Archive for the ‘Chinese culture’ Category

Comment 2 on “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom”: Not Respecting Daughter and In Turn Allowing Daughter to Disrespect Mom

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

(First, I must say to Amy Chua and her family members: I apologize for passing judgment and making comments on your family’s private affairs in public – outsiders should not pass judgment and comment on how others raise and teach their children in a manner that those children can hear or read about it. I feel bad, but it can’t be helped in your case, because the Mom in your family has published this book about your family’s private affairs, a book that has shaken the world and is affecting the whole of humanity. Therefore, many people in this world now have an obligation to take a position on many things in this book and that means publicly passing judgment and commenting on how the Mom in your family raises and teaches her children.)


In the book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” written by Amy Chua, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, supposedly represents “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, Amy Chua does not respect her daughter’s basic personal dignity, and in turn also allows the daughter to disrespect mother. This is completely opposite to what traditional Chinese thought advocates for bringing up children.


In Chapter 11 of the book, Amy Chua describes how, when her second daughter Lulu is seven and has been unable, despite practicing on the piano many hours a day for many days, to play a certain difficult tune well, Amy Chua condemns her daughter severely. Ms. Chua accuses her daughter of “purposely working herself into a frenzy”, and of being “lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic”, and threatens her with no meals, no Christmas presents or birthday parties for 3, 4 years, etc. This kind of insulting condemnation and threat with punishment shows complete disrespect for the daughter’s basic personal dignify: she is only a seven-year-old who temporarily cannot attain a certain level of skill in piano; she actually has practiced for hours every day; she has not committed any serious trespasses, nor has she committed any crimes against humanity!


In turn, having received treatment that disrespects her personal dignity over and over, the daughter gradually begins to hit back. It starts with contradicting mother, and then evolves into returning the insulting rebukes, into shows of complete disrespect for mother. Perversely, this kind of behavior, which is considered a severe trespass in Chinese culture, Amy Chua does not stop at all, but instead tolerates and allows to go on, and even seems to take pride in her daughter displaying such behavior.


In page 48 of the book, while describing how the second daughter resists the severe music practice schedule, Amy Chua says that she and her daughter form a pair who are “simultaneously incompatible and inextricably bound”. Then Ms. Chua rather proudly recounts how, in talking with her seven-year-old daughter, they conclude that they are “good buddies” in a “weird, terrible way”, and then daughter hugs mother. This lets us understand the real picture: Amy Chua, like so many parents who lack knowledge of the Chinese intellectual heritage, thinks that no matter how disrespectful of the offspring a parent is, as long as the parent lets the offspring also in turn show disrespect for the parent, then the parent has not mistreated the offspring!


Sigh! Respect for one’s parents is actually the most basic form of respect for others, and for Amy Chua to not infuse that most basic form of respect for others into her offspring is actually considered by Chinese culture to be one of the greatest mistreatments by parents of their offspring! It is “to raise but not teach”.


Of course, according to traditional Chinese culture, offspring may express differing opinions to their parents, since offspring should be able to discuss anything and everything with their parents, and also, after all, offspring have the duty to dissuade and dispute parents when they are morally wrong, but the opinions must be expressed in a respectful manner, with politeness and courtesy.


In the name of some kind of “achievement”, and in this case it is the playing of musical instruments, to both disrespect the children and then also allow the children in turn to disrespect their parents, even to the point of loud argument and throwing things in public, can such farces represent the fine Chinese tradition of bringing up children? Absolutely not. And not only for the Chinese tradition – such farces cannot represent the tradition of any civilization for bringing up children.


The Chinese tradition for bringing up children puts the greatest emphasis on respect, and first and foremost on respect for parents. Why is respect for parents so important? Long ago Confucius has answered this question: it is because those who respect their parents won’t disrespect others (see The Classic of Xiao, p. 5, Chapter 2, “The Son of Heaven”)! And in the Chinese intellectual tradition, respect for others is the guarantee of civil society. This is because traditional Chinese culture advocates using Li or courtesy and etiquette to bring harmony and order to society, and what is the essence of this Li or courtesy and etiquette? It is respect, nothing more. Confucius has said, “Li – it is nothing other than respect.” (See The Classic of Xiao, p. 25, Chapter 12, “A Broad and Crucial Doctrine”.) Therefore, in the Chinese intellectual heritage, respect for parents is the fundamental foundation of civil society.


