Chinese People and the Expression of Love
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