Posts Tagged ‘恩义’

En- Yi` 恩义 or Kindness and Obligations, and the Modern World

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

The traditional Chinese emphasis on the repayment of “en`” 恩 (”yun-1″ in Cantonese), is completely compatible with modern society. Some people think that human society is a dog-eat-dog world, or is a world of the law of the jungle, but they cannot be more wrong. The fundamental feature of human society is actually mutual help.

An extraterrestrial visitor will find the massive and intricate amount of mutual help in human society simply amazing. Millions upon millions of people go to their jobs at set hours and perform their tasks more or less to order, day after day, providing goods and services to help other people. These producers then go regularly to yet other people, like the grocer, the hairdresser, the doctor, and so forth, and receive help in the form of needed goods and services, just so much and no more, with little or no fighting, scrambling, or whining. Everything is very orderly, yet there is no one controlling or directing all this traffic!

This is mutual help; this is what human society at heart is all about. The more humans advance, the more society becomes intertwined, and the more complex and intricate becomes mutual help. In fact, progress in a society can be defined as the development of more complex, more intricate, and more thorough-going mutual help: the mutual help we see in a modern city is far more complex and intricate than the mutual help we see in a primitive hunter-gatherer tribe.

So when you repay “en” or kindness, you are helping those who have helped you. In turn, those whom you help turn around and help you again. This is also mutual help and what human society is all about. The Chinese emphasis on the repayment of “en” or kindness encourages the development of mutual help, and is therefore, not only compatible with modern society, but is also a great boon to its advancement.

Feng Xin-ming


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恩义 En- Yi` or Kindness and Obligations

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Indeed, if you look at all the traditional Chinese romantic accounts about husband and wife, the most important operative term is not love (爱 ai` or oi-3 in Cantonese), but “en- yi` (恩义)”, or kindness and obligations. Sometimes the term used is “en` ai`” (恩爱 “yun-1 oi-3″ in Cantonese), which means “kindness and love”. Sex between the spouses is considered the mutual bestowing of “en`”–Chinese in the old days don’t have that Western hang-up about sex as being some dark carnal act, unless adultery is involved.

In fact, in traditional China, if you want to really insult someone, if you want to really say that someone is a low-life scum, you call him “wang` en- fu` yi`” (忘恩负义 “mong-4 yun-1 foo-6 yee-6″ in Cantonese), or “forgetting kindness and reneging on obligations.”

There is a story in the historical novel “Three Kingdoms” where one of the arch villains, a powerful official, gets saved from certain death by the novel’s heroes. At the time they don’t know that he is the villain who will wreak death and destruction on China; they only know that they are saving a high government official. Once the arch villain hears, however, that the leader of the heroes is just one of the ordinary folk and not some high official, the villain becomes very arrogant to the head hero and shoos him from the room. On hearing this, one of our heroes bellows, “this guy forgets kindness and reneges on obligations!” Then he pulls out his sword and starts to charge into the room to kill the villian. Of course, his leader stops him; still, the novelist comments in a verse at the end of the chapter, “Would that we have more straight people like this hero, and go after all the obligation-reneging people in the world!”

Feng Xin-ming


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Repaying En- 恩 or Kindness, the Five (or Six) Cardinal Relations

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

The concept of the repayment of “en-” 恩 (- = first tone; this is my “home-made” pinyin for easy keyboarding) or in Cantonese, “yun-1″ (-1 = Cantonese first tone), is a very important one in traditional Chinese culture. “en-” means a kindness, a significant, great kindness, not just a little tip to the waiter or something like that. In traditional Chinese culture, it is very important to repay kindness. In fact, repaying “en-” is considered to be the basis of society itself.

To repay the kindness (the “en-”) bestowed one by one’s parents is the basis of “xiao” (”how-3″ in Cantonese) or “being good to parents.” Now “xiao” or being good to parents is considered in traditional Chinese society as being the basis of civil society and the most fundamental guarantee of moral conduct. So, by extension, repaying kindness or “en-”, in this case that from one’s parents, is regarded as the fundamental foundation of civil society in traditional China. Repaying of “en-” is indeed considered very important.

In traditional China, what transpires between the parties in society’s Five Cardinal Relations (wu^ lun’ 五伦 or ng-3 lueun-4 in Cantonese), is described by the term “en- yi`” 恩义 (”yun-1 yee-6″ in Cantonese). “en-”, as we already know, is kindness. Now “yi` (义)” is a bit harder to translate, as in Chinese it’s used for a lot of different things. In this context I think the correct translation is “obligation”. So what transpires between the parties in society’s Five Cardinal Relations is kindness and obligation.

To explain, the Five Cardinal Relations are those between the ruler and the subject (between government and citizen), between the father (parent) and the son (offspring), between the older and the younger brothers (siblings), between husband and wife, and between friend and friend. These comprise the most important relations in society. Of course, today we would add a sixth, that between buyer and seller, where buyer also includes the employer since he’s buying labor power, and seller includes the employee who is selling his labor power.

So, in the traditional Chinese thinking, what the parties in society’s fundamental relations do is to bestow kindness on and carry out obligations to, each other.

Feng Xin-ming


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