Posts Tagged ‘Confucianism’

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?


It hasn’t always been so.


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.


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)”.


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.


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.


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.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Confucianism & Religions 孔教和各宗教

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Ha, it has finally happened: a Christian told me the other day that just because Christianity values love above all doesn’t mean that love doesn’t come with obligations, and she quoted me First Corinthians Chapter 13:


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


Well, that’s great: in orthodox Christianity, unlike what we often see nowadays in Western society, love also implies obligations. That’s really good. So, as I’ve said before, the precepts in Di Zi Gui and Confucius’s teachings are not tied to any one religion and are compatible with any religion.


Of course, Confucius spends a lot more time and present in much greater detail the mutual obligations for the different parties than the Christian Bible does. For example, the Christian Bible doesn’t have a formal analysis on the Five Cardinal Relations of government-subject, parents-offspring, husband-wife, among siblings, and between friends. A short paragraph in First Corinthians is nothing compared to the volumes about obligations in the ancient Confucian texts. That’s why not just Chinese but everyone the world over, even Christians, need to study these precepts from the Chinese tradition.


Of course, in the modern world, the Confucian tradition cannot stand alone by itself, unchanged; it needs some adaptation and supplementation. For example, I think the Five Cardinal Relations should become the Six Cardinal Relations: we need to add that between the buyer and the seller.


And the Confucian tradition has never pretended to address the hereafter, and so societies that practiced the Confucian tradition have long supplemented the tradition with religions like Buddhism. Though I am not knowledgeable about the practices of Chinese Muslims, I do know that they’ve been well integrated into mainstream society for centuries in Imperial China. Likewise the Chinese Jews like the Kaifeng Jews. So I don’t see why there should be any problem with compatibility and mutual supplementation with Christianity or any other major religion.


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?


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.


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?


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


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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Modern Free Society Needs the Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

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

Making the Cardinal Obligations supreme, treating them as the supreme value, as the Confucian-Chinese tradition has done for over two thousand years, is most compatible with a modern free society. Nay more, making the Cardinal Obligations supreme is extremely conducive to the development of an even freer society than what we have now.

How so? Many will ask, shocked. Isn’t the Confucian-Chinese tradition autocratic? One young man has actually told me that he has always thought that Confucianism is fascist! Oh wrong, wrong; oh how wrong! Oh times! Oh morals!

True, historically there has been significant streaks of autocracy in Confucianism and true, China has had a totalitarian system of government for over two thousand years, where government control has been remarkably pervasive for a society based on technology quite primitive today. Traditional Chinese autocracy and totalitarianism, however, have been based mainly on Legalsim and the idea of Craft* (Shu` or 术), not Confucianism. In fact, historically Confucianism has been the restraining and humanizing influence on traditional Chinese totalitarianism.

Let us not get into a huge debate about exactly where, when, and how much are the autocratic and totalitarian streaks in Confucianism; let us just look at the core idea of Confucianism: the Cardinal Obligations. Quite opposite to autocracy and totalitarianism, the essence of the Cardinal Obligations is that they enable a society to function with the least amount of coercion, the least amount of government control, and thus the maximum freedom and voluntary choice.

It is now the twenty-first century, and it is high time to purge the autocratic and totalitarian streaks that have contaminated Confucianism, the core teaching of which, the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations, is by nature against autocracy and totalitarianism.

Feng Xin-ming


*Political and historical writings from traditional China often distinguish between Dao` (the Way) on the one hand, which is the good and the benevolent, and Shu` (Craft) on the other, which is the “art” or “craft” involving Machiavellian deceit and cruelty but considered justified means to achieve the greater good. Writers would laud a personnage, for example an emperor or a prime minister, for adhering to the Dao` in carrying out good and benevolent deeds, and would exonerate the same personnage of his heinous and underhanded deeds by invoking the necessity of Shu` (Craft). The term Shu` (Craft) can be expanded as Zhi` Guo’ Zhi- Shu` (the Craft or Art of Ruling a State)

Feng Xin-ming

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Self Esteem

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Happy New Year everyone! Chinese New Year, that is. Being a website promoting Asian culture, it’s only fitting that we start this blog on Chinese New Year’s Day.

