Posts Tagged ‘reciprocal’

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 - 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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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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Why the Supremacy of the Relationship-Defined Cardinal Obligations is Good for Freedom

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

The reason the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations is good for freedom is because, except for the relationship between the government and its citizens, the obligations are voluntary and government authority and legal coercion is unnecessary.

The obligations are based on mutual benefit; one violates them at one’s own peril. One gets punished by natural means; if one violates one’s obligations one then loses the reciprocal obligations the other party owes oneself.

Thus, if a son is not xiao he risks his parents becoming unkind, as the reciprocal of the offspring’s xiao is the parents’ kindness; and if a husband is not respectful and cooperative he risks his wife becoming disrespectful and uncooperative, as spouses’ respect foir and cooperation with each other are reciprocal.

Furthermore, other people who have a relationship with him, seeing that he does not carry out his Cardinal Obligations, may also cease carrying out their obligations to him. Thus the son who is not xiao risks having his own son being not xiao to him, and the seller who cheats his buyers risks having people who sell to him cheating him.

Not only that, but also other people who do not now have a relationship with the obligation violator/reneger will cease to come forward to have relationships with him. Since relationships mean mutual help, this means the violator will get very little help and therefore will not succeed in life or find happiness. Thus, a seller who violates his obligations will find fewer and fewer customers, a husband who violates his obligations to his wife will lose friends and few will become his friends, and so forth.

The supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations is the supremacy of mutual help, nothing more. It is the honor code for mutual help. It codifies honorable conduct for relations of mutual help in human society, relations that can be life long, relations that no human can live without. Adopting this honor code is entirely voluntary, but extremely beneficial. It is most conducive to success and happiness. Having such weighty incentives, once people understand the idea, they will conduct themselves according to this honor code, and there is no need for external coercion in the form of legal authority and government.

People are free to adhere to the honor code or not. If they do, they get rewarded, automatically, without getting the authorities involved. If people don’t adhere to the honor code, they get punished, again automatically, without getting the authorities involved.

Government can be as minimal as possible, intrude into the lives of citizens as little as possible, and yet society runs harmoniously and justly, with everyone looked after. The weak, the aged and the disabled will be cared for by those who know them and are close to them, rather than by some anonymous big brother government agency.

As more and more people adopt the idea of the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations, it will usher in a new era of free societies.

Feng Xin-ming

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