Posts Tagged ‘respect’

Respect for Elders Does Not Mean Never Questioning Them

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

A lot of people have the misconception that by respect for one’s elders, Confucius teaches blind obedience to elders and unthinking acceptance of everything and anything elders say. I’ve even heard it from someone of Chinese ethnicity that Confucianism is fascist. Alas, alas, it is not so!

As we have discussed in this blog before and as we can see from Di Zi Gui, p.9, Confucius and the Chinese tradition has never advocated blind obedience to elders, authority, emperor, or parents. In fact, it is one’s duty to try to dissuade them if one believes they are falling into moral unrighteousness. Moreover, It is a grave offense to not do so, as one then becomes an accomplice in making one’s parents fall into moral unrighteousness.

Also, Confucius has never advocated unthinking acceptance of everything and anything elders, or parents, or authority, for that matter, say. If one does not understand one is supposed to ask questions. If one thinks an elder is wrong one should question what the elder is saying.

Take for example the essay “Explanation on Entering the Academy” by the well-known eighth century Confucian scholar Han Yu (韓愈). In it, the professor on entering the Supreme Academy one day lectures the students on focusing wholeheartedly on their studies and not worrying about whether they will be treated fairly after they graduate, whereupon a student rebuts the professor, pointing out how he, the professor himself, is unfairly treated. “Teacher, you mislead us (先生欺我哉),” says the student. Yes, true Confucianism, not the kind that is mistaken for the real thing, teaches questioning and challenging authority if one thinks they are mistaken.

What Confucius advocates is respect. And surely as part of respect one should have a high enough regard for one’s elders that they have enough self-confidence to be questioned or challenged by juniors who have sincere doubts, and enough intellectual ability and integrity to engage in honest and open exchanges of opinion.

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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“A Man’s Ability may be Great or Small…” A Revised Quotation from Chairman Mao

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Speaking of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Campaign to Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius in our last blog, Chairman Mao, the author of those two disasters for all Chinese, comes to mind. Ya know, I have respect for Chairman Mao, even though so much of what he has done is so wrong. I respect him because he has been sincere in trying to help mankind, he has always been honest, and he has tried his best to do what he has believed in. Alas, however, what he has believed in is so wrong! Totalitarianism, for goodness’ sake! Yet, a lot of it is historical circumstances: given China’s two-thousand-year-old totalitarian heritage, what do you expect? Even today, most Chinese people are still pretty totalitarian-minded. They think the one-child policy is great and the state has the right to dictate your number of children; most Chinese people think the government’s wholesale tearing down of Beijing’s historical hutong neighborhoods to “beautify” the city for the Olympics is justified; for the government to have almost unlimited power doesn’t bother most Chinese people, so long as it’s “used wisely”… Heck, they even think, in total disregard for two thousand years of Chinese tradional verdict, that that ultimate totalitarian, the First Emperor of Qin, the granddaddy of all Chinese totalitarians, is a pretty good guy, as in the popular Chinese movie “Hero”!

But back to the topic: the relevant thing about Chairman Mao is a quotation of his* that many have learned by heart forty or so years ago, and I am going to change that quotation a bit to make it valid from my point of view. Here it is, the quotation revised:

“A person’s ability may be great or small, but if he has xiao` 孝 (being good to parents) ti` 悌 (being respectful to elders) and li^ 礼 (courtesy) yi` 义 (sense of moral obligations), then he is already noble minded and pure, a person of moral integrity, a person of value to the world.”

Now I think, revised, that’s a really, really good quotation. Many Chinese parents today, nay, many parents, period, today, only know to push their kids to achieve high, but do not know that morals, character and conduct are more important than grades and study. Many look down upon people who are not as “smart” or “capable,” as in, for example, people with lower school grades, not realizing that what makes a person truly useful to the world and truly capable of achievement is his morals, character and conduct. All who are moral and have good character and conduct deserve our utmost respect, regardless of grades or “ability.”

Feng Xin-ming

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*”A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit (the spirit of absolute selflessness - F.X.), he is already noble minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man of value to the people.” Mao Zedong, QUOTATIONS FROM CHAIRMAN MAO TSE-TUNG, Foreign Languages Press, Peking (Beijing), 1969, p. 172, “Serving the People - In Memory of Norman Bethune.”


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