Posts Tagged ‘the West’

Chinese People and the Expression of Love
华人和爱的表示

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.

西方人对华人的批评之一,就是华人“不表示爱”,而西化的华人对一般华人这批评更尤为激烈。事实上,美籍华人写的、关于美籍华人的小说,非常不赞扬地提及华人怎样不表示爱的,不只一本。批评的中心是,华人传统文化不重视爱,所以华人冷酷,没有能力感觉爱。

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.

唉,并非如此!华人传统文化确实重视爱,华人也有能力感觉爱!只不过是:第一,华人传统文化认为客观的、由客观存在的关系而规定的义务为先,爱这个主观的感觉为后,第二,正因如此,华人不需要像西方人那样,用很富于表达性的方法来表示爱。华人传统文化让华人们很放心,如果跟他们有关系的对方,有一天对他们不感觉爱,关系并不会因此就突然完蛋。只要坚持完成自己由关系所规定的义务,关系就会延持下去。

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.

因此,爱是用全心全力完成自己的义务来表示的。华人传统文化里,小说、戏剧、故事等歌颂的,就是这种不管困难或牺牲多大都用全心全力来完成义务的行为,而爱这主观的感觉,是包含和表现于行为之中的。华人传统文化把客观的行为放在前,把主观的感觉放在后。

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.

因此,华人不需要好像西方人那样,常说着“我爱你”,常在人家面前接吻、拥抱。相反地,华人觉得这些东西肉麻,好像是假的、演戏般的。华人们带着恭谨喜悦的心情,聚尽全心全力来完成每天的义务、责任,这就是他们爱的表示。

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.

所以,爱在华人传统文化里的确重要,而且很重要,只不过,爱不是至上的,不是好像西方文化那样,比任何事情都更为重要的。传统的华人文化把爱放在适当的地位。

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.

不仅华人的传统文化如此,韩国、日本、越南的传统文化也如此,总之,亚洲文化凡是曾敬奉过孔子的都如此。

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明


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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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Traditional Chinese Culture is Liberating and Empowering - 2

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

That it is truly liberating and empowering for traditional Chinese culture to insist on always carrying out one’s Cardinal Obligations to the other party in one’s Cardinal Relations no matter what one’s subjective feelings such as “love” are (see my blogs from Feb. 27 to April 29, 2007) can be seen readily in the relationship called marriage.

In the Western tradition, love is supreme. Love is the supreme value that is put above all else. The problem with love being supreme is that love is a subjective feeling, and can change from time to time, especially when the going gets tough. In life, there will always be times when the going gets tough. Outside circumstances can turn adverse, people make mistakes, and life is full of misunderstandings. For long term relationships, such as family or spouse, there will always be a time when all looks black, when there seems to be no hope, or when anger takes precedence over all else. During those times one might not be able to feel a positive feeling, let alone love, towards the other party. Of course, eventually the hard times will be over, so if in the interim the parties have persisted and carried on fulfilling their obligations towards each other, feelings will change again and love will return. In the Western world, however, long before that stage is reached, one will say, “I don’t love this person any more; why am I still with him/her?” Of course, according to Western thinking, it is “dishonest” and “not honorable” to stay in a marriage “devoid of love.” And so one picks up and leaves one’s spouse, and the marriage is over.

In traditional Chinese culture, however, the relationship-defined Cardinal Obligations are supreme. Relationships exist objectively and are not subject to subjective feelings. Whether someone is one’s parent, or sibling, or spouse is objectively determined, and doesn’t change no matter what one’s feelings are towards that person. Therefore, during the hard times, each party in the relationship continues to carry out the obligations toward the other party, regardless of feeling.

The wonderful thing in this is that when the two parties in a relationship carry out their obligations toward each other, positive feelings will appear and grow. It is something that is independent of subjective will. And then after the hard times are over, love returns and this love is stronger and deeper than ever. It now is a love that has been tested and is rooted in overcoming common adversity and misunderstanding. It is a love that has been nurtured by self-sacrifice, magnanimity, faith and humility on the part of both parties. It is a truer, more mature love. Happy indeed are those who can enjoy this far deeper, far truer love! And it will be thanks to the Chinese tradition of putting the relationship-defined obligations, instead of love, above all else.

