Posts Tagged ‘cardinal obligations’

The Sixth Cardinal Relationship, That Between Buyer and Seller

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Back in my blog of March 31, 2007, I said that in today’s world, we need to recognize a sixth Cardinal Relationship ( 第六伦, or 第六倫 in complicated script), that between buyer and seller. In my blog of April 5, 2007, I listed the Cardinal Obligations the two parties owe each other in this Sixth Cardinal Relationship: the buyer is obliged to pay on time and in the amounts promised for the good or service bought, and to make clear what he wants and expects. The seller is obliged to deliver the good or service on time and in the amounts and quality promised. I also said that this Cardinal Relation includes the relationship between employer and employee; the employer is the buyer and the employee is the seller. When it comes to the teacher and the student (or parent), the student (or parent) is the buyer and the teacher the seller.

Some people have commented that they don’t see why lowly buying and selling is so important that it should be elevated to a Cardinal Relationship. Doesn’t buying and selling inherently involve cheating? As for saying that the relationship between the teacher and the student is part of buying and selling, why, they say, that’s outright cheapening of a relationship held to be sacred in traditional Chinese Confucian thinking. Haven’t I heard of the old adage, “be my teacher for one day, be my father all my life” (“ 一日为师,终身为父” or “ 一日為師,終身為父” in complicated script)?

Just to refresh the reader’s memory, the other five Cardinal Relationships (五伦, or 五倫 in complicated script) are between: government and citizen (ruler and subject), parents and offspring, sibling and sibling, husband and wife, and friend and friend. Their mutual Cardinal Obligations I’ve talked about in my blogs from February 25 to April 2, 2007.

Well, I think that not only do we merely need, but also we need desperately, to recognize the relationship between buyer and seller as a Cardinal one.

For one thing, as I’ve discussed in my blog of April 5, 2007, buying and selling is truly mutual help on the grandest scale. Indeed, far from being a “cheap” act, buying and selling is the sacred act that has transformed humans from a stage when life was short, brutal and barbaric, to the stage now, when life is quite a bit more civil, enlightened and comfortable. And no, cheating is not an inherent part of buying and selling. Please see my blogs of Nov. 4 and 17, 2007 on how honesty and integrity is the only way to make money in a sustained way and on how shopping around will keep one safe from cheating. No, buying and selling is a sacred act of mutual help. Such a sacred and important act must be recognized as belonging to a Cardinal Relationship.

Second, where there is prevalent recognition of buying and selling as being honorable and respectable, where sellers and buyers are usually honest and usually don’t cheat, the society is relatively rich, and where the opposite is prevalent, the society is poor. It is not an accident; it is cause and effect. In the old days, when China has been one of the richest, if not the richest, country in the world, the attitude prevalent in society has been that one must be honest, must not be greedy, and must not cheat. In the past, Chinese businessmen have had a sterling reputation for honesty, fairness, and being true to their word. By enshrining buying and selling into a Cardinal Relationship we will contribute to the development of society and the progress of mankind.

Third, a lot of Chinese and Asians in Asia in general operate in business according to the thinking that you need to become friends first, and then you can do business. That’s why you have to go to all those drinking parties and boys’ nights out (including brothels) to do business in Asia. They often can’t just sign the contract, and on the basis of promises made and monies paid, do business with people who are not emotionally bonded except on a working, formal basis. If you are not emotionally bonded with them they just might, or actually they think that you’ll think they just might, cheat you, and they think you just might cheat them. I think that’s bad for work hours, for the health of the businessmen involved, and the whole setup discriminates against females, who can’t go on boys’ nights out the same way as males. Recognizing buying and selling as a Cardinal Relationship will correct that situation, make life much better for businessmen, and enable females to participate in Asian business in a more equal footing.

As for “be my teacher for one day, be my father all my life”, I know where that comes from: it comes from the same cultish places in traditional China where the cultish aberrations of xiao (being good to parents) come from. It’s that intellectual trend that started around 1000 C.E. to change Confucianism from a set of practical and reasonable tenets into a metaphysical cult of absolutes and excesses. Hey, listen, if it’s true that being one’s teacher for one day makes that person into one’s father for life, then what about the even older adage, from Confucius’ Analects no less (Chapter Shu Er, or 《论语:述而》/《論語:述而》), that “when I am in a group of three, there has to be someone who’s my teacher” (“ 三人行,必有我师焉” or “ 三人行,必有我師焉” in complicated script)? Then one acquires fathers every day? Maybe even several times a day? Hey, I think that making one’s teacher into one’s father is an act of luan lun ( 乱伦 / 亂倫) or mixing up of the Cardinal Relations. Yes, yes, I know they use the term luan lun to mean incest nowadays, but I am using the term in its original meaning in The Analects and other traditional Chinese writings.* So no, I don’t think I cheapen or besmirch the sacred role of teachers at all when I include teaching in the just as sacred buyer-seller, Sixth Cardinal Relationship.

