Archive for April, 2007

Private Endeavors will popularize the Supremacy of the Relationship-Defined Cardinal Obligations

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Now who will make the Cardinal Obligations supreme? Will it be decreed by government authority and foisted on us from above? No, no, absolutely not. Only individuals, one by one, family by family, can adopt the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations. And that can only be done voluntarily, by each individual, each family and each extended family, when they see and come to understand the advantages of making the Cardinal Obligations supreme in their own lives. This people come to see not because of any act of government, but because of the persistent and tireless preachings by enlightened good hearted, kind people, who understand that the more people who adopt the Cardinal Obligations, the better for society and for the enlightened people themselves, and because of the good examples of happiness and moral conduct set by such enlightened people.

That is why in Imperial China, the Confucian ideal has always been that when government rules well, there should be nothing for it to do, as the people are harmonious, happy, prosperous, and of good conduct, without the authorities having to interfere.

Feng Xin-ming


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Why the Supremacy of the Relationship-Defined Cardinal Obligations is Good for Freedom

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

The reason the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations is good for freedom is because, except for the relationship between the government and its citizens, the obligations are voluntary and government authority and legal coercion is unnecessary.

The obligations are based on mutual benefit; one violates them at one’s own peril. One gets punished by natural means; if one violates one’s obligations one then loses the reciprocal obligations the other party owes oneself.

Thus, if a son is not xiao he risks his parents becoming unkind, as the reciprocal of the offspring’s xiao is the parents’ kindness; and if a husband is not respectful and cooperative he risks his wife becoming disrespectful and uncooperative, as spouses’ respect foir and cooperation with each other are reciprocal.

Furthermore, other people who have a relationship with him, seeing that he does not carry out his Cardinal Obligations, may also cease carrying out their obligations to him. Thus the son who is not xiao risks having his own son being not xiao to him, and the seller who cheats his buyers risks having people who sell to him cheating him.

Not only that, but also other people who do not now have a relationship with the obligation violator/reneger will cease to come forward to have relationships with him. Since relationships mean mutual help, this means the violator will get very little help and therefore will not succeed in life or find happiness. Thus, a seller who violates his obligations will find fewer and fewer customers, a husband who violates his obligations to his wife will lose friends and few will become his friends, and so forth.

The supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations is the supremacy of mutual help, nothing more. It is the honor code for mutual help. It codifies honorable conduct for relations of mutual help in human society, relations that can be life long, relations that no human can live without. Adopting this honor code is entirely voluntary, but extremely beneficial. It is most conducive to success and happiness. Having such weighty incentives, once people understand the idea, they will conduct themselves according to this honor code, and there is no need for external coercion in the form of legal authority and government.

People are free to adhere to the honor code or not. If they do, they get rewarded, automatically, without getting the authorities involved. If people don’t adhere to the honor code, they get punished, again automatically, without getting the authorities involved.

Government can be as minimal as possible, intrude into the lives of citizens as little as possible, and yet society runs harmoniously and justly, with everyone looked after. The weak, the aged and the disabled will be cared for by those who know them and are close to them, rather than by some anonymous big brother government agency.

As more and more people adopt the idea of the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations, it will usher in a new era of free societies.

Feng Xin-ming


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Modern Free Society Needs the Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

(Please also see my paper on my website “The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love”)

Making the Cardinal Obligations supreme, treating them as the supreme value, as the Confucian-Chinese tradition has done for over two thousand years, is most compatible with a modern free society. Nay more, making the Cardinal Obligations supreme is extremely conducive to the development of an even freer society than what we have now.

How so? Many will ask, shocked. Isn’t the Confucian-Chinese tradition autocratic? One young man has actually told me that he has always thought that Confucianism is fascist! Oh wrong, wrong; oh how wrong! Oh times! Oh morals!

True, historically there has been significant streaks of autocracy in Confucianism and true, China has had a totalitarian system of government for over two thousand years, where government control has been remarkably pervasive for a society based on technology quite primitive today. Traditional Chinese autocracy and totalitarianism, however, have been based mainly on Legalsim and the idea of Craft* (Shu` or 术), not Confucianism. In fact, historically Confucianism has been the restraining and humanizing influence on traditional Chinese totalitarianism.

Let us not get into a huge debate about exactly where, when, and how much are the autocratic and totalitarian streaks in Confucianism; let us just look at the core idea of Confucianism: the Cardinal Obligations. Quite opposite to autocracy and totalitarianism, the essence of the Cardinal Obligations is that they enable a society to function with the least amount of coercion, the least amount of government control, and thus the maximum freedom and voluntary choice.

