If concluding that Chinese people nowadays lack education on love, have a simple or crude understanding and experience of love, family, friends, and are not good at expressing their love, I do think not many people will oppose my opinion. Opinions differ when we analyse the reason. Indeed, reasons are various, but summing them up as the influence from traditional Chinese culture is evidently biased.
Chinese people’s lack of education on love has been an issue for the past sixty years or so. In the book “The Captive Mind” by poet Czesław Miłosz, he discussed the ethical principle of the “new philosophy” in Poland at the time whereby: “All things which are beneficial to the revolution are good. All things which are harmful to the revolution are bad.” This principle befits the Chinese Revolution of 1949, where within that cultural period people were pushing for revolution and social class hatred. Cultural works also mostly portrayed class hatred, until this hatred became a weapon against the social class enemy. New social ethics attempted to be modelled through the hatred for the enemy and the gratitude towards the country. However these ethics came at the cost of erasing people’s feelings and desires.
In his book, Miłosz says that in all of history, informing against someone has never been considered a virtuous thing to do in any culture, however in this “new philosophy” it is the basic virtue of a good citizen to be commended on. This culture of denunciation in China’s growth peak was the “Cultural Revolution”. During this period, everywhere there was marital fall out, animosity between father and son, disclosure by good friends, and betrayal of loved ones, causing unprecedented harm to Chinese people’s perceived value and feelings towards love, family, and friends. China’s several thousand years of moral standards and ethics were completely overturned. After 1976, although the line of revolution and hatred was relaxed, the fundamental concept of love was still unchanged, believing that one’s individual love was negligible compared to the love for the country. The many values of love and ethics contained in traditional culture was sealed outside of people’s education and cognition, causing Chinese people to be unfamiliar with the meaning and models of the love for their own ethnic group, even up to this day.
In traditional Chinese society, ethics and moral attitudes mainly comes from Confucian culture. Saying that Confucian culture is a philosophy of emotions, or philosophy of love cannot be overemphasised. It is completely different from western philosophy that is lead by intellect. The goal of Confucianism is to use intellect to complete one’s temperament, rather than use temperament to complete one’s intellect. Therefore the goal of Confucian cultivation is to develop one’s true temperament, opposing people’s detachment and indifference. Chinese scholar Li Zehou also believed Confucianism to be “emotion-centred”, calling it “simply a prospect of ordinary people’s physical and mental health, full development, and the possibility and necessity to decide on one’s own destiny”.
Confucianism centres its thoughts on life based on blood relations. Naturally, family, friends, and love are considered the sources of each person’s life and values. Its main objective of harmony, by management of emotions, holds an important place in Confucian thought. “The Classic of Rites” believe that the responsibility of sage kings is to guide peoples feelings, thus states that “Those feelings were the field (to be cultivated by) the sage kings. They fashioned the rules of ceremony to plough it. They set forth the principles of righteousness with which to plant it. They instituted the lessons of the school to weed it. They made love the fundamental subject by which to gather all its fruits, and they employed the training in music to give repose (to the minds of learners)”. “The Classic of Rites” uses farming as an analogy for easier understanding, whereby China is an old agricultural country. Feelings become the field ploughed by the sage kings, the rules become ploughing and weeding, the principles of righteousness become the seeds, the lessons of school become weeding, benevolence becomes the storehouse, and music keeps the mind composed. From here it can been seen that the Confucian ideas of “benevolence, righteousness, ritual, music, and learning” are for managing people’s feelings.
“Benevolence” is the core concept of Confucianism. In “The Analects” when “Fan Chi asked about benevolence”, Confucius replied “It is to love all men”. “The Doctrine of the Mean” says “Benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity, and the great exercise of it is in loving relatives”, while the “Analytical Dictionary of Characters” explains “benevolence” as “family, from a person who may relate to another person and two people”. It can be seen that in all the various concepts of “benevolence”, loving one’s family is the most important, and the start of cultivating one’s moral character. Mencius said that “if one could not get the hearts of his parents he could not be considered a man”, therefore “The Classic of Rites” believes “Laying the foundation of (all) love in the love of parents”. Starting from Confucius, love and affection have been considered as human nature, as well as the origin and foundation of life. Furthermore, five major human relationships were clearly distinguished between father and son, elder brother and younger brother, husband and wife, ruler and subject, and between friends, in order to structure various social affections.
