Posts Tagged ‘孝’

Xiao Shouldn’t be Translated as “Filial Piety”
孝不应译为“子女的虔诚”

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Some people ask me why I translate xiao into English as “being good to parents” rather than the prevalent translation of “filial piety”.  That’s because “filial piety” is open to cultish interpretation.

有人问我,为什么把“孝”用英语翻译为“对父母好“而不是通行的“子女的虔诚”呢?因为“子女的虔诚”一词,有时会令人用过度崇拜的角度来解释孝。

What cultish interpretation?  Well, around 1000 C.E., an intellectual movement came into dominance in China, and some people in that intellectual movement added some tendencies toward absolutes, excesses, metaphysics and cultish thinking onto Confucianism, originally a set of reasonable and practical tenets.

什么过度崇拜?就是公元一千年左右,有一股思潮在中国上升为主流,而这思潮中的一些人,对本来是一套合理实用原则的孔教,加上了一些绝对、过分、形而上学、过度崇拜等倾向 。

When it came to xiao some people with this mode of thinking advocated a sort of god-like worship of one’s living parents, a self-deprecating all-pervasive guilt feeling, constant self-punishment as a form of “offering” and piety, excessive emphasis on obedience and prostration, excessive grieving to the point of quitting all duty and staying night and day next to the parent’s grave for a full three years, and so forth and so on.

说到孝时,那思潮中的一些人提倡,好像对神那样崇拜还活着的父母,对父母怀着一种贬责自己、渗透一切言行的内疚,用不断的自我惩罚来作为“奉献”和“虔诚”,过分强调服从和俯拜,过分哀悼父母乃至丢掉所有职责、在墓旁日

It was precisely when this mode of thinking was at its zenith, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), that Jesuit missionaries working at the Emperor’s court coined “filial piety” as the term for xiao.

正是当这思潮处于巅峰时,即明朝时(1368-1644),在朝廷工作的耶稣会传教士把孝翻译为“子女的虔诚”。

I think xiao should mostly be a normal day-to-day activity of being good to parents and acting in their fundamental interests.  No god-like worship of one’s living parents is needed, no self-deprecating all-pervasive guilt feeling is called for, and no extraordinarily painful, self-punishing, excruciating exertion or sacrifice need be involved, except under certain special circumstances.  Instead of a subjective state of mind, i.e. a “piety”, I think xiao is more of an objective state, i.e. a way of conduct, indeed, as Confucius and Zeng Zi have said in Xiao Jing (The Classic of Xiao), a whole way of living one’s life.

我认为孝主要是日常行为对父母好,为父母的根本利益行事。不需要对还活着的父母好像神那样崇拜,不需要那种贬责自己、渗透一切言行的内疚,同时,除非特殊情况之下,也不需要异常痛苦的、自我惩罚性的、不必要的辛劳和牺牲。我认为孝的主要成分,并非是主观的一种心态或“虔诚”,而是一个客观的状态,是一种行为,事实上,好像孔子和曾子在《孝经》所提出一样,是一整套生活方式。

Thus I think it is more accurate to translate xiao as “being good to parents” than as “filial piety”.

所以,我认为把孝翻译为“对父母好”比“子女的虔诚”更为正确。

Feng Xin-ming  冯欣明

July 6, 2008 edited July 11, 2008


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Xiao is not Just Duty   孝不限于义务

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

People ask me why I translate xiao as being good to parents and not being dutiful to parents or being dutiful as a son or daughter. It’s because xiao is more than just duty; it is a whole way of living one’s life. Xiao Jing, the first and most authoritative Confucian work on xiao, says that the xiao of people occupying various positions in society, such as emperors, ministers, officers, commoners, and so forth, is to be good at their callings. Xiao Jing also says that to be xiao, one must not only serve and provide for one’s parents well, but must also engage in good conduct both inside and outside the family.

