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The number “8” and What Chinese People Have Lost “八”和华人所失去的东西

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Why are Chinese people nowadays, even highly educated ones, so superstitious about getting lucky to get rich?  8, 8, 8, everywhere, on phone numbers, car license numbers, etc., you see people sporting at least one number 8. And that’s all because in Chinese 8 sounds a bit like the first sound in “getting rich”. Also, nowadays the Chinese New Year’s greeting is “gong hay faht tsoy” (Cantonese pronunciation), which translates into “Happy Wishes for Getting Rich”. Why is getting rich apparently the only thing on Chinese minds?

为什么现在华人们,连受过高等教育的华人们,这么迷信发财运气呢?八、八、八、现在到处都是八字,电话号码、车牌都最少有一个八字,而这只是因为八字读起来有点像发财的发字。另外,现在农历新年流行的贺词是“恭喜发财”。为什么好像发财是华人头脑里唯一的东西呢?

It hasn’t always been so.

并非一向都是这样的。

The number 8 hasn’t always been so popular. When I was a kid in Hong Kong during the early sixties, 8 was not always a good word. In Cantonese colloquialism back then, 8 was often used to mean “being gossipy” or invading other people’s privacy, as in “why are you so baht (8), that you want to know even such and such?” In fact, it came from a negative attitude towards the baht guah (八卦), the hexagram from the I Jing (or I-Ching), which was used for divination. During days past Cantonese, or at least educated Cantonese, had looked down upon fortune-telling using the hexagram and upon the occult in general.  It had only been a recent phenomenon in Chinese superstition of the last twenty or thirty years, a phenomenon which started in Hong Kong, to make 8 equal to getting rich and for 8 to be so fervently sought after.

以前八字并非这么流行。六十年代初我在香港做小孩子时,“八”并非一定是个好字。那个时候广州话俗语里的八,是指说别人闲话或多管闲事,好像“为什么你这样八,连这些东西你也要知道?”其实,这样对待“八”,源于对八卦占卜的负态度,因为广东人,最少有教育的广东人,以前鄙视占卜和鬼神之事。把八当为发财的发,同时对八字狂热地追求,只是近二三十年来在香港开始的华人迷信现象。

As for the Chinese New Year’s greeting, when I was a kid in Hong Kong during the early sixties, the standard greeting was “gong hay teem ding faht tsoy”, which meant “Happy Wishes for Getting Another Boy and Getting Rich”, and “gong hoh sun hay”, which meant “Best Wishes for the New Year”. I don’t remember hearing just “gong hay faht tsoy” or “Happy Wishes for Getting Rich” – so bourgeois! Please note that, true to Confucian tradition, “Getting Another Boy” came before “Getting Rich” – the traditional family came before getting rich, and getting rich was for the family, not a selfish hedonistic pursuit for the individual himself or herself. Having moved away during the sixties from a society dominated by Chinese culture, after all these years it was at first and still is jarring for me to hear “gong hay faht tsoy” without the “teem ding (getting another boy)” in front of “faht tsoy (getting rich)”.

至于用“恭喜发财”作为农历新年的祝贺词,我六十年代初在香港做小孩子时,通常的新年祝贺词是“恭喜添丁发财”,多了“添丁”这两个字。也说“恭贺新禧”,但是我记忆中就没有听过“恭喜发财”-太市侩了!请注意,添丁发财是符合孔教传统的,把添丁放在发财前面,显示了传统的家庭为先,钱财为后,而要追求钱财,只不过是为了家庭,不是为了自私的个人享乐。我在六十年代就离开了以华人文化为主流的社会,这么多年后,听到没有把添丁放在发财前面的“恭喜发财”,第一次就觉得有点刺耳,现在仍然不惯。

I believe it is wrong to think that Chinese have always been as superstitious and as anxious about good luck and getting rich as Chinese people seem to be nowadays.  Back during the old days we had the intellectual and moral compass and framework of Confucianism.  Thanks to that framework, we knew how to act and what to do in life; we knew what things to pursue, what things to reject, and how to pursue and reject them. So we were secure, smart and brave; we weren’t so obsessed with good luck and getting rich. Even as recently as during the early 1960’s we didn’t use to be obsessed with all this stuff; we used to be brave and secure back then thanks to Confucianism.

