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Here are a series of ALL NEW mini-essays I wrote about Taiwanese and Oriental mentality and life. Each chapter will be posted as a separate post.
The perpetual â€œangry strictnessâ€� of Taiwanese/Chinese people
On my recent trip to Taiwan, I immediately noticed upon arrival at the airport that the people there had this strict uptight serious look about them, which was a total contrast to people in the Philippines where I had flown in from only 2 hours away. It wasnâ€™t just a contrast, but they were like a different species altogether. It was like crossing into the Twilight Zone, coming from a place where no one is strict, uptight or quick tempered, to a place where everyone is strict, uptight and quick tempered. (figuratively speaking)
I even got the impression that smiling or saying hi to anyone would disrupt the equilibrium of the environment. One sales lady I saw at the airport even had this strict look on her face that said, â€œIf you talk to me about anything other than business, Iâ€™ll get pissed, for you will be committing a grave sin in disrupting the equilibrium of my environment.â€� Ick.
No one even makes eye contact with you, even if youâ€™re attractive or good looking. And if you make eye contact with a girl or smile, she looks horrified as if a strict unspoken rule is broken. Ick! How can human beings be like this? Itâ€™s like everyone here is in the military 24/7.
Furthermore, I began to notice another pattern I hadnâ€™t noticed before. The Taiwanese (as well as Chinese in general) seem to have this perpetual anger about them in the way they talk to each other. When you watch them interact in public, you notice a high occurrence of this angry tone in their voice, as if theyâ€™re always arguing, even in casual conversation. And often in a self-righteous tone as well. Itâ€™s not uncommon on the street to hear shouting matches either.
This is even portrayed in their TV soap operas and political commentary shows as well. In them, the actors and interviewed guests also speak in this angry self-righteous tone as if they are arguing in every little word. And their tempers are quick to flare. Anyone can see this right on TV. And in fact, even in many American movies, Orientals are portrayed as overtly angry and strict, yelling at each other as part of their natural speech.
Even Oriental movie stars have this perpetual angry look about them. For example, Bruce Lee had that angry look and personality, as well as Jet Li (in his older movies), and even the sexy Lucy Liu displays such traits in her expressions. Of course, there are always exceptions to every general rule, such as Jackie Chan.
I have been told that Koreans are like this too, that when they interact with each other casually, it sounds like they are arguing, at least to outsiders.
The best way I would describe it is as an â€œangry strictnessâ€� that is quick tempered. And itâ€™s not even about what kind of things they are strict or anal about either. There seems to be this inherent fundamental strictness in their basic personality and nature.
I wonder why this is. Being angry all the time certainly doesnâ€™t fall in line with their Buddhist and Taoist teachings and traditions. I wonder if itâ€™s a cultural thing that they adopt, or perhaps itâ€™s inherent in Chinese genes.
Since I am of Taiwanese descent, I too can sense a sort of blood boiling adrenaline within me that can make me quick tempered at times, though Iâ€™m definitely not always angry, but prefer to be peaceful, and definitely not strict at all. But itâ€™s hard to say whether that is due to my individual nature, family genes, or to collective racial genes.
As someone told me, â€œMost Asians donâ€™t think for themselves, they simply follow the pack. You are one of the exceptions.â€� Thus Iâ€™ve noticed that a lot of Chinese and Asian people feel uncomfortable around me, when they realize that Iâ€™m different from them. They are strict conformists to society who obey authority, and thus feel uncomfortable around freethinkers or freespirits who think on their own outside the box. Probably they fear what I stand for, as it is outside their safety comfort zone of conformity and thinking inside the box. As a result, they have no idea what to do with me or how to make sense out of me, so they often resort to just avoiding me altogether. (except for my relatives and extended family of course)
Likewise, their â€œangry strictnessâ€�, uptight nature, and narrow insular mentality make me feel uncomfortable as well. Whereas they are strict conformists who follow the pack, I defy and challenge conventionality. I have my own way of thinking, which I fight for, and that threatens their identity, it seems, maybe because they canâ€™t be as assertive and independent as I am. Itâ€™s like we see each other as invaders of our own paradigms and reality. Basically, they perceive me as one who is trying to expand their mind and thinking beyond the comfort zone of their paradigm, while I on the other hand feel as if they are trying to shrink or squeeze my mind and intellect against its nature.
This happens to be the case with my own mother as well. She has many of the â€œangry strictnessâ€� qualities typical of Chinese people. And when we are around each other, we both make each otherâ€™s blood boil. Simply put, just being â€œwho we areâ€� around each other causes friction. Recently, this seems to be a documented fact even, as we bought a blood pressure measuring device (I have mild hypertension that needs to be checked regularly) and noticed while using it that when Iâ€™m with my mom or interacting with her, my blood pressure seems to rise considerably than when Iâ€™m sitting alone doing something else.
Even though my parents practice and study Buddhism and spiritual teachings, they argue over little things and raise their temper quickly. I wonder why they have to be that way.
