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Chinese Philoshophy
Milwaukee Lantern II

      If a snapshot of China was taken today, it might capture a row of high-rise buildings above a bustling city, or it might reveal the simple lives country farmers continue to lead in huts. The way of life in China has pulled away from the restrictions of tradition, yet has not completely embraced the modern American lifestyle. Therefore, though Western methods are displacing the original beliefs of Confucius and other Chinese philosophers, the basics of traditional Chinese personality still remains and Chinese immigrants in the United States have kept the traditions alive.        
     The Chinese people attach great importance to relations between family members and relatives and deeply cherish the love they have for each other. In the past, the Chinese lived in large family units, with as many as 100 or more relatives living together. According to Confucius, the ideal was "five generations under one roof." Though the Chinese now live in smaller family units, usually only with parents and children, they still remain in close proximity to their relatives. Chinese-Americans in the United States are thousands of miles away from their relatives in China, but they still maintain close contact with their relatives. Many regularly visit China and bringing parents to the United States is not uncommon. With both parents working during the day, grandparents usually look after the house and the children.        
     Chinese families traditionally valued sons far more than daughters, mainly because females could not continue the family name or work to support the family. Today, though both girls and boys are valued, some grandparents may still show slight hope for a grandson rather than a granddaughter. Especially for children, family honor was and still is emphasized greatly, for all members of the family are responsible for the reputation of the family name. The Chinese family always comes in a unit and the actions of individuals affect the entire family. Dedication to the family leads to the subjugation of personal interests, desires, or goals.        
     According to Confucius, people have obligations to one another based upon their relationship. Relationships include those between ruler and subject, husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friend and friend. Confucius stressed duty, sincerity, loyalty, honor, filial piety, and respect. He believed that maintaining harmonious relations as individuals led to a stable society. Therefore, unlike Americans, who stress individualism, the Chinese are a collective society with a need for group affiliation, whether to their family, school, work group, or country.        
     In the United States, Chinese-Americans also like to embrace group activity. For example, instead of going on vacation by yourself or with only your family, you would travel with several families. In order to maintain harmonious relationships with others, the Chinese act with decorum and self-control to avoid causing anyone public embarrassment. They also tend to suppress their own feelings for the good of the group and worry more about the opinions of others.        
     The concept of ‘face’ roughly translates as ‘honor’, ‘good reputation’ or ‘respect’, and reflects a person’s level of status in the eyes of his or her peers. When someone feels embarrassed in front of others, they ‘lose face’. ‘Giving face’ involves showing respect and avoiding public embarrassment or awkwardness. In Chinese society, others always come before you and your desires are always less important than the desires of the group.   Therefore, the Chinese are more likely to identify themselves by group affiliations (e.g., “I am a high school student”) than with personal descriptions (e.g., “I am shy”). Also, unlike Americans, who like to ‘sell’ themselves to others, the Chinese always describe themselves in more modest terms. They are never ‘outstanding’ or even ‘great’. They are merely ‘alright’, and everything they achieve is just ‘ok’.        
     China has charged forward so rapidly over the last few years, continuously improving its image for the world to see, and the Chinese people are straining to catch up with their country’s long strides. They are opening up their hearts and stretching out their arms to welcome the ‘modern’ way of life. At the same time, it seems as if Confucius is losing his firm grip of thousands of years on the Chinese people, because his beliefs are obsolete. However, it is important to note that Confucius is not just an old man who droned on and on about philosophy nor is he merely some dead guy whose painting may still be hanging on the wall of someone’s grandpa’s straw hut. Duty, sincerity, loyalty, honor, filial piety, and respect are a set of values everyone in the world would agree is right. However, what is right may not always be practiced, and what is practiced may not always be right. Sometimes it’s better to slow down your footsteps to observe the world around you and follow your heart rather than worry about what other people think.

Copyright © by Milwaukee Chinese Community Center All Right Reserved.

Published on: 2009-08-16 (2193 reads)

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