Yes, time to recognize the actually sacred act of buying and selling as part of the just as sacred Cardinal Relations, with sacred Cardinal Obligations.

Feng Xin-ming, May 11, 2008, minor edits June 21, 2008
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* See Ci Hai 词海 / 辭海,Shanghai, 1989, p. 2107, under the entry 乱伦 / 亂倫.


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In-laws

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Well, as soon as I talk about “brothers are like one’s own limbs”, I am presented with that cynical Chinese saying: “Brothers are like one’s limbs; spouses are like mere clothes ( 兄弟如手足,夫妇如衣服).” Yes, I’ve heard it before, from mistaken Chinese women criticizing traditional Chinese culture.

Why, that saying is downright untrue: traditional Chinese culture never denigrates the relationship between husband and wife to be mere clothes! At every wedding, the traditional Chinese wish is “to grow old with white hair together, to forever unite the hearts as one ( 白头皆老,永结同心).” So what are these people talking about?

Well, actually, they then say, the problem is that with the advocacy of family closeness in traditional Chinese culture, while the men have deep feelings for even their brothers there are no comparable feelings for the wives. This, it is said, proves that women must always engage in a bitter rivalry with their husbands’ relatives for affection and devotion. It’s either the wife or the in-laws, there’s no having both.

Ah, so that’s the problem! Tsk, tsk, tsk, when looked at from the viewpoint of traditional, Confucian ideology, how foolish for a woman to set herself up against her own in-laws! It is very foolish to view relations among people as a zero-sum game: if one loves his brothers the more, one must love his wife the less, and vice versa. Only fools live their lives as zero-sum games. No, the matter should be viewed this way instead: how much better for one’s husband if he has not only his wife’s love, but also that of his brothers!

True, true, back in the old days some (not all!) in-laws had been bad to the wives. But that happened not when the core Confucian principles were being followed, it happened when they were being violated! It is in accordance with the core Confucian principles for husband and wife to love each other deeply; it is a deviancy from the same principles for husbands to have “no feelings” for their wives.

From the point of view of the core Confucian principle of Cardinal Obligations being supreme, there is no conflict of interest between a wife and her in-laws. Her husband owes her the obligation of building a life together, just as she owes him the same obligation in return. He and his brothers mutually owe each other the obligation of mutual help and mutual support, and that can only be in line with the wife’s interest of building a good life together with her husband! The fact is that, far from having a fundamental conflict of interest, a woman and her in-laws have a fundamental convergence of interest. That’s why both the negative saying about in-laws and the negative attitude towards in-laws, as foolish as both are cynical, should be completely discarded.

Feng Xin-ming


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Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering - 2

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

That it is truly liberating and empowering for traditional Chinese culture to insist on always carrying out one’s Cardinal Obligations to the other party in one’s Cardinal Relations no matter what one’s subjective feelings such as “love” are (see my blogs from Feb. 27 to April 29, 2007) can be seen readily in the relationship called marriage.

In the Western tradition, love is supreme. Love is the supreme value that is put above all else. The problem with love being supreme is that love is a subjective feeling, and can change from time to time, especially when the going gets tough. In life, there will always be times when the going gets tough. Outside circumstances can turn adverse, people make mistakes, and life is full of misunderstandings. For long term relationships, such as family or spouse, there will always be a time when all looks black, when there seems to be no hope, or when anger takes precedence over all else. During those times one might not be able to feel a positive feeling, let alone love, towards the other party. Of course, eventually the hard times will be over, so if in the interim the parties have persisted and carried on fulfilling their obligations towards each other, feelings will change again and love will return. In the Western world, however, long before that stage is reached, one will say, “I don’t love this person any more; why am I still with him/her?” Of course, according to Western thinking, it is “dishonest” and “not honorable” to stay in a marriage “devoid of love.” And so one picks up and leaves one’s spouse, and the marriage is over.

