Siblings are Like One’s Own Limbs

“Brothers are like one’s own limbs” (兄弟如手足) is an old Chinese saying that all kids brought up in the traditional Chinese way know by heart. Of course, nowadays, the sexes having to be explicitly mentioned equally in our speech, we would have to say “siblings are like one’s own limbs” since just saying “brothers” is no longer considered to also include the feminine equivalent, i.e. sisters. At any rate, kids brought up the traditional Chinese way know the saying by heart because everyone who is an elder to them, as well as all the culture around them, i.e. parents, grandparents, teachers, relatives, textbooks, books for children, magazines for children, and so forth, drill the saying into the kids over and over. All around the kids the prevailing, traditional Chinese culture emphasizes that siblings must love each other, stick by each other, help each other, and work together with each other their entire lives.

Children brought up the traditional Chinese way are told the story of the king who summoned all his sons, the seven princes. He gave each prince one arrow to break, which was done easily. Then he gave each seven arrows bundled together to break, which none could do. “Ah,” the king said, “Each one of you by yourself can be broken easily, but if you all unite and pull together, you will never be broken.”

Kids raised in the traditional Chinese way know that they are lucky to have siblings and know to treasure and value siblings. Whether they actually always do it or not, kids raised in the traditional Chinese way know that the older siblings are supposed to help and guide the younger ones, and that the younger siblings are supposed to be respectful to the older ones. They know that siblings should not fight, that it is wrong to fight, and that it is very shameful for siblings to fight.

Never, never do they hear from their elders or from school that it’s natural for siblings to engage in hostilities or even to physically fight because it’s “sibling rivalry”! Never, never is fighting among siblings tolerated with mere annoyance or even condoned with a chuckle. If it comes to light that siblings have been fighting, there is always reprimand. Unlike today’s parents who rely on their natural maternal or paternal instinct, which favors the younger child, and thus always scold the older child for not having been accommodating enough to the younger one no matter how unreasonable, for kids raised in the traditional Chinese way the younger one is always in the wrong to have hit the older one for the younger one is to treat the older sibling with respect.

Yes, kids raised the traditional Chinese way know they are to treat, whether they always practice it or not, siblings like one’s own limbs.

By the way, that wasn’t so long ago: I was a child in Asia in the early sixties and I was engulfed in that traditional Chinese culture. I guess it simply disappeared during the seventies.

Feng Xin-ming

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