Last edited by Winston on October 9th, 2011, 10:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
The basic rules of life to Taiwanese people
To Taiwanese people, the basic rules of life are simply as follows:
1) The purpose of life is to work hard and long in order to be secure, successful and virtuous in life.
2) Even after you become successful, wealthy or financially independent, you should still continue working long and hard for the rest of your life to remain a virtuous and noble person, or â€œjust becauseâ€� thatâ€™s how Chinese people like it.
3) One is permitted to have enjoyment and pleasure in life, but only for brief moments. Such must be strictly limited and controlled, lest they destroy society and make everyone lazy and idle. For there is no virtue in enjoyment or pleasure, only in working hard and toiling long hours is there virtue. When you are too old to work hard, then you may start enjoying life, relaxing and traveling, somewhat, but only in an inhibited proper way.
4) A normal decent person conforms to society, obeys authority, and â€œfollows the packâ€�. There is a right proper way of doing everything. If anyone deviates from it, they must be fixed, corrected, and controlled into doing it the right proper way.
Needless to say, I don't agree with these rules. Instead, I believe that the purpose of life is to enjoy it and do what you love, regardless of the outcome. In my book, anything else is a wasted life.
Of course, there are some in the Western world who share such beliefs about the rules of life as well. They are the strict, conservative, conformist, socially inept, workaholic, all work and no play, robotic, shallow, materialistic types with no understanding or interest in the deeper dimensions of life, that we have all met one way or another. Obviously, I donâ€™t vibe or jive with such people. The types of people I get along with best are artist types, freespirits, freethinkers, intellectuals, writers, actors, travelers, existentialists, etc. I must say though, that one can be one of these types while being responsible, sensible, and practical at the same time, as I myself am an example.
Their purpose in life is to work to death, literally
Taiwanese generally also love working to death, literally. Many work 7 days a week with no days off, for their whole life, and actually enjoy it that way. And this even includes those who are rich or financially independent. I canâ€™t understand how anyone can be that way. But as my advisors explained, they measure everything by their practical worth, they do not live for the romantic, passionate or wild side. To them, the purpose of life is to work hard and long, suffering during the process, in order to be successful and make money. Thereâ€™s a certain honor and glory in being a workaholic in their eyes. Thatâ€™s what they live and breathe. Like many Americans, they live to work. They donâ€™t know how to live life any other way. Itâ€™s even part of their culture to constantly chant to each other â€œwork hard!â€� (â€œpah-biahâ€� in Taiwanese) as if it were some kind of religion or mantra.
To me, thatâ€™s just insane. I've always believed that the purpose of life is to enjoy it. And if you don't, then it's a wasted life, no matter how much you attain materially. Likewise, I believe that people should do what they love most. And if they can make money doing what they love, then great. But if not, they should still continue doing it, because not doing what you really love in your heart and passion, is a wasted life in my book. In short, I'd rather be broke doing what I love, than make a good living not doing what I love. I know that some will argue that in an ideal world, everyone would be doing what they love, but the reality is that sometimes you have to do what you don't love in order to make ends meet and pay the bills. I don't agree though. Even if I have no way of doing what I love to make ends meet, there are always choices in life, and I'd still choose to go for broke doing what I love and reap the consequences. That's how I am. Regardless of the tangible outcome, I prefer to live according to my beliefs and integrity, rather than in fear following what society dictates.
From my perspective, the Taiwanese populace are like robots without independent thought. But from their point of view, they probably think Iâ€™m weird as well, cause Iâ€™m not like them. What a strange mismatch. If I were white, theyâ€™d be less surprised that I was different than them, but being a Taiwanese Asian, it shocks their paradigm completely it seems.
Another thing that I donâ€™t get is that since the economy of Taiwan has boomed the past decade, greatly improving their standard of living, why do they still have to work so hard and suffer with little freedom or enjoyment outside of that. Well one answer is of course, that like Americans, they â€œlive to workâ€� so no matter how well off they are, their purpose of life is still to work hard, even if theyâ€™re already rich, for the glory and honor of its own sake. But it can be argued that they wouldnâ€™t have become a rich country if it wasnâ€™t for their workaholic busy-bee lifestyle and mentality in the first place.
One of my advisors explained that Taiwan, like other Oriental countries, is a robot society engineered strictly to make money and fuel the worldâ€™s economy. And thus, its citizens become like busy-bee ants laboring perpetually for that purpose. Of course, a typical Taiwanese person whoâ€™s never left the country would think this is normal, unless he/she has experienced life otherwise elsewhere.
Perhaps itâ€™s all a matter of perspective, depending on where youâ€™re coming from. From a typical Taiwanese personâ€™s view, these things are normal and Iâ€™m the â€œstrange oneâ€�. Oh well. Maybe I am.
Black and white proper ways
In Taiwan, there is this cultural black and white thinking that strictly dictates that there is one â€œright wayâ€� (â€œdee-uhâ€� in Taiwanese) of doing things, and all other ways are â€œwrong waysâ€� (â€œmmm-dee-uhâ€� in Taiwanese). It is subjective and singular-minded. In their belief system, everything, especially people, must be strictly controlled and regulated through â€œproper waysâ€� of behaving and conduct. Any deviation from these â€œproper, rightâ€� ways must be quickly â€œcorrectedâ€� (â€œgaiâ€� in Taiwanese) or else all chaos will erupt (you gotta remember they live in fear, not confidence or optimism, and thus tend to use â€œnegative reinforcementâ€� to control their children).