In traditional Chinese culture, however, the relationship-defined Cardinal Obligations are supreme. Relationships exist objectively and are not subject to subjective feelings. Whether someone is one’s parent, or sibling, or spouse is objectively determined, and doesn’t change no matter what one’s feelings are towards that person. Therefore, during the hard times, each party in the relationship continues to carry out the obligations toward the other party, regardless of feeling.

The wonderful thing in this is that when the two parties in a relationship carry out their obligations toward each other, positive feelings will appear and grow. It is something that is independent of subjective will. And then after the hard times are over, love returns and this love is stronger and deeper than ever. It now is a love that has been tested and is rooted in overcoming common adversity and misunderstanding. It is a love that has been nurtured by self-sacrifice, magnanimity, faith and humility on the part of both parties. It is a truer, more mature love. Happy indeed are those who can enjoy this far deeper, far truer love! And it will be thanks to the Chinese tradition of putting the relationship-defined obligations, instead of love, above all else.

In the Western or Westernized marriage, people are always trying to keep and cultivate the other party’s love. People are fearful that they might lose the other party’s love. There is insecurity, and whether the relationship lasts is not within one’s control. “What if he/she meets someone else and falls in love?” When someone of the opposite sex comes around one’s spouse, one gets all flustered and anxious - anyone could be a predator. One must always try to “show love,” to “keep the love going,” to “stay in love with each other.” All this anxiety and striving to please and “hang onto” one’s spouse invariably results in resentment.

In the Chinese tradition, however, one can be secure that the relationship holds as long as one stays in the relationship and as long as one carries out one’s obligations to the other party. There is no need to be fearful about losing the other party to some “wilting of love.” One can relax, be oneself and enjoy one’s spouse. As long as one is the other’s spouse, the other person owes one the Cardinal Obligations. Of course, one owes the other person the reciprocal obligations. Unlike whether one can keep one’s spouse “in love with” oneself, which involves the spouse’s subjective feelings and are not entirely within one’s control, whether one carries out one’s obligations is entirely within one’s control.

Therefore, in the Chinese tradition, there is a lot more security in marriage and permits a lot more relaxed enjoyment of marriage.

Not only is this liberating and empowering, but also this is far better for the growth and development of true love.

Feng Xin-ming


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Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering - 1

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Happy New Year! It’s already 2008! Hey, we are one year further into the beginning of the Chinese cultural Renaissance that will mark the next couple of centuries, and that’s something to celebrate for sure!

Well, let’s deal with a charge levied by those who have misunderstood traditional Chinese culture that the traditional Chinese/Confucian teachings, like the ones in Di Zi Gui , are oppressive and take away personal freedom. Why do, say, offspring have to be xiao (good to their parents)? Why do subjects have to obey their governments? Why do wives have to respect their husbands? Where’s choice? Where’s freedom?

Well, for one thing, the traditional Confucian teachings about offspring being xiao, subjects being obedient, and wives being respectful don’t mean blind and abject submission the way people nowadays so wrongly think. It’s right there in the Confucian classics: offspring, subjects and wives all have the duty to voice opposition and dissuade parents, governments, and husbands, respectively, from moral unrighteousness. So it’s not blind obedience that the authentic, as opposed to the misrepresented, old Confucian teachings teach.

For another thing, for every imperative to discharge an obligation there’s a reciprocal imperative for the other party to discharge a reciprocal obligation: while offspring have to be xiao, parents have to be kind; while subjects have to obey the government, the government has to be competent and to listen to the subjects; while wives have to respect their husbands, husbands also have to respect their wives.

So where is the oppression? Where’s the lack of freedom? Or of choice?

Well, actually, our critics reply, the problem is, why does traditional Chinese Confucianism insist that offspring must be xiao, subjects must be obedient, and wives must be respectful, no matter how they feel about it? Why do they have to do all that even if they dislike, despise, or even hate their parents, or governments, or husbands? Isn’t that oppressive? What about choice? What about freedom?

Aha! So that’s it! You are criticizing the Confucian teachings, good sirs and madams, because they say that people should carry out their Cardinal Obligations, no matter how they may feel towards the other party in the Cardinal Relationship! You are absolutely right; Confucian teachings do insist that one carries out one’s Cardinal Obligations no matter what one’s subjective feelings are towards the other party in the Cardinal Relations: offspring must be good to their parents, subjects must obey their governments, and wives must respect their husbands, even if there’s “no love in the relationship.”

