Posts Tagged ‘siblings’

In-laws

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Well, as soon as I talk about “brothers are like one’s own limbs”, I am presented with that cynical Chinese saying: “Brothers are like one’s limbs; spouses are like mere clothes ( 兄弟如手足,夫妇如衣服).” Yes, I’ve heard it before, from mistaken Chinese women criticizing traditional Chinese culture.

Why, that saying is downright untrue: traditional Chinese culture never denigrates the relationship between husband and wife to be mere clothes! At every wedding, the traditional Chinese wish is “to grow old with white hair together, to forever unite the hearts as one ( 白头皆老,永结同心).” So what are these people talking about?

Well, actually, they then say, the problem is that with the advocacy of family closeness in traditional Chinese culture, while the men have deep feelings for even their brothers there are no comparable feelings for the wives. This, it is said, proves that women must always engage in a bitter rivalry with their husbands’ relatives for affection and devotion. It’s either the wife or the in-laws, there’s no having both.

Ah, so that’s the problem! Tsk, tsk, tsk, when looked at from the viewpoint of traditional, Confucian ideology, how foolish for a woman to set herself up against her own in-laws! It is very foolish to view relations among people as a zero-sum game: if one loves his brothers the more, one must love his wife the less, and vice versa. Only fools live their lives as zero-sum games. No, the matter should be viewed this way instead: how much better for one’s husband if he has not only his wife’s love, but also that of his brothers!

True, true, back in the old days some (not all!) in-laws had been bad to the wives. But that happened not when the core Confucian principles were being followed, it happened when they were being violated! It is in accordance with the core Confucian principles for husband and wife to love each other deeply; it is a deviancy from the same principles for husbands to have “no feelings” for their wives.

From the point of view of the core Confucian principle of Cardinal Obligations being supreme, there is no conflict of interest between a wife and her in-laws. Her husband owes her the obligation of building a life together, just as she owes him the same obligation in return. He and his brothers mutually owe each other the obligation of mutual help and mutual support, and that can only be in line with the wife’s interest of building a good life together with her husband! The fact is that, far from having a fundamental conflict of interest, a woman and her in-laws have a fundamental convergence of interest. That’s why both the negative saying about in-laws and the negative attitude towards in-laws, as foolish as both are cynical, should be completely discarded.

Feng Xin-ming


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Siblings are Like One’s Own Limbs

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

“Brothers are like one’s own limbs” (兄弟如手足) is an old Chinese saying that all kids brought up in the traditional Chinese way know by heart. Of course, nowadays, the sexes having to be explicitly mentioned equally in our speech, we would have to say “siblings are like one’s own limbs” since just saying “brothers” is no longer considered to also include the feminine equivalent, i.e. sisters. At any rate, kids brought up the traditional Chinese way know the saying by heart because everyone who is an elder to them, as well as all the culture around them, i.e. parents, grandparents, teachers, relatives, textbooks, books for children, magazines for children, and so forth, drill the saying into the kids over and over. All around the kids the prevailing, traditional Chinese culture emphasizes that siblings must love each other, stick by each other, help each other, and work together with each other their entire lives.

Children brought up the traditional Chinese way are told the story of the king who summoned all his sons, the seven princes. He gave each prince one arrow to break, which was done easily. Then he gave each seven arrows bundled together to break, which none could do. “Ah,” the king said, “Each one of you by yourself can be broken easily, but if you all unite and pull together, you will never be broken.”

Kids raised in the traditional Chinese way know that they are lucky to have siblings and know to treasure and value siblings. Whether they actually always do it or not, kids raised in the traditional Chinese way know that the older siblings are supposed to help and guide the younger ones, and that the younger siblings are supposed to be respectful to the older ones. They know that siblings should not fight, that it is wrong to fight, and that it is very shameful for siblings to fight.

Never, never do they hear from their elders or from school that it’s natural for siblings to engage in hostilities or even to physically fight because it’s “sibling rivalry”! Never, never is fighting among siblings tolerated with mere annoyance or even condoned with a chuckle. If it comes to light that siblings have been fighting, there is always reprimand. Unlike today’s parents who rely on their natural maternal or paternal instinct, which favors the younger child, and thus always scold the older child for not having been accommodating enough to the younger one no matter how unreasonable, for kids raised in the traditional Chinese way the younger one is always in the wrong to have hit the older one for the younger one is to treat the older sibling with respect.

