Posts Tagged ‘spouses’

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 Obligations Continued

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Continuing from my last blog, the fourth Cardinal Relation is that between husband and wife. They are to unite their hearts as one forever, cooperate to build a life together, and respect each other so much that at every meal they “raise their trays up to the eyebrows to salute each other before eating.”

The fifth Cardinal Relation is that between friends. They are obliged to help each other, to encourage each other to do right, and to dissuade each other from doing wrong. There is no truer friend than one who will frankly tell you when you are making a mistake.

Of course, I think it is necessary to add a sixth Cardinal Relation: that between buyer and seller. The buyer is obliged to pay on time and in the amounts promised for the good or service bought. He’s also obliged to make clear what he wants and expects. The seller is obliged to deliver the good or service on time and in the amounts and quality promised. This Cardinal Relation includes the relationship between employer and employee; the employer is the buyer and the employee is the seller. When it comes to the teacher and the student (or parent), the student (or parent) is the buyer and the teacher the seller.

Feng Xin-ming


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恩义 En- Yi` or Kindness and Obligations

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Indeed, if you look at all the traditional Chinese romantic accounts about husband and wife, the most important operative term is not love (爱 ai` or oi-3 in Cantonese), but “en- yi` (恩义)”, or kindness and obligations. Sometimes the term used is “en` ai`” (恩爱 “yun-1 oi-3″ in Cantonese), which means “kindness and love”. Sex between the spouses is considered the mutual bestowing of “en`”–Chinese in the old days don’t have that Western hang-up about sex as being some dark carnal act, unless adultery is involved.

In fact, in traditional China, if you want to really insult someone, if you want to really say that someone is a low-life scum, you call him “wang` en- fu` yi`” (忘恩负义 “mong-4 yun-1 foo-6 yee-6″ in Cantonese), or “forgetting kindness and reneging on obligations.”

There is a story in the historical novel “Three Kingdoms” where one of the arch villains, a powerful official, gets saved from certain death by the novel’s heroes. At the time they don’t know that he is the villain who will wreak death and destruction on China; they only know that they are saving a high government official. Once the arch villain hears, however, that the leader of the heroes is just one of the ordinary folk and not some high official, the villain becomes very arrogant to the head hero and shoos him from the room. On hearing this, one of our heroes bellows, “this guy forgets kindness and reneges on obligations!” Then he pulls out his sword and starts to charge into the room to kill the villian. Of course, his leader stops him; still, the novelist comments in a verse at the end of the chapter, “Would that we have more straight people like this hero, and go after all the obligation-reneging people in the world!”

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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