For example, there is a proper time to go to bed (9pm to 10pm usually) and get up (early morning), even on Friday and Saturday nights. There is a proper time to eat meals (and you gotta eat quickly, this isnâ€™t Europe where you can savor the process of eating, for to take too long would be to waste time idlely) that must be followed everyday. Most Taiwanese people stick to these sleeping and eating schedules strictly in a daily mechanistic routine, and this includes those who are retired or financially independent and donâ€™t even have to work! Rarely do they just let loose and party, and even if they do, itâ€™s strictly controlled and kept within a short time frame, so that it doesnâ€™t get out of hand! (albeit there is a minority who drink alcohol, gamble, and play mahjong a lot, but these are a minority)
Severe limitations of social life
And of course, there is a proper way to meet people, make friends, or get acquainted with the opposite sex, and that is by introductions through mutual connections. Not only are most Taiwanese people too shy to talk to strangers, but they are taught that it is improper, indecent, and â€œwrongâ€� as well. The only ones who tend to talk to strangers freely are old people and little children.
Thus, it is very hard to meet people or get dates there. The social environment does not flow freely at all, unlike many European, Latin, or African countries. Having to depend on introductions through others is very limiting indeed, but alas, it is the â€œproperâ€� way to do things, and most Taiwanese and Orientals in general are afraid to deviate from it (you gotta remember, most of them prefer to â€œfollow the packâ€� rather than think or do things their own way).
So, similar to Anglo-Saxon dominated countries (America, Canada), in Oriental countries (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans mostly) it takes time, effort, and luck to meet people by developing connections through the proper channels first, which is usually through school, work or mutual friends. That means little of it is really in your control. You gotta mostly wait and hope you get lucky. After all, you canâ€™t just meet people in public or talk to strangers while youâ€™re going out and doing something, for to do so would make you appear rude, inappropriate, and even â€œfreakishâ€�.
Unfortunately, those who are seeking dates or an intimate relationship are in the worst position, for their romantic choices are strictly limited within their schools, work environments, and social cliques. Thus the millions of other potential partners they could be matched with out there, are simply closed off to them and off-limits. Itâ€™s very sad and depressing, if you ask me, but thatâ€™s how it is. (Thank God though, that the internet now offers them a way to meet people that they otherwise wouldnâ€™t have been able to meet through these traditional channels, otherwise their situation would be hopeless unless they had the right connections)
And since itâ€™s improper conduct to talk to strangers in Oriental societies, or to even look at them, it makes it damn near impossible to â€œpick upâ€� girls that you find attractive. (which in the Philippines is so easy that itâ€™s not even a challenge) To even try is not only inappropriate, but â€œfreakishâ€� as well, and would put one at risk of incurring the wrath of the Oriental collective. Very few dare to violate such norms, and instead prefer to live in their safe comfort zones by following the pack and its rules. Thus, even attractive, hot or sexy people do not dare try to â€œpick upâ€� the opposite sex in public settings, and in fact, no one dares to even stare at them either. To call that â€œprudishâ€� would even be an understatement. Now, to romantic Casanovas like me, these societal rules are just plain suffocating and unacceptable.
Simply put, in Anglo-Saxon and Oriental dominated countries, social interactions and relationships are usually strictly limited within oneâ€™s work environment, school, or social clique. Suffice to say though, itâ€™s even worse in America because in many office settings, dating co-workers is an un-official taboo, whereas itâ€™s very acceptable and even encouraged in Asia.
Generally, the Asian countries where people are much more comfortable and relaxed talking to strangers and are more approachable and less shy, are Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. But even in these countries, most people tend to â€œfollow the packâ€� rather than think for themselves. In regions like Malaysia and Indonesia, the people are gentle and passive, not as strict, controlling or angry prone as Orientals, but since they are strictly Muslim, they are very conservative and abide by strict rules and customs (and that includes not dating any non-Muslims).
Super control freak attitudes and behaviors
Now back to the Oriental control nature discussed earlier. If you deviate from their strict notions of the proper and right way of doing things, even in little things, many Taiwanese people, including non-family members, will be quick to try to correct you and fix you, as if it were their second nature. In fact, controlling and correcting others is in their instinct, as if they live and breathe it. You can never take it out of most of them, not even by reasoning with them, showing them the folly or illogical nature of their ways, or by â€œcorrectingâ€� them. You see, they arenâ€™t this way because they choose to be or because itâ€™s logical or necessary. Itâ€™s simply â€œthe wayâ€� theyâ€™ve always done things and not to be questioned. They arenâ€™t a freethinking society, but rather a â€œfollow the right wayâ€� society.