In the Western or Westernized marriage, people are always trying to keep and cultivate the other party’s love. People are fearful that they might lose the other party’s love. There is insecurity, and whether the relationship lasts is not within one’s control. “What if he/she meets someone else and falls in love?” When someone of the opposite sex comes around one’s spouse, one gets all flustered and anxious - anyone could be a predator. One must always try to “show love,” to “keep the love going,” to “stay in love with each other.” All this anxiety and striving to please and “hang onto” one’s spouse invariably results in resentment.

In the Chinese tradition, however, one can be secure that the relationship holds as long as one stays in the relationship and as long as one carries out one’s obligations to the other party. There is no need to be fearful about losing the other party to some “wilting of love.” One can relax, be oneself and enjoy one’s spouse. As long as one is the other’s spouse, the other person owes one the Cardinal Obligations. Of course, one owes the other person the reciprocal obligations. Unlike whether one can keep one’s spouse “in love with” oneself, which involves the spouse’s subjective feelings and are not entirely within one’s control, whether one carries out one’s obligations is entirely within one’s control.

Therefore, in the Chinese tradition, there is a lot more security in marriage and permits a lot more relaxed enjoyment of marriage.

Not only is this liberating and empowering, but also this is far better for the growth and development of true love.

Feng Xin-ming


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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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We are Witnessing the Beginnings of a Chinese Cultural Renaissance

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone! Hey, I live in the West, and a lot of people I know celebrate Christmas. And traditional Chinese teachings like Confucianism are secular and, as far as I can tell, are compatible with most religions.

Hey, besides Christmas, there’s something else to celebrate: the beginnings of a Chinese cultural Renaissance. Here’s an excerpt from the Tsoi Dug Foundation’s reply to a reader, who wrote wondering if the textual differences on the various Di Zi Gui websites might cause people to doubt and lose faith in the old Chinese teachings:

What has made most people doubt and lose faith in the old Chinese teachings is not the minor discrepancies among texts, which have been recognized and accepted for centuries in China, but the sad fact that during the past century these teachings have been blamed, wrongly of course, for China’s backwardness and despotism.

The good news is that today people are starting to turn back and look at these old Chinese teachings again, and the rediscovery of and renewed interest in Di Zi Gui is just part of this cultural phenomenon. Today we have the good fortune of witnessing the beginnings of a Chinese cultural Renaissance.

Just as in the cultural Renaissance of the West from the 13th to the 17th centuries, one voice cannot a renaissance make. While everyone pulls in the same general direction there will be much diversity, because there will be mass participation. And it will be diversity and mass participation that gives the Chinese Renaissance its strength and vitality. When spring arrives, a hundred flowers will bloom - 春臨大地日,百花齊放時。

Tsoi Dug Foundation

What I like to emphasize is that the popularity of Di Zi Gui in the last few years is part and parcel of the Chinese cultural Renaissance that we are witnessing.

Hurray! Cheers!

Feng Xin-Ming


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Marriage & the Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the Supremacy of Love

Monday, April 16th, 2007

(Please also see my paper on my website “The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. The West’s Supremacy of Love”)

This inconstancy in the subjective feeling called love is especially problematic in the relationship between spouses. In the Western tradition, the love that is supposed to exist between spouses is a romantic love. One is supposed to be “in love with,” that is, feel a deep romantic love for, one’s spouse. After all, that is supposed to be why one has married one’s spouse in the first place. When a Westerner or a Westernized person, which is most of the planet these days, no longer feels romantic love for his or her spouse, he or she feels extremely tormented. He or she is not supposed to not feel romantic love for the spouse, and in fact, if he or she “no longer loves” the spouse, he or she is supposed to either somehow make himself or herself “fall in love again” with the spouse, or quit the relationship. Otherwise, according to Western thinking, it is “dishonest” and “not honorable” to stay in a marriage “devoid of love.”

