Posts Tagged ‘empowering’

Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering – 3

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

In the relationship between parents and offspring, again traditional Chinese culture is liberating and empowering.

True, true, I know that a lot of people nowadays mistakenly think that traditional Chinese culture is oppressive, despotic, and downright abusive when it comes to parents and offspring, and almost all the modern Chinese novelists and playwrights portray it thus – why, just turn on the TV and watch a Chinese soap opera and you’ll see how horrible “feudalism” is – but that’s all nonsense and distortion. Since the 1900’s many Chinese intellectuals have seized upon aberrations and deviants in traditional Chinese society – now which society doesn’t have aberrations and deviants – and portray them as being representative. Some of these intellectuals even wildly distort and misrepresent Chinese culture. The sad thing is that, being weak, backward and poor, Chinese civilization hasn’t been able to speak up for itself. Today, with the Chinese Cultural Renaissance beginning, that’s going to change…

At any rate, the reason that traditional Chinese culture liberates and empowers in the parent-offspring relationship is that with the always-reciprocal relationship-defined obligations being supreme instead of some subjective feeling called love, one doesn’t have to worry about the fickleness of emotions. As in marriage, one doesn’t have to panic over what to do, or whether one is doing the right thing. The obligations are clear and well defined both on the parents’ end and on the offspring’s end. The parents’ obligations are to raise and educate the offspring to the best extent possible. The offspring’s obligations are to cooperate with this raising and educating, to strive to do his or her best in conduct and career, to help the parents, and to support and care for the parents when they are old and infirm.

The criteria for whether obligations are carried out or not are objective and verifiable, and are not some subjective “feeling” inside people’s head called “love”. With objective relationship-defined obligations, it isn’t hard to substantiate whether a parent is, say, raising and educating the offspring, while with love, it is hard to get inside someone’s head and confirm that there is or there is not love there. Sometimes even the person himself or herself is confused: hence the perennial question: do I love him, or do I love him not? And if we go according to the modern Western paradigm of “love” being supreme, one comes to this question: if I don’t love my parents, should I have anything to do with them? With traditional Chinese culture, one is liberated from the groundless insecurities over the existence of “love,” and the horribly mistaken conclusions to which these insecurities lead.

Actually, those positive feelings of deep attachment to and profound willingness to do things for someone, feelings that are generally considered to constitute love, arise anyways, naturally, in both parties, in the course of their fulfilling the always-reciprocal relationship-defined obligations day in, day out. It is not necessary to “cultivate love” and curry favor with one’s offspring or one’s parents; it is only necessary to carry out one’s obligations, faithfully, every day.

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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