Even in the USA, when my parentsâ€™ Taiwanese friends learned that my dream was to pursue acting, they quickly discouraged it, labeling it as â€œuseless and impracticalâ€� because such a path leads to an unstable income or little or no income at all. They never thought to consider that my belief is that one should do what one loves and follow oneâ€™s passion regardless of whether they are making good money or not. No, to them, making money is a practical value that is of far higher importance than love, passion, or even following oneâ€™s heart. You see, the matters of the heart and soul are of a dimension that arenâ€™t part of their shallow materialistic paradigm.
This obsessive controlling/correcting nature is strongest in the relationship between parents and their offspring. (which outsiders donâ€™t always get to see, for many families hide their control freak nature from outsiders in an attempt to save face) Parents are constantly controlling and correcting their children over every little thing without end. One of the most common warnings they utter to them in Chinese is â€œNi jze yan tzu, wo yao shun tche oh.â€� which means â€œIf youâ€™re gonna be like this, Iâ€™m going to get angry.â€� And they are constantly labeling everything to them in black and white categories such as â€œdwehâ€� (right) and â€œbuh-dwehâ€� (wrong), thus instilling in them a black and white worldview.
One harmful effect of all this is that it contributes to their vulnerable insecure state of constantly living in fear of criticism. Rather than empowering them with self-confidence or self-worth, it weakens their ego and worth by subjecting them to excessive control, negative reinforcement, and fear tactics. In addition, they also tend to have this annoying habit of talking to you like you donâ€™t know anything, even when they have no idea what you really know. Thus itâ€™s no wonder that Orientals tend to be shy, timid, introverted, and non-assertive. They also almost never brag, unless they are Americanized of course.
As a result, Taiwanese children tend to pass on such strict controlling ways to their own children of the next generation, and the cycle repeats. One of the ways to break it is, of course, by becoming a freespirit and freethinker like me who can think outside of the box and choose his/her own path and behavior rather than following that of society like a robot. But of course, those Taiwanese who dare to be different will risk alienation from many of their ethnic kind, and find that many Asian cliques will exclude them and/or avoid them. For to them, following the pack is normal whereas thinking on your own, if it deviates from the norm, is seen as freakish, dangerous, unstable, outside their comfort zone, and thus makes them feel uncomfortable.
What Taiwanese people (as well as many Orientals and Americans) donâ€™t understand is that you canâ€™t change people by merely â€œcorrectingâ€� or â€œfixingâ€� them with a lecture about what they â€œshould or oughtâ€� to do. Change comes from within, and you canâ€™t change someone unless THEY want to be changed.
And besides, change itself is complicated. Some things about you can be changed, while others canâ€™t. Sometimes, the change is only temporary, lasting for days, weeks, or even months, before you revert back to your behavior prior to the change. But even real change often occurs gradually, not instantaneously (as the result of some dumb lecture).
But alas, Taiwanese ways assume that you are a conformist by nature rather than an independent thinker, and that thus you can be â€œcorrectedâ€� into conforming to their ways. Thus they assume that you can be changed by a simple lecture from them telling you what you should do. Yeah right. Perhaps it is these folks that need to be â€œcorrectedâ€� by being given some wisdom about the folly of their control freak nature, and the ability to see things from more than one angle so that their mind can be expanded.
Of course, all of us, including me, are sometimes prone to such erroneous assumptions, as I myself may be flawed in thinking that this article will change the behavior of any control freak Taiwanese/Orientals.
Even in the Philippines, Iâ€™ve seen examples of this â€œcontrol to the proper wayâ€� nature from Taiwanese and Japanese that set them apart from the Filipinos. Here are two instances:
- At a dinner party in a Taiwanese manâ€™s home, while we were eating good vegetarian food, our host suddenly pointed to me and told me to eat the proper way with spoon and fork together rather than just a fork, even though I was doing fine with only a fork. Now, such an action about a trivial matter was totally out of context in a carefree lax happy-go-lucky Filipino society, and totally out of the norm, especially since it is a Filipino custom in homes to eat with bare hands. But it was the Taiwanese mentality to correct even such miniscule things, even though he was a very nice man. Afterward, all the other Filipino guests at the table followed suit and used both fork and spoon as well, since we were all in his home. I donâ€™t know why he chose to correct only me though, probably because Iâ€™m Taiwanese too, so he felt more comfortable doing that to me.
- One time, while my girlfriend and I were at a hotel swimming pool during my parentsâ€™ visit, we met this really cute little boy only a few years old. My girl took a fancy to him and so while I was taking pictures, she got next to him to have her picture taken with him. While my camera was charging its flash, the boyâ€™s mom suddenly came and took her kid away briskly. Afterward, I was puzzled and said, â€œThat mom was not Filipino was she?â€� My girlfriend said that she was Japanese. â€œOh no wonder,â€� I said, â€œcause a Filipino mom would never have a problem with a stranger wanting to take pictures with her kids. Only a Japanese or Oriental would be so strict and paranoid about it.â€� She nodded in agreement.
