The reports, published by the South China Morning Post , on the reluctance of young people in mainland China to have children suggest that their choice is chiefly informed by cost. To have children and provide them with proper care and good education involve prohibitive expenses that many young people in China just cannot afford. Many, therefore, choose to remain childless. Some of the more traditional-minded would trot out the hoary chestnut: “Of the three types of non-filial conduct, not producing descendants is the gravest sin.” This aphorism, which originated with the Confucian philosopher Mengzi (Latinised as “Mencius”) who lived 25 centuries ago, is recorded in Mengzi , a collection of his teachings and one of the most important books in the Confucian canon. The first question on everyone’s mind would be: what are the three types of non-filial conduct? According to commentaries in the Eastern Han (25-220) and the Southern Song (1127-1279) dynasties, the first type of non-filial behaviour is not admonishing one’s parents when they are wrong, thus nudging them along the path of unrighteousness. The second way that one fails one’s parents is by not working to support them in their old age. The last and most serious one is putting an end to the family line by not producing any sons. The key word here is “sons”. Based on the patrilineal kinship tradition of the Chinese, only male descendants carry forward the family line. Unlike other kinship systems, children of daughters cannot claim descent from their mother’s family; they are members of their father’s family. The corollaries of this tradition, which is illogical from a biological and genetics standpoint, include the justification for concubinage because the principal wife could not produce any sons, and the severe gender imbalance in China as parents only wanted sons under the one-child policy to continue the family line. A face palm moment buying shoes recalls a Chinese parable In recent years, there has been a revision of the centuries-old interpretation of Mengzi’s words regarding the sheer immorality of being sonless. The famous line, the argument goes, has long been taken out of context. If one reads on, the key phrase “not producing descendants” ( wuhou ) can be interpreted as “not behaving towards one’s parents as one should”. The full text would thus be: “Of the three types of non-filial conduct, not behaving towards one’s parents as one should is the gravest sin. By not informing his parents that he was taking a wife, Shun was not behaving towards his parents as he should ( wuhou ). To gentlemen, however, it was as if he had told his parents.” Mengzi was using the story of the legendary sage-king Shun as a teaching tool. Shun’s relationships with his father and stepmother were estranged. In fact, they hated him so much that they hatched a few unsuccessful plots to murder him. Thus, it would be quite natural for him not to tell his parents about his marriage. This was not what a son ought to do; it was unforgivable. However, the great and good of the realm, being aware of Shun’s troubled relationship with his father and stepmother, thought that his action was justifiable. When Mengzi’s words are interpreted this way, not only is the heinous sin that is ending one’s family line so much bunk, we also see the rationality of early Confucianism and its adaptability to actual circumstances, a far cry from the ossified and dogmatic creed that came much later. Yes, you shouldn’t do certain things to your parents. But if your parents are monsters who don’t have your best interests at heart, then they probably deserve it. Young people in China, or anywhere else, shouldn’t be bound by outmoded traditions that make little sense. If they choose to remain childless, then no one should pressure them into doing otherwise. The world is overpopulated as it is and its resources getting scarcer by the minute. How is producing more babies going to improve the situation?