我认为,华人并不是向来就好像今日的华人那样,对发财和运气这么迷信,这么紧张。旧时我们拥有孔教这个思维上和道德上的指南和框架。有了这个框架,我们就知道人要怎样做、人生要怎样过,我们就知道什么要追求、什么要拒绝和怎样追求、怎样拒绝,我们就有了安全感,我们就聪明、勇敢。我们那时不对运气和发财这么痴迷。六十年代初这么近期,也没有对这些东西痴迷,因为我们那时还有孔教,还有安全感和勇气。

But now we Chinese have turned our backs on Confucianism and so we don’t have anything.  Intellectually and morally we have no compass or framework and so we are insecure. A lot of the time we don’t know what we do that will bring us good things and what we do that will bring us bad things. Often we are so ignorant that we don’t even know what is good and what is bad; we can’t tell good from bad.  That’s why we grasp at straws; we grasp at superstitions for somehow avoiding the bad and getting the good.  That’s why 8 is now a “lucky number” seen everywhere and why 4, which sounds like “death”, is now an “unlucky number” and not seen anywhere.

但是,现在华人背弃了孔教,所以我们什么都没有,我们没有了思维上和道德上的指南和框架,我们便没有了安全感。我们很多时不知道怎样做才得到好的东西,怎样做就会得到坏的东西,我们常常愚昧到甚至不知道什么是好、什么是坏,我们好坏不分。所以我们急不暇择,我们“依靠抓住草杆”(依靠胡乱随手抓到的、尽管是靠不住的东西),我们求助于迷信,希望不知怎样地会侥幸得到好东西,避免坏东西。所以现在八是个“吉祥”的数字,到处都看到,而四(跟死声音相近)是个“不吉”的数字,到处都看不见。

I think that what we Chinese need to do is to rediscover and regain the good stuff we used to all possess, integrate it with the modern stuff that is good, i.e. science and the free market, and create a new intellectual and moral framework, where we can be secure, smart and brave again.

我认为,现在我们华人所需要做的,就是重新发现和取回我们曾经拥有过的好东西,结合现代的好东西即科学和自由市场,创造一个新的思维和道德的框架,让我们可以再重新拥有安全感,重新聪明、勇敢。

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明


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The Land of Courtesy and Integrity
礼义之邦

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

Who says Chinese people are not capable of returning to being The Land of Courtesy and Integrity? Hong Kong is proof that Chinese people can.

谁说华人不可以再构成礼义之邦?香港就证明华人可以。

Twenty-four years ago, in 1984, when I went back to Hong Kong for the first time in twenty years, it was truly shocking. The place was completely unlike what I remember as a child.

二十四年前,1984年我离开香港二十年后第一次回港,令我非常惊讶:跟我童年记忆中的香港完全不同了。

Back then, in the late fifties and early sixties, the Hong Kong of my childhood was a place of at least courtesy, if not integrity. My mother would take me to market with her and would teach me that one must address the vendors on the street politely as Lao Ban (“boss”) and the workers in the shops as Shi Fu (“master”). In turn they would always address her politely as Shi Nai (“respected madam”) or Xiao Jie (“miss”). In the shops people were always polite and friendly. In school we were taught li rang: to be courteous, considerate, and to let others go first. When the teacher entered the classroom we stood up as a class, bowed and said in unison, “Good afternoon, teacher.” When we met a teacher on the street we bowed and said the same thing. It was considered shameful beyond imagination for siblings to argue, let alone fight, in front of anyone other than the immediate family. We were taught by our elders and by the popular culture surrounding us to be polite and respectful, to be kind to others, and to never speak ill of others. The movies we saw extolled courtesy, integrity, loyalty to country, and of course, being good to parents (xiao).

那时,五十年代尾、六十年代头,我童年时代的香港就算不是礼义之邦也是礼貌之邦。妈妈带我去市场时就教我,街上的小贩们就要有礼貌地称呼做“老板”,商店里面的工人们就称呼做“师傅”。他们也有礼貌地称呼妈妈做“师奶”或“小姐”。商店里的人们都有礼貌和友善。学校教我们要“礼让”:对人礼貌,为他人着想,让人家先行。老师进入课室时我们整斑起立、鞠躬,然后同声说,“老师午安”。街上遇到老师时我们也鞠躬问好。如果兄弟们在人家面前有一点争执,那是再羞耻不过的了,在公众场所兄弟们互相打骂就没人敢想像了。长辈们和周围的大众文化教育我们要尊敬有礼,对人善良,不要说人家坏话。看的电影都歌颂礼、义、忠、孝。