Taiwanese act like Christians, Filipinos act like Buddhists
Here is one odd inverse that Iâ€™ve observed between Taiwanese and Filipinos. Although Buddhism is part of Chinese culture and tradition, the Taiwanese mainstream personality is far more Christian-like with its black and white views and judgmental attitude. Clearly their â€œone way is the right wayâ€� mentality is more compatible with Christian thinking, as well as their overly righteous tone and speaking manner. Very few of them are truly nonjudgmental. Furthermore, their negative reinforcement tactics of controlling others through fear is also more similar to the classic Christian system of keeping its followers in fear of punishment and condemnation from God. On the other hand, though Catholicism is deeply ingrained in Filipino culture to the point where over 90 percent of Filipinos claim to be Catholic, their cultural attitude seems more Buddhist than Christian. Filipinos are generally very nonjudgmental to the point where even misfits and weirdos from other countries feel like they fit in with them. They are also very tolerant and do not have this belief that only one way is the right way. In addition, they are very lax, carefree, slow to anger, not overly serious, and do not get riled up over little things that go wrong. As an example, amazingly the drivers in Manila in heavy slow traffic never seem to lose their cool or look impatient, even if other drivers cut them off or nearly hit them. They seem to have this Zen-like attitude of dealing with problems and do not get overly excited about little things, as though they are adept at practicing â€œnonattachmentâ€�, a key principle taught in Buddhism as a path to liberate the mind from suffering, karma and illusion. And even when they are upset, they quickly get over it as if nothing happened. It is not in their nature to hold a grudge or be resentful.
Four characteristics of typical Taiwanese people
Taiwanese and Orientals in general seem to be an odd blend of traits. Though they are generally kind, loyal, helpful, considerate (often over-considerate), generous to friends/family, modest, humble and moralistic, they typically exhibit the following four unpleasant characteristics in their pattern of behavior. They are:
Judgmental/Black and White Mentality â€“ They are quick to judge and jump to conclusions, even about things they arenâ€™t qualified in and know nothing about, especially about people who are different than them. Itâ€™s no surprise that they arenâ€™t comfortable with people who are different. They fear the unknown, whereas an intellectual exploratory soul and philosopher/existentialist like me is curious and fascinated by the unknown. Rather than listen and ponder a situation they donâ€™t understand, they prefer to judge and lecture others, often in an overly righteous tone reminiscent of Christian fundamentalist preachers. Like I said, itâ€™s difficult to reason with those who have a black and white mentality. The only exception to this that Iâ€™ve seen are the Taiwanese Buddhist monks, who are somewhat more open minded, more non-judgmental and able to listen to otherâ€™s point of view, due to their non-materialistic lifestyle and meditation practices which help control their minds and detach from illusion.
Angry/quick tempered â€“ Their voice sounds like they are perpetually angry. And no, thatâ€™s not just â€œhow they talkâ€� as some try to excuse it. It reflects a deeper nature/habit of theirs, which is evident by how quick tempered and excited they get over little things. Their blood definitely boils fast, in general that is. Itâ€™s not uncommon to hear shouting matches in public places either. Even if youâ€™ve never been to Oriental countries, you can see it in their TV shows and political talk discussions.
Strict/Uptight â€“ They are very strict, perfectionistic, anal-retentive, and militarialistic in living and pushing upon others their black and white view of whatâ€™s right and proper, even in little things, which they follow religiously and expect others to follow as well. Thereâ€™s no relative perspective or â€œa matter of opinionâ€� to them. To them, the proper right way is an objective fact, not a subjective area that is relative to opinion. Even if their â€œproper and rightâ€� way is illogical or inappropriate for the situation, or unnecessary, itâ€™s all they know and so they will still follow it simply because â€œitâ€™s the wayâ€�. You see, to them, a good admirable person does not think for himself or question things, he follows and behaves the â€œright properâ€� way.
Controlling/Correcting â€“ They have this obsessive propensity to control and correct others, even those who are non-family members. Itâ€™s almost like their second nature. They seem to have no respect for your opinions, nor do they try to see your side. And they often point out faults in a verbally abusive and condescending manner, using fear and negative reinforcement to try to alter behavior. They will do this even over trivial things that donâ€™t matter. My mom has yelled at me for things like eating certain fruits with my hands rather than fork, asking a Taiwanese doctor if he speaks English, etc. with unrelenting anger. Whatâ€™s ironic is that she is a devout Buddhist, so when I point out to her that Buddhism teaches non-attachment and non-judgment, and that Buddha himself would never approve of being controlling and angry over little things like she does, nor of being so judgmental about everything, she spins it around by saying, â€œBuddha also strictly emphasized that one must do things the RIGHT way!â€� (Like I said, you canâ€™t logically reason with their illogical black/white behavior)
For brevity's sake, we will term these four characteristics above as JASC, and refer to them as such in the rest of this article. These JASC characteristics typical of many, if not most, Taiwanese, can make being around them a stressful experience. If only they would practice and integrate the teachings of Buddha and Lao-Tzu into their lives and mind (which ironically are already a part of their culture and history), such as non-self, non-judgment, nonattachment, being in the present moment, being the watcher of their thoughts, detaching from fear (which they live in), worry, stress, and other forms of suffering which are mere projections of their mind. Then they might overcome this vicious control freak cycle, as well as their angry emotions.
