Chinese students are well-known for their academic excellence. However, studies that explore the underlying mechanism of how cultural factors relate to the motivational process and academic achievement of Chinese students have been limited. This study aimed to examine the role of filial piety in shaping Chinese students' theories of intelligence so as to obtain a clearer understanding of the process by which parent–child connectedness is linked to Chinese students' academic achievement. A sample of 312 university students in Hong Kong were assessed concerning their filial piety beliefs, theories of intelligence and academic achievement. Data were analysed using structural equation modelling. The results indicated that different filial piety beliefs relate to students' academic achievement by shaping different theories of intelligence. Reciprocal filial piety beliefs were found to facilitate an incremental view of intelligence, which in turn contributes to students' academic achievement. Authoritarian filial piety beliefs were shown to be associated with an entity view of intelligence, which consequently deteriorates students' academic achievement. Cultural views of motivational processes can shed light on how motivational beliefs are developed as a product of cultural or socialization processes, which, in turn, contribute to students' academic success.