Sunday, August 16, 2009

Confucius and Chinese values and priorities

I read with mixed feelings a piece entitled The Chinese have no windows in their homes by an anonymous contributor to the Hornbill Unleashed blog.

The anonymous contributor mused wistfully as follows:
I remembered being a 15-year old girl in a convent school studying about the Malayan Union in a History class n having a Chinese teacher who told us in between the lines that honestly, if our grandparents etc had supported the British when they wanted to give equal rights to everyone, we would'nt be in this situation we currently find ourselves now.

It is true that the Chinese Malayan community in the post-World War II years were a politically disparate group who were recovering from the trauma of the violence and abuse during the Japanese Occupation and, tended to look more towards the travails of China rather than the nascent political movements in colonial Malaya.

But, the inference made by the teacher mentioned by the anonymous contributor was too sweeping a simplification of the events relating to the Malayan Union experiment. There are many books that detail the events surrounding the involvement of the Chinese Malayan educationists, business and community leaders in that episode and the pivotal events leading to the road to Merdeka. To get into it in a humble blog post is just too much effort.

Instead, I propose to contribute a small perspective on the Chinese Malaysian psyche in the context of socio-political activism that the anonymous contributor was so exasperated by.

I don't believe for one moment that the Chinese community is apathetic. Like every single sentient Malaysian (for there are insentient ones), most, if not all, Chinese Malaysians are fully clued in on the goings-on in the Malaysian political landscape. In fact, Chinese-educated Chinese Malaysians are probably better-informed on Malaysian politics than are their English-educated counterparts.

That said, the anonymous contributor is correct in observing that in spite of their awareness of political developments the Chinese Malaysian community, in the main, do not overtly act on their political knowledge and awareness.

I may be completely wrong on this, not being a sociologist nor a political scientist. But, I do believe that the Chinese diaspora, not just Chinese Malaysians, are imbued with the set of values and prioritisation taught by Confucius aeons ago. These set of priorities and values have had the longevity that only deep wisdom and humanistic values could have conveyed. from here.

If you, the reader, are a Chinese Malaysian or, just plain vanilla Chinese, I strongly suggest that you to search your childhood memories and try to recall whoever it was among your elders, even the most illiterate ones, that may have said something along the lines of what Confucius said:

The illustrious ancients, when they wished to make clear and to propagate the highest virtues to the world, put their states in proper order. Before putting their states in proper order, they regulated their families. Before regulating their families, they cultivated their own selves. Before cultivating their own selves, they perfected their souls. Before perfecting their souls, they tried to be sincere in their thoughts. Before trying to be sincere in their thoughts, they extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such investigation of knowledge lay in the investigation of things, and in seeing them as they really are. When things were thus investigated, knowledge became complete. When knowledge was complete, their thoughts became sincere. When their thoughts were sincere, their souls became perfect. When their souls were perfect, their own selves became cultivated. When their selves were cultivated, their families became regulated. When their families were regulated, their states came to be put into proper order. When their states were in proper order, then the whole world became peaceful and happy.

This is the wisdom of Confucius and, by extension, the wisdom of the Chinese community and, therefore, the wisdom endowed upon each individual person of Chinese parentage. It is the value system and the set of ordered priority that the Chinese have abided by and observed for aeons. There are, of course, with all things, many variants and modifications of this piece of Confucian wisdom. But, all variations ultimately trace their roots to this original counsel of Confucius.

It is still highly relevant today. I dare say it is embedded in the DNA and, souls of most people of Chinese origin. Understand this and, we may all be able to have a glimpse of the motivations and apparent and, perceived political apathy of the average Chinese Malaysian.

But, let me say that to contemplate this piece of wisdom of Confucius within the narrow confines of political analysis would be a grave wrong and, would utterly fail to do justice to the importance of this piece of Confucian wisdom that has held the Chinese psyche in such good stead for so long. This wisdom transcends politics. It is a directional compass of values and ordered priorities that may shed light on many, many aspects about the way in which the Chinese perceive the world that we live in.

It may even be, I dare say, the foundation and compass of values upon which the Chinese diaspora has so successfully relied.

Read the passage by Confucius again. Then, read it again. Then reflect deeply upon it.

For, the wisdom of Confucius creates a virtuous cycle that regenerates itself. Extend the virtuous cycle to socio-economic policies of Malaysia, including education, welfare and development and, then, we can appreciate why there has been failure of policy and, we can have a clear vision of how to correct the path of government, societal values and the unity of all communities in Malaysia. I am not being hyperbolic. This Confucian wisdom can be nebulous to the impatient person. But, as I said, read it several times and reflect upon it. It is the values that will shine through if, to paraphrase Confucius, we are sincere in our thoughts.


Present Value said...

de minimis,

This is just awesome! Simple, succinct & to the point.

The values are universal indeed, not racist, nor any bias on religion.

I guess this is what is called "teachings" and lived on for generations now, hence = values and culture.

sakmongkol AK47 said...

brother de minimis,

thanks for this enlightening and excellent piece. this should be the foundation of a model citizenship.allow me to add:

The old man in the south and his comrade who was born in Malacca pinned their vision on Confucian values: : Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia. Xiushen means look after yourself, cultivate yourself, do everything to make yourself useful; Qijia, look after the family; Zhiguo, look after your country; Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven. It is the basic concept of our civilization. Governments will come, governments will go, but this endures. We start with self-reliance.

de minimis said...


Thank you for your kind comment.

bro Sak

Once again, your intellect and insatiable inquiry into the condition of the Malays, Malaysian governance and the lot of all Malaysians is a continuing source of inspiration and education to us all as we follow your journey of inquiry and exhortation. The contribution you made in your comment is enlightening and, it clearly shows the amount of effort you have put into this continuing inquiry of yours.

If we, all, placed priority on self-improvement, then, the welfare of our families and, infuse it with virtue and integrity, I believe Malaysia will be so much better off. The journey does, indeed, begin with self and family. Get these things right and, all will truly be well.

Baharudin said...

de minimis,
The virtues propounded by Confucius are universal and can be found in all great religions... the problem is when the followers of these religions do not live up to the ideals of their religions... that is why throughout human history we keep having corrupt politicians from a spectrum of political affiliations (UMNO, MCA, MIC, DAP, PKR, PAS, Democrats, Republicans, PAP, etc.) irrespective of the religions that they profess, be them Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Confucians, Jews, etc. Looks like the modern (and not-so-modern) men don't seem to be able to manage themselves even at the individual level... forget about the national/government level? It says a lot about the need to have integrity, honesty and other virtues at the individual leadership level... however, look at the "leaders" that we have now... how many of them truly have these virtues? Can we then expect them to be effective at governing a country?

Anonymous said...

sound like the middle kingdom mentality still strong in the minds of the chinese.maybe you should try to explain the han idealogy ? such attitude can be seen regarding the kampung buah pala issue.notice how the majority of chinese have stated their comments regarding this.

Anonymous said...

The complete original quote;


gewu (格物)‧zhizhi (致知)‧chengyi (誠意)‧zheng (正)‧xiushen. (修身)‧qijia (齊家)‧zhiguo ping tianxia 平天下

- 《大學》禮記

An Utopian concept about the MAN's journey through life.

walla said...

He postulated a transcendent order above propped by personal moral cultivation below that was typified by the golden rule which in turn has replications in other practices of faith...

Said of him and resounding with the message on self-knowledge...

"The Master said:

At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart, without overstepping the boundaries of right. (Analects of
Confucius, 2:4)".

How much of this can be said of our leaders, political inasmuch business?