encouraged people to understand it flexibly in different contexts.
According to the traditional perspective, no matter within which domestic context or social context, Xiao is mostly accompanied by obedience as well as self-sacrifice, especially for the young generations. The family can become harmonious by emphasizing the limitations of youngsters, but sometimes an excess in this emphasis may lead to some terrific cases.
According to the traditional texts, filial piety consists of physical care, love, service, respect, and obedience (Kwan, 2000). For example, there are many expressions, such as “Shen ti fa fu, Shou zhi fu mu” (身体发肤，受之父母) meaning that people must take care of and love their bodies since the body is thought to be an extension of the parents; “Fu ci zi xiao” (父慈子孝) meaning the father and the children should love each other; “Shi yue huai tai en, San sheng bao da qing” (十月怀胎恩，三生报答轻) which shows that children have to appreciate and take care of the parents since they gave birth of them; and “Wu ni bu xiao yi, San shi guo bao ran” (忤逆不孝矣，三世果报然), meaning that children who do not obey and respect their parents will be punished by God for years to come.The traditional texts describe filial piety with regards to son–father relationships. However, it involves all parent–child relationships in practice, including stepparents, grandparents, and ancestors (Jordan, 1998). The father must provide for the son, teach him the traditions of ancestor worship, find a spouse for him, and leave a good heritage. The father figure is supposed to be “stern and dignified” to his children, whereas the mother figure is expected to be “gentle and compassionate.” The virtues of the parents are to be practiced, regardless of the piety of children. In this kind of context, Chinese people commonly say “Yang bu jiao, Fu zhi guo” (养不教，父之过), which means that parents are to be criticized if they only raise their children and do not educate them. This saying emphasizes the duties of the parents within the family.
Meanwhile, in the traditional context, which is based on son–father relationships, there are some inappropriate ways of comprehending Xiao, which could cause some detrimental effects or even terrific consequences. For example, there is a word called “愚孝“ (foolish filial piety), which means that children must obey their parents unconditionally by sacrificing their rights. Moreover, some terrific old sayings and stories had happened in ancient China, such as “Guo ju mai er” (郭巨埋儿). In this story, Guo Ju, a poor man, decided to bury his little son alive so that he could free up his share of food and feed his old mother instead. Throughout this story, we can see that people at the time regarded Xiao as the highest virtue in the world.
In modern Chinese society, new types of family structures (such as divorced families, reorganized families, “DINK” families) have appeared, therefore expanding the meaning of Xiao. In comparison to traditional contexts, the rights and the liberty of individuals play a crucial role in the concept of Xiao. Moreover, some behaviors, formerly labeled as “不孝” (filial impiety) in the traditional perspective, have become reasonable and adequate.
Nowadays, people have come to realize that: (1) children have the right to make decisions independently,and (2) parents’ duties ≠ children’s duties. Young generations are more aware of their individuality and have begun to make decisions by themselves, rather than accept the arrangements made by their parents unconditionally. Some recent stories depicted in the media have clearly shown that the concept of respect for the elders is also changing. For example, there have been cases of married couples choosing to have a new baby, regardless of not having the abilities or resources to raise children anymore. Because of that, they have demanded their independent sons or daughters to do it for them. These stories have ended with the son or daughter refusing to follow such a request, based on the idea that parents should not shift their duties to their children. Therefore, the communication between the younger and the older generations tends to become more reciprocal and less one-sided, with kindness and courtesy replacing the concepts of obedience and subservience (Sung, 2001).
4. Related Expressions
Familismo and familialismo are not featured in the daily speech of Latino/Hispanic people, as those are words used by psychologists and researchers to identify a cultural value within this group. However, as mentioned before, the words originated from the word familia in Latin, which means “family.” Although it may not be considered a proper synonym, “collectivism” is a related concept to familismo/familialismo since the latter is associated with the collectivistic nature of the Latino/Hispanic culture. In some studies, the words “familistic” and “familial” as adjectives are also visible.
Going back to collectivism, Schwartz et al. (2010) surveyed students in the United States on the concepts of communalism, familism, and filial piety to analyze to which extent these could be associated with a single construct of family/relationship primacy. According to the results, the three concepts were grouped into said single factor, which was closely related to collectivism and weakly related to individualism and independence. Ergo, individualism and independence could serve as antonyms for both familismo/familialismo and filial piety.
In the specific case of Xiao, there are many kinds of expressions in the Chinese language that are related to it, listed as follows:
- Noun: Xiao (孝) – “filial piety;” Bu xiao (不孝) – “filial impiety”
- Adjective: Xiao shun de (孝顺的); Xiao jing de (孝敬的)
- Verb: Xiao shun (孝顺) + sb.