So the real complaint by those who characterize, wrongly of course, Confucian teachings as oppressive and anti-freedom is that Confucianism places obligations above “love.” And when “love” is not allowed to have free, supreme sway, when one cannot act according to one’s subjective feelings of the moment, then why, our critics say, that’s unfree! That’s oppression!

Yes, yes, true, absolutely true: quite unlike the modern day insistence by the Westernized world, i.e. most of today’s world, that some subjective feeling loosely characterized as “love” hold supreme sway over human relationships, Confucianism teaches that the Relationship-Defined Cardinal Obligations hold supreme sway over human relationships. (See my blogs from Feb. 27 to April 29 of 2007.) Why, even if there’s “no love” between two spouses, at least not for the time being, they must discharge their obligations towards one another of respect and of building a life and a family together. Yes, quite true, that’s what our critics are complaining about: they want the “freedom” to pick and choose whether and when they need to discharge their obligations in a relationship, as well as which obligations to discharge, but no, Confucianism is against that. For Confucianism, being in a relationship means you must discharge all your obligations at all times to the other party. Faithfully. Without fail.

And this very insistence by traditional Chinese culture, by Confucianism, misrepresented as being oppressive and anti-freedom, is actually, exactly, the most liberating and empowering of all traditional Chinese, i.e. Confucian, precepts. Imagine: as long as you keep discharging your obligations, the other party is obliged to discharge his or her obligations to you in return! How liberating! How empowering! This is true freedom! Freedom from fear, from insecurity, from the capriciousness of fancy and fickle feelings of the moment, in a word, from the myriad ills that human relationships in today’s Westernized world are prey and captive to.

We’ll elaborate further on this liberating and empowering aspect of traditional Chinese culture, of Confucianism, in blogs to come.

Feng Xin-ming


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Private Endeavors will popularize the Supremacy of the Relationship-Defined Cardinal Obligations

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Now who will make the Cardinal Obligations supreme? Will it be decreed by government authority and foisted on us from above? No, no, absolutely not. Only individuals, one by one, family by family, can adopt the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations. And that can only be done voluntarily, by each individual, each family and each extended family, when they see and come to understand the advantages of making the Cardinal Obligations supreme in their own lives. This people come to see not because of any act of government, but because of the persistent and tireless preachings by enlightened good hearted, kind people, who understand that the more people who adopt the Cardinal Obligations, the better for society and for the enlightened people themselves, and because of the good examples of happiness and moral conduct set by such enlightened people.

That is why in Imperial China, the Confucian ideal has always been that when government rules well, there should be nothing for it to do, as the people are harmonious, happy, prosperous, and of good conduct, without the authorities having to interfere.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love

Friday, April 13th, 2007

(Please also see my paper on my website “The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love”)

Traditional Chinese morality calls for obligations and duties to be rendered to persons not because of any feelings of love toward them, though feelings are important, but because of their relation to us, such as parents, spouses, offspring, siblings, relatives, and so forth. This is regardless of how much or how little love we may feel toward them. In the (traditional) Chinese tradition, relationship-defined obligations, like the Cardinal Obligations, are supreme. Not love. This sounds harsh, but it’s not. In fact, this is far better for the growth and development of true love, and we’ll see why.

In the Western tradition, love is supreme. Love is the supreme value that is put above all else. The problem with love being supreme is that love is a subjective feeling, and can change from time to time, especially when the going gets tough. In life, there will always be times when the going gets tough. Outside circumstances can turn adverse, people make mistakes, and life is full of misunderstandings. For long term relationships, such as family or spouse, there will always be a time when all looks black, when there seems to be no hope, or when anger takes precedence over all else. During those times one might not be able to feel a positive feeling, let alone love, towards the other party. Of course, eventually the hard times will be over, so if in the interim the parties have persisted and carried on fulfilling their obligations towards each other, feelings will change again and love will return. In the Western world, however, long before that stage is reached, one will say, “I don’t love this person any more; why am I still with him/her?” And then one picks up and leaves one’s spouse, or, if it’s a parent or sibling, one cuts off all contact.