It is now the twenty-first century, and it is high time to purge the autocratic and totalitarian streaks that have contaminated Confucianism, the core teaching of which, the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations, is by nature against autocracy and totalitarianism.

Feng Xin-ming

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*Political and historical writings from traditional China often distinguish between Dao` (the Way) on the one hand, which is the good and the benevolent, and Shu` (Craft) on the other, which is the “art” or “craft” involving Machiavellian deceit and cruelty but considered justified means to achieve the greater good. Writers would laud a personnage, for example an emperor or a prime minister, for adhering to the Dao` in carrying out good and benevolent deeds, and would exonerate the same personnage of his heinous and underhanded deeds by invoking the necessity of Shu` (Craft). The term Shu` (Craft) can be expanded as Zhi` Guo’ Zhi- Shu` (the Craft or Art of Ruling a State)

Feng Xin-ming


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Marriage & the Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the Supremacy of Love

Monday, April 16th, 2007

(Please also see my paper on my website “The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. The West’s Supremacy of Love”)

This inconstancy in the subjective feeling called love is especially problematic in the relationship between spouses. In the Western tradition, the love that is supposed to exist between spouses is a romantic love. One is supposed to be “in love with,” that is, feel a deep romantic love for, one’s spouse. After all, that is supposed to be why one has married one’s spouse in the first place. When a Westerner or a Westernized person, which is most of the planet these days, no longer feels romantic love for his or her spouse, he or she feels extremely tormented. He or she is not supposed to not feel romantic love for the spouse, and in fact, if he or she “no longer loves” the spouse, he or she is supposed to either somehow make himself or herself “fall in love again” with the spouse, or quit the relationship. Otherwise, according to Western thinking, it is “dishonest” and “not honorable” to stay in a marriage “devoid of love.”

Thus in the Western or Westernized marriage, people are always trying to keep and cultivate the other party’s love. People are fearful that they might lose the other party’s love. There is insecurity, and whether the relationship lasts is not within one’s control. “What if he/she meets someone else and falls in love?” When someone of the opposite sex comes around one’s spouse, one gets all flustered and anxious - anyone could be a predator. One must always try to “show love,” to “keep the love going,” to “stay in love with each other.” All this anxiety and striving to please and “hang onto” one’s spouse invariably results in resentment.

In the Chinese tradition, however, one can be secure that the relationship holds as long as one stays in the relationship. There is no need to be fearful about losing the other party to some “wilting of love.” As long as one is the other’s spouse, the other person owes one obligations. Of course, one owes the other person reciprocal obligations. As long as the spousal obligations are carried out, that is, as long as they cooperate to build a life together and respect each other, there should be harmony and love. And unlike whether one can keep one’s spouse “in love with” oneself, which is not entirely within one’s control, whether one carries out one’s obligations is entirely within one’s control.

True, adverse conditions can make it difficult, but it is still within one’s control to try to carry out one’s obligations despite such conditions. In fact, in traditional Chinese literature the recurring theme is how heroes and heroines, movingly, carry out or try to carry out Cardinal Obligations despite impossible circumstances.

Therefore, in the Chinese tradition, there is a lot more security and a lot more relaxed enjoyment in marriage.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love

Friday, April 13th, 2007

(Please also see my paper on my website “The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love”)

Traditional Chinese morality calls for obligations and duties to be rendered to persons not because of any feelings of love toward them, though feelings are important, but because of their relation to us, such as parents, spouses, offspring, siblings, relatives, and so forth. This is regardless of how much or how little love we may feel toward them. In the (traditional) Chinese tradition, relationship-defined obligations, like the Cardinal Obligations, are supreme. Not love. This sounds harsh, but it’s not. In fact, this is far better for the growth and development of true love, and we’ll see why.

In the Western tradition, love is supreme. Love is the supreme value that is put above all else. The problem with love being supreme is that love is a subjective feeling, and can change from time to time, especially when the going gets tough. In life, there will always be times when the going gets tough. Outside circumstances can turn adverse, people make mistakes, and life is full of misunderstandings. For long term relationships, such as family or spouse, there will always be a time when all looks black, when there seems to be no hope, or when anger takes precedence over all else. During those times one might not be able to feel a positive feeling, let alone love, towards the other party. Of course, eventually the hard times will be over, so if in the interim the parties have persisted and carried on fulfilling their obligations towards each other, feelings will change again and love will return. In the Western world, however, long before that stage is reached, one will say, “I don’t love this person any more; why am I still with him/her?” And then one picks up and leaves one’s spouse, or, if it’s a parent or sibling, one cuts off all contact.