“Benevolence” or “kind-heartedness”(“仁爱”ren ai) is the foundation of Confucian thought, on which research and discussion is extremely complicated as it is composed of an enormous hierarchy. Confucianism has very detailed namings for love, for example a father’s love for his son is called “kindness”(“慈”ci), while a son’s love for his father is called “filial piety”(“孝”xiao). “Kindness on the part of the father, and filial duty on that of the son” is the basic ethics of family, and also considered a mutual responsibility. The book “Zuo Zhuan” says to “love your son, and teach him righteousness through moral principles”. A “father’s kindness” bears the duty to educate. Children’s “filial piety” towards their parents, is rising to become a complete ideology in China, constituting one of the main difference between Chinese culture and other cultures. “The Classic of Rites” discussion on sons and daughters love towards their parents says: “A filial son, cherishing a deep love (for his parents), is sure to have a bland air; having a bland air, he will have a look of pleasure; having a look of pleasure, his demeanour will be mild and compliant” With regard to family in the modern day, constantly having a look of pleasure and being compliant, is perhaps a very important expression of love.
In “The Analects” Confucius often talks about filial piety, yet has no unified definition. In the past our forefathers believed that only three years after a child is born, then the child can leave the mothers bosom. Therefore when the parents pass away, the children have to be in mourning for three years. Confucius’ disciple Zai Wo questioned this, and although Confucius was displeased with him, he did not force Zai Wo to follow the social standards, but just summed up the doctrine of filial piety with the words “feeling at ease”(“心安”xin an). According to Confucius, the core of filial piety lies with the individual. Actions naturally show the true person and their nature, this is in accordance with the modern day understanding of love for family.
In regards to brother ethics and friends, Confucianism also values “love and respect between brothers”. “The Analects” say “Filial piety and fraternal submission! – are they not the root of all benevolent actions?”. In the view of Confucianism, if a person does not even love their parents and brothers, they cannot possibly love others or society. Therefore being “filial and fraternal”(“孝弟”xiao di) is considered the basis of benevolence. The main principle of “brother” is friendly affection, as Confucius stated “among his brethren, bland”. Brother ethics can be extended to friends, as according to Confucius’ disciple Zi Xia “then all within the four seas will be his brothers. What has the superior man to do with being distressed because he has no brothers?” Of course, there is a slight difference between the affection of brothers and friends. Making friends is based on the principle of righteousness, while the key between brothers is blood relations. Therefore living together in harmony is especially important.
With regards to the love between husband and wife, Confucianism states “righteousness on the part of the husband, and submission on that of the wife”. “The Doctrine of the Mean” says: “The way of the superior man may be found, in its simple elements, in the intercourse of common men and women; but in its utmost reaches, it shines brightly through heaven and earth”. It can be seen from within Confucian family ethics, that couple ethics is also very important. Confucianism takes a woman’s submissiveness as a virtue, but at the same time the husband should also be righteous. After the Tang Dynasty, there was a book for women read called “The Analects on Women” which made a lot of refinements and interpretations on Confucian views on women. It emphasised “(of husband and wife)treat each other with respect like guests” kind of married life. It perceived marriage as: “Fate of past life, marriage of present life. The husband is strong and the wife gentle, 恩爱相因”, “Sharing the joys and the sorrows, sharing wealth and poverty. Sharing the same cave in death, 生共衣衾”. This kind of love and affection between husband and wife, does not contradict much with modern day’s perception of love.
