Archive for May, 2008

Chinese People and the Expression of Love

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

One of the criticisms leveled by Westerners and, far more vehemently, by Westernized Chinese, at Chinese people in general is that they don’t “show love”. In fact, this theme is enlarged upon in a very unflattering manner in more than one novel written by Chinese-Americans about Chinese-Americans. The gist of the criticism is that traditional Chinese culture doesn’t value love and that therefore Chinese people are cold and incapable of feeling love.


Sigh, that is not so! Traditional Chinese culture does value love, and Chinese people are capable of feeling love! It’s just that first, traditional Chinese culture considers obligations, which are objective and are defined by the objectively existing relationship, to come before love, a subjective feeling, and second, because of the foregoing, Chinese people don’t need to express love in the very demonstrative ways that Westerners express it. Traditional Chinese culture makes Chinese people secure in that should one day the subjective feeling of love towards them not be felt by the other party in the relationship, that doesn’t mean the relationship will come crashing to an end. The relationship continues as long as one continues to fulfill one’s relationship-defined obligations.


Thus one expresses love by fulfilling one’s obligations with all one’s heart and soul. In traditional Chinese culture, in the novels, plays, and stories, what is sung in praise to is the behavior of fulfilling one’s obligations with all one’s heart and soul regardless of difficulty or sacrifice, while the subjective feeling of love is included in and expressed by the objective behavior. Traditional Chinese culture puts objective behavior first and subjective feeling second.


Therefore, Chinese don’t need to always say “I love you”, to always kiss and embrace in front of others, like Westerners do. On the contrary, Chinese feel that such things are creepy, like they are phony, part of an act. Chinese people fulfill their obligations and duties every day with whole heart and soul, with an attitude that’s both reverent and joyful, and such is their expression of love.


So, yes, in traditional Chinese culture love is important, indeed very important; it’s just that love is not supreme, not important above all else, the way Western culture has it. Traditional Chinese culture puts love in its proper place.


It’s not just traditional Chinese culture that’s like this; traditional Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese cultures are also like this, in a word, all the Asian cultures that have revered Confucius are like this.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Earthquake victims

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

With a heavy heart we think of the victims of the earthquake in China: the dead, the missing, the homeless, the dispossessed, and their families. Likewise we mourn the victims of the cyclone in Myanmar. These are sad, sad tragedies. So many lives, wiped out or severely damaged. No one who is associated with Asia could be untouched by these calamities.

In fact, the whole world is touched, and moved. I was in Paris recently, and when I told the cab driver, who was originally from Mali in Africa, that I was Chinese he said, “Ah, yes, the great earthquake – so sad!” When I went to visit the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as a tourist the priests at Mass were praying for the victims of the earthquake in China. Great indeed is the feeling of brotherhood among people all over the world!

Di Zi Gui tells us that “We must love all who are human: we are covered by the same sky and borne by the same earth.” In this admonition to universal love and charity traditional Chinese culture is no different from traditional Western culture, where the admonition is to love all humans because they are all children of God.

May the earthquake victims be comforted; may they know that the whole world thinks of them.

Feng Xin-ming

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The Sixth Cardinal Relationship, That Between Buyer and Seller

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Back in my blog of March 31, 2007, I said that in today’s world, we need to recognize a sixth Cardinal Relationship ( 第六伦, or 第六倫 in complicated script), that between buyer and seller. In my blog of April 5, 2007, I listed the Cardinal Obligations the two parties owe each other in this Sixth Cardinal Relationship: the buyer is obliged to pay on time and in the amounts promised for the good or service bought, and 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. I also said that 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.

Some people have commented that they don’t see why lowly buying and selling is so important that it should be elevated to a Cardinal Relationship. Doesn’t buying and selling inherently involve cheating? As for saying that the relationship between the teacher and the student is part of buying and selling, why, they say, that’s outright cheapening of a relationship held to be sacred in traditional Chinese Confucian thinking. Haven’t I heard of the old adage, “be my teacher for one day, be my father all my life” (“ 一日为师,终身为父” or “ 一日為師,終身為父” in complicated script)?

Just to refresh the reader’s memory, the other five Cardinal Relationships (五伦, or 五倫 in complicated script) are between: government and citizen (ruler and subject), parents and offspring, sibling and sibling, husband and wife, and friend and friend. Their mutual Cardinal Obligations I’ve talked about in my blogs from February 25 to April 2, 2007.

Well, I think that not only do we merely need, but also we need desperately, to recognize the relationship between buyer and seller as a Cardinal one.

For one thing, as I’ve discussed in my blog of April 5, 2007, buying and selling is truly mutual help on the grandest scale. Indeed, far from being a “cheap” act, buying and selling is the sacred act that has transformed humans from a stage when life was short, brutal and barbaric, to the stage now, when life is quite a bit more civil, enlightened and comfortable. And no, cheating is not an inherent part of buying and selling. Please see my blogs of Nov. 4 and 17, 2007 on how honesty and integrity is the only way to make money in a sustained way and on how shopping around will keep one safe from cheating. No, buying and selling is a sacred act of mutual help. Such a sacred and important act must be recognized as belonging to a Cardinal Relationship.

Second, 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. By enshrining buying and selling into a Cardinal Relationship we will contribute to the development of society and the progress of mankind.

Third, a lot of Chinese and Asians in Asia in general operate in business according to the thinking that you need to become friends first, and then you can do business. That’s why you have to go to all those drinking parties and boys’ nights out (including brothels) to do business in Asia. They often can’t just sign the contract, and on the basis of promises made and monies paid, do business with people who are not emotionally bonded except on a working, formal basis. If you are not emotionally bonded with them they just might, or actually they think that you’ll think they just might, cheat you, and they think you just might cheat them. I think that’s bad for work hours, for the health of the businessmen involved, and the whole setup discriminates against females, who can’t go on boys’ nights out the same way as males. Recognizing buying and selling as a Cardinal Relationship will correct that situation, make life much better for businessmen, and enable females to participate in Asian business in a more equal footing.

As for “be my teacher for one day, be my father all my life”, I know where that comes from: it comes from the same cultish places in traditional China where the cultish aberrations of xiao (being good to parents) come from. It’s that intellectual trend that started around 1000 C.E. to change Confucianism from a set of practical and reasonable tenets into a metaphysical cult of absolutes and excesses. Hey, listen, if it’s true that being one’s teacher for one day makes that person into one’s father for life, then what about the even older adage, from Confucius’ Analects no less (Chapter Shu Er, or 《论语:述而》/《論語:述而》), that “when I am in a group of three, there has to be someone who’s my teacher” (“ 三人行,必有我师焉” or “ 三人行,必有我師焉” in complicated script)? Then one acquires fathers every day? Maybe even several times a day? Hey, I think that making one’s teacher into one’s father is an act of luan lun ( 乱伦 / 亂倫) or mixing up of the Cardinal Relations. Yes, yes, I know they use the term luan lun to mean incest nowadays, but I am using the term in its original meaning in The Analects and other traditional Chinese writings.* So no, I don’t think I cheapen or besmirch the sacred role of teachers at all when I include teaching in the just as sacred buyer-seller, Sixth Cardinal Relationship.

Yes, time to recognize the actually sacred act of buying and selling as part of the just as sacred Cardinal Relations, with sacred Cardinal Obligations.

Feng Xin-ming, May 11, 2008, minor edits June 21, 2008
* See Ci Hai 词海 / 辭海,Shanghai, 1989, p. 2107, under the entry 乱伦 / 亂倫.

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