In the (traditional) Chinese tradition, however, the relationship-defined Cardinal Obligations are supreme. Relationships exist objectively and are not subject to subjective feelings. Whether someone is one’s parent, or sibling, or spouse is objectively determined, and doesn’t change no matter what one’s feelings are towards that person. Therefore, during the hard times, each party in the relationship continues to carry out the obligations toward the other party, regardless of feeling.

The wonderful thing in this is that when the two parties in a relationship carry out their obligations toward each other, positive feelings will appear and grow. It is something that is independent of subjective will. And then after the hard times are over, love returns and this love is stronger and deeper than ever. It now is a love that has been tested and is rooted in overcoming common adversity and misunderstanding. It is a love that has been nurtured by self-sacrifice, magnanimity, faith and humility on the part of both parties. It is a truer, more mature love. Happy indeed are those who can enjoy this far deeper, far truer love! And it will be thanks to the Chinese tradition of putting the relationship-defined obligations, instead of love, above all else.

Paradoxical, but life is like that. If one wants something, by pursuing that something as a supreme priority above all else one may not get that thing, especially if it shouldn’t be a supreme priority in the first place. Instead, by pursuing the proper things in their proper priorities one will not only get that something, but also get it better.

Feng Xin-ming


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“A Man’s Ability may be Great or Small…” A Revised Quotation from Chairman Mao

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Speaking of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Campaign to Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius in our last blog, Chairman Mao, the author of those two disasters for all Chinese, comes to mind. Ya know, I have respect for Chairman Mao, even though so much of what he has done is so wrong. I respect him because he has been sincere in trying to help mankind, he has always been honest, and he has tried his best to do what he has believed in. Alas, however, what he has believed in is so wrong! Totalitarianism, for goodness’ sake! Yet, a lot of it is historical circumstances: given China’s two-thousand-year-old totalitarian heritage, what do you expect? Even today, most Chinese people are still pretty totalitarian-minded. They think the one-child policy is great and the state has the right to dictate your number of children; most Chinese people think the government’s wholesale tearing down of Beijing’s historical hutong neighborhoods to “beautify” the city for the Olympics is justified; for the government to have almost unlimited power doesn’t bother most Chinese people, so long as it’s “used wisely”… Heck, they even think, in total disregard for two thousand years of Chinese tradional verdict, that that ultimate totalitarian, the First Emperor of Qin, the granddaddy of all Chinese totalitarians, is a pretty good guy, as in the popular Chinese movie “Hero”!

But back to the topic: the relevant thing about Chairman Mao is a quotation of his* that many have learned by heart forty or so years ago, and I am going to change that quotation a bit to make it valid from my point of view. Here it is, the quotation revised:

“A person’s ability may be great or small, but if he has xiao` 孝 (being good to parents) ti` 悌 (being respectful to elders) and li^ 礼 (courtesy) yi` 义 (sense of moral obligations), then he is already noble minded and pure, a person of moral integrity, a person of value to the world.”

Now I think, revised, that’s a really, really good quotation. Many Chinese parents today, nay, many parents, period, today, only know to push their kids to achieve high, but do not know that morals, character and conduct are more important than grades and study. Many look down upon people who are not as “smart” or “capable,” as in, for example, people with lower school grades, not realizing that what makes a person truly useful to the world and truly capable of achievement is his morals, character and conduct. All who are moral and have good character and conduct deserve our utmost respect, regardless of grades or “ability.”

Feng Xin-ming

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*”A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit (the spirit of absolute selflessness - F.X.), he is already noble minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man of value to the people.” Mao Zedong, QUOTATIONS FROM CHAIRMAN MAO TSE-TUNG, Foreign Languages Press, Peking (Beijing), 1969, p. 172, “Serving the People - In Memory of Norman Bethune.”