Repressive precepts of life taught from birth
In Oriental families, children are taught from birth the following primary life precepts.
1) Oneâ€™s sole purpose in life is to perform oneâ€™s duty faithfully and diligently. As a student, your duty is to study, get perfect grades, and pass exams to bring honor to yourself and family. As an adult, your duty is to work diligently and tirelessly, even living and breathing it if necessary. If you are blessed with a rich family, then your value is judged by your profession and career status; with the higher the salary determining the level of career status.
2) Nothing else in life outside of your â€œdutiesâ€� has any real value or meaning. Beyond it, everything else is useless and idle, therefore one should not have too many other interests or distractions.
3) When you are a student, grades and test scores are the measure by which to judge your self-worth and status in society, as well as the honor you give your parents. Bad marks make you â€œlose faceâ€� to yourself and your family, which is a serious disgrace and sin, making your academic life a deadly serious business. And when you are an adult, your career status and salary become the basis of your value and status. Therefore, in essence, you value is determined by how well you do your â€œdutiesâ€�.
4) Every action or activity you do in life belongs in one of two categories, â€œworkâ€� and â€œplayâ€�. If you are not doing one, then you are doing the other.
5) Nothing exists outside of conformity to the system. Obedience and conformity are the keys to prosperity and harmony in life. A person has little worth beyond how he/she performs her â€œdutiesâ€�, whether as a student, worker, parent, or child.
6) Anything that contradicts the above is immature, irrational and silly childâ€™s play. Mature honorable adults conform to these precepts, while those who donâ€™t are immature, undisciplined, and lacking in development.
The effects of these precepts
As you can see, this rigid absolutist view of life centered on â€œduty as the purpose of lifeâ€� that Oriental children are ingrained with early on, contributes to the development of their JASC mentality. There are definite standards of the way things â€œought to beâ€�, leading to closed minded value judgments on anything that doesnâ€™t fit in. In fact, the precepts are so ingrained, that you can usually feel it in their â€œvibesâ€� as well. Though itâ€™s debatable whether part of it is genetic or inherent, a large part of it is due to the conditioning of these precepts. These primary precepts become their basic mentality, closing their minds to all alternative ways of thinking or living, thus they and their parents become â€œjudgmentalâ€�, â€œcondemningâ€� or â€œcriticizingâ€� toward other people and things that donâ€™t fit into them.
As a list member of my group said:
â€œ"People are only interested in school and work."
In a Confucian society people live by their social
duties. As a student, it is your duty to study. As
an adult, it is your duty to work and to support
family. And as a son it is your duty to support and
to respect your parents. An individual has little
meaning beyond these social duties.â€�
In addition, they are taught that nothing that doesn't have practical benefit is worthwhile, but instead, useless and idle. Therefore, imagination, creativity, abstract thinking, philosophy, romanticism, etc. is discouraged and made irrelevant, unless it aids one in their study or work (playing the piano being the exception). Also, intolerance for differences is also stressed, as well as new ideas that donâ€™t fit into the â€œoneâ€™s purpose in life is to do their duty in school and workâ€� life precept. Outside of that primary life precept, life has little or no meaning and value.
For people like me, who are open-minded and expansive, being around other Asians with JASC qualities and the mentality of these life precepts, makes me uncomfortable because their â€œvibeâ€� is conflicting with mine. I feel as if they are trying to contract and restrict my expressive nature, while I am trying to expand their rigid absolutist mentality.
Needless to say, Asians who try to become actors, musicians, or live a Bohemian lifestyle draw the most heat from their parents, who have a JASC mentality that refuses to allow anything to exist outside the conservative life precepts.
Nevertheless though, these precepts have some positive benefits as well. It teaches children to prepare for their future, think long term, be practical (though overly), and pragmatic toward life. And the rigidity taught in their thinking make them excel at mathematics courses (Any Californian teacher will attest to this), business and high tech fields. In addition, the emphasis on not having too many interests and passions, has the benefit of focusing on a single specialization in life, which greatly increases their chances of being successful at their field of specialization. After all, if you focus all your energy into one field, you are much more likely to be successful in it than if you spread out your energy among different fields and interests like a Jack of all trades. But the downside of all this, of course, is that it makes them narrow-minded, rigid, with a one track mind, perhaps uninteresting to others, having few interests and things to share with others, and unable to relate to or get along with those who are different from them. They learn to feel pleasure in living a routine rut, and see nothing outside of it anyway.
You could easily be talking about Americans because they certainly have all of those traits that you have been talking about. They don't talk to strangers, only meet people through mutual friends, are very clickish and follow the pack and are unfriendly and anti-social towards strangers and their neighbors.
W: No, there are many asian girls that don't care about your money. The girl sitting next to me here in this internet cafe is sweet, cute, and innocent, a total doll. Yet she is poor and has a poor boyfriend.
It's best to find someone kind or has an inner life.