Therefore, to raise children according to the Chinese intellectual heritage, the parents must set an example by showing respect for the personal dignity of the children, and at the same time, must firmly uphold the requirement that the children show respect for, and courtesy and politeness to, their parents. Parents must strictly prohibit all words and acts that show disrespect and must absolutely not tolerate them.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Comment 1 on “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom”: Tiger Mom does not Represent Chinese Mothers

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Just read Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” and watched the video of her interview with Charlie Rose: the Wall Street Journal has no right to brand her style of parenting as being representative of “Chinese mothers” (Wall Street Journal: “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”). While I agree with the general thrust that parents should one, make young children work hard at learning, two, demand and expect performance to the best of their ability from their kids, and three, make sure young children master basic intellectual skills, which can often only be achieved through repeated and tiresome “rote learning”, I find her parenting as recounted in the book overly obsessed with “achievement”, disrespectful of the child’s dignity, and yes, sometimes downright cruel and therefore absolutely wrong. Being proud of my heritage and considering myself to know a bit about that heritage, I object to that kind of excess being labeled “Chinese”.

刚刚看完蔡美儿“虎妈妈的战歌”一书和查理• 罗斯对她的访问,发觉了华尔街日报没权把她的子女教养方式说为是代表中华母亲的方式(见华尔街日报:“为什么中华母亲比较优越”)。的确,我同意,父母应该一、要求子女努力勤学,二、要求子女尽力做到能力所能做到的最好成绩,同时要把子女作出这种尽力看为是理所当然的,三、务必使子女掌握基本的知识技能,而很多时只有通过反复的、讨厌的“机械学习”才能掌握这些技能的。但是,书中所描绘的教养方式,一味痴迷于“成绩”、不尊重孩子的基本个人尊严、有时甚至残酷地(因而是绝对错误地)对待孩子。我身为华裔,把中华传统文化引以为荣,亦认为自己对中华文化传统略知一二,所以我反对把这种过分的做法标志为“中华的”。

Over-obsession with “achievement”, disrespect for the child’s dignity, and cruelty, can only be the parenting style of those modern Chinese parents who lack education in the traditional Chinese intellectual heritage.


Far from any obsession with “achievement”, what has been stressed in my experience of “Chinese parenting” (from my own parents) and in my research into what ideals the Chinese intellectual heritage has traditionally prescribed for Chinese parenting, is the supremacy of Chinese values, the Chinese values of relationship-defined obligations, wherein xiao or being good to parents and ancestors, and loyalty to country, have come first and foremost, the Chinese values of respect for all persons whether superior, equal, or inferior in station, the values of courage to stand by what is right even if the entire world is against you and you are threatened with dire consequences, the Chinese values of the obligation to dissuade and dispute authority when they are morally wrong, and the Chinese values of the importance of morals and principles over book learning and riches. These values had been drummed into me repeatedly by my parents, by school, and by the popular culture that I experienced as a child in Hong Kong during the early 1960s. My own research since I’ve grown up into traditional Chinese parenting and upbringing of children has confirmed what I had experienced as a child.


Charlie Rose hit it right on the head when he repeated pressed Amy Chua on the importance of values in bringing up children.

查理• 罗斯访问里曾多次追问蔡美儿教养子女价值是否重要,这的确是一针见血。

Yes, hard work and striving always to achieve to your potential is good and important, but that is only a part of the overall dedication to relationship-defined obligations, to morals and to principles. Those Chinese values are what real Chinese parenting should be all about.


As for Amy Chua’s repeated pleas in the interview with Charlie Rose about “unconditional love” being most important, I think that reveals that she is just another Westerner after all - see my essay The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the Western Supremacy of Love.

至于蔡美儿在查理• 罗斯的访问中所屡次诉求的“无条件的爱才是最重要的”,证明了她不过只是个西方人罢了:请看我的文章“中华传统的人伦至上对西方的爱至上”

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Raising children to be successful 培养孩子成材

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

How can we raise our children to be successful when they grow up?


