Posts Tagged ‘feelings’

Chinese People and the Expression of Love

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

One of the criticisms leveled by Westerners and, far more vehemently, by Westernized Chinese, at Chinese people in general is that they don’t “show love”. In fact, this theme is enlarged upon in a very unflattering manner in more than one novel written by Chinese-Americans about Chinese-Americans. The gist of the criticism is that traditional Chinese culture doesn’t value love and that therefore Chinese people are cold and incapable of feeling love.


Sigh, that is not so! Traditional Chinese culture does value love, and Chinese people are capable of feeling love! It’s just that first, traditional Chinese culture considers obligations, which are objective and are defined by the objectively existing relationship, to come before love, a subjective feeling, and second, because of the foregoing, Chinese people don’t need to express love in the very demonstrative ways that Westerners express it. Traditional Chinese culture makes Chinese people secure in that should one day the subjective feeling of love towards them not be felt by the other party in the relationship, that doesn’t mean the relationship will come crashing to an end. The relationship continues as long as one continues to fulfill one’s relationship-defined obligations.


Thus one expresses love by fulfilling one’s obligations with all one’s heart and soul. In traditional Chinese culture, in the novels, plays, and stories, what is sung in praise to is the behavior of fulfilling one’s obligations with all one’s heart and soul regardless of difficulty or sacrifice, while the subjective feeling of love is included in and expressed by the objective behavior. Traditional Chinese culture puts objective behavior first and subjective feeling second.


Therefore, Chinese don’t need to always say “I love you”, to always kiss and embrace in front of others, like Westerners do. On the contrary, Chinese feel that such things are creepy, like they are phony, part of an act. Chinese people fulfill their obligations and duties every day with whole heart and soul, with an attitude that’s both reverent and joyful, and such is their expression of love.


So, yes, in traditional Chinese culture love is important, indeed very important; it’s just that love is not supreme, not important above all else, the way Western culture has it. Traditional Chinese culture puts love in its proper place.


It’s not just traditional Chinese culture that’s like this; traditional Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese cultures are also like this, in a word, all the Asian cultures that have revered Confucius are like this.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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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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