As another example, my dadâ€™s younger brother and some of his close friends whom I call â€œUnclesâ€� were strict controlling Asian parents who use anger, shouting, threats and fear to manage their children. To Western styles, their approach seems abusive, cruel, and excessive. But in Taiwanese families, such a parenting style is actually quite normal, standard, and even expected. They do it all in the name of â€œitâ€™s for their own goodâ€�. What I gather is that in these parentsâ€™ minds, there is a fear that if their children are not strictly and tightly controlled, then chaos will erupt and the whole family will go down the drain. So in their minds, they are doing whatâ€™s right. Thus, the parents and the children both live in fear.
Response from my dad:
"I noticed the different between Taiwanese and American regarding their attitude toward strangers. When we walked in the parks in Taiwan, people just walk right pass us and don't do eyes contact. But, in Bellingham trail parks people will often make eyes contact and greet with a smile or "Hi". I kind of like both ways. In Taiwan, we will just walk and not paying attention to others, This saves us the trouble because if people smile at us or say "good morning" to us we will have to do the same to them. I also like the Bellingham way that show some friendly gesture that we all feel good and warm. It is a more civilized way.
I think the reason why Taiwanese, and most Asian, behave that way is the culture thing. Do you see the Chinese movies that when the emperors or some big shots talking to their subordinates, the subordinates have to lower their heads and not supposed to make eyes contact. Making eyes contact is considered to be rude or posing some threat or something, I think. Although, Taiwanese behave that way, but deep down I know they are very polite and friendly if you get to know them. Don't judge someone only by the surface. I think it is also true that it is not easy to approach young Taiwanese girls. But, my experience is they are very polite to elderly people. People are told to respect older people. So, it is a plus for us to live in Taiwan."
An interesting and informative response to these essays from an Asian American abroad:
I read your comments on the Chinese/Taiwanese mentality and I thought i'd make a few comments. I agree with much of what you said but you failed to highlight some of the distinct positives that these traits bring as well. It's definitely not all negative and I believe there are some very specific traits that Chinese culture possesses to make it so lasting and adaptable in various environments.
I'd like to comment on your first point about gender contact. I'm not sure how different things are between Taiwan and China these days but i'm in Harbin, China right now and I see plenty of pretty girls that make eye contact with me. Not all of them smile but they do have that look when they see me that I know from experience that talking to them would not be out of the question. Many of the girls even initiate eye contact first which was a real surprise to me. I had the same experiences in Beijing, China as well so I think what you said about Chinese are not universal. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to test my hypothesis much because my girlfriend is with me . Maybe it's just Taiwanese girls in particular? I haven't been to Taiwan in a long time so I can't make a more apt comparison.
I believe the "angry" thing is a bit of cultural repression at work. I've noticed that China is undergoing a bit of a social renaissance right now. They are liberalizing quite a bit behind the scenes socially. Women dress more provocatively..men are allowed worldly pursuits such as arts and other hedonistic activities that would have been strictly prohibited years ago by communism. I believe there is a "sexual" revolution as well. As a result I think some parts of mainland China are actually experimenting and deviating away from Chinese norms because Communism is losing its value and that's what the unifying concept was here. Chinese on the mainland may in fact by "reinventing" themselves. On the otherhand Taiwan was established with the mindset of being a super productive, competitive, traditionalist, and practical capitalist society..the "Taiwanese" Chinese are essentially the old school Chinese. Communist China may in fact become the "new" Chinese with fairly different value sets and rules..only time will tell. I see plenty of the younger Chinese people running around with skateboards, piercings, frizzy 80's girl pop hairdos, and trendy looks that suggests that something interesting is happening.
As far as the temper goes I don't think this is 100% written in stone. I've met plenty of Taiwanese/Chinese who are very cool and level headed. I think maybe it's just coincidence and some of the aforementioned cultural repression at work.
On the topic of being conformist. I have to agree Asian/Chinese culture in general values conformity. I believe this is because NE Asia has always been a relatively hostile environment and that this type of conformity was necessary for survival back in the old days. Authoritarianism and NE Asia goes hand in hand unfortunately. If you look at history the most successful dynasties and kingdoms were all deeply authoritarian and conformist. Even "modern" democracy in Japan/Korea has a strong conformist nationalist streak to it. This is however not unique to just Asian culture nor is it a given. Heck, look at you and I..I am far from conformist and i've met many many asians who aren't as well..some of which even grew up in deeply conformist Asian environments. I'd go so far as to guess that maybe 20% of us aren't conformist at all. How do I come by that 1 in 5 number? Well, it's not scientific but I just figure that a lot of us "pretend" to be to please parents etc.. but if we are asked one on one by another like us we tell it how it is...sort of what i'm doing right now. I've met plenty of us that are that way to discount it as coincidence.
