Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering - 2

That it is truly liberating and empowering for traditional Chinese culture to insist on always carrying out one’s Cardinal Obligations to the other party in one’s Cardinal Relations no matter what one’s subjective feelings such as “love” are (see my blogs from Feb. 27 to April 29, 2007) can be seen readily in the relationship called marriage.

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?” Of course, according to Western thinking, it is “dishonest” and “not honorable” to stay in a marriage “devoid of love.” And so one picks up and leaves one’s spouse, and the marriage is over.

In traditional Chinese culture, 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.

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 and as long as one carries out one’s obligations to the other party. There is no need to be fearful about losing the other party to some “wilting of love.” One can relax, be oneself and enjoy one’s spouse. As long as one is the other’s spouse, the other person owes one the Cardinal Obligations. Of course, one owes the other person the reciprocal obligations. Unlike whether one can keep one’s spouse “in love with” oneself, which involves the spouse’s subjective feelings and are not entirely within one’s control, whether one carries out one’s obligations is entirely within one’s control.

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

Not only is this liberating and empowering, but also this is far better for the growth and development of true love.

Feng Xin-ming

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