Thus in the Western or Westernized marriage, people are always trying to keep and cultivate the other party’s love. People are fearful that they might lose the other party’s love. There is insecurity, and whether the relationship lasts is not within one’s control. “What if he/she meets someone else and falls in love?” When someone of the opposite sex comes around one’s spouse, one gets all flustered and anxious - anyone could be a predator. One must always try to “show love,” to “keep the love going,” to “stay in love with each other.” All this anxiety and striving to please and “hang onto” one’s spouse invariably results in resentment.

In the Chinese tradition, however, one can be secure that the relationship holds as long as one stays in the relationship. There is no need to be fearful about losing the other party to some “wilting of love.” As long as one is the other’s spouse, the other person owes one obligations. Of course, one owes the other person reciprocal obligations. As long as the spousal obligations are carried out, that is, as long as they cooperate to build a life together and respect each other, there should be harmony and love. And unlike whether one can keep one’s spouse “in love with” oneself, which is not entirely within one’s control, whether one carries out one’s obligations is entirely within one’s control.

True, adverse conditions can make it difficult, but it is still within one’s control to try to carry out one’s obligations despite such conditions. In fact, in traditional Chinese literature the recurring theme is how heroes and heroines, movingly, carry out or try to carry out Cardinal Obligations despite impossible circumstances.

Therefore, in the Chinese tradition, there is a lot more security and a lot more relaxed enjoyment in marriage.

Feng Xin-ming


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The Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love

Friday, April 13th, 2007

(Please also see my paper on my website “The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love”)

Traditional Chinese morality calls for obligations and duties to be rendered to persons not because of any feelings of love toward them, though feelings are important, but because of their relation to us, such as parents, spouses, offspring, siblings, relatives, and so forth. This is regardless of how much or how little love we may feel toward them. In the (traditional) Chinese tradition, relationship-defined obligations, like the Cardinal Obligations, are supreme. Not love. This sounds harsh, but it’s not. In fact, this is far better for the growth and development of true love, and we’ll see why.

In the Western tradition, love is supreme. Love is the supreme value that is put above all else. The problem with love being supreme is that love is a subjective feeling, and can change from time to time, especially when the going gets tough. In life, there will always be times when the going gets tough. Outside circumstances can turn adverse, people make mistakes, and life is full of misunderstandings. For long term relationships, such as family or spouse, there will always be a time when all looks black, when there seems to be no hope, or when anger takes precedence over all else. During those times one might not be able to feel a positive feeling, let alone love, towards the other party. Of course, eventually the hard times will be over, so if in the interim the parties have persisted and carried on fulfilling their obligations towards each other, feelings will change again and love will return. In the Western world, however, long before that stage is reached, one will say, “I don’t love this person any more; why am I still with him/her?” And then one picks up and leaves one’s spouse, or, if it’s a parent or sibling, one cuts off all contact.

In the (traditional) Chinese tradition, however, the relationship-defined Cardinal Obligations are supreme. Relationships exist objectively and are not subject to subjective feelings. Whether someone is one’s parent, or sibling, or spouse is objectively determined, and doesn’t change no matter what one’s feelings are towards that person. Therefore, during the hard times, each party in the relationship continues to carry out the obligations toward the other party, regardless of feeling.

The wonderful thing in this is that when the two parties in a relationship carry out their obligations toward each other, positive feelings will appear and grow. It is something that is independent of subjective will. And then after the hard times are over, love returns and this love is stronger and deeper than ever. It now is a love that has been tested and is rooted in overcoming common adversity and misunderstanding. It is a love that has been nurtured by self-sacrifice, magnanimity, faith and humility on the part of both parties. It is a truer, more mature love. Happy indeed are those who can enjoy this far deeper, far truer love! And it will be thanks to the Chinese tradition of putting the relationship-defined obligations, instead of love, above all else.

Paradoxical, but life is like that. If one wants something, by pursuing that something as a supreme priority above all else one may not get that thing, especially if it shouldn’t be a supreme priority in the first place. Instead, by pursuing the proper things in their proper priorities one will not only get that something, but also get it better.

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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