In the (traditional) Chinese tradition, however, the relationship-defined Cardinal Obligations are supreme. Relationships exist objectively and are not subject to subjective feelings. Whether someone is one’s parent, or sibling, or spouse is objectively determined, and doesn’t change no matter what one’s feelings are towards that person. Therefore, during the hard times, each party in the relationship continues to carry out the obligations toward the other party, regardless of feeling.

The wonderful thing in this is that when the two parties in a relationship carry out their obligations toward each other, positive feelings will appear and grow. It is something that is independent of subjective will. And then after the hard times are over, love returns and this love is stronger and deeper than ever. It now is a love that has been tested and is rooted in overcoming common adversity and misunderstanding. It is a love that has been nurtured by self-sacrifice, magnanimity, faith and humility on the part of both parties. It is a truer, more mature love. Happy indeed are those who can enjoy this far deeper, far truer love! And it will be thanks to the Chinese tradition of putting the relationship-defined obligations, instead of love, above all else.

Paradoxical, but life is like that. If one wants something, by pursuing that something as a supreme priority above all else one may not get that thing, especially if it shouldn’t be a supreme priority in the first place. Instead, by pursuing the proper things in their proper priorities one will not only get that something, but also get it better.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Cardinal Obligations Continued

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Continuing from my last blog, the fourth Cardinal Relation is that between husband and wife. They are to unite their hearts as one forever, cooperate to build a life together, and respect each other so much that at every meal they “raise their trays up to the eyebrows to salute each other before eating.”

The fifth Cardinal Relation is that between friends. They are obliged to help each other, to encourage each other to do right, and to dissuade each other from doing wrong. There is no truer friend than one who will frankly tell you when you are making a mistake.

Of course, I think it is necessary to add a sixth Cardinal Relation: that between buyer and seller. The buyer is obliged to pay on time and in the amounts promised for the good or service bought. He’s also obliged to make clear what he wants and expects. The seller is obliged to deliver the good or service on time and in the amounts and quality promised. This Cardinal Relation includes the relationship between employer and employee; the employer is the buyer and the employee is the seller. When it comes to the teacher and the student (or parent), the student (or parent) is the buyer and the teacher the seller.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Cardinal Relations and the Attendant Cardinal Obligations; the Genius of Confucius

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

The genius of traditional Chinese (Confucian) thinking is that by emphasizing the Five Cardinal Relations (五伦 “wu^ lun’” or “ng-3 lueun-4″ in Cantonese) and the correct Obligations the parties in those Relations owe each other, the entire fabric of a proper civil society is set. The Cardinal Relations and their attendant Cardinal Obligations (伦常 lun’ chang’ or lueun-4 seurng-4 in Cantonese) work like how the DNA in a cell: the DNA sets the template for the proteins to be manufactured by the cell, and in turn the proteins determine the structure, operation, life cycle, and all major properties of the cell. The Cardinal Relations and Obligations likewise determine the structure, operation, and all major properties of the society.

First, the Cardinal Relation between the ruler (government) and the subjects. The ruler (government) is obliged to rule with benevolence and competence in providing protection and peace and order to the subjects. The subjects are obliged to obey (i.e., obey the laws) and to pay sustenance (taxes and service) to the government. Also, the subjects are required to point out the ruler’s mistakes and wrongdoings, should any occur, and not obsequiously pander to the ruler.

Second, the Cardinal Relation between the father (parents) and the son (offspring): the parents are obliged to be kind, and to raise and teach the offspring, and the offspring are required to be good to, or xiao` 孝 (how-3 in Cantonese), to the parents. That includes obeying, respecting, supporting parents when they are aged, and dissuading parents from doing wrong.

Third, the Cardinal Relation between the older brother (older sibling) and the younger: the older sibling is friendly and solicitous, and the younger sibling is respectful. The older sibling looks after and helps the younger, and the younger obeys the older. Sibling rivalry is a no-no, definitely not considered healthy in traditional Chinese thinking. Growing up during the fifties and early sixties in Hong Kong, although my brothers and I fight almost on a daily basis, because of the then still prevalent Confucian thinking we absorb from school, radio, and movies, we would be deeply ashamed if we were ever seen fighting by people outside the family. Because society back then, still imbued with Confucian thinking, frowns upon fighting among siblings, and especially for the younger sibling as he is supposed to defer to and respect the older, our fights are always private, carried out in the privacy of our homes.

Stay tuned–more on the Cardinal Relations in my next blog.

Feng Xin-ming


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