In 1984, however, when I walked into a store the staff just stared at me and didn’t say a word when I said good morning. When I couldn’t find what I wanted the staff yelled at me as I walked out the door, “If you are not going to buy why did you come in?” When I tried to flag down a taxicab I had to flag down five cabs before I could get in: all the four others I flagged down someone appeared out of nowhere and jumped into the very cab in front of me! The only way I could get a cab was to jump in as soon as the cab stopped, before the previous passenger had gotten out, and to sit right next to him as he paid his fare. By the way, I had been warned about this before my trip, that Hong Kong people were so bad they barged into cabs flagged down by returning overseas Chinese, but I had dismissed it as anti-Hong Kong fabrication – no people in the world, I had reasoned, could be that barbaric, let alone Chinese people! And the children, why, the children! The ones I had contact with were very cute and energetic, but when they opened their mouths filth came out! Little five year olds were spouting words of contempt, cynicism and outright insult to strangers, and then looking to their parents for applause! And the parents proudly smiled and said, “So smart, this cunning little kid!” The children fought with their siblings loudly in public, with the parents approvingly looking on! When I turned on the TV, I could see where it all came from. The people on TV lightly and constantly yelled at, insulted, and lashed out at each other; what was in fashion was cynicism and contempt. Quite the opposite of the Land of Courtesy and Integrity. I left Hong Kong saddened and angry.

但是1984年我走进商店,说一声“早晨”时,售货员们只睁大眼睛盯着我,一声也不出。当我找不到要买的东西转身出门的时候,售货员高声骂,“不是买东西的,进来干什么?”当我在街上招计程车的时候,我招停了五架车才上到车,因为头四架都突然有人跑出来,抢在我面前跳进了我招的车子。最后我唯有学他们那样,车子里面的客人还没出来就跳进车子,他还在付钱我就坐在他身旁。其实,去香港前已经有人警告我,说香港人风气很坏,回去的海外华人招计程车会被他们抢坐,但当时我就不信,认为这是歧视香港的谣言,因为这世界没人会这样野蛮的,何况是华人!另外,香港的孩子们,唉!我所接触的孩子都外形活泼可爱,但是张开口时出来的竟然是污垢!小小的五岁小孩子,对陌生人说出藐视、讥诮和侮辱的说话来,就回头望望父母,等待赏励。父母们竟然骄傲地笑着说,“很聪明的,这个蛊惑崽”!孩子们跟兄弟姐妹们在公众场所大声吵骂,父母们却赞同地观看。我打开电视,便知道这些行为从那里来的。电视中的人们轻易地、经常地骂人、侮辱他人、突然攻击他人,流行的是讥诮和鄙視。跟礼义之邦完全相反。我带着悲愤的心情离开了香港。

In 2007, however, when I returned to Hong Kong after twenty-three years, the place had again changed completely. When I walked into a store, the staff were friendly and actually smiled and nodded. When I asked for directions the store people actually spent time to tell me two different ways to get there. When a taxicab stopped and my wife mistakenly thought that it had stopped for her, the person for whom it had actually stopped said that it was all right and waved us to go ahead and get into the cab when we started to apologize and defer the cab to him. The children I saw were actually polite and friendly! And on TV, the people spoke politely and were decent to each other. People told me that the famous Korean series “Da Chang Jin”, which I saw in America and which portrayed a very kind, polite, and idealistic Korean woman doctor, had been all the rage in Hong Kong. Good gracious! The wheel has turned; Hong Kong is back in the folds of civilization! Who says there’s no hope for Chinese people? I left Hong Kong elated.

但是,2007年,二十三年后重回香港时,又再完全变了。我走进商店时,售货员态度友善,又微笑又点头。问路时,店里人员化时间来教我两个不同的路线。至于招计程车,我太太误以为计程车是为她而停的要进去,而发现了车子是为前头一个人停的我们开始退出道歉的时候,他却摇手把车子让给我们。见到的孩子们居然又友善又有礼貌的。电视中的人们说话有礼貌,互相对待也相当好。人们告诉我,描写一位很善良、有礼貌、追求崇高理想的女医生的著名韩剧“大长今”(我在美国也看过),风行香港。天啊!轮子转了,香港重新回到文明了!谁说华人没有希望?我带着欢乐的心情离开了香港。

Was it because I was better dressed last year, compared to 1984? No, not at all, I was still in my usual North American overseas Chinese plain garb. Was it because I was older now and so more respectable? No, because my children report the same thing: people, they say, are nice in Hong Kong.

是不是因为去年我比1984年衣着穿得好点?不,完全不是,我还是穿着北美洲华人的朴素装束。是不是因为我现在老一点了,所以被人尊重多一点?不是,因为我的孩子们也说同样的东西:香港的人们很好。

Of course, these are all things on the surface that I see; deeper down there must be a lot of things not to one’s liking. It is undeniable, however, that customs in Hong Kong have improved.