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Cardinal Obligation 6: Between Buyer and Seller

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

Finally, the Cardinal Relation between buyer and seller, a sixth Cardinal Relation invented by me - is it also a relationship of mutual help? With all the talk about the “hidden persuaders,” how “big corporations manipulate us to buy their products,” and how “big business” manipulate the market to make us overpay, sometimes it is hard to see how the relation between buyer and seller can be one of mutual help. Socialist ideology and much traditional ideology from around the world, especially the poorer countries, say that buying and selling are somehow inherently dirty as the profit motive (hence “greed”) is involved, and that sellers are morally suspect as they are always looking to “take advantage of the customer” and take the “poor sucker” for all he has. Such is the cynical worldview of the “dog-eat-dog world.”

Sadly, there is still much currency to this type of thinking, especially in the more socialist and poorer parts of the world. No, the honest, non-cheating profit motive is not the same as the dishonest, cheating “greed.” The honest, non-cheating profit motive means striving to help one’s customers better than everyone else, or more than everyone else, or striving to help more customers than everyone else. Those laudable and honorable strivings are the only real ways to make more profit honestly. Of course, collecting on payments due is part of the honest profit motive, and is absolutely necessary to ensure justice and to ensure that the provision of the valuable and useful product or service under consideration is sustainable. It is absolutely honorable, therefore, for a buyer to demand and collect on payments due him, otherwise he will not be able to continue producing his product or service, it will become unsustainable, and soon noone else will be able to enjoy his product or service. He is only being responsible to other consumers and would-be consumers of his product or service to strive to make it sustainable. As for taking advantage of one’s customers in price, quantity, or quality, that is the surest path to ruin for a seller, because there is only a one-time profit and there will be a real dearth of customers as his putrid reputation becomes known.

Buying and selling is truly mutual help on the grandest scale. As I have written back on March 4:

“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!”

Indeed, advance in the level of wealth and modernization of a society can be seen as nothing other than increase in the quantity and complexity of the mutual help in a society. Every new product or service is just another type of mutual help being brought into being: whereas before we have no life-saving treatment for say, appendicitis, and appendicitis is a sure death sentence, with modernization and medical advance in a society a new type of mutual help is born, the persons called surgeon, surgical nurse, anaesthesiologist, operating room architects, builders, maintainers, janitors, and so forth, who can come together to help people by providing them with the service called an appendenctomy, come into being.

Should it be any wonder that, where there is prevalent recognition of buying and selling as being honorable and respectable, where sellers and buyers are usually honest and usually don’t cheat, the society is relatively rich, and where the opposite is prevalent, the society is poor? It is not an accident; it is cause and effect.

In the old days, when China has been one of the richest, if not the richest, country in the world, the attitude prevalent in society has been that one must be honest, must not be greedy, and must not cheat. In the past, Chinese businessmen have had a sterling reputation for honesty, fairness, and being true to their word. In fact, an article in Readers’ Digest that I’ve read during the sixties talks about how the secret to success of the overseas Chinese businessmen in Southeast Asia, besides an amazing work ethic, is their legendary integrity. Alas, that kind of integrity is not much in evidence in the thinking prevalent among people in China these days, thanks to the half century of socialist ideology there.

For the sad situation in the prevalent attitude and thinking among Chinese people nowadays, special responsibility must also be laid on the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” of 1966 to 1971, and the “Campaign to Critize Lin Biao and Confucius” immediately after, from 1971 to 1976. Those ten years of ideological “ethnic cleansing” have thoroughly rid China of its traditional culture, traditional morality, traditional integrity, and traditional courtesy, in a word, rid China of its moorings.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Cardinal Obligations Continued: Mutual Help

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

What do all six Cardinal Relations have in common? They all have in common the fundamental feature of human society: mutual help.

Reflecting the fundamental property of human society, the Cardinal Relation between government and subjects is but a relation of mutual help: the government is there to help its subjects by protecting them and keeping order, and in turn the subjects help the government by cooperating with the government so as to make order possible, and by paying taxes to sustain the government.

Also, the Cardinal Relation between parents and offspring is a relationship of mutual help: the parents help the offspring survive, grow up, and learn (become educated). When still immature the offspring help the parents by cooperating with them in the upbringing by obeying and respecting the parents, and when grown up, the offspring help the parents by providing sustenance and care to them in their old age and debility.

The Cardinal Relation between older and younger siblings is a relation of mutual help: the siblings help and cooperate with each other.

As for the Cardinal Relation among spouses, the husband and wife help and cooperate with each other in building a life together.

Of course, mutual help is clearly the real link underlying friendship. Never mind encouraging and admonishing each other, even when it comes to just friends mutually entertaining and amusing each other, that is a form of mutual help.

Feng Xin-ming


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