Parents nowadays know only to ask that their children be diligent at school work and extracurricular arts and skills, thinking that if they learn well they will be successful in life. Parents don’t make any other demands on children at all, thinking that time that children could otherwise have spent on “learning” will be “wasted”. Of course, to be a responsible child, he must be diligent at school work and the extracurricular activities his parents enroll him in. The responsibility that he shoulders there, however, is only responsibility to be good to himself. That is not enough. To raise a child into a successful person, the most important thing is to let him learn how to shoulder responsibility for serving others and being good to others. If a person doesn’t know how to serve others and be good to others, no matter how outstanding he has been at his school work and extracurricular arts and skills when young, he will not be successful either in career or in family life. Of course, shouldering responsibility for serving others and being good to others should begin at home. Therefore, for a child to become a successful person, he must be required to help the family.


From the earliest age on a child must help with home chores and help keep the house clean. Even if there are servants in the house, he must not carelessly throw things around or set things down just anywhere. He must carefully put away his clothes and his things, and pick up after himself. If a child has younger siblings then he has lots of opportunity to shoulder responsibility for being good to others: a child must help parents look after his younger siblings. Even when there are servants looking after the physical needs of the younger siblings, he must help parents look after the mental and learning needs of the siblings. When a child grows older he must help with the family livelihood - how? Whether his parents are employees or business owners, he must help make his parents’ job and going to work easier, more convenient, even if it’s with small details, such as Huang Xiang of old who warmed his father’s bed in winter and cooled the bed in summer. Also, parents must let the child know the situation at work or in the business, so that he may think of ways, even if they concern only small details, to make the family’s livelihood even better. Therefore, whether rich or poor, parents can always make a child shoulder responsibility for being good to others.


Raising a child to be a responsible and useful person by having him help the family is worth having the grades go down a point or two. Actually, I think that by shouldering responsibility to help the family, a child will inevitably learn self-discipline and the ability to independently manage time, and so school work and extracurricular arts and skills will be learnt even better, not worse. Time spent on helping the family will have no negative impact, only a positive one.


Of course, when the child helps the family, the parents must give recognition and praise. Also, when there are younger siblings, the parents must strictly demand that the younger siblings respect and obey the older siblings.


This way, the child will have self-respect - after all, he is a very useful person! Knowing how to shoulder responsibility, serving others and being good to others, he will possess what in traditional China is known as “xiao” or being good to parents, and what in the West is very important whether in admission to elite colleges or promotion at work and is known as “leadership skills”. In traditional China, character and conduct has always been considered more important than academics, as in the saying “after achieving right conduct, then if there’s energy left over one may use it to study books”. Nowadays in the West “emotional quotient” or “E.Q.” is considered more important than intelligence quotient or I.Q. It’s quite clear to me that to raise children to grow up to be successful people, one must not only look at school work and extracurricular arts and skills but also must require children to help the family.

这样,孩子便有自尊心,他毕竟是个很有用的人啊!他懂得怎样负起责任,他懂得怎样为他人服务,对他人好,他便拥有传统中国所谓的“孝”和西方无论高校录取或企业升职都重视的所谓“领导技能”(leardership skills)。传统中国一向都是认为品行比读书重要,所谓“行有余力则以学文”,而现在西方则认为“情商”(E.Q.)比智商(I.Q.)重要;培养孩子成材不能只看到学业和课余才艺,也要要求孩子帮助家庭这个道理,对我来说,是很明显的。

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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The number “8” and What Chinese People Have Lost “八”和华人所失去的东西

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Why are Chinese people nowadays, even highly educated ones, so superstitious about getting lucky to get rich?  8, 8, 8, everywhere, on phone numbers, car license numbers, etc., you see people sporting at least one number 8. And that’s all because in Chinese 8 sounds a bit like the first sound in “getting rich”. Also, nowadays the Chinese New Year’s greeting is “gong hay faht tsoy” (Cantonese pronunciation), which translates into “Happy Wishes for Getting Rich”. Why is getting rich apparently the only thing on Chinese minds?


It hasn’t always been so.


The number 8 hasn’t always been so popular. When I was a kid in Hong Kong during the early sixties, 8 was not always a good word. In Cantonese colloquialism back then, 8 was often used to mean “being gossipy” or invading other people’s privacy, as in “why are you so baht (8), that you want to know even such and such?” In fact, it came from a negative attitude towards the baht guah (八卦), the hexagram from the I Jing (or I-Ching), which was used for divination. During days past Cantonese, or at least educated Cantonese, had looked down upon fortune-telling using the hexagram and upon the occult in general.  It had only been a recent phenomenon in Chinese superstition of the last twenty or thirty years, a phenomenon which started in Hong Kong, to make 8 equal to getting rich and for 8 to be so fervently sought after.