当然,这都是表面看到的东西,深一层的必然还有很多不如意的事情,但是,无可否认,香港风气确实是进步了。

Yes, Chinese people can improve; it’s entirely possible for Chinese people to return to being The Land of Courtesy and Integrity…

是的,华人可以进步,华人完全能够再构成礼义之邦 …

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明


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To Succeed in America One Must Be Honest
要在美国成功就要诚实

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Here’s some advice I gave to a young man who’s just moving to the USA from another country: “You can succeed in America if you are hard working, capable, and honest.” He said, “I can understand the hard working and capable, but why honest?” I said, “People here in the USA really hate dishonesty, at least people who are of a higher class. Some lower class people in America, like some lower class people everywhere, may not place much importance on honesty, but most higher-class people in America for sure place great importance on it. If they find out you’ve been dishonest to them, they just won’t deal with you any more. You know, people wonder why they get passed over for promotions, when they’ve been hard-working and capable, but that may be why – they may not have been 100% honest when dealing with other people…”

我对一位即将由另一个国家迁移到美国的青年人说:“如果你勤力、能干、诚实,则可以在美国成功。”他说,“我可以理解勤力和能干,但是为什么诚实呢?”我说,“美国这里,人们很憎恨不诚实,最少高上阶层的人们是这样。有些低下阶层的人们,好像其他地方的有些低下阶层一样,可能不很重视诚实,但美国多数高上阶层的人则非常重视。如果他们发现你曾对他们不诚实,他们会不再跟你交易。有些人不明白为什么勤力能干,仍然得不到升职,这就可能是原因:他们待人接物可能没有百分之百诚实。”

So, to succeed in America, be honest. Don’t exaggerate, don’t misrepresent, don’t bend things. If someone asks you something you don’t want to tell him, just say so, “Sorry, I can’t tell you that” or “Ah, that’s confidential.” People in America will respect you for being a “straight-shooting”, reliable person. Whatever you do, don’t make up something for an answer; don’t lie.

所以,要在美国成功就要诚实。不要夸张,不要误导,不要歪曲。如果人家问你的东西是你不想告诉他的,就坦直地说,“对不起,不能告诉你”或说,“唉,那是秘密啊”。在美国,这样做人家会尊重你的,认为你是个正直可靠的好汉。千万不要伪造些东西回答他,千万不要撒谎。

Why is America like that? That’s because American society has the most free market type of ideology, and free market ideology despises dishonesty. For a free market to be successful, the exchange of goods and services has to be reliable. Fraud, along with stealing and robbery, destroys the reliability of exchange and therefore destroys free exchange and the free market itself. Thus Americans hate dishonesty.

为什么美国这样呢?因为美国社会的意识形态是最崇敬自由市场的,而自由市场思想最厌恶不诚实。自由市场要成功,物品和服务的交换则一定要可靠。欺骗,跟偷和抢劫一样,摧毁交换的可靠性,因而摧毁自由交换和自由市场本身。所以美国人憎恨不诚实。

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明


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Professor Yu Dan’s Talk on Ideals 于丹教授谈理想

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Sigh! I also admire Professor Yu Dan, whose books are wildly popular in China, for promoting Confucius, but in her talk on ideals she really is teaching people the wrong thing; according to her it’s bad to have high ideals, but good to be a hedonist! If you want to reform the country, to bring happiness to the country or peace to the world, then you lack humility. You are not good enough to talk about such things. You are only good enough to have as your ideals “down to earth” things, like going to the countryside in spring, having a party there, singing some songs and relaxing a bit. If this is not keeping the people foolish and enslaved then what is it? This is also putting down those who worry about their country and their people, and praising those hedonists who only think about enjoying themselves! And she talks about it with such conviction and self-righteousness - tsk, tsk!

唉!我也赞赏著书风行中国的于丹教授宣扬孔子,但她关于理想的谈话真是教坏人;依她说,怀抱着高尚的理想是坏的,做享乐主义者是好的!如果你想要改良国家,要治国平天下,那么你就是没有谦虚。你没资格谈这些东西,你的理想就只配是什么脚低下的东西,春天里跟朋友去郊外旅行,开一下party,唱一下歌,轻松一下… 这不是愚民和奴民是什么?同时,这也贬低那些虑国忧民的人,赞扬那些只顾寻求开心的享乐主义者!她还说得这么振振有词,哎呀!