有人问我,为什么把孝翻译为“对父母好”而不是“对父母尽义务”或“执行子女的义务”呢?这是因为孝不单是义务,孝是整个生活的方式。《孝经》是孔教解说孝的最早和最具权威性的经典;它说,社会不同地位的人,例如天子、大臣、吏士、庶人等,他们的孝,都是要把自己的职责做好。《孝经》又说,要孝就不光只是供养侍奉父母好,还须要家庭内外的行为都好。

Also, being dutiful often conjures up grim-faced carrying out of some painful task or of some sort of sacrifice, but xiao also includes the normal day-to-day life, the normal day-to-day interactions with parents, some of which may be joyful, like playing and not drudgery. One example is keeping parents up-to-date on one’s activities and situation, which is one of the demands of xiao (see verse 12, p.7 Xiao Jing : often truly xiao offspring have such a good relationship with the parents that updating them means enjoyable and relaxing conversation that all parties look forward to. Another example is respectfully listening when parents teach: offspring should have a relation with parents healthy enough that offspring realize the teaching from parents are greatly beneficial and something to look forward to. Teaching by parents can be fun and enjoyable: I remember well myself looking forward to and greatly enjoying the Sunday afternoon teaching of Chinese classics by my father to my brothers and me as young children.

另外,“尽义务”令人联想起辛苦的事务或某样的牺牲,但孝也包括普通的日常生活,跟父母普通的日常相处。这些都不一定是劳工,亦有愉快、好像是玩游戏的。例如孝要求子女对父母报道活动和情况:很多时候真正孝的子女跟父母关系很好,报道就是个很开心、很轻松、双方都盼望的会话。另一个例子就是孝要求,父母教导时要恭敬会心地听。子女跟父母的健康关系应该达到这个程度:子女们知道父母教导是非常有益的、应该欢迎的,而父母的教导,是可以有乐趣的,令人愉快的。我记得小孩子时,爸爸每星期日教我和我哥哥学古文,我那时觉得这教导多么好玩、多么令人盼望。

Therefore, I feel xiao is better translated as “being good to parents”.

所以,我觉得把孝翻译为“对父母好”比较适合一些。

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明


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Why Should One be Xiao, or Good to Parents?

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Why should one be xiao, or good to parents? Well, one practical and utilitarian answer is that only by so doing can one get one’s own children to be xiao to onesel. Kids learn mainly by example, and if one is not xiao or good to one’s parents then one can expect one’s own kids too, sooner or later, to not be xiao or good to oneself. Yes indeed, when I was a young boy my grandmother used to admonish my brothers and me: “Those who are xiao and compliant bear xiao and compliant sons; those who are disobedient and defiant bear disobedient and defiant children. (孝順還生孝順仔,忤逆還生忤逆兒。)”

There is another, more compelling case for being xiao: one should be good to parents because one needs to repay, or reciprocate, the kindness from one’s parents. Parents give birth to, raise and educate one, and that is a great kindness, or en- (恩). Indeed, of all people in the world, the persons who have done the most for one are one’s parents. If nothing else, they’ve given one one’s life. Even if they are adoptive parents, they have still raised and educated one. So one owes a huge debt to one’s parents. In traditional China, the repayment or reciprocation of kindness (報恩 bao` en-) is very important; it is considered a strict moral obligation to repay or reciprocate kindness, to bao` en- (see my blog of February 24, 2007). It would indeed be a great moral trespass to forget kindness and renege on one’s obligations. In Chinese, this repayment of the kindness from one’s parents is called bao` da` fu` mu^ en- 報答父母恩. That, according to traditional Chinese thinking, is the reason for being good to one’s parents, for being xiao.

Feng Xin-ming


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Character and Conduct are More Important than Academics

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

“After achieving right conduct, if there’s energy left over then study books. 行有餘力則以學文。 ” (Di Zi Gui page 6.)

Conduct and character are most important and certainly comes before book learning, i.e., before academics. That is the traditional view of authentic Chinese culture.

Of course, I don’t mean to set the two up as opposite and mutually exclusive: conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other. Good heavens, no! In fact, the two should go together: the youngsters who have good conduct also know they should exert themselves at academics and achieve the best they are capable of. In fact, achieving the best one can in all areas of endeavor, study as well as career, is considered an indispensible part of xiao 孝 (how in Cantonese), or being good to one’s parents.

The reason I bring up conduct and character as being more important than and coming before academics is because there seems to be an idea among some parents that as long as their children get good grades, it does not matter that they are often impolite, inconsiderate, rude, self-centered, mean, disrespectful, and sometimes even dishonest, especially to parents and siblings.

Actually to not have good character and conduct is to not know how to interact with people, and to not know how to interact with people is to guarantee failure and misery in life. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no inner, moral strength, and to have no inner, moral strength is to not be able to cope with the many storms and setbacks that are bound to be encountered through one’s life. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no compass in life, to not know right from wrong, to bend every which way the wind blows and not be able to choose the correct option at critical junctures of life. Only with good character and conduct can a successful and happy life be guaranteed.