As for the Chinese New Year’s greeting, when I was a kid in Hong Kong during the early sixties, the standard greeting was “gong hay teem ding faht tsoy”, which meant “Happy Wishes for Getting Another Boy and Getting Rich”, and “gong hoh sun hay”, which meant “Best Wishes for the New Year”. I don’t remember hearing just “gong hay faht tsoy” or “Happy Wishes for Getting Rich” – so bourgeois! Please note that, true to Confucian tradition, “Getting Another Boy” came before “Getting Rich” – the traditional family came before getting rich, and getting rich was for the family, not a selfish hedonistic pursuit for the individual himself or herself. Having moved away during the sixties from a society dominated by Chinese culture, after all these years it was at first and still is jarring for me to hear “gong hay faht tsoy” without the “teem ding (getting another boy)” in front of “faht tsoy (getting rich)”.


I believe it is wrong to think that Chinese have always been as superstitious and as anxious about good luck and getting rich as Chinese people seem to be nowadays.  Back during the old days we had the intellectual and moral compass and framework of Confucianism.  Thanks to that framework, we knew how to act and what to do in life; we knew what things to pursue, what things to reject, and how to pursue and reject them. So we were secure, smart and brave; we weren’t so obsessed with good luck and getting rich. Even as recently as during the early 1960’s we didn’t use to be obsessed with all this stuff; we used to be brave and secure back then thanks to Confucianism.


But now we Chinese have turned our backs on Confucianism and so we don’t have anything.  Intellectually and morally we have no compass or framework and so we are insecure. A lot of the time we don’t know what we do that will bring us good things and what we do that will bring us bad things. Often we are so ignorant that we don’t even know what is good and what is bad; we can’t tell good from bad.  That’s why we grasp at straws; we grasp at superstitions for somehow avoiding the bad and getting the good.  That’s why 8 is now a “lucky number” seen everywhere and why 4, which sounds like “death”, is now an “unlucky number” and not seen anywhere.


I think that what we Chinese need to do is to rediscover and regain the good stuff we used to all possess, integrate it with the modern stuff that is good, i.e. science and the free market, and create a new intellectual and moral framework, where we can be secure, smart and brave again.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Confucianism and Graft 孔教和贿赂

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Sigh! The ignorance and arrogance of Westerners for things Chinese! This is what I found posted on Jan. 26, 2009 on Chem-PM Chinese Business Magazine, written by “admin”:

唉!西方人对中华事物真是又无知又傲慢!我找到这篇文章,刊登在2009年一月26日的 Chem-PM Chinese Business Magazine 网页上,笔者是“管理”:

Whilst the fallout from the Mattel recall still reverberates it is worth reminding ourselves about the endemic culture of corruption that pervades Chinese business… in many senses this is cultural and one should not expect Western values to be so quickly absorbed into mainstream business. With Confucianism putting loyalty to friends first t is no surprise to see an element of “capture” taking place within firms. It is fascinating to read how businesses are being advised to hire geographically dispersed workers to prevent such behavior…

美泰儿玩具的收回仍然在耳边回响时,我们应该提醒自己,中国商界充满了贪污文化在很多方面来说这是文化性的;不能以为西方价值可以这么快就被主流商界吸收。孔教是把忠于朋友放在首位的,所以见到企业里发生一种“擒获”,不应该觉得出乎意料之外。 很有趣,阅读到人们对各企业建议,要防止这种行为,就得聘请来自散布于各地区的工人

…Ιt іs еven harder to dеal wіth lowеr-lеvel shadiness, ѕuch аs a secretary booking a flight for hеr boѕs аnd thеn getting a payment from thе travel аgent, or a receptionist getting pаid to rеfer nеw enquiries to a rіval fіrm.


I wrote the following comment:

I strongly disagree with your assertion that Confucianism means loyalty to family and friends first, and obeying the law is optional. Of the five traditional Confucian Cardinal Relations (wu lun), that between the government and the citizen comes first, before any other. So treating compliance with the law as optional is not an example of how China operates according to Confucianism, but is instead an example of how far modern China has strayed from Confucianism. As for the secretary taking a kickback from the travel agency she books with, graft is graft and embezzlement is embezzlement, Chinese or not. Again, Confucianism is quite clear on this: honesty and trustworthiness ranks extremely high on Confucian tenets, and again the prevalence of graft is just another example of how far modern China has strayed from Confucianism.



