The doctrine of the Five Constant Relationships holds that various people hold various stations in life and that people ought to act in ways that are appropriate to those stations. In particular, they need to be respectful to those who are placed above them in life.
The Five Constant Relationships are between types of people where one type of person needs to show respect to the other. At the same time, the type of person being shown respect needs to act benevolently towards his or her "juniors." There is a sort of reciprocity at work here where juniors respect their seniors and seniors take care of their juniors. Of course, people can and do play more than one of these roles in their relationships with various people.
According to this doctrine, the following relationships exist, with the junior listed first and the senior listed second:
- Wives to husbands
- Children to parents
- Younger siblings to older siblings
- Younger friend to older friend
- Subject to ruler
This doctrine expresses, then, the idea that people need to act in ways that are proper to their place in the hierarchy of a society.