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Tsoi Dug Blog 才德博客 » parents

Posts Tagged ‘parents’

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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Incorporating authentic Chinese culture into Daily Life

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

I’ve been asked by persons of Chinese ethnicity who are born in North America to write about incorporating authentic Chinese culture into daily life here in North America.

Well, the first thing about authentic Chinese culture is what I’ve been blogging about for the last few blogs: xiao, or being good to one’s parents. Traditionally, it also involves being good to one’s ancestors. See my paper on this website, 24 Ways to Carry out Xiao, for ways to be good to one’s parents and ancestors. Also, see The Classic of Xiao, written by one of Confucius’ disciples 2,500 years ago.

Carrying out xiao is the most important way to incorporate authentic Chinese culture into one’s daily life here in North America. In fact, all persons of Chinese ethnicity, no matter where they live, should do that. Actually, one doesn’t have to be of Chinese ethnicity, one can be of any ethnicity, and one should do that—everyone should carry out xiao. Whatever one’s ethnicity, religion, place of birth, etc., there should be no difference: it is only moral, just, civilized, and right that one repay the kindness from one’s parents.

Feng Xin-ming


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Why Should One be Xiao, or Good to Parents?

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Why should one be xiao, or good to parents? Well, one practical and utilitarian answer is that only by so doing can one get one’s own children to be xiao to onesel. Kids learn mainly by example, and if one is not xiao or good to one’s parents then one can expect one’s own kids too, sooner or later, to not be xiao or good to oneself. Yes indeed, when I was a young boy my grandmother used to admonish my brothers and me: “Those who are xiao and compliant bear xiao and compliant sons; those who are disobedient and defiant bear disobedient and defiant children. (孝順還生孝順仔,忤逆還生忤逆兒。)”

There is another, more compelling case for being xiao: one should be good to parents because one needs to repay, or reciprocate, the kindness from one’s parents. Parents give birth to, raise and educate one, and that is a great kindness, or en- (恩). Indeed, of all people in the world, the persons who have done the most for one are one’s parents. If nothing else, they’ve given one one’s life. Even if they are adoptive parents, they have still raised and educated one. So one owes a huge debt to one’s parents. In traditional China, the repayment or reciprocation of kindness (報恩 bao` en-) is very important; it is considered a strict moral obligation to repay or reciprocate kindness, to bao` en- (see my blog of February 24, 2007). It would indeed be a great moral trespass to forget kindness and renege on one’s obligations. In Chinese, this repayment of the kindness from one’s parents is called bao` da` fu` mu^ en- 報答父母恩. That, according to traditional Chinese thinking, is the reason for being good to one’s parents, for being xiao.

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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How to Tell When One Needs to Dissuade One’s Parents

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Years and years ago, after I had taught my kids to persist in trying to stop parents from transgressing against moral righteousness, my kids would argue with me when I asked them to do certain unpalatable things like studying, saying, “You told us to dissuade you from doing what is wrong” and “You said we didn’t have to obey or cooperate when we sincerely believed you to be wrong.” Of course, allowing that would have been tantamount to issuing young children a license to disobey parents and to be totally uncooperative.

So I gave them a simple rule to use to tell when one needs to disobey and dissuade one’s parents. It wasn’t just when one believed parents to be mistaken, it had to be when one’s parents were about to or in the process of committing an offense against moral righteousness. It was when obeying and cooperating would have helped your parents succeed in committing that offense. The test for children who were still too young not to be self-centered and stil too young to be any good at abstract thinking, was that it had to benefit the parents or the whole family, not benefit or please the children themselves, to not follow the parents’ orders. And, it was emphasized, the need to disobey parents rarely arose, if ever, for most children.

Otherwise, even if they sincerely believed the order to be dead wrong, like studying some more instead of playing when they already believed themselves to have fully mastered the material, they were still to defer to their parents’ judgment and obey the order.

It is on big and moral issues such as, say, one parent philandering and wanting to divorce the other parent that children must speak their opposition and attempt to dissuade, and persist in the performance of this duty no matter what.

Again, hopefully one never has to oppose one’s parents.

Of course, as the children grow older and approach adulthood their judgment is trusted more and more and they need to defer to their parents’ judgment less and less. Fifteen I have found to be a watershed: around that age children’s minds morph and mature into a more adult like mode. They become more capable of abstract thought and are no longer as self-centered, becoming capable of seeing things in general and seeing their own situation in particular from an objective instead of a subjective point of view. Around age fifteen I have started letting my kids call their own shots when it comes to things like when to study. Of course, even though I tell them I will no longer issue orders once they reach fifteen, it doesn’t mean I don’t bug them about things.

