Posts Tagged ‘courtesy’

The Land of Courtesy and Integrity

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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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“When Parents call, answer; don’t be slow”

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

See Di Zi Gui, page 6

Hey, long time no see! Sorry, been away for a bit - busy with stuff. I’m back now, hopefully for a long while.

I’ve been asked about incorporating authentic Chinese culture into daily life here in North America. OK, today I’ll start with a basic aspect of authentic Chinese culture.

Well, got a story to tell. Some time ago in public I saw this young Chinese guy, about 15-16 years old, and he was being called by his father from across the room. Well, the boy never responded. The father kept calling out but the boy just ignored all the calls, kept talking to his friend, and acted as if he never heard them. After a number of ignored calls, the father stopped and went about his business, not going to the boy and reprimanding him. The mother, who was right there with the father and witnessed the whole affair - in fact, she stared hard and long at the boy once, but she also never said a word and went on about her business.

Now just what was all that about? It was the most brazen display of disrespect for one’s parents, and it was the saddest display of parents not demanding civility from the offspring. It is basic manners, basic civility, basic politeness, to respond when one’s name is called. Especially when it’s one’s parents who are calling. Even when it’s just the dog barking one would respond and say, hey, what’s the matter? How much more so when it’s one’s parents?

Parents must teach manners to their kids, and those manners must first and foremost include being polite and civil to parents. Answering immediately when called is a basic sign of respect. As Confucius is quoted to have said, “Courtesy is nothing but respect.” To not teach courtesy, i.e. manners, is to not teach respect. To have no respect 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.

Of course, it could also be that the boy was ashamed of his parents. Sadly, a lot of Chinese kids seem to be ashamed of their parents if they have some accent in their English or if they aren’t born in this country. Well I say, first of all, no matter how ashamed you are of your father or mother, your father is still your father and your mother is still your mother: you still must show some basic respect! Second, to think that one needs to speak unaccented English to be deserving of respect is the height of folly and the mind of every boy, or girl for that matter, ought to be cleared of that arrogant notion.

Yes, Di Zi Gui (the classic “Students’ Rules,” page 6) recognizes that the first thing a child must learn is basic respect, and that basic respect starts with the most basic act of respect for parents: when parents call, answer immediately. Therefore, in its wisdom, Di Zi Gui sets forth the exhortation about answering one’s parents immediately as the very first sentence in prescribing proper conduct. Parents are well advised to teach their children this conduct, and to insist on it as a minimal standard of civility.

Traditionally, Chinese have for thousands of years prided their country as The Land of Courtesy and Integrity, 禮義之邦. Answering one’s parents immediately is a basic first requirement in that authentic Chinese culture of courtesy.

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


*”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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