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Tsoi Dug Blog 才德博客 » Blog Archive » Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering - 1

Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering - 1

Happy New Year! It’s already 2008! Hey, we are one year further into the beginning of the Chinese cultural Renaissance that will mark the next couple of centuries, and that’s something to celebrate for sure!

Well, let’s deal with a charge levied by those who have misunderstood traditional Chinese culture that the traditional Chinese/Confucian teachings, like the ones in Di Zi Gui , are oppressive and take away personal freedom. Why do, say, offspring have to be xiao (good to their parents)? Why do subjects have to obey their governments? Why do wives have to respect their husbands? Where’s choice? Where’s freedom?

Well, for one thing, the traditional Confucian teachings about offspring being xiao, subjects being obedient, and wives being respectful don’t mean blind and abject submission the way people nowadays so wrongly think. It’s right there in the Confucian classics: offspring, subjects and wives all have the duty to voice opposition and dissuade parents, governments, and husbands, respectively, from moral unrighteousness. So it’s not blind obedience that the authentic, as opposed to the misrepresented, old Confucian teachings teach.

For another thing, for every imperative to discharge an obligation there’s a reciprocal imperative for the other party to discharge a reciprocal obligation: while offspring have to be xiao, parents have to be kind; while subjects have to obey the government, the government has to be competent and to listen to the subjects; while wives have to respect their husbands, husbands also have to respect their wives.

So where is the oppression? Where’s the lack of freedom? Or of choice?

Well, actually, our critics reply, the problem is, why does traditional Chinese Confucianism insist that offspring must be xiao, subjects must be obedient, and wives must be respectful, no matter how they feel about it? Why do they have to do all that even if they dislike, despise, or even hate their parents, or governments, or husbands? Isn’t that oppressive? What about choice? What about freedom?

Aha! So that’s it! You are criticizing the Confucian teachings, good sirs and madams, because they say that people should carry out their Cardinal Obligations, no matter how they may feel towards the other party in the Cardinal Relationship! You are absolutely right; Confucian teachings do insist that one carries out one’s Cardinal Obligations no matter what one’s subjective feelings are towards the other party in the Cardinal Relations: offspring must be good to their parents, subjects must obey their governments, and wives must respect their husbands, even if there’s “no love in the relationship.”

So the real complaint by those who characterize, wrongly of course, Confucian teachings as oppressive and anti-freedom is that Confucianism places obligations above “love.” And when “love” is not allowed to have free, supreme sway, when one cannot act according to one’s subjective feelings of the moment, then why, our critics say, that’s unfree! That’s oppression!

Yes, yes, true, absolutely true: quite unlike the modern day insistence by the Westernized world, i.e. most of today’s world, that some subjective feeling loosely characterized as “love” hold supreme sway over human relationships, Confucianism teaches that the Relationship-Defined Cardinal Obligations hold supreme sway over human relationships. (See my blogs from Feb. 27 to April 29 of 2007.) Why, even if there’s “no love” between two spouses, at least not for the time being, they must discharge their obligations towards one another of respect and of building a life and a family together. Yes, quite true, that’s what our critics are complaining about: they want the “freedom” to pick and choose whether and when they need to discharge their obligations in a relationship, as well as which obligations to discharge, but no, Confucianism is against that. For Confucianism, being in a relationship means you must discharge all your obligations at all times to the other party. Faithfully. Without fail.

And this very insistence by traditional Chinese culture, by Confucianism, misrepresented as being oppressive and anti-freedom, is actually, exactly, the most liberating and empowering of all traditional Chinese, i.e. Confucian, precepts. Imagine: as long as you keep discharging your obligations, the other party is obliged to discharge his or her obligations to you in return! How liberating! How empowering! This is true freedom! Freedom from fear, from insecurity, from the capriciousness of fancy and fickle feelings of the moment, in a word, from the myriad ills that human relationships in today’s Westernized world are prey and captive to.

We’ll elaborate further on this liberating and empowering aspect of traditional Chinese culture, of Confucianism, in blogs to come.

Feng Xin-ming


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