Go here for more exposition of the true Confucian position on honesty and trustworthiness.


- Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Confucianism & Religions 孔教和各宗教

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Ha, it has finally happened: a Christian told me the other day that just because Christianity values love above all doesn’t mean that love doesn’t come with obligations, and she quoted me First Corinthians Chapter 13:


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


Well, that’s great: in orthodox Christianity, unlike what we often see nowadays in Western society, love also implies obligations. That’s really good. So, as I’ve said before, the precepts in Di Zi Gui and Confucius’s teachings are not tied to any one religion and are compatible with any religion.


Of course, Confucius spends a lot more time and present in much greater detail the mutual obligations for the different parties than the Christian Bible does. For example, the Christian Bible doesn’t have a formal analysis on the Five Cardinal Relations of government-subject, parents-offspring, husband-wife, among siblings, and between friends. A short paragraph in First Corinthians is nothing compared to the volumes about obligations in the ancient Confucian texts. That’s why not just Chinese but everyone the world over, even Christians, need to study these precepts from the Chinese tradition.


Of course, in the modern world, the Confucian tradition cannot stand alone by itself, unchanged; it needs some adaptation and supplementation. For example, I think the Five Cardinal Relations should become the Six Cardinal Relations: we need to add that between the buyer and the seller.


And the Confucian tradition has never pretended to address the hereafter, and so societies that practiced the Confucian tradition have long supplemented the tradition with religions like Buddhism. Though I am not knowledgeable about the practices of Chinese Muslims, I do know that they’ve been well integrated into mainstream society for centuries in Imperial China. Likewise the Chinese Jews like the Kaifeng Jews. So I don’t see why there should be any problem with compatibility and mutual supplementation with Christianity or any other major religion.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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The Land of Courtesy and Integrity

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

Who says Chinese people are not capable of returning to being The Land of Courtesy and Integrity? Hong Kong is proof that Chinese people can.


Twenty-four years ago, in 1984, when I went back to Hong Kong for the first time in twenty years, it was truly shocking. The place was completely unlike what I remember as a child.


Back then, in the late fifties and early sixties, the Hong Kong of my childhood was a place of at least courtesy, if not integrity. My mother would take me to market with her and would teach me that one must address the vendors on the street politely as Lao Ban (“boss”) and the workers in the shops as Shi Fu (“master”). In turn they would always address her politely as Shi Nai (“respected madam”) or Xiao Jie (“miss”). In the shops people were always polite and friendly. In school we were taught li rang: to be courteous, considerate, and to let others go first. When the teacher entered the classroom we stood up as a class, bowed and said in unison, “Good afternoon, teacher.” When we met a teacher on the street we bowed and said the same thing. It was considered shameful beyond imagination for siblings to argue, let alone fight, in front of anyone other than the immediate family. We were taught by our elders and by the popular culture surrounding us to be polite and respectful, to be kind to others, and to never speak ill of others. The movies we saw extolled courtesy, integrity, loyalty to country, and of course, being good to parents (xiao).


In 1984, however, when I walked into a store the staff just stared at me and didn’t say a word when I said good morning. When I couldn’t find what I wanted the staff yelled at me as I walked out the door, “If you are not going to buy why did you come in?” When I tried to flag down a taxicab I had to flag down five cabs before I could get in: all the four others I flagged down someone appeared out of nowhere and jumped into the very cab in front of me! The only way I could get a cab was to jump in as soon as the cab stopped, before the previous passenger had gotten out, and to sit right next to him as he paid his fare. By the way, I had been warned about this before my trip, that Hong Kong people were so bad they barged into cabs flagged down by returning overseas Chinese, but I had dismissed it as anti-Hong Kong fabrication – no people in the world, I had reasoned, could be that barbaric, let alone Chinese people! And the children, why, the children! The ones I had contact with were very cute and energetic, but when they opened their mouths filth came out! Little five year olds were spouting words of contempt, cynicism and outright insult to strangers, and then looking to their parents for applause! And the parents proudly smiled and said, “So smart, this cunning little kid!” The children fought with their siblings loudly in public, with the parents approvingly looking on! When I turned on the TV, I could see where it all came from. The people on TV lightly and constantly yelled at, insulted, and lashed out at each other; what was in fashion was cynicism and contempt. Quite the opposite of the Land of Courtesy and Integrity. I left Hong Kong saddened and angry.