Therefore, yes, if one has to choose, choose conduct and character over academics!

Of course, that is usually not the choice; the choice is whether to have both conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other, or to have only academics.

Even though traditional Chinese culture is one that values and emphasizes academics for thousands of years, authentic traditional Chinese culture in all its wisdom knows that, despite the importance of academics, character and conduct is more important than academic success.

That is also why American elite colleges don’t look just at grades, but also at other characteristics that often have to do with character and conduct, to decide whether to accept applicants. Often the colleges will accept someone with outstanding character over someone with better academics.

Feng Xin-ming

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Xiao` (孝), or Being Good to Parents and Ancestors

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

In Traditional China, 孝 xiao`, or being good to parents and ancestors, is considered the foundation of civil society and the guarantee of moral behavior. (See Xiao Jing, “The Classic of Xiao.”) The idea is that when one is brought up being good to one’s parents and ancestors one will be conditioned to be good & respectful to all the other people that one deals with outside the family. Also, one will diligently fulfill the duties pertaining to one’s station in life, so that one will make one’s parents and ancestors look good, and so that one will maintain the means to support one’s parents and make offerings to one’s ancestors. Thus, the Emperor or Son of Heaven will rule well and be kind and respectful to his subjects, because he has been conditioned that way by xiao and because he wants to bring glory to his ancestors by winning praise from his subjects. Likewise, the Dukes, the Ministers, the Officers, and the Common People, i.e. all the classes of people in society, will also diligently fulfill their duties and be good and respectful to all people they deal with. Thus great order reins, and moral conduct is guaranteed.

Unlike most traditional societies, Traditional China has basically been a secular society. Organized religion has not been the dominant force in Traditional China. At the foundation of morality is not divine commandment but secular xiao`, taught by the secular philosophy of Confucianism. In order to understand the Traditional Chinese worldview, it is essential to understand xiao`.

Feng Xin-ming


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“A Man’s Ability may be Great or Small…” A Revised Quotation from Chairman Mao

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Speaking of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Campaign to Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius in our last blog, Chairman Mao, the author of those two disasters for all Chinese, comes to mind. Ya know, I have respect for Chairman Mao, even though so much of what he has done is so wrong. I respect him because he has been sincere in trying to help mankind, he has always been honest, and he has tried his best to do what he has believed in. Alas, however, what he has believed in is so wrong! Totalitarianism, for goodness’ sake! Yet, a lot of it is historical circumstances: given China’s two-thousand-year-old totalitarian heritage, what do you expect? Even today, most Chinese people are still pretty totalitarian-minded. They think the one-child policy is great and the state has the right to dictate your number of children; most Chinese people think the government’s wholesale tearing down of Beijing’s historical hutong neighborhoods to “beautify” the city for the Olympics is justified; for the government to have almost unlimited power doesn’t bother most Chinese people, so long as it’s “used wisely”… Heck, they even think, in total disregard for two thousand years of Chinese tradional verdict, that that ultimate totalitarian, the First Emperor of Qin, the granddaddy of all Chinese totalitarians, is a pretty good guy, as in the popular Chinese movie “Hero”!

But back to the topic: the relevant thing about Chairman Mao is a quotation of his* that many have learned by heart forty or so years ago, and I am going to change that quotation a bit to make it valid from my point of view. Here it is, the quotation revised:

“A person’s ability may be great or small, but if he has xiao` 孝 (being good to parents) ti` 悌 (being respectful to elders) and li^ 礼 (courtesy) yi` 义 (sense of moral obligations), then he is already noble minded and pure, a person of moral integrity, a person of value to the world.”

Now I think, revised, that’s a really, really good quotation. Many Chinese parents today, nay, many parents, period, today, only know to push their kids to achieve high, but do not know that morals, character and conduct are more important than grades and study. Many look down upon people who are not as “smart” or “capable,” as in, for example, people with lower school grades, not realizing that what makes a person truly useful to the world and truly capable of achievement is his morals, character and conduct. All who are moral and have good character and conduct deserve our utmost respect, regardless of grades or “ability.”

Feng Xin-ming

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*”A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit (the spirit of absolute selflessness - F.X.), he is already noble minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man of value to the people.” Mao Zedong, QUOTATIONS FROM CHAIRMAN MAO TSE-TUNG, Foreign Languages Press, Peking (Beijing), 1969, p. 172, “Serving the People - In Memory of Norman Bethune.”


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