Are there hidden flaws to Piety?

September 10, 2014

I’ve heard that it was Confucianism that caused China to fall victim to Western Imperialism in the 19th century, and the reason Mao started the Cultural Revolution his last decade was to correct this imperfection.

However, I believe that the collective culture created in China by Emperor Han Wudi (156-87 BCE)— considered one of the most influential emperors in Chinese history—is the reason that China’s civilization survived for thousands of years without suffering the fate of Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

The problem is not from Confucianism but a flaw in the way an element of Confucianism has been interpreted over the centuries.  In fact, this flaw is buried so deep in the Chinese psyche that Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and the tragic Cultural Revolution were not stopped because of it.

There were powerful individuals in the Communist Party who did not agree with what Mao was doing but did not speak out when they could have. Some of those individuals even suffered during the Cultural Revolution but still kept silent due to the power of piety.

It wasn’t until after Mao’s death that those same people acted and Deng Xiaoping came to power stopping the madness of the Cultural Revolution.

To criticize an elder in China—even when that individual is power hungry, senile or maybe a bit crazy—is considered similar to Christian heresy during the Spanish Inquisition. Piety means elders must be treated with respect as if they can do no wrong. Is there a way to find a balance and fulfil the duty of filial piety?

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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Tomb Sweeping Day in China to honor the ancestors

July 23, 2014

Ancestor worship may well be the oldest, unorganized religion in China. For instance, take Tomb Sweeping Day. The practice that honors family ancestors started during the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) and has been around for more than 2,500 years.

Tomb Sweeping Day is a one-day Chinese holiday where respect is shown to the ancestors. This holiday is celebrated in early April, and families have a reunion and visit their ancestors’ grave sites.

Before this tradition, the first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had not unified China yet, and the country was divided into several nation states governed by hereditary rulers and worshiping ancestors was important in maintaining a link with the past.

Today, many Chinese homes and businesses have a shrine set up to honor the ancestors. This shrine may have the name of the ancestor carved into wood or rock or there is a photo. Food is often left on the table for the ancestors.

Respect for ancestors is also an important part of Confucianism and there is still an ancestor hall for Confucius (551-479 BC) in Chufu that is maintained by a direct descendant. Next time you are in a Chinese or Southeast Asian restaurant, look around and see if you can spot a shrine to the ancestors.

Confucianism and ancestor worship is not exclusive to China. After all, China was a regional super power in Asia for more than two thousand years and had a big influence over other cultures in the region.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Not One Less: a movie review and cultural comparison

July 16, 2014

In the film Not One Less (1999), a thirteen-year-old girl is asked to be the long-term substitute teacher in a small Chinese village.  The teacher tells her that when he returns, if he finds all the students still there, he will pay her ten yuan—less than two American dollars.

When one student, Zhang Huike, stops coming to school, Wei Minzhim, the thirteen-year-old substitute teacher, follows him to the city.

There are several themes in this movie. The most powerful to me was the value of an education and not losing face. If Wei loses Zhang, she will fail the responsibility the teacher gave her. To succeed, she must keep all the students and teach them.

This film reveals one of the greatest cultural differences between the United States and China. More than 2,000 years ago, Confucius taught that an education was the great equalizer and the key to leaving poverty behind.

Today, many Chinese and other Asians still believe this with a passion, and this belief may explain why the on-time high school graduation for Asian-Americans in the United States is the highest when compared to all other racial groups. Culturally, the value of an education may be seen in that high school graduation rate.

On-time high school graduation rate in the U.S. by race for the 2009-10 school year

 Asian/Pacific Islander = 93%
White = 83%
Hispanic = 71%
Black – 66%

In the United States, teachers are often blamed for the lower graduation rates of Hispanics and Blacks, while in China parents take the blame. This is another significant difference between China and the United States. In China it would be unthinkable to wage war against the nation’s teachers for children who don’t learn. Instead, parents, who cared, and teachers would work together to do what they could as partners.

Zhang Yimou was the director. He says, “Chinese culture is still rooted in the countryside. If you don’t know the peasant, you don’t know China.” Because of this, there is a strong message in this movie about the urban–rural divide, which is being addressed as China sews the nation together with high-speed rail and electricity.

This a powerful movie about children, education, and poverty that shows the challenges China faces in lifting the lifestyles of almost eight hundred million Chinese, who don’t live in the cities. The challenge is to do this without losing the cultural values that flow through Chinese history like a powerful river.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Raise the Red Lantern: a look at China’s concubine culture

June 18, 2014

This film was directed in China by Zhang Yimou in 1991, and it offers a view of life within a closed, culture of patriarchy (male dominated). The film is set in the 1920s during the Warlord Era, and it focuses on the ever-shifting balance of power between the various concubines while the husband ignores much of what’s going on—taking his pleasures when he feels like it.

Before 1949, women in China were the property of men who did what they wanted with that property.

China’s central government approved of the screen play but then banned the film for a time, because it paralleled the return the concubine culture in today’s China where wealthy married men support single women (the concubines) and often buy them apartments in trade for exclusive sex and companionship. But there is a difference. Today, in China, women are not the property of men as they were in 1920.

In fact, when my wife and I lived in Southern California, we ate at a small restaurant near our home. The owner was a former concubine of a wealthy Chinese man, who paid her off and sent her packing when she got too old. He used his influence and wealth to help her reach the United States while he went in search of a younger beauty to replace her. She used the money he paid her to leave to start a business in the U.S. She was lucky. Many modern-age concubines are just abandoned and have to find another master to support them and beauty fades.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Feng Shui for Beginners ­: Part 2 of  2

May 28, 2014

 A guest post by Tom Carter

Angela Wilde’s new pocket-guide to Feng Shui, Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! The Easy Guide to Love and Money offers easy tips of Feng Shui.

