Posts Tagged ‘di zi gui’

Bringing Up Good Children with Di Zi Gui

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

It’s so nice to see a Mom discover Di Zi Gui for herself and her children! Back in the ’80’s I discovered the same thing: I read Di Zi Gui and I went, “Wow! This is exactly what my kids need! This is what I’ve gotta teach them!” They were newborn, 5 and 7 then.


Back then, to teach my North American-born kids I had to translate the work myself, write the Cantonese pronunciation in English next to the Chinese words so my kids can recite the Chinese, and with scissors and much photocopying create my own bilingual textbooks.

当年,为了教我北美洲出生的孩子们,我要自己把文章翻译, 为了让他们能够把原文诵读,要在汉字旁写上广州话的英语字母拼音,又要用剪刀和复印机来创造我自己的双语教材书。

My 4 little ones have all been good as children, they have grown up to be pretty nice people, and, I risk sounding like a cocky parent but I have to put this in: they all got into good colleges - McGill, Harvard, and 2 in Stanford.


And I credit a lot of it to Di Zi Gui. I think studying Di Zi Gui has not only given them a moral mooring, but has also given them a sense of pride and identity in their Chinese heritage, a quiet self esteem and self confidence that drives them to always do their best, and an inner strength that helps them overcome setbacks and adversity.


Since then I’ve taught some of my Mandarin-speaking friends’ teenage kids, requiring me to also write in the Mandarin Pronunciation, and now I’ve been teaching it to teenagers. Also I’ve put my bilingual texts online so other people can take advantage of the wonderful Chinese intellectual heritage. Here’s the link:


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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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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Xiao 孝 Has Never Meant Blind Obedience or Blind Submission

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

There is a totally unfounded idea among a lot of people that xiao means blind obedience. Why, just the other day someone came up to me and said, we can’t just say xiao; we’ve got to say xiao for modern people, because nowadays you can’t have just blind obedience. Goodness! Does xiao mean blind submission to authority? Is that what the sages have taught?

No, definitely not. As we can see from just Di Zi Gui (“Rules for Students”) alone, even such a text, meant to be a primer for children, teaches that parents may be wrong sometimes. Moreover, Di Zui Gui teaches that when parents are being unrighteous, xiao requires offspring to remonstrate and dissuade. Di Zi Gui (see P. 9) actually spends a lot of time on how to remonstrate and dissuade, and on persisting in doing so even if one incurs wrath and punishment from one’s parents.

One of the most important Confucian works, the “Annotations to the Thirteen Classics (十三經注疏)”, says that there are three things that are very un-xiao, and one of them is to blindly obey one’s parents even when there is error and thus to entrap one’s parents in moral unrighteousness. (於禮有不孝者三,事謂阿意曲從,陷亲不義,一不孝也。)

In Xiao Jing (孝經), when Confucius is asked whether if a son is obedient to his parents, then he should be considered xiao, Confucius says, “What kind of talk is that? What kind of talk is that? (是何言歟?是何言歟?)” Then he goes on to explain that having a son who will remonstrate and dissuade keeps a father from falling into moral unrighteousness.

Thus, no, xiao has never meant blind obedience and blind submission, not in the old days, and not now.

Feng Xin-ming

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More Re: Honesty

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

(“Whenever one speaks, trustworthiness comes first; lying and pretending to know, how can one do such things? 凡出言,信為先;詐與妄,奚可焉。” Di Zi Gui, p.20.)

Today I read in this article that Asian countries, while enamored with China’s economic power and peaceable overtures, are nonetheless repelled by China’s “opaque domestic politics and LACK OF BUSINESS ETHICS (capitals mine).” According to the article, today’s prevalent Asian view of China and Chinese conduct is this:

…it is everything goes—precisely because, yes, everything goes—no good credit checking system, no well-placed fear of violating good norms, one can get away with cheating, et cetera.

Good grief! For a country that has for millennia prided itself on being “the Land of Courtesy and Integrity,” is this not utterly shameful? What happened to the legendary Chinese businessman’s reputation for honesty? What happened to the traditional Chinese practice of trustworthiness, of xin 信?!

Well, it is the sad, sad story of a proud, upstanding culture, having sunk into degeneracy during the twentieth century. It is the sad, sad story of a brilliant thousands-year old code of ethics wrongly blamed for the backwardness of its adherents, the Chinese under the imperial dynasties, who would actually have been far more backward had it not been for exactly this code of ethics. In probably the greatest erroneous verdict in human history, this marvelous code has been rejected and wrongly condemned by its very beneficiaries, the Chinese themselves. It is time that this code of ethics, much of it expressed in succinct form by Di Zi Gui, be re-embraced by the very descendants of those who have created it in millennia past.

Yes, today’s Chinese must return to these ethics if China is to regain its stature and the high respect rightfully accorded China by other countries during centuries past.

Feng Xin-ming

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Why Honesty Leads to Success and Happiness in Life – 2

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

edited Nov. 22, 2007

(”Whenever one speaks, trustworthiness(xin )comes first; lying and pretending to know, how can one do such things? 凡出言,信為先;詐與妄,奚可焉。” Di Zi Gui, p.20 )

Now let us look at why honesty leads to success and happiness in life.

It’s all because the fundamental feature of human society is mutual help. Thus, to be as successful as one’s ability warrants, one must maximize both the help one gives to others and the help others give to one. Of course, a lot of this occurs as buying and selling, including the buying and selling of labor, i.e. going to work for an employer, and a lot of this occurs as non-monetary mutual help among family and friends.