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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“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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Xiao` (孝), or Being Good to Parents and Ancestors

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

In Traditional China, 孝 xiao`, or being good to parents and ancestors, is considered the foundation of civil society and the guarantee of moral behavior. (See Xiao Jing, “The Classic of Xiao.”) The idea is that when one is brought up being good to one’s parents and ancestors one will be conditioned to be good & respectful to all the other people that one deals with outside the family. Also, one will diligently fulfill the duties pertaining to one’s station in life, so that one will make one’s parents and ancestors look good, and so that one will maintain the means to support one’s parents and make offerings to one’s ancestors. Thus, the Emperor or Son of Heaven will rule well and be kind and respectful to his subjects, because he has been conditioned that way by xiao and because he wants to bring glory to his ancestors by winning praise from his subjects. Likewise, the Dukes, the Ministers, the Officers, and the Common People, i.e. all the classes of people in society, will also diligently fulfill their duties and be good and respectful to all people they deal with. Thus great order reins, and moral conduct is guaranteed.

Unlike most traditional societies, Traditional China has basically been a secular society. Organized religion has not been the dominant force in Traditional China. At the foundation of morality is not divine commandment but secular xiao`, taught by the secular philosophy of Confucianism. In order to understand the Traditional Chinese worldview, it is essential to understand xiao`.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Cardinal Obligations Continued: Mutual Help

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

What do all six Cardinal Relations have in common? They all have in common the fundamental feature of human society: mutual help.

Reflecting the fundamental property of human society, the Cardinal Relation between government and subjects is but a relation of mutual help: the government is there to help its subjects by protecting them and keeping order, and in turn the subjects help the government by cooperating with the government so as to make order possible, and by paying taxes to sustain the government.

Also, the Cardinal Relation between parents and offspring is a relationship of mutual help: the parents help the offspring survive, grow up, and learn (become educated). When still immature the offspring help the parents by cooperating with them in the upbringing by obeying and respecting the parents, and when grown up, the offspring help the parents by providing sustenance and care to them in their old age and debility.

The Cardinal Relation between older and younger siblings is a relation of mutual help: the siblings help and cooperate with each other.

As for the Cardinal Relation among spouses, the husband and wife help and cooperate with each other in building a life together.

Of course, mutual help is clearly the real link underlying friendship. Never mind encouraging and admonishing each other, even when it comes to just friends mutually entertaining and amusing each other, that is a form of mutual help.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Cardinal Relations and the Attendant Cardinal Obligations; the Genius of Confucius

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

The genius of traditional Chinese (Confucian) thinking is that by emphasizing the Five Cardinal Relations (五伦 “wu^ lun’” or “ng-3 lueun-4″ in Cantonese) and the correct Obligations the parties in those Relations owe each other, the entire fabric of a proper civil society is set. The Cardinal Relations and their attendant Cardinal Obligations (伦常 lun’ chang’ or lueun-4 seurng-4 in Cantonese) work like how the DNA in a cell: the DNA sets the template for the proteins to be manufactured by the cell, and in turn the proteins determine the structure, operation, life cycle, and all major properties of the cell. The Cardinal Relations and Obligations likewise determine the structure, operation, and all major properties of the society.

First, the Cardinal Relation between the ruler (government) and the subjects. The ruler (government) is obliged to rule with benevolence and competence in providing protection and peace and order to the subjects. The subjects are obliged to obey (i.e., obey the laws) and to pay sustenance (taxes and service) to the government. Also, the subjects are required to point out the ruler’s mistakes and wrongdoings, should any occur, and not obsequiously pander to the ruler.

Second, the Cardinal Relation between the father (parents) and the son (offspring): the parents are obliged to be kind, and to raise and teach the offspring, and the offspring are required to be good to, or xiao` 孝 (how-3 in Cantonese), to the parents. That includes obeying, respecting, supporting parents when they are aged, and dissuading parents from doing wrong.

Third, the Cardinal Relation between the older brother (older sibling) and the younger: the older sibling is friendly and solicitous, and the younger sibling is respectful. The older sibling looks after and helps the younger, and the younger obeys the older. Sibling rivalry is a no-no, definitely not considered healthy in traditional Chinese thinking. Growing up during the fifties and early sixties in Hong Kong, although my brothers and I fight almost on a daily basis, because of the then still prevalent Confucian thinking we absorb from school, radio, and movies, we would be deeply ashamed if we were ever seen fighting by people outside the family. Because society back then, still imbued with Confucian thinking, frowns upon fighting among siblings, and especially for the younger sibling as he is supposed to defer to and respect the older, our fights are always private, carried out in the privacy of our homes.

Stay tuned–more on the Cardinal Relations in my next blog.

Feng Xin-ming


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