In 2007, however, when I returned to Hong Kong after twenty-three years, the place had again changed completely. When I walked into a store, the staff were friendly and actually smiled and nodded. When I asked for directions the store people actually spent time to tell me two different ways to get there. When a taxicab stopped and my wife mistakenly thought that it had stopped for her, the person for whom it had actually stopped said that it was all right and waved us to go ahead and get into the cab when we started to apologize and defer the cab to him. The children I saw were actually polite and friendly! And on TV, the people spoke politely and were decent to each other. People told me that the famous Korean series “Da Chang Jin”, which I saw in America and which portrayed a very kind, polite, and idealistic Korean woman doctor, had been all the rage in Hong Kong. Good gracious! The wheel has turned; Hong Kong is back in the folds of civilization! Who says there’s no hope for Chinese people? I left Hong Kong elated.


Was it because I was better dressed last year, compared to 1984? No, not at all, I was still in my usual North American overseas Chinese plain garb. Was it because I was older now and so more respectable? No, because my children report the same thing: people, they say, are nice in Hong Kong.


Of course, these are all things on the surface that I see; deeper down there must be a lot of things not to one’s liking. It is undeniable, however, that customs in Hong Kong have improved.


Yes, Chinese people can improve; it’s entirely possible for Chinese people to return to being The Land of Courtesy and Integrity…

是的,华人可以进步,华人完全能够再构成礼义之邦 …

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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To Succeed in America One Must Be Honest

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Here’s some advice I gave to a young man who’s just moving to the USA from another country: “You can succeed in America if you are hard working, capable, and honest.” He said, “I can understand the hard working and capable, but why honest?” I said, “People here in the USA really hate dishonesty, at least people who are of a higher class. Some lower class people in America, like some lower class people everywhere, may not place much importance on honesty, but most higher-class people in America for sure place great importance on it. If they find out you’ve been dishonest to them, they just won’t deal with you any more. You know, people wonder why they get passed over for promotions, when they’ve been hard-working and capable, but that may be why – they may not have been 100% honest when dealing with other people…”


So, to succeed in America, be honest. Don’t exaggerate, don’t misrepresent, don’t bend things. If someone asks you something you don’t want to tell him, just say so, “Sorry, I can’t tell you that” or “Ah, that’s confidential.” People in America will respect you for being a “straight-shooting”, reliable person. Whatever you do, don’t make up something for an answer; don’t lie.


Why is America like that? That’s because American society has the most free market type of ideology, and free market ideology despises dishonesty. For a free market to be successful, the exchange of goods and services has to be reliable. Fraud, along with stealing and robbery, destroys the reliability of exchange and therefore destroys free exchange and the free market itself. Thus Americans hate dishonesty.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Modernization Needs Culture 现代化需要文化

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I visited Paris and Madrid recently, and after a few museums and historical buildings it looks to me like medieval European culture by the 1100’s was every bit as advanced as Chinese culture of the time if not more advanced! We’ve all been misled by those mistaken comparisons of the primitive castles of the Medieval kings with the grandiose imperial palaces of China of the same era, and come to the erroneous conclusion that culturally the Europeans have been far behind China until the 1700’s. Not so: the grandeur of Medieval Europe is not to be found in the kings’ abodes, but in the cathedrals and religious monuments. The proper comparison should be made between say, the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, which was at the time “the parish church of Europe’s kings”, and the contemporaneous Song Dynasty imperial palace of the 1100’s. The Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral wins in terms of technology: it’s far taller, and it’s got all those huge, gorgeous stained glass windows!


Sigh! So many “China scholars” tell us that Europeans had no culture; they just somehow came into possession of some better ships and some guns some time starting around the 1500’s, and then they conquered the world on that! Not true at all! No, they had a lot more, they had a deep, high culture based on Christianity, just like China used to have a deep, high culture based on Confucianism. The West hasn’t just been advanced for a couple of hundred years; they have been advanced for 1,000 years! The West’s modernity is deeply based on advanced cultural traditions that stretch back 1,000 years.


