PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order one from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you love and care. Peace, steve, usa, feb 27, 2019 email@example.com blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
– 201 –
One day I had a surprise visitor who came all the way to see me. He had graduated and is now working with an IT company. He came from another town and was eager to discuss with me his personal problem. We had shared many ideas, opinions and thoughts on many issues, and most of them had to do with his career goals and his future when he was still a student. He told me his parents were trying to arrange for him to meet a girl since he was too busy with his career, and had little time to pursue a wife. Soon he told me he was not interested to get married now, and wanted to wait until he had earned and saved enough money in the bank. That is pretty much what many young men are doing in China today. No career, no money in the bank, no car to drive, and no apartment of one’s own…basically no girl or her parents would want you to be a potential son-in-law. Plain and simple and direct. No beating around the bush, to use a famous American expression.
The problem with Jason is he is living at home with his parents. And he felt trapped because of the constant pressure from his mother to get married. She made it clear to him, “You find someone you love, or you will marry the girl we will arrange for you.” I teased him, “run far away to Australia and live your own life.” He replied, “I do not have the money, else I would do it.”
What do you think of the girl your mother has arranged for you? “Too short for me,” he burst out without hesitation. He met her once and that was it. Too short for me. Like many of his peers, those between 25 to 30 years old, “I am in no hurry to get married. In fact I am enjoying my single life. Why should I get married to please my parents?”
While listening to Jason, one and only one thought came to my mind: Whatever happened to the old tradition of “filial piety”, the most admired virtue, in our Chinese tradition and society today. Whatever happened to love and respect your parents and elders…and carrying out their wishes? And demands?
There is a growing chorus in China, and some are expressing their thoughts on pursuit of career, family and raising children, and their love and respect for their aging parents…many of them now pursuing their own lives, and finding less time for their parents.
“As China continues to develop rapidly, most people are living in a fast moving society. And money becomes the final dream for them. In order to keep up with the
– 202 –
quick pace, many have to work hard every day, stay up late and get up early. They spend all of their time to work and to make money. They hold the view that parents will never leave them. The existence of parents is to support them and love them. So they are too busy to care about their parents. Parents are mature and wiser. And it is not necessary to care for them.”
“Many people would like to chase a better life. They want a high position in this society. They want to earn as much money as possible, they want to have a perfect family which will make other people jealous. But they start to ignore their parents. Many old men don’t have money to live and children never care about this. I once heard in the news that a 90 year old lady died in her house and nobody knew about it until the stinking smell spread. Her son didn’t come to see her for a long time. It is horrible. I think it is true that chasing after careers and families are important. But their parents are our families as well. We cannot abandon them. They paid all their attention to raising us and we should remember to pay them back. With the time going by, they are getting older and it is time for us to take care of them.”
Is filial piety alive in modern China? Love and respect for your parents?
I first came across this concept or Chinese practice of filial piety when I was a little boy in a village in Malaya, and my parents introduced me to a private opium-smoking tutor, who could read “classical” Chinese. The book was Three Character Classic (San Zi Jing), one of the Chinese classic texts, written in the 13th century. The first four lines in the little book will stay with me forever. The text is written in triplets of characters, easy for a child to repeat and memorize after a teacher. The oral tradition of reciting the three-character verses extended its popularity. And survival till today.
Here are the first four lines familiar to many young people in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and those of us who grew up in Southeast Asia. Every verse has 4 lines and they rhyme like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
(Rén zhī chū) People at birth,
(Xìng běn shàn) Are naturally good (kind-hearted).
(Xìng xiāng jìn) Their natures are similar,
(Xí xiāng yuǎn) (But) their habits make them different (from each other).
I was able to learn many Chinese characters, some Chinese history, and the basis of Confucian morality, especially something about filial piety and respect for the elders. The little book is the embodiment of Confucianism, written for young children. And many parents still use it to teach their young children Chinese characters. The little
– 203 –
book is divided into seventeen sections, with five verses in each section. Each verse has 4 lines. The quote below is from section two of the book. The Chinese text I used has three Chinese characters in each line. Here is the translation. It reads:
If the child does not learn,
This is not as it should be.
If he does not learn while young,
What will he be when old?
If Jade is not polished,
It cannot become a thing of use.
If a man does not learn,
He cannot know his duty towards his neighbour.
He who is the son of a man,
When he is young
Should attach himself to his teachers and friends,
And practice ceremonial usages.
Xiang at nine years of age,
Could warm (his parents’) bed.
Filial piety towards parents,
Is that to which we should hold fast.
Rong, at four years of age,
Could yield the (bigger) pears.
To behave as a younger brother towards elders,
Is one of the first things to know.
