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Five critiques of Chinese/Taiwanese (draft)

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Five critiques of Chinese/Taiwanese (draft)

Post by momopi » April 17th, 2008, 11:39 pm

Like Winston's critique of oriental mindset, this is the draft version of my "five critiques". This is a work in progress under revision.

The Five Critiques
I. Discipline without Knowledge
II. Laboring without a Plan
III. Gambling with Poor Odds
IV. Pride without a Clue
V. Banana/Twinkie Wanna be

I. Discipline without Knowledge

The word "discipline" is derived from the Latin word disciplina, which means "instruction". The Latin root word is discere, which means "to learn". In ancient times, to be disciplined is a good thing, it means you're being educated. But today, it's an euphemism for imposing order or punishment. How did "instruction" turn into "punishment"? That's a large can of worms and beyond our scope of discussion. But I'd note that there is a parallel to the east, in Confucianism.

Confucius was a gentlemen-scholar who lived during the Warring States period of China, approx. 2,500 years ago. He taught that self-cultivation through learning, is the most important virtue. Many Asians claim to learn Confucian ethics, but few actually bothered to read The Analects. For those interested, a bilingual version is avail here:

Confucius believed in leading by virtue & example. It's said that when he returned home, he found that the horse stables had burnt down. He asked, "was anyone hurt?". As the master of his house, he was more concerned for the well being of his servants than the horse stable or the horses. In the Analects, he wrote, the philosopher Zeng said:

"I daily examine myself on three points: whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful; whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere; whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher."

Confucius was a true gentlemen, but gentlemen don't start wars, conquer their neighbors, and install themselves as Emperor. From ancient times to this day, China's leadership employed the totalitarian ideology of legalism. Chinese legalism is more like ancient Babylon's Codex Hammurabi, and not the stereotypical "might is right". In legalism, the primacy of the state is more important than individual autonomy, civil rights, and freedom. The law is imposed across the land and made clear for everyone to see.

In a legalist state, the ruler exists to impose law and order. Often the ruler himself did not have the power to change the laws. The ideal legalist ruler is one who doesn't show favors or personal motivations/desires. That way people could not exploit the ruler for personal gain. A modern day example of legalist state is Singapore, a virtual on-party state where laws are strict and the government runs like a well oiled machine. China's leaders could only dream to be as good as Lee Kuan Yew.

The legalist state in Ancient China were very harsh, and latter rulers sought to make it more palatable to the masses. They devised a philosophy called ru biao fa cai, which means "Confucian on surface, Legalist in judgment". In essence it's sugar coating legalism with Confucianism. From that point onward, Confucianism was corrupted from learning to imposing discipline.

After 2,000 years of this, your typical Chinese/Taiwanese parent today thinks they're teaching you the virtues of Confucian (or "traditional Chinese") ethnics by imposing discipline. Often they have no clue what real Confucian teaching is, and they impose discipline for discipline's sake. They want to act like little legalist emperors and punish their kids into obedience. When was the last time you saw the parents give their kids a copy of The Analects?

Discipline is not necessarily a bad thing. But it shouldn't be imposed for its own sake. When parents impose discipline on their children, they should have a good reason, and explain it to their children so that they would learn reason instead of authoritarianism.

II. Laboring without a Plan

The poor immigrant

Many first generation Asian immigrants arrive in "survival mode" and take whatever jobs avail, or open a Chinese restaurant. They work hard for many years and save money to buy a home, and put their kids through school Admirable, yes. Smart? Not necessarily.

Coming from a poor-er background, my family wasn't financially savvy. My parents worked hard in the restaurant business for many years, and we even had our own restaurants at one time. But we never made much money, and lived month to month. What little savings we had, my parents saved carefully in bank CD's, earning a small interest.

It wasn't until years later, when my parents were near their retirement, that we realized everything that we did wrong. After selling our businesses, my mother was hired by Panda Express to manage one of their restaurants, and received a 401(k) retirement plan. "What's a 401(k)?", my mother asked.

Panda Express is a Chinese fast food chain, kind of like the McDonalds of Chinese fast food. For the first time, my parents realized that we had spent years running restaurants that only targeted, and catered to Chinese/Taiwanese immigrants, which represents a small minority of the local population, and thus we never made much money. Panda Express is like McDonalds and targeted everyone. We looked at their store sales and was shocked.

For decades, we saved our family savings and put them in bank CD's, which were safe but paid very little interest. When we discovered mutual funds in 401(k) plans, and figured out what compounding interest with double-digit returns would do, it was another shocker. Had my parents learned this back in 1982, they'd probably be very financially secure by now. Instead, they live on fix income with subsidies from me.

It's OK to work hard, but get educated in financial matters and put a good plan together. You'll thank yourself later. I recommend reading the book "The Coffeehouse Investor" by Bill Schultheis, only $10 bucks on

The rich immigrant and their children

Unlike the poor immigrant of 1970's and 1980's, the ones who came to the states in 1990's and 2000's are financially better off. They prospered from the Asian tiger's economy and rising currency values. They live in nice homes, drive Mercedes Benz, and give their kids new cars for their 18th birthday.

Often, the parents had a materially poor childhood, and want to be a better parent by providing their children with all the material comforts. This is a really dumb way to spoil their kids. In a materially wealthy, consumerist society like America, the people's basic necessities can be easily meet, but their wants and desires are unlimited.

