Archive for March, 2007

The Cardinal Obligations Continued

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Continuing from my last blog, the fourth Cardinal Relation is that between husband and wife. They are to unite their hearts as one forever, cooperate to build a life together, and respect each other so much that at every meal they “raise their trays up to the eyebrows to salute each other before eating.”

The fifth Cardinal Relation is that between friends. They are obliged to help each other, to encourage each other to do right, and to dissuade each other from doing wrong. There is no truer friend than one who will frankly tell you when you are making a mistake.

Of course, I think it is necessary to add a sixth Cardinal Relation: that between buyer and seller. The buyer is obliged to pay on time and in the amounts promised for the good or service bought. He’s also obliged to make clear what he wants and expects. The seller is obliged to deliver the good or service on time and in the amounts and quality promised. This Cardinal Relation includes the relationship between employer and employee; the employer is the buyer and the employee is the seller. When it comes to the teacher and the student (or parent), the student (or parent) is the buyer and the teacher the seller.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Cardinal Relations and the Attendant Cardinal Obligations; the Genius of Confucius

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

The genius of traditional Chinese (Confucian) thinking is that by emphasizing the Five Cardinal Relations (五伦 “wu^ lun’” or “ng-3 lueun-4″ in Cantonese) and the correct Obligations the parties in those Relations owe each other, the entire fabric of a proper civil society is set. The Cardinal Relations and their attendant Cardinal Obligations (伦常 lun’ chang’ or lueun-4 seurng-4 in Cantonese) work like how the DNA in a cell: the DNA sets the template for the proteins to be manufactured by the cell, and in turn the proteins determine the structure, operation, life cycle, and all major properties of the cell. The Cardinal Relations and Obligations likewise determine the structure, operation, and all major properties of the society.

First, the Cardinal Relation between the ruler (government) and the subjects. The ruler (government) is obliged to rule with benevolence and competence in providing protection and peace and order to the subjects. The subjects are obliged to obey (i.e., obey the laws) and to pay sustenance (taxes and service) to the government. Also, the subjects are required to point out the ruler’s mistakes and wrongdoings, should any occur, and not obsequiously pander to the ruler.

Second, the Cardinal Relation between the father (parents) and the son (offspring): the parents are obliged to be kind, and to raise and teach the offspring, and the offspring are required to be good to, or xiao` 孝 (how-3 in Cantonese), to the parents. That includes obeying, respecting, supporting parents when they are aged, and dissuading parents from doing wrong.

Third, the Cardinal Relation between the older brother (older sibling) and the younger: the older sibling is friendly and solicitous, and the younger sibling is respectful. The older sibling looks after and helps the younger, and the younger obeys the older. Sibling rivalry is a no-no, definitely not considered healthy in traditional Chinese thinking. Growing up during the fifties and early sixties in Hong Kong, although my brothers and I fight almost on a daily basis, because of the then still prevalent Confucian thinking we absorb from school, radio, and movies, we would be deeply ashamed if we were ever seen fighting by people outside the family. Because society back then, still imbued with Confucian thinking, frowns upon fighting among siblings, and especially for the younger sibling as he is supposed to defer to and respect the older, our fights are always private, carried out in the privacy of our homes.

Stay tuned–more on the Cardinal Relations in my next blog.

Feng Xin-ming


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En- Yi` 恩义 or Kindness and Obligations, and the Modern World

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

The traditional Chinese emphasis on the repayment of “en`” 恩 (”yun-1″ in Cantonese), is completely compatible with modern society. Some people think that human society is a dog-eat-dog world, or is a world of the law of the jungle, but they cannot be more wrong. The fundamental feature of human society is actually mutual help.

An extraterrestrial visitor will find the massive and intricate amount of mutual help in human society simply amazing. Millions upon millions of people go to their jobs at set hours and perform their tasks more or less to order, day after day, providing goods and services to help other people. These producers then go regularly to yet other people, like the grocer, the hairdresser, the doctor, and so forth, and receive help in the form of needed goods and services, just so much and no more, with little or no fighting, scrambling, or whining. Everything is very orderly, yet there is no one controlling or directing all this traffic!

This is mutual help; this is what human society at heart is all about. The more humans advance, the more society becomes intertwined, and the more complex and intricate becomes mutual help. In fact, progress in a society can be defined as the development of more complex, more intricate, and more thorough-going mutual help: the mutual help we see in a modern city is far more complex and intricate than the mutual help we see in a primitive hunter-gatherer tribe.

So when you repay “en” or kindness, you are helping those who have helped you. In turn, those whom you help turn around and help you again. This is also mutual help and what human society is all about. The Chinese emphasis on the repayment of “en” or kindness encourages the development of mutual help, and is therefore, not only compatible with modern society, but is also a great boon to its advancement.

Feng Xin-ming


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