There has been a bunch of feedback on the Mulan article. One person writes:
“Something that has struck a chord with me particularly is your noting that Chinese minds have become feeble. Not that they are not intelligent, nor necessarily hardworking. It is more the ability to understand who they are, where they come from, and developing a secure sense of place and life project. I feel a lot of young Chinese people (both in China and ethnic Chinese abroad) lack a deep confidence. And I think the cultural/political turmoil that China has been through in modern history has a lot to do with it.”

I wholeheartedly agree. It is sad, but I think that modern Chinese culture is a culture of inferiority complex, a culture that lacks self esteem.

Look at any Chinese work that deals with history, a historical movie, like “Hero” for example, or a historical soap opera, like the recent “Emperor of the Great Han (Da Ha Tian Zi)” for example. There it’s always shown, with an air of resignation, how the hero, though kind and good-hearted, nonetheless needs to perform some heinous deeds such as killing a loyal subordinate along with his entire family, “for the greater good.” While in Western works the hero may have personal faults, he never has to do anything so criminal as the Chinese “hero.” When the Chinese hero doesn’t have to do anything heinous, he ends up being tragically beaten, as in the recent movie “Huo Yuan Jia.” Sure, “Huo Yuan Jia’s” producers will say, he was never beaten; he had actually beaten the Japanese fighter; he died at the end of the fight only because he was poisoned! But he was still beaten. He was beaten, and China was beaten, in the sense that China had lost its best fighter by far as a result of the match with the Japanese fighter. In the more popular Western movies the hero doesn’t come to that kind of end! Our heroes are definitely inferior to theirs! Boo hoo for self esteem!

The reason that Chinese culture lacks self esteem is the lack of a recognized, affirmed Chinese history, and the lack of a recognized, affirmed set of core values. By the way, I suspect that’s actually common to all non-Western peoples. At any rate, Chinese history is said to be glorious, but if it’s so glorious where have we gone wrong? Why have we been and why are we still so poor and backward? Answers abound, from the Marxist one to the “Blue Culture, Yellow Culture” one to various unconvincing or even outright racist ones. And what are the core values? Confucianism has been thoroughly thrown out the window. The process has started in 1895, when Japan defeats China over Korea and Liang Qi Qiao and Kang You Wei start their campaign to strip the power of the Son of Heaven down to that of a constitutional monarch. The process rises to a fever pitch in 1924 with the cry of “Down with the Confucius Shop!” during the May Fourth Movement. The process ends with the grand finale of the 1966 Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Today much of Mainland China is devoid of traditional Chinese ideals, mores, norms, and traditional Chinese common courtesy. Yet the replacement, the revolutionary ideals, mores and norms of the Marxist class struggle, have also been thrown out. So what core values are we left with? A void.

Look at American history and American core values in contrast. Every American knows that the 1776 Revolution is just and great, the conquest of the continent, Alaska, and Hawaii has been a manifest destiny blessed by Providence, and every war that America has been in has been just and, except for Vietnam and Korea, victorious. As for core values, most Americans rally around freedom, equality and democracy, and most Americans will tell you that the most important thing to possess is love.

Recognizing and reaffirming Chinese history and Chinese core values, i.e. reaffirming Chinese culture, that’s indeed why I’ve started this website.

This is even sadder, but I think the Chinese inferiorty complex has gotten worse, not better. Back in the Sixties and Seventies, though most Chinese, i.e. mainland Chinese, were wrong that communism and Maoism had given China the most advanced social system and China would overtake the West within a generation, at least most Chinese were confident that China was still the Middle Kingldom and the center of the world. Now, it is pretty unanimous that China is backward and significantly behind the West, and worse, no one can figure out a way to catch up soon. The accepted wisdom from Mainland officialdom and mainland scholars of prominence is that it will take another fifty years for China to reach the level of the mid tier income countries, like Brazil and Portugal! As for catching up with the USA, well, that’s not seen anywhere in the future. Sigh! This lack of confidence on the part of Chinese people, young Chinese people included, is going to persist for a while!

Feng Xin-ming

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