Xiao shun fu mu (孝顺父母) = “respect and care for parents”
- Some old sayings associated with Xiao (full expressions), such as:
Bai shan xiao wei xian (百善孝为先) – “Filial piety is the most important one”
Bu xiao you san, Wu hou wei da (不孝有三，无后为大) – “There are three things which are unfilial, and to have no posterity is the greatest of them”
- Synonyms: Zun (尊) – “respect;” Gong shun (恭顺) – “obey”
- Antonyms: Bu xiao (不孝) – “filial impiety;” Wu ni (忤逆) – “traitorous”
While we were discussing familismo/familialismo and Xiao in our group activities, we discovered these concepts shared many elements in common. As a base, both concepts are used to refer to the primacy given to family relationships over individualism. We found some elements related to the quality of the relationships within the family, such as loyalty, trust, and respect, which we can say are of positive connotation. Some concepts reflect the actions occurring within the familismo/familialismo and Xiao dynamics and that sustain the family stability, for example, support and care. Other elements reflect in some way the pressure the members of the family face to perform or show said support or care, such as obligation, sacrifice (of individual needs or goals), and devotion. In the case of family obligations, Fuligni et al. (1999) studied the attitudes towards these obligations among tenth-grade American students from Filipino, Chinese, Mexican, Central and South American, and European backgrounds. In comparison to the group with European background, Asian and Latin American teenagers showed to have stronger values and higher expectations in relation to their obligations to assist, respect, and support the family.
Regarding the differences between these two cultural concepts, we think an essential one lies in their origins. Familismo/familialismo could have originated from the beliefs of the religion of Christianity, and Xiao has its roots in Confucianism, a system of philosophical and ethical teachings. In this regard, we can say that Xiao has a political value since it serves to encourage citizens to have modest behaviors, something not visible in the case of familismo/familialismo. There is also a difference in terms of the direction of the actions of support and care; in the case of familismo/familialismo, we could say that these are performed more reciprocally, whereas traditional Xiaoemphasizes more on the younger generations making sacrifices towards the stability within the family. However, we can see nowadays in Chinese social media that the dynamics of family relationships are shifting towards the building of mutual respect. As for the usage of the words themselves, as mentioned before, familismo and familialismo are words used in psychology (maybe in other fields as well) and by researchers, and Xiao is a word still used in everyday speech among Chinese families.
As a final conclusion, discussing family relationships was a very enriching experience for the group since we could become more aware and knowledgeable about each other’s cultures. Through observation on family relationships, we can see, in some way, how people from different cultures perceive the world and develop within society, and appreciate that there are similarities between cultures regardless of the geographical distance between them. We hope this paper can serve as a source of knowledge and understanding for other people interested in the Latino/Hispanic and the Chinese cultures.
References and Further Reading
★ = Recommended resources
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Boey, K.W. (1976). Rigidity and cognitive complexity: An empirical investigation in the interpersonal, physical, and numeric domains under task-oriented and ego-oriented conditions. Unpublished Ph.D. diss., University of Hong Kong.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Xiao”. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1 Jul. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/xiao-Confucianism.
Calzada, E. J., Fernandez, Y., & Cortes, D. E. (2010). Incorporating the cultural value of respeto into a framework of Latino parenting. Cultural diversity & ethnic minority psychology, 16(1), 77–86. doi:10.1037/a0016071
Campesino, M., & Schwartz, G. E. (2006). Spirituality among Latinas/os: implications of culture in conceptualization and measurement. ANS. Advances in nursing science, 29(1), 69–81. doi:10.1097/00012272-200601000-00007
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Cao, L.Y. (2016). Kongzi “xiao” sixiang tanxi [Confucius’s thought of “filial piety”]. Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
★Chan, Alan K.L. & Tan, Sor-hoon (2004). Filial piety in Chinese thought and history. RoutledgeCurzon.
Dayer-Berenson, L. (2014). Cultural competencies for nurses: Impact on health and illness (2nd ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning.
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Fuligni, A. J., Tseng, V., & Lam, M. (1999). Attitudes toward Family Obligations among American Adolescents with Asian, Latin American, and European Backgrounds. Child Development, 70(4), 1030–1044. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00075
★ Garzón, A. (2003). Famislism. In J. J. Ponzetti (Ed.), International encyclopedia of marriage and family (2nd ed., pp. 546–549). Macmillan Reference USA.
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★Kuang-Hui Yeh. (2003). The beneficial and harmful effects of filial piety: An integrative analysis. Progress in Asian social psychology: Conceptual and Empirical Contributions. Greenwood Publishing Group, 67-79.
★Kutcher, N. (2006). Mourning in late imperial China: Filial piety and the State, Cambridge University Press.
★Kwan, K.L.K. (2000), “Counseling Chinese peoples: Perspectives of Filial Piety” (PDF), Asian Journal of Counseling, 7 (1): 23–41. “Counseling Chinese peoples: Perspectives of Filial Piety”
Legge James (1815-1897). trans.: Analects of Confucius, by Confucius.
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