Now as far as the positive aspects goes..yes, there is a great proportion of Chinese society that is devoted to being workaholics and bespectacled academics. I don't feel this is negative at all because it is the catalyst for China to rise again and has allowed Taiwanese, Singaporeans, and other ethnic Chinese to enjoy a GDP per capita that is on par with many EU nations. You have to remember that all this economic development of Chinese people is a fairly recent thing. 100 years ago most ethnic Chinese were bitterly impoverished on the same level as Africans are these days. It's been a distinct advantage for our ethnicity to be studious and workaholics. On the other hand remember what I said about 20% of Chinese not being that way? Well, I feel that we fit into the bigger picture by being cultural reformers, creative thinkers, and idealists that every society needs to advance beyond the norm. Not everyone can do this but maybe it's our job to initiate this? We aren't worker bees..but we are clearly thinkers. Contrary to popular opinion I don't think Chinese or asian culture lacks creative thinkers. I think there is just "less" of a conduit for these thinkers to express themselves in most asian societies.
SE Asian culture such as the Phillipines, Thailand, Cambodia, etc.. may be more "happy go lucky" but it's also a lot less productive. The people are "happy" but there are plenty of Filipinos that I have seen work at nearly slave wage levels in the Middle east, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.. who probably are being mistreated and aren't entirely thrilled of the fact that they are so far down the chain in the world. You have to remember the world does not exist on happiness alone or social ease it's a very dog eat dog place where sometimes conformity and productivity is the essence of survival. Nietzche said it best..what doesn't kill you only serves to make you stronger. Grueling hard work and shitty stone faced societies often produce greatness.
There's more I have to say about this subject but i'll talk to you later.
I just flew back from Taipei today.
Many of Winston's observations are true in specific circumstances, or generalizations. However I think taking them as facts would be too extreme (black & white view). There are too many exceptions to list, and despite Chinese culture having a legalist history, its people and culture is large and wide.
Also, individual family circumstances differ. Some people generalize Asian culture as being male dominant. In my family the daughters (my mother & aunts) are the eldest and sons youngest, so the strongest heads of the family has always been women, and their husbands are excluded from discussions regarding inheritance.
Winston made many points and I cannot cover all of them, so I'll just touch up on a few briefly while I'm trying to get over my jet lag. Yes, it's not common for Taiwanese to greet each other in the parks and on the street, unless if they live in the same community. For example, while walking around my grandparent's condo building, I have to smile and greet the neighbors & even the janitor and mail man. They don't know my name, but knows me as the eldest grand-child to my grandparents on 3F. Had I been a stranger, they'd have stopped me and asked who I was and why I was there (neighborhood watch?). People approach strangers with guarded caution.
I think many Taiwanese parents might consider a proper bed time to be around 9pm-10pm, but Taipei also has one of the busiest night life through night market areas in Shilin, Danshui, Ximending, etc. that opens past midnight, where teenagers and young adults congregate. In comparison the night life in US looks quite dead.
For most Taiwanese, their first social circles were probably school friends, then moving up the grade levels to college, and on to coworkers. People tend to keep multiple cliques and don't usually mix them. i.e. college friends would not be invited to an outing with high school friends or coworkers, unless if you're dating or married to the person.
However, times are changing. Today many young people are meeting in clubs, internet social networking, dating sites/services, etc. It's also very possible to chat up girls at night markets, then take them to shrimp fishing ponds or Danshui old street for games and fun, then a quick bus ride to fishermen's wharf and walk across lover's bridge to pubs with live music. Or if the weather isn't too hot, take the MRT to the Taipei Zoo and take the gondola up to Maokung.
IF you get lucky, Taipei has many beautifully decorated lover's hotels, though personally, I prefer hot springs/spa with room in Wulai. The water there is nice like the hot springs in Yilan/Chao-shi, unlike the sulfuric smelling waters in Yangmingsan.
And if you're really lucky (or worked hard on) to be borned with good looks, girls will hit on you on the MRT trains (shuey-gue! shuey-gue!) -- I've seen this happen. If you have any questions on what girls there think is attractive, tune in to any young adult drama on TV and check out the leading male actors. (i.e. Sparrow love Phoenix 麻雀愛上鳳凰). Sorry, but I think both of us flunked out in this category.
On the issue of work and play, IMO there's nothing wrong with installing some discipline into children, least they become lazy fat bums. However, all things should be done in moderation. One should have a balanced life between work and play, and not live to work.
A mistake that many Asians make is that they work their butts off in pursuit of "moving target" goals. Today it's $50,000 BMW, tomorrow it's $500,000 condo, next week it's $1,000,000 house. Gee, if you spend 14 hours at work and only use your million dollar house for its bed and toilet, what's the point?
I have a few favorite authors, among them John C Bogle and Kiyosaki. The first advocates wealth through compounding interest, the second through passive income. In both cases they teach you to let your money work for you, and not the other way around. Smart people use their money to make more money, live within their means, and not work their butts off just for money. This is a very important lesson to learn.
p.s. for the younger Taiwanese girls, many don't like men wearing "too formal" outfits like dress shirts and slacks. They like cool/hip looking men wearing sportswear or Gap/A&F outfits, like sweaters/hoodies with stylish jeans. A&F (Abercrombie & Fitch) is having their change-of-season sale this week and many clothing items are marked down by 50% or more at the store. I picked up some designer shirts there for $15. Good opportunity to buy and save $$!