Is everything in the classic Lun Yu always reliable, always correct? To me, this passage in Lun Yu is probably not accurate. Here Confucius is portrayed as a teacher who sneers at but wouldn’t come out and enlighten his student; when a student has high ideals he’s arrogant, yet when a student is more modest then he has denigrated the importance of The Rites. Only when a student obviously of noble birth, haughtily waiting until he has finished playing a lute that only nobles can play so well, give an answer from a hedonistic viewpoint that only a noble can fully appreciate from personal experience, promoting the kind of romantic activity that only a noble accorded a life of leisure can regularly enjoy, only then does Confucius endorse the answer. How could the “Teacher For All Generations” look down upon students of commoner origin and pander to students of noble origin?

《论语》的一切都可靠,都没有错误吗?我看,《论语》里这段,就可能不准确,把孔子描叙为一个嘲笑学生又不明言指点教导学生的老师,学生抱负远大就说他骄傲,学生谦虚一点就说他贬低了礼仪的重要性,唯有那个明明是贵族出身的学生,傲慢地等自己弹完那具只有贵族才会弹得这么好的琴,然后作出只有贵族才体会贴切的享乐主义观点的答案,推崇只有习惯悠逸生活的贵族才会常常欣赏到的风流活动,唯有这个学生孔子才赞同。万世师表,怎会这样藐视平民出身的学生而谄媚贵族出身的学生呢?

He couldn’t. Therefore, Mr. Ma Qian Li, a modern Confucian scholar who has written a whole book to criticize Yu Dan, interprets this passage as the student wanting, not for himself to go play in the countryside during spring, but for everyone in the world to be able to go play in the countryside during spring, to be able to enjoy such leisurely lives, and that Confucius thinks that this is the highest ideal. I think that this interpretation is a bit contrived and does not match the original text, but at least Mr. Ma hasn’t participated in glorifying hedonism, the way that Yu Dan has. I personally think that Lun Yu does have some things that are wrong, some things that cannot be what Confucius would advocate, and this passage is an example. I think that toward things in the Confucian classics, it doesn’t hurt to take an objective attitude - of course we shouldn’t say that everything is wrong, but neither do we need to blindly take everything to be right.

不会的,所以,写了整整一本书来批评于丹的现代儒家学者马千里,就把这篇对话解释为,不是那个学生要自己在春天到郊外玩,而是他的理想是,要天下所有人都能够在春天到郊外玩,享受到这种舒逸生活,同时孔子则认为这个抱负才最高尚。我觉得,这个解释比较勉强,不符合原文,但是最少没有像于丹那样,参加了对享乐主义的歌颂。我本人呢,我就觉得《论语》里面有一些不对的、不应该是孔子所提倡的东西,这段就是例子。我觉得,孔教经典里的东西,我们不妨用客观的眼光来看待,当然不应该全盘否定,但同时也不需要盲目地全盘肯定。

By the way, I think that the kind of thinking that Professor Yu Dan promotes belongs to the school of Confucian philosophical idealism, and follows the same lines as people such as Zhu Xi, which I don’t completely agree with. Moreover, I think their method of thinking is dangerous, and can lead to absolutes, excesses, arbitrariness, cultism and other bad things, of which this extolling of hedonism is just an example. At the same time, however, she is still promoting Confucius, courtesy and integrity and she is making people interested in Confucius and the Chinese intellectual heritage, so all that should be affirmed. I don’t agree with “The Ten PhD’s” who rudely attack Yu Dan,saying that she has no right to interpret Confucius in her own way, and saying that in carrying Yu Dan’s talks the media lacks a conscience and is endangering Chinese culture. If Chinese culture is so weak that it collapses when a professor popularizes it a bit, when ordinary people get to know it a bit, and that it has to be kept hidden in the hot houses of some elite school PhD’s, why do we need this kind of culture? Perhaps The Ten PhD’s are a bit lacking in respect for the Chinese intellectual heritage?

再说,我觉得于丹教授提倡的思想,是儒家的唯心学派别,是步朱熹等人后尘的思想,我并不完全同意,而且还觉得这是一种危险的思想方式,可以导致绝对、过分、专横、过分崇拜等弊端,这里推崇享乐主义便是例子。但是,她总算是提倡孔子,提倡礼义,引发人们对孔子、对中华思维传统的兴趣,这个是必须肯定的。所以,我不同意“十博士”等人那样对于丹作出无礼的评击,说她没权对孔子作出自己的解释,说传媒没良心,刊载于丹就是危害中华文化。如果中华文化这么脆弱,一旦被一位教授普及一下,让普通群众们认识一下,就会崩溃,而只能永远躲在高校博士们的温室里,这种文化要它来做什么?十博士们不会是对中华思维传统缺乏了一点尊敬吧?

The Chinese Cultural Renaissance has begun; no doubt a hundred flowers will bloom and a hundred schools will contend.

中华文化复兴开始了,必将是百花齐放、百家争鸣的。

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明


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