So this proves to me that the thinking that China can disregard and even throw away all that high culture we’ve had for a couple of thousand years back and just somehow modernize, is wrong. The West has built its modernization upon a foundation of a thousand years of Western high culture; can China build its modernization without the foundation of past Chinese high culture? No, for China to modernize, China needs to come to terms with and embrace its past high culture, then add to it where it’s deficient and build on it where it’s advanced or even superior.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Professor Yu Dan’s Talk on Ideals 于丹教授谈理想

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Sigh! I also admire Professor Yu Dan, whose books are wildly popular in China, for promoting Confucius, but in her talk on ideals she really is teaching people the wrong thing; according to her it’s bad to have high ideals, but good to be a hedonist! If you want to reform the country, to bring happiness to the country or peace to the world, then you lack humility. You are not good enough to talk about such things. You are only good enough to have as your ideals “down to earth” things, like going to the countryside in spring, having a party there, singing some songs and relaxing a bit. If this is not keeping the people foolish and enslaved then what is it? This is also putting down those who worry about their country and their people, and praising those hedonists who only think about enjoying themselves! And she talks about it with such conviction and self-righteousness - tsk, tsk!

唉!我也赞赏著书风行中国的于丹教授宣扬孔子,但她关于理想的谈话真是教坏人;依她说,怀抱着高尚的理想是坏的,做享乐主义者是好的!如果你想要改良国家,要治国平天下,那么你就是没有谦虚。你没资格谈这些东西,你的理想就只配是什么脚低下的东西,春天里跟朋友去郊外旅行,开一下party,唱一下歌,轻松一下… 这不是愚民和奴民是什么?同时,这也贬低那些虑国忧民的人,赞扬那些只顾寻求开心的享乐主义者!她还说得这么振振有词,哎呀!

Is everything in the classic Lun Yu always reliable, always correct? To me, this passage in Lun Yu is probably not accurate. Here Confucius is portrayed as a teacher who sneers at but wouldn’t come out and enlighten his student; when a student has high ideals he’s arrogant, yet when a student is more modest then he has denigrated the importance of The Rites. Only when a student obviously of noble birth, haughtily waiting until he has finished playing a lute that only nobles can play so well, give an answer from a hedonistic viewpoint that only a noble can fully appreciate from personal experience, promoting the kind of romantic activity that only a noble accorded a life of leisure can regularly enjoy, only then does Confucius endorse the answer. How could the “Teacher For All Generations” look down upon students of commoner origin and pander to students of noble origin?


He couldn’t. Therefore, Mr. Ma Qian Li, a modern Confucian scholar who has written a whole book to criticize Yu Dan, interprets this passage as the student wanting, not for himself to go play in the countryside during spring, but for everyone in the world to be able to go play in the countryside during spring, to be able to enjoy such leisurely lives, and that Confucius thinks that this is the highest ideal. I think that this interpretation is a bit contrived and does not match the original text, but at least Mr. Ma hasn’t participated in glorifying hedonism, the way that Yu Dan has. I personally think that Lun Yu does have some things that are wrong, some things that cannot be what Confucius would advocate, and this passage is an example. I think that toward things in the Confucian classics, it doesn’t hurt to take an objective attitude - of course we shouldn’t say that everything is wrong, but neither do we need to blindly take everything to be right.


By the way, I think that the kind of thinking that Professor Yu Dan promotes belongs to the school of Confucian philosophical idealism, and follows the same lines as people such as Zhu Xi, which I don’t completely agree with. Moreover, I think their method of thinking is dangerous, and can lead to absolutes, excesses, arbitrariness, cultism and other bad things, of which this extolling of hedonism is just an example. At the same time, however, she is still promoting Confucius, courtesy and integrity and she is making people interested in Confucius and the Chinese intellectual heritage, so all that should be affirmed. I don’t agree with “The Ten PhD’s” who rudely attack Yu Dan,saying that she has no right to interpret Confucius in her own way, and saying that in carrying Yu Dan’s talks the media lacks a conscience and is endangering Chinese culture. If Chinese culture is so weak that it collapses when a professor popularizes it a bit, when ordinary people get to know it a bit, and that it has to be kept hidden in the hot houses of some elite school PhD’s, why do we need this kind of culture? Perhaps The Ten PhD’s are a bit lacking in respect for the Chinese intellectual heritage?


The Chinese Cultural Renaissance has begun; no doubt a hundred flowers will bloom and a hundred schools will contend.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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