Yes, kids raised the traditional Chinese way know they are to treat, whether they always practice it or not, siblings like one’s own limbs.

By the way, that wasn’t so long ago: I was a child in Asia in the early sixties and I was engulfed in that traditional Chinese culture. I guess it simply disappeared during the seventies.

Feng Xin-ming


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Mistaken Worldview, Mistaken Portrayal of Reality

Monday, October 29th, 2007

“The New Marriage Life (新結婚生活),” a Chinese soap opera series recently shown on Chinese TV KTFS Bay Area is really sinister in its concluding episode: the hero, a very successful college graduate and executive who throughout the series shows a lot of compassion for his peasant older brother and goes to great lengths to help him, actually only does so because of feeling guilty about having cheated the older brother out of going to college so that the hero has been able to! And the soap opera shows this dishonest man, who has flagrantly violated all morality and ethics, is absolutely forgiven in the show and enjoined not to tell the older brother, just to keep helping him. Alas, where is uprightness? Where is integrity? The whole cheating of one’s older brother out of his due is portrayed as being natural and expected – after all, when faced with the choice of either vicious, deliberate cheating of family or not going to college and thus staying a peasant, isn’t one supposed to choose the former? Isn’t life all against one and one against all? Isn’t it the law of the jungle, even when it comes to family? Oh woe! Oh what a terrible worldview!

Yes, when you expect others to be immoral, you then can act immorally yourself, since you are just protecting yourself and at worse you are just doing unto them what they would do unto you anyway. This worldview, this portrayal of reality is most pernicious. In fact of course, it is a mistaken worldview and a mis-portrayal of reality because, as we have pointed out in previous blogs (e.g. April 2, 2007), life is actually based on mutual help. Human society is based on mutual kindness, and is the diametrical opposite of the dog-eat-dog world.

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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Repaying En- 恩 or Kindness, the Five (or Six) Cardinal Relations

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

The concept of the repayment of “en-” 恩 (- = first tone; this is my “home-made” pinyin for easy keyboarding) or in Cantonese, “yun-1″ (-1 = Cantonese first tone), is a very important one in traditional Chinese culture. “en-” means a kindness, a significant, great kindness, not just a little tip to the waiter or something like that. In traditional Chinese culture, it is very important to repay kindness. In fact, repaying “en-” is considered to be the basis of society itself.

To repay the kindness (the “en-”) bestowed one by one’s parents is the basis of “xiao” (”how-3″ in Cantonese) or “being good to parents.” Now “xiao” or being good to parents is considered in traditional Chinese society as being the basis of civil society and the most fundamental guarantee of moral conduct. So, by extension, repaying kindness or “en-”, in this case that from one’s parents, is regarded as the fundamental foundation of civil society in traditional China. Repaying of “en-” is indeed considered very important.

In traditional China, what transpires between the parties in society’s Five Cardinal Relations (wu^ lun’ 五伦 or ng-3 lueun-4 in Cantonese), is described by the term “en- yi`” 恩义 (”yun-1 yee-6″ in Cantonese). “en-”, as we already know, is kindness. Now “yi` (义)” is a bit harder to translate, as in Chinese it’s used for a lot of different things. In this context I think the correct translation is “obligation”. So what transpires between the parties in society’s Five Cardinal Relations is kindness and obligation.

To explain, the Five Cardinal Relations are those between the ruler and the subject (between government and citizen), between the father (parent) and the son (offspring), between the older and the younger brothers (siblings), between husband and wife, and between friend and friend. These comprise the most important relations in society. Of course, today we would add a sixth, that between buyer and seller, where buyer also includes the employer since he’s buying labor power, and seller includes the employee who is selling his labor power.

So, in the traditional Chinese thinking, what the parties in society’s fundamental relations do is to bestow kindness on and carry out obligations to, each other.

Feng Xin-ming


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