I am personally dubious of any self-help book with the word “easy” in the title.

However, as I have lived in Asia for almost a decade, I figured I should at least explore the Feng Shui genre before outright dismissing it.

While I have yet to report any results (positive or negative) because of following Feng Shui, I stand by my original premise that it can’t hurt and can only help.

As Wilde writes in the book’s introduction, “Lots of people can’t afford to have a complete Feng Shui consultation. They just want something that works, and fast.”

With this, she offers an efficiently minimalist A-Z guide outlined in handy alphabetical layout.

Curious about dried flowers (“Potpourri is definitely spiritually bad!”)? Just flip to the D or F sections. Wondering what herbs are auspicious? Turn to H (page 54) for a complete list of herbs and their respective powers.


book’s cover

Coming in at a mere 90 pages, the book is small and convenient enough to flip through for reference during house-cleaning day, yet the information therein goes a long way.

Did you know, for example, that by just boiling some cinnamon and basil together then adding that to a floor wash of nothing but salty water you will have instantly improved your wealth AND personal protection? Now that’s profitable multi-tasking!

Wilde also offers advice on speaking normal words in everyday life: “affirmations and even ordinary words should contain no negatives such as “no” or “not”. Overlooking the fact that this sentence itself uses the word “no,” it nonetheless is profoundly good advice and one I will attempt to incorporate in my day-to-day dealings.

For anyone interested in giving Feng Shui a precursory attempt before investing major time and money into revamping your lifestyle, Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! The easy guide to Love and Money is a good starting point. Beginners will appreciate Wilde’s quick, A-Z reference layout and efficiently brief prescriptions.

Return to Part 1

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2 years across the 33 provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

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Feng Shui forBeginners ­: Part 1 of  2

May 27, 2014

 A guest post by Tom Carter

According to the History of Feng Shui, also known as Kanyu, the practice of Feng Shui began in the Western Han dynasty around the third century BC.

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese belief that the laws of astronomy and geography may be applied aesthetically to improve the positive energy (chi) that surrounds our daily lives.

Feng Shui is also big business today.

In Asia, Feng Shui consultants charge astronomical fees to corporations who retain them to advise on architectural design, building location, interior decorations and grand-opening dates.

No matter how small, no business or shop in Eastern Asia would dare debut without having first consulted extensively with a Feng Shui practitioner.

Even on Amazon, there are literally hundreds of books written by Feng Shui “experts” seeking to capitalize on the resurgence of middle-class trends co-opting Feng Shui.

Ironically, one of the major themes of Feng Shui is in removing clutter, yet the endless piles of Feng Shui books that keep appearing on the literary market seems only to contribute to the clutter.

Detractors, however, have branded Feng Shui everything from an “occult superstition” to “new-age psychobabble.”

After all (they say), how could something as banal as the position of your bed and the color of a candle have any relation to the safety and welfare of a human being?

During the Cultural Revolution, Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong took his revulsion of Feng Shui one-step further during the 1970s by having the teenage Red Guard persecute Chinese citizens who dared follow this “old, evil ideology”.

Regardless of your beliefs, the fact is that it cannot hurt – and might help – your daily happiness and comfort by following at least the most basic principles of Feng Shui at your home and office.

If, perchance, the southeast part of your house were truly the Wealth Sector, as Feng Shui suggests, then why would you not want to keep it spotless and free of clutter?

If jars of coins around the house really do symbolize abundance and can attract wealth, then how hard would it be to fill some up with your old pocket change?

Continued in Part 2 on May 28, 2014

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2 years across the 33 provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


Risking all for the myth of Gold Mountain

May 20, 2014

Poverty causes people to take risks in an effort to improve the quality of life, and China still has millions of poor people, but not by U.S. standards where many who live in poverty often drive cars and have TVs but still don’t have enough to buy food or pay rent.

However, contrary to a belief caused by malicious rumors in the West, the Communist Party is not responsible for causing poverty in China and has been working hard since the early 1980s to end it.

The Guardian.co.uk says, “The report, by authors from the China Institute for Reform and Development and other think tanks, describes the nation’s (China) progress over the past 30 years of reform as a miracle in the history of poverty reduction.”

It wasn’t always this way. For instance, in 1949, most of the Chinese still lived in an environment similar to Europe’s middle ages, and even today, to escape poverty, some Chinese will immigrate illegally to the US, and the reason so many do this is because there is a myth in China that America and/or Canada are “Gold Mountain”.

There is also a documentary called Golden Venture about the US immigration crises, but “The first major waves of Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. after hearing of the “Golden Mountain” or “Gum Sana” during California’s Gold Rush in 1848.”

What these desperate Chinese didn’t know is that The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality in the United States reports: “The official poverty rate increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in 2012 (more than 47 million total), and the child poverty rate increased from 18 percent in 2007 to 21.8 percent in 2012 (more than 16 million).”

What does the United Nations say of China? “Both national and international indicators show that China has already achieved the goal of halving the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015 set by the UN as one of eight Millennium Development Goals.  Remaining poverty is however becoming increasingly difficult to address, as the rural poor are now concentrated in remote regions with difficult natural conditions.”

In addition, Global Issues says, “China also accounts for nearly all the world’s reduction in poverty. Excluding China, (global) poverty fell only by around 10%” while poverty increased in the United States.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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