About 2,500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Mozi had this to say about indulgence in excess:

"Before the art of cooking was known, primitive people ate only vegetables and lived in separation. Thereupon the sage taught the men to attend to farming and to plant trees to supply the people with food. And the sole purpose of securing food is to increase energy, satisfy hunger, strengthen the body and appease the stomach. He was frugal in spending wealth and simple in habits of living, and so the people became rich and the country orderly."

"With the present rulers all is different. They would heavily tax the people in order to enjoy elaborately the different meats and fish and turtle cooked in various wavs. (The lord of) a large state is served with a hundred courses and (that of) a small state, with tens of courses, which will cover a table space of ten square feet. The eyes cannot see all the dishes, the hands cannot handle them all, and the mouth cannot taste them all. In winter they will freeze, and in summer they sour. As the ruler serves himself thus, naturally his assistants imitate him. And so the rich and high in rank are wasteful and extravagant, while the solitary and miserable are hungry and cold. It is impossible to keep such a state out of disorder. If the rulers sincerely desire the empire to have order and hate to see it in disorder, they must not indulge in excessive eating and drinking."

Imagine the parents, who worked hard for many years and attained financial prosperity. Now they spoil their kids with all the material goods money can buy. Monkey see, monkey do. The kids see their parents indulge in unnecessary extravagance, and they'll turn around and do the same. Thus, wealth doesn't last 3 generations.

You worked hard all your life, learned to be financially savvy & became wealthy. Don't forgot to teach your kids good money management skills, so they won't blow through their inheritance later. It's OK to reward yourself for your labors once in a while, but not excessively.

III. Gambling with Poor Odds

When Westerners think of Asian culture, they picture exotic oriental mysticism. Some Asians think this portrayal is offensive, but in reality there really is a strong element of superstition and mysticism, especially regarding luck and wealth. Note that what I'm referring to is things like numerology and fortune telling, not Feng Shui (we'll reserve that for another discussion).

Western civilization has, for the most part, moved beyond superstitions like reincarnation and idolatry. Eastern civilization has not. When a western person gives a gift of 4-leafed clover for luck, it's for fun and not taken seriously. When an Asian person place an idol object to bring wealth and luck, they often actually believe in it. Let's be honest here, if that stuff actually worked, almost all Asians would be rich today.

This false believe in superstition and "luck" is very strong in many Asian cultures. When mixed with gambling, it leads to disastrous consequences. See this article:

The article cites that in 1999, in San Francisco's Chinatown, the local social services agency polled 1,808 residences with Q&A's. 70% of the respondents raked gambling as the community's #1 problem. 21% of the respondents considered themselves pathological gamblers, and 16% considered themselves problem gamblers. In comparison, only 1.6% of all Americans are classified as pathological gamblers, and 3% as problem gamblers.

I assume everyone here understands that Casinos don't exist to give away free money. Quoting a friend in Vegas: "our paychecks are dependent on you visitors coming here and losing money in our casinos". Ask around Asian communities or your Asian friends, and you'll probably hear some SOB story about gambling. My mother's coworker's husband once inherited over a million dollars and lived in nice lake-front home, and he blew it all in Vegas.

Recently, a movie titled "21" was released about MIT students gambling in Vegas and making money by card counting. My Asian American friends complained that the Hollywood producers swapped the mostly Asian students with white actors and actresses. They call it racism. I call it lesser of two evils. If Hollywood had made the movie about how mathematics and statistics -- hard science, trumps luck, great. But no, they want to sell the glamor and sex of grand comp suites and naked flesh. Thank goodness they used Caucasians instead of Asians, we could do with one less movie that glorifies gambling to the young Asian American population.

(more to come)
Last edited by momopi on April 23rd, 2008, 7:37 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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Post by gmm567 » April 18th, 2008, 3:31 am

Well the only great thing about 401k's is that you can save for your retirement without paying taxes.

Accountants should have taught them about taxes. They must have had a poorly educated accountant.

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Post by Jackal » April 20th, 2008, 9:59 pm

Very interesting, Momopi. Your posts are always a pleasure to read. I found some quotes from Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching" which correspond to the parts of your text.

Relating to "Discipline without Knowledge":

"The mighty Way declined among the folk
And then came kindness and morality.
When wisdom and intelligence appeared,
They brought with them a great hypocrisy.
The six relations were no more at peace,
So codes were made to regulate our homes.
The fatherland grew dark, confused by strife:
Official loyalty became the style."
"Unbending rigor is the mate of death,
And wielding softness, company of life:
Unbending soldiers get no victories;
The stiffest tree is readiest for the ax.
The strong and mighty topple from their place;
The soft and yielding rise above them all."

Relating to "Laboring without a Plan":
"Act in repose;
Be at rest when you work;
Relish unflavored things.
Great or small,
Frequent or rare,
Requite anger with virtue.

Take hard jobs in hand
While they are easy;
And great affairs too
While they are small.
The troubles of the world
Cannot be solved except
Before they grow too hard.
The business of the world
Cannot be done except
While relatively small.
The Wise Man, then, throughout his life
Does nothing great and yet achieves
A greatness of his own.

Again, a promise lightly made
Inspires little confidence;
Or often trivial, sure that man
Will often come to grief.
Choosing hardship, then, the Wise Man
Never meets with hardship all his life."

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