No matter, for the mutual help to be maximized, one must give an open and complete picture of what one can offer. Only thus can one maximize one’s “customers,” whether monetary or non-monetary, whether stranger, acquaintance, friend, relative or family.

Only thus then can one maximize one’s return, again whether monetary or not. When one helps others, others will help one. With monetary mutual help things are priced beforehand with each exchange, with non-monetary mutual help among friends and family things are fixed beforehand as part of the Cardinal Obligations (see my blogs Mar. 2 – April 5, 2007). Either way, for others to help us maximally, they must be able to see clearly what our needs are. Only by being open and honest with them can they best help us.

It’s a mutual help world out there, and to be as successful and happy as one’s ability warrants, one must be honest.

Feng Xin-ming

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Being Xiao 孝: One Should Frequently Update one’s Parents on one’s situation

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Di Zi Gui says that one must “always tell the parents when one goes out, and always see the parents face-to-face when one returns.” Di Zi Gui, p.7. One tells one’s parents when one goes out so that parents wouldn’t worry so much. One always sees one’s parents face-to-face when one returns so that parents could see that one is alright.

Why must one do that? The reason is that parents love their children deeply, and worry and fret about them when their condition is uncertain. Yes, the kindness of parents! As the classic Xiao Jing says, there is no greater kindness than this. So one must lessen their worry and their anxiety, and to do that one must tell one’s parents about one’s condition, including, when one is living at home, reporting to parents when one goes out and when one returns. One must update one’s parents frequently about one’s condition. That is one of the important ways to carry out xiao.

Feng Xin-ming

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When Not to Obey or Cooperate with Parents

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

According to Confucius, one must not obey or cooperate with one’s parents when doing so will land one’s parents in moral unrighteousness. Of course, this is an infreqent circumstance that one may, with luck, never encounter, but one must do one’s duty when the circumstance arises.

One day, one of Confucius’ foremost disciples, Zeng Zi, the author of the famous Xiao Jing (Classic of Xiao 孝經), stood still and let his father hit him over the head with a stick in a fit of rage. Zeng Zi almost passed out, and his father felt great remorse after. Zeng Zi, however, felt that he was displaying xiao by “accepting punishment from his father.” When Confucius heard about this, however, he got very angry. He severely reprimanded Zeng Zi for lacking xiao in having stood still instead of running away. Confucius said that only if his father was holding a thin twig should Zeng Zi have stood still to take the punishment. By letting his father hit him over the head with a stout stick, Zeng Zi was sinking his father into moral unrighteousness (陷父於不義). Indeed, what if Zeng Zi had died, Confucius asked. Then the father would have been guilty of a serious crime. Zeng Zi’s cooperation to let his father succeed in committing an offense against moral righteousness, Confucius stressed, was a great transgression against xiao.

According to another famous Confucian thinkers, Mencius, going along with instead of dissuading parents from moral unrighteousness is the second greatest transgression against xiao (the greatest being not having offspring).

Therefore, it is a Confucian, i.e. traditional Chinese, principle that one must do one’s best to dissuade parents from doing what is immoral or unrighteous. According to the classic Di Zi Gui (”Students’ Rules”), one must, in a soft tone of voice and with a smile on one’s face, advise one’s parents against the matter that is morally wrong. If the parents don’t accept the counsel, then one waits until one’s parents are in a good mood and then again try to dissuade them. If that fails weeping and wailing follows, and even if one’s parents get annoyed and angry to the point that they hit one, one should not mind. ( Di Zi Gui, page 9)

Feng Xin-ming

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Character and Conduct are More Important than Academics

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

“After achieving right conduct, if there’s energy left over then study books. 行有餘力則以學文。 ” (Di Zi Gui page 6.)

Conduct and character are most important and certainly comes before book learning, i.e., before academics. That is the traditional view of authentic Chinese culture.

Of course, I don’t mean to set the two up as opposite and mutually exclusive: conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other. Good heavens, no! In fact, the two should go together: the youngsters who have good conduct also know they should exert themselves at academics and achieve the best they are capable of. In fact, achieving the best one can in all areas of endeavor, study as well as career, is considered an indispensible part of xiao 孝 (how in Cantonese), or being good to one’s parents.

The reason I bring up conduct and character as being more important than and coming before academics is because there seems to be an idea among some parents that as long as their children get good grades, it does not matter that they are often impolite, inconsiderate, rude, self-centered, mean, disrespectful, and sometimes even dishonest, especially to parents and siblings.

Actually to not have good character and conduct 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. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no inner, moral strength, and to have no inner, moral strength is to not be able to cope with the many storms and setbacks that are bound to be encountered through one’s life. Also, to not have good character and conduct is to have no compass in life, to not know right from wrong, to bend every which way the wind blows and not be able to choose the correct option at critical junctures of life. Only with good character and conduct can a successful and happy life be guaranteed.

Therefore, yes, if one has to choose, choose conduct and character over academics!

Of course, that is usually not the choice; the choice is whether to have both conduct and character on the one hand and academics on the other, or to have only academics.

Even though traditional Chinese culture is one that values and emphasizes academics for thousands of years, authentic traditional Chinese culture in all its wisdom knows that, despite the importance of academics, character and conduct is more important than academic success.

That is also why American elite colleges don’t look just at grades, but also at other characteristics that often have to do with character and conduct, to decide whether to accept applicants. Often the colleges will accept someone with outstanding character over someone with better academics.

Feng Xin-ming

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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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