Confucianism emphasises “Laying the foundation of (all) love in the love of parents”, but also hopes this love can lead to consideration of others. Only “From the love of parents” is this a healthy and normal love. Only this kind of love is independent, without getting confused with the love for others or love for one’s country. At the same time Confucianism hopes people will “Treat with the reverence due to age the elders in your own family, so that the elders in the families of others shall be similarly treated; treat with the kindness due to youth the young in your own family, so that the young in the families of others shall be similarly treated”, extending this benevolence and kindness onto others. Not only extending to other people but also to everything in the world. Thus Mencius says the superior man should be “Lovingly disposed to people generally, and kind to creatures”. The creatures here are referring to all natural things. According to Mencius, “Heaven gives birth to creatures in such a way that they have one root”, and everything in the world has only one origin. With this belief and respect towards heaven and earth, one will naturally love and cherish all living creatures. All natural things have the kindness of bringing up men, and from within one’s heart men will feel grateful towards all natural things.
Confucianism believes that only by seeing people and things as equal, then there will be a harmonious relationship between the two. The premise of “harmony” is that all things must first achieve coexistence. Because things and people are the same, existing in accordance with the mandate of heaven. Although appearing in a different form, each has its own dignity, as explained in “The Doctrine of the Mean” that “All things are nourished together without their injuring one another”. The value and equality view of people and things, is a type of transcendence of the Confucian concept of emotion. Coexistence between people and things without harming one another, where one side’s development does not come at the cost of harming the other side, is a kind of ideal for human existence. In today’s view, this is a very modern concept. Confucianism extends the personality equality view on to all life and even all things. This type of thinking provides a deep philosophical foundation to the traditional Chinese concept of loving and cherishing all things, therefore traditional Chinese people have an instinctive respect for all things in the natural world, rarely seeing nature as a resource to plunder. Those who are conceited or bully the weak, are seen to represent a lack of cultivation.
Confucianism also has standards on the principle of love, namely “not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself”. In the past people often said that Confucian love is not free and independent, yet these words of Confucius have been written into modern society’s “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic”. According to the declaration, “We affirm that there is an irrevocable, unconditional norm for all areas of life, for families and communities, for races, nations, and religions”. In “The Analects”, Confucius says that if there was one word which could serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life, it would be “reciprocity”, meaning “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”. He called this “The Golden Rule”.
If benevolence is “to love all men”, how can it be embodied in our actions? The “doctrine of loyalty and forgiveness” is “the art of virtue”, and is the way to practice benevolence. “Loyalty”(“忠”zhong) is “centre heart”(“中心”zhong xin) where one’s heart must be fair when handling matters. Therefore “loyalty” establishes the sincere attitude one must have towards people and things, and use this attitude to consider others when planning and carrying out matters. On the other hand, “reciprocity” is using one’s kind heart and spread to others. This is a basic principle of personal relationships when dealing with others, including consideration of others’ shortcomings. The Confucian idea of loyalty and reciprocity places emphasis on the restrictions and demands on the “self”, and not demands toward others. It expects that one does not impose one’s views on others as one pleases, but rather sets restrictions on oneself when dealing with personal relationships. Under this premise, the actualised love and feelings communicated will embody the essence of equality. I think this is where the idea of loyalty and reciprocity has modern meaning, and should become the basic attitude in which we treat our family, friends, and loved ones today.
From this discussion, we can see that the Confucian idea of feelings of love are not the same as the mainstream concept of love instilled by today’s society. Confucianism believes that the concern for oneself should surpass the concern for others, and the love for one’s own parents should also be deeper than the love for other’s parents. In the view of Confucianism, only by acknowledging these genuine feelings, can one truly realise the universal benevolence from humans to everything in the world, starting from oneself to one’s parents, and from one’s parent’s on to others.
Due to Chinese traditional culture, these philosophical perceptions of love and feelings are completely separated from our education and mainstream discourse. This is one of the reasons that Chinese people suffer from a lack of love. In contrast with countries that have religious traditions, Chinese people’s love and feelings have, since ancient times, been fostered through education instead of through church. If China’s education system totally lacked education on love and feelings, then it would be difficult to cure Chinese people’s lack of love. We would live in a cold and detached country.