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For Asian Americans to discuss Asian American issues and topics.
5 posts • Page 1 of 1
The big difference between Chinese civilization and Western civilization is that the West considers love to be supreme but Chinese civilization does not recognize love to be supreme. Instead, what Chinese civilization has always considered supreme has been "relationship-defined obligations" or ren lun (人伦). These are the obligations that the parties in a relationship should carry out towards each other
Precisely because most Chinese no longer know in their conscious minds about the tenets or principles of the supremacy of relationship-defined obligations, therefore when the Western Supremacists, whether of the white or the Chinese ethnicity, berate Chinese for not acting according to the supremacy of love, for "not showing love", or even for "not having any love", most Chinese have nothing to say and know not what to do. In front of the West's banner emblazoned with the word "love", Chinese people know only to bow down their heads, or even to bend their knees and kneel down - no one dares to even think, let alone say out loud, anything approaching a "no".
Thus Chinese, especially young Chinese, can easily become mental captives of Western Supremacy and spiritual slaves to the West. The Western Supremacists feel very self-righteous and superior when they preach to the "barbaric Chinese" about the supremacy of love and "the need to show more love", while most Chinese have no systematic, self-contained argument with which to defend their tradition or answer the charges of barbarism and "having no love", so that most Chinese can only feel inferior, in the wrong, or even become resentful or hostile to their own culture, their own parents and to other Chinese. Often, because of the lack of cultural immersion in a family where love is supreme while growing up, even when some Chinese want to imitate westerners and treat love as supreme these Chinese can't succeed. When they engage in behavior that is very expressive and seems to be full of love, not only do people around them consider such behavior inappropriate, but also they themselves feel a bit creepy, like it's phony, an act - then they hate being Chinese even more. The fact that Chinese culture still cannot be like the West in completely treating love as supreme makes many modern Chinese feel that being Chinese is barbaric, inferior, and shameful.
The answer is: what we Chinese consider to be supreme is not love, a fuzzy, not well-defined, easily changeable, subjective feeling based on emotion, a feeling that exists in people's heads, is not readily knowable and cannot be easily verified, a feeling that people can wake up one day and repudiate just by saying, "I don't love you any more", a feeling that can justify all kinds of promiscuity, seduction and adultery. No, what Chinese consider to be supreme consists of clear-cut, objectively existing relations that are independent of people's will, along with the clear-cut, eminently knowable obligations defined by such relationships, the discharge of which obligations is objectively verifiable. What Chinese consider to be supreme is called relationship-defined obligations.
Of course, it is not that Chinese don't have love or are opposed to love; love is very important in the traditional Chinese thought framework, but love comes second, after relationship-defined obligations. This is like the situation with the Western thought framework, where obligations are also very important; it's just that obligations are not supreme and come after love.
Actually, the traditional Chinese supremacy of relationship-defined obligations paradoxically gives a more effective guarantee to love than the West's supremacy of love: while life is long and there are ups and downs such that there will always be times when you don't "love" or even when you hate the other party, if you stick to carrying out your obligations and the other party does the same, then love will always return, tempered and therefore stronger than ever.
The Chinese civilization's supremacy of relationship-defined obligations is not only not barbaric, is not only not inferior to the West, but is also more reasonable than Western civilization's supremacy of love, and more conducive to social progress and human happiness. We will explain this further in the following.
In fact, if one's parents ask one to do something that goes against justice, morality and trustworthiness, then one's parents are wrong, and making such an unjust request itself is an act against morality. What are the obligations of the offspring here? Is it to obey the parents' unjust request and act against justice, morality and trustworthiness? No, of course not. And to say yes would be to distort the meaning of relationship-defined obligations. When asked whether to be xiao one needed to always obey one's parents Confucius exclaimed, "What kind of talk is that! What kind of talk is that!" （Chapter 15, "Dissuading and Disputing", Xiao Jing (Classic of Xiao).） Yes, according to relationship-defined obligations, the obligations of the offspring in such a case is to dissuade the parents, and to persist until successful. Otherwise, it's known as "sycophantically obeying and thus entrapping oneâ€™s parents in moral unrighteousness". In the Confucian classics this is an extremely serious transgression against xiao. (See Annotation by Zhao Qi of the Han Dynasty on Mencius (Meng Zi), Chapter Li Lou, â€œThe Thirteen Classics Annotatedâ€, published by Zhonghua Shudian, Beijing, 1980, Vol. II, p.2,723.)
In my opinion... the supremacy of relationship-defined obligations is such an excellent thought framework that it cannot be suppressed much longer and will soon once again ascend mankind's stage and play a main role.
Now let us examine the West's selfless, "agape love", and at the same time make an appraisal of the West's love in general.
