Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My Uncle, Confucius and Crime Rate in Sibu

When I look back to those olden days I realise how virtuous and upright Foochow people were. How they lived and co-existed with other races in Sibu was admirable. In retrospect two main philosophies guided them, the first being Confucian teaching and the second the Methodist outlook.

My father's first cousin, a dear uncle, has been a mentor and a close relative to me and my siblings since my father passed away. He has always been kind and gentle whenever we drop by his shop. His listening ears would always be there for us since our childhood days, even if it is between business transactions. He is one uncle who has never shooed naughty, disturbing nieces and nephews away from his shop. And recently, reminising with him helped me clarify so much of my views of those long gone days. His kind of understanding and compassion for his close relatives is a disappearing social phenomenon in these days of mobile phones, internet and corporate life.

When he was in school,boys did not talk about girls or even approach girls for any thing. The separation of boys and girls in school life and in social life was very strict. According to my uncle, he did not even think of girls or talk about girls until he had enough money to marry!

When he had saved enough money, he mentioned his intention in passing and a match maker immediately started her search for a good wife for him. After a few months, she found a candidate and his parents agreed to meet at Lok Tian Yong, had fish balls an exchanged looks.

He liked the girl very much and the match maker made an appointment for them to see a movie . Both families had representatives to chaperone the couple. After the movie, his mother went to the goldsmith's to buy a gold ring for the engagement. Because they were quite poor then, his parents agreed to a small dowry for the girl and the girl's parents also did not demand much because they were of the opinion that they were getting a good, filial,gentleman for a son in law.

Their marriage had resulted in two boys and a girl, four shop houses and a huge family owned business. My uncle had also enriched his wife's family in the last forty years. And at the same time, he felt that his wife has been a good partner in both business and life. His in laws have also been giving him the best possible support.

He also mentioned that when he and his friends were young, they had a very hard life, tapping rubber and selling vegetables every where in Sibu. Often they would meet bare breasted Iban girls from the ulu who had come to Sibu for trade. They did not look at the beauties and they were all too shy to talk about any physical attributes of the young maidens. This was the morals of the time which helped to control the crime rate of Sibu. There was no rape, no cheating, no murder. Life was peaceful and serene.

His business operation has been based on trust and honesty. He trusts his customers and sometimes he allows his customers to owe him. But they will always pay up and settle their debts. He has been lucky with liquidity and as his business grows he makes sure that he has plenty of savings, not only to invest wisely at the right time,but to put away for a rainy day. He says that the propensity to save is the greatest asset of the Foochow people. 'Without capital, no business can prosper or start. Being frugal is no shame at all.

Having discussed that with my uncle I paid a revisit to Confucian teaching. I feel that it is time for many to seriously consider reading Confucius again.

Below is a very simplified description of Confucius' main moral concepts"

Confucius' main moral concepts can be divided into a few overarching categories:

"Jen" meant "becoming a person" which is often translated as "benevolence" or "humankindness." It meant being conscientious and altruistic. Humanity or "jen" is what ties one together with another. It is the practical consideration of one human being for another based on a concept of reciprocity. This concept was not an abstract concept removed from daily life, for "Jen" developed out of fulfilling one's obligations to family and the community. This concept is best signified by what is called the silver rule of Confucianism: "Do not do to others, what you do not want them to do to you." It is called the silver rule in comparison to the golden rule of Christianity: "Do unto others as you would want them to do to you".

"Li" or the rites" were to act as the guidelines for proper conduct. They helped to guide someone who may be unsure of what would be the truly "benevolent" act in certain circumstances. Therefore, the performance of these rites were seen as essential for the development of a sense of moral propriety. As one historian described them, they were the "code of formal behaviors for stabilizing and disciplining ourever-changing circumstances."

"De" or Virtue. The following of the "li" and the development of "jen" were stages towards developing virtue, the ultimate goal of Confucian thought. Confucius saw virtue as combining the features of"li" and "jen". Virtue for him was concrete and determined by action, not contemplation. He envisioned virtue as an obtainable goal, and his ideas as being practical rules of life and not a philosophy that was impossible to live tip to.

Morality and Relationships

Confucius' ideas about morality were not abstract, but pragmatic, which meant morality was not determined by absolutes as much as it was by circumstances and relationships. The basic relationships a person had in society determined or defined moral action. The goal was to ensure a person performed his key roles and obligations well. The main relationships were:

Emperor- - subject



Elder brother--younger brother

Elder Friend--younger friend.

All the relationships were between a superior and inferior. Depending on where one stood, a person needed to learn proper behavior for one's role. Confucius taught established authorities should be respected. A son should obey his father and uphold his family. A younger brother should obey his older brother for the same reason. So, too, wives, must obey their husbands; subjects, their rulers, and even a younger friend, his elder friend or patron. Through obedience, all upheld the proper distribution of power and authority.

In this respect, Confucius' ideas were seen as quite conservative but my question remains : if every one respects every one would the crime rate be lowered? Or is it impossible now to practise the ideas of this thinker in the 21st century?

5 memories:

Greg Wee said...

Hi Sarawakiana,

Thanks for dropping by my blog. It's such a nice surprise cos my wife Nee was just mentioning about you yesterday. We find your blog both a necessity & a pleasure.

sarawakiana said...

Dear Greg,

Thanks for writing . Why would my blog be a necessity?

Actually I do a bit of research and write in a friendly way so that most people can read the simple English. Sometimes I feel awful because I cannot write in Chinese. But perhaps writing in English I can reach more people outside Malaysia.

Hope to exchange views with you and your wife. Carry on your good work!!

Ping Ann...


Greg Wee said...

NEE: Necessity because we find it a good documentations of a lot of things. and it inspires me to write about foochows as well.

By the way, Ah beng's world is where greg just talks about this and that and let his creativity runs a little. Greg and Nee on the Go is where we write about food and travel and where i write my cooking and foochow dishes.

Greg Wee said...

Nee: Ping ann to you too. God Bless!

Greg Wee said...

I've just updated my user profile. Our other blog is now listed there.


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