According to our Chinese tradition, filial piety is an important obligation if you are the males or the eldest sons of the families. It means complete obedience to one’s parents during their lifetime. The eldest son is required to perform certain rituals at their grave site or in the ancestral temple. In ancient China, a filial son could also express his love for his parents by passing the Civil Service Examinations, one way to bring prestige to the whole family. He must also ensure the family line will be continued, by taking a second wife or adopting a child should the wife be barren. For a woman married to the family, filial conduct means serving her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law, and giving birth to a son. This would add prestige to her own
– 204 –
family. If there is a conflict between the two women, filial piety demands that a man should get rid of his wife in order to please his mother. He has only one mother. He can always find another wife. I doubt today’s young adults would adhere to this old version of filial piety in modern China. Jason is born and raised in a traditional Chinese family and I wonder if he knows the meaning of filial piety in modern China.
Chinese history has many stories about exemplary filial piety. It was often said that while mourning the death of his father, Kuo Chu-ching chose and compiled the Twenty-four Examples of Filial Piety (Er-shih-ssu hsiao) during the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368 CE). These and other stories form an important part of Chinese folklore. Such stories include the following: Freezing in a Thin Coat in Obedience to His Stepmother, Allowing Mosquitoes to Feast on His Blood, Sacrificing His Son for the Sake of His Mother, Wearing Children’s Clothes to Amuse His Parents, Crying in the Bamboo-Grove and Making the Bamboo Sprout, and Cleaning his Mother’s Chamberpot.
In fact during a recent seven-day national holiday, Jason chose to live with a friend for the duration of the holiday because, “I could not stand my parents nagging me day and night about finding a girl to get married.” If only he has the money to move out and live on his own. Rent in some cities in China is beyond the reach of new college graduates. So he has no choice but to live with his parents to save some money. But Chinese parents want a grandchild, badly, so they have someone to play with. Jason does not know what to do at the moment…but learn to tolerate the daily struggles with his parents, especially his mother. Where is filial piety in all this?
It wasn’t difficult for me to find out what the new generation of young adults think about this important Chinese traditional belief and practice of filial piety in China today. I heard many voices and read many comments on this issue, and many would seem to blame the modern focus on families, chasing after wealth, and focusing on furthering their careers…for their neglect of their aging parents; many parents are living away from their adult children, who have moved to cities because of jobs.
Chinese family style is not the same as in the West. In China, people raise their children for a long time, and so the relationship between parents and children are close. Children will remember how careful their parents raised them up. And one day they hope to reward their parents as they grow up. To take care of the parents.
In China, men have to balance many parts of their lives. For example, he has to work hard in order to earn more money. That can involve keeping his social relationships stable, with friends and colleagues. It leaves limited time for family and parents.
– 205 –
For at least three decades or more, many people come from villages and work in big cities. The long distance is one major reason why they are not going home. They are busy trying to catch up with others, and also working day and night. And for some, they enjoy entertainment after a tough day. Interestingly they would tell you, “we have nothing in common with our parents and we have nothing to talk about”. And that creates a widening distance between the adult children and their lonely parents.
It is easy to understand why some spend less time with their parent. Some are so busy they don’t spend much time with their kids and wives, let alone their parents. They always pay more attention to gain social status and reputation. At least they are more likely to pay more attention to their own families. They have to care for their children’s education. So they have little time left for their parents.
China is a country with a long history. Taking care of parents is a very important part of it. As a Chinese, men cannot forget the traditional culture. As a son, man cannot forget their parents. But do they have time for them?
A different situation seems to exist for the rich. Since their parents are rich, so they do not pay much attention to them. A different story for the poor, because most of them are busy working and caring for their growing family and so some of them do not have time to care for their parents. They know everyone must take care of their parents and pay equal attention to parents as to families and work. They know they must not forget where they come from. They know their parents had spent almost their lifetime on them. They know as they become old, they need to take care of them, not just to give them money. They know.
Especially in modern China, men are concerned about success in life. Some usually own their business to make money. They are constantly worried about how to measure a man’s success? How much he earns? So chasing after their career is reasonable. They fear they might be looked down upon by others if they do not succeed in their careers. Most constantly worry about what others will think about them? Their failure. Their success as a man in the modern society.
In China some festivals have five or seven days for enjoyment, visiting, travels and resting. And men have the chance to see and take care of their parents, if they have the time and desire to do so. There are phones, computers, cars, planes and speed trains. If men want to see their parents, who is to stop them?
Something new in China because many new couples would like to live separate from their parents. That means they have less opportunities to get in touch with their
– 206 –
parents. So careers and earning money to support their families become more important. They believe they should be responsible to their jobs and families. How to convince them they should cherish the time when they are able to spend some time with their parents, now living far away from them? Maybe with better jobs, they are able to provide their parents with a better life.
Some people do think if a man doesn’t work well, or earn little money, people will think he is useless. So more men have more pressure, and they hope to know more people that will benefit their work and their career. And so there are parents who think they need to earn more money for their family and improve their level of living and hope they can buy more things for their children. And these parents are less concerned about their own lives, away from their adult children.
I shared with Jason some of the thinking of many of his contemporaries about how they are dealing with their aging parents. Jason is not there yet. He has to find a wife first to marry, then he can deal with career, family, children and aging parents.
This is China.