First we must point out that in the history of Western civilization, even though mainstream Christian thought has always emphasized selfless agape love, for a fairly significant period of time, at least since the 1700's, sexual seduction, nearly or actually adulterous behavior, and abandonment of spouses and unilateral termination of marriages, have been thought in the West to be based on love and therefore justifiable and even laudable. For example, holding a dance "ball" where unmarried young women wear fairly sexually seductive "formal clothes" that expose the shoulders and chest, and embrace unmarried young men in dance, since the 1700's have been considered in the West to be respectable and even noble behavior, because this arouses love for the young women in the young men... As for novels, songs and plays that represent the culture of the West since the 1900's, they even more so support and laud such behavior. Therefore, when we make an appraisal of the West's supremacy of love, we cannot exclude the tradition in Western thought of endorsement and praise, on the basis of love, of sexual seduction, adultery, abandonment of spouse and unilateral termination of marriage.
To possess a deep attachment to someone and a profound willingness to do things for someone is not enough. If it is not pointed out what actions must be carried out by which parties in which relationships, then when it comes to specific situations agape love can permit all kinds of wrong actions. For example, indulging and spoiling one's children, favoring persons one loves more but owes less to, such as a girlfriend, at the expense of hurting someone one loves less but owes much more to, such as a parent; engaging in adultery with love as justification, for some reason "no longer loving" one's spouse and thereupon divorcing him or her - and often what is no longer felt is agape love and not just sexual love; "no longer loving" one's parents and thereupon cutting off all contact with them, and so forth and so on. With the Confucian supremacy of relationship-defined obligations, there is no such problem: in the thought framework and world outlook of the supremacy of relationship-defined obligations, all such acts are clearly wrong; whether there is love or not, relationship-defined obligations cannot be abandoned... Therefore, the kind of love in the West that is used to affirm and glorify sexual seduction, adultery, abandonment of spouse and unilateral termination of marriage is without merit.
Since the supremacy of relationship-defined obligations requires that people mutually help each according to the obligations defined by the relationships they have with each other, it guarantees mutual help. Thus the supremacy of relationship-defined obligations provides the most advantageous social order and the most fertile ideological soil for the development of civilization and the progress of human society. Was it mere coincidence that when ancient China adhered to the ideology of the supremacy of relationship-defined obligations, China was so advanced compared to the rest of the then world?
By everyone tending to his or her relationship-defined obligations the entire society is cared for as a whole. It then approaches Confucius' ideal as expressed in his "The Great Together (li yun da tong)": "...the aged have the appropriate last years, those in their prime have the appropriate employment, the young have the appropriate growth and development, and elderly men with no spouses or children, widows, orphans, elderly people without children or grandchildren, the handicapped, the ill â€“ all are provided for..." The society will then achieve the highest degree of sustained emotional and material well-being possible for the stage of understanding and technology that the society possesses. The supremacy of relationship-defined obligations maximizes a society's happiness.
Quite intriguingly, not putting love as supreme but putting relationship-defined obligations as supreme can, contrary to what one might expect, give rise to even better and stronger love. The reason is that the love that grows out of mutually fulfilling obligations, especially over a long period of time, is a lot stronger and a lot more mature than love based on admiration of image or on sexual attraction.
This reminds me of my response on another forum to an article that talked about the importance of love in a relationship. Here was my response:
I think the whole idea of depending on love is insane. What matters for stability is commitment, not love. No person can be lovable 365 days a year. Everyone is a jerk sometimes. And when one's spouse is a jerk, one has to be delusional to love them. Love is for the good days. Commitment covers the rest. Without commitment, one cannot have a stable marriage.
But I also want to point out that the modern Western view of love originated among the Arabs and was spread to Europe with the spread of Islam. It wasn't part of Western culture before then. For a good overview of older Western concepts of love, read Plato's "The Symposium". It's been a while since I read it, but I remember it being a discussion of many types of attachment.
If you read the Bible, you won't find any example of the modern Western concept of love, but you will find plenty of examples of "relationship-defined obligations". I think Confucius would have approved of the Old Testament.
Well the author of this article says he expects commitment to win out because it's more stable and Asians have a hard time adapting to Western ideals. I'm optimistic about it. I mean, people are just suffering so much under the current paradigm a reaction is bound to happen. I think it is happening, but it's hard to look at history while it is still going on. For example, people expect the industrialization of China means it will Westernize. This is foolish because like you said Yakuza, during the Middle Ages the Chinese were the greatest civilization on Earth followed by Islam. Actually I think I got a raw deal that they don't mention that part at all in American schools, but I digress. Does anyone really expect full on American/French Revolutionary style rebellions for Chinese democracy? Of course not. Another huge difference is Multiculturalism; China has none because they're 95% Han Chinese. So I expect with the rise of Asia as a Superpower it will still be decidedly Eastern. Perhaps not Japan, but even the author notes that while Confucius' legacy was tarnished in the 20th century it is being rehabilitated in the 21st.
Me thinks the west does not know the value of commitment...it's why they are after short term gratification and swinging partners and serial marriage and divorce.
The west equates temporary entertainment with love and thinks its above commitment and honor while in the east, commitment and honor is above love cuz it brings long term happiness.
Marriage in the west is a temporary business deal until one or two partners are not entertained anymore whereas in the east marriage is the joining of families and not just the two people getting married. It's a permanent seal based on honor, tradition and commitment.