A while ago Billy asked me to write about Yi (義) and Yi Chi (義氣). I said I would try, and this assignment has been on my mind. Apologies for taking a long time to respond. Let me put down what comes to mind even though a lot of its deeper meanings are above my level.
Let me start with an everyday example of a voluntary act of reaching out to another person. In this case, a passerby saw that I was looking for something and she stopped to ask me what I was looking for. I had accidentally dropped my glasses and she must have thought that I was helpless without my glasses. Without any hesitation, she started looking around trying to cover all possible locations where I might have dropped them. After about fifteen minutes she was not successful and said sorry to me and went on her way. But just a minute or two later she came back and said that there was one more possible place she had not checked and she was going to look again. Well, this time she came back with a big smile holding my glasses. Before I could say ‘thank you’ and ask her name, she just waved and disappeared into the crowd. The whole episode happened in a natural and matter-of-fact way, without any fuzz or anxiety. The way she handled the situation had a sense of simplicity and beauty.
I would consider this as a kind of impersonal but universal act of Yi. It’s impersonal since we are strangers to each other, but it’s universal because it happens everyday, everywhere, all the time. Each of us are in touch with thousands of such examples of selfless giving and mutual help. In the U.S. during the sixties when I was in college, there was a popular saying “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. In ancient China, Confucius teachings assigned the concept Yi to this fundamental human impulse towards others as duty to do the right thing. Not to do the wrong thing, or not to harm others, is part of this human impulse. Of course another important Confucian concept of Ren (仁), meaning kindness and benevolence, is closely related to Yi. So Ren and Yi are one of the basic building blocks of humans as social beings.
On another level, among colleagues, family, and friends, the practice of Yi takes on additional meanings beyond just doing a kind deed. There is a sense of honor, loyalty and commitment that comes with belonging. By being a member of a family, a group, an association, or even a political party, one has the duty and the responsibility to serve the needs of that group, most often unconditionally. In Chinese we refer to a volunteer as Yi Gong (義工), an YI worker. Here I think the term YI Chi (義氣) is most often applied. An example in the work place is when a colleague is overworked and is facing a deadline. You decide to help finish the task at hand, foregoing, perhaps a family dinner. Chi is inner energy, so Yi Chi is the act of honoring a commitment to an organization or to those that you have an affiliation with.
Likewise with an old friend, in this case when I recently asked Billy to support a project of mine, Billy committed his support without any hesitation. An important part of this Yi Chi is mutual trust. Trust requires cultivation, but interestingly it needs not necessarily be physically close; trust may grow across space and time. For example last year I got in touch with my grade school classmates after more than sixty years. It was quite a reunion and after they heard about my project, my desk mate in fifth grade just volunteered to help me promote it. Another facet of the practice of Yi Chi is that it is not tied to the notion of fair exchange. One does not practice Yi expecting something in return, nor does one calculate the costs and benefits of the act. The act itself has its own intrinsic value independent of return and rewards.
At an even larger scale of the community and the nation, Yi is often practiced by pledging to work together on selected social causes. An example is our Building and Planning Research Foundation at the National Taiwan University. When we started, we had committed ourselves to applying our professional planning and design skills to solving social problems such as public housing for the needy, rural community development, and infrastructure planning for native communities. Many of our team members have pledged their professional lives to working for social justice. Such social commitment have earned us trust from the communities we serve, and likewise we have developed trust in them to do the best they can to better themselves. The operating human value at work here is the mutual practice of Yi between the professional and the local community. Of course, examples abound and each of us can think of many examples at this scale.
At an even larger scale, addressing the whole of a culture in a particular place and time, we also find forms of associations based on Yi, such as political parties formed to promote specific social goals, and various civic and philanthropic associations engaged in achieving certain social values. An historical example in ancient China is the well known story called “ Oath of brotherhood in the Peach Garden” (桃园三结义) which appears at the beginning of the novel Romance of Three Kingdoms (三国演). Here the term Yi , referring to duty, loyalty, honor, allegiance , is at the center of the story in forming political and military alliances to achieve perceived social goals. In more recent history, the republican revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen was very much a voluntary movement based on shared ideals of a just and modern society. Here Yi takes on a more direct and radical commitment of both soul and body. My grandfather was a member of the revolutionary league the Tong Meng Hui (同盟会), though he was not one of the famous 72 martyrs who gave their lives to the revolution. During WWII, in the fight against Japanese aggression of China, many Taiwanese volunteers joined the fight on Mainland China. General Li You-bang (李友邦) led a Taiwan voluntary army (台湾義勇军) to fight along side with the Chinese army against the Japanese. So at the national level, the practice of Yi is an essential motivating force to seek a better world.
At these different scales, Yi plays a critical role in connecting a person to others, a person to a community, and a person to a larger cause. For me, among these and many other ways of practicing Yi, there is a very important element of “empathy” that seems to be always present. Empathy, I think, is a capacity to step outside oneself and to see the world from another’s point of view. Likewise, it is also a communicative tool to motivate different peoples to see each other and to respect the culture and values of others. At the very base of being humans, we have the obligation, the Yi, to respect and love each other. Here, I think Mo-tsu (墨子) a century after Confucius and one of the key ancient sages, gave Yi a adjunctive meaning in his “universal love, practice no harm” (兼爱无攻) dictum, which I think is very much in need during these turbulent times of 2022.
OLD FRIENDS: Lucille Lee, Shirley Liu, John Liu and Billy Lee
The following Rules apply across all cultures . OBT, James
Rule 1: Never directly challenge any statement made by the person you are trying to convince, educate, or opinion change. Such challenges set up mental defense mechanisms. Phrases such as “I hear you.” rather than “You are full of it.” tend to work better at getting people to eventually and actively listen to the truth. (Always remember that hearing is not listening; listening is not comprehending; seeing is not examining; touching is not feeling; tasting is not appreciating; learning is not understanding…and so forth. Whether you are talking with an unruly child or a reluctant adult, it is useless to ask, “Are you listening to me?” Of course they are listening…especially if you are shouting. What they are not doing is comprehending or even trying to comprehend. Huge difference.
Rule 2: Listen to what the person is saying, then ask questions seeking clarification. You will acquire a long list of inconsistencies, holes, logically flawed beliefs. These
you will use later, either in the initial conversation or, if possible, in later conversations.
Rule 3: Find out, beforehand if possible, what sources of information the person believes are reliable. Also, what sources of information the person believes are infallible (if any). If you know what sources the person believes, then study those prior to the conversation. If you do not, but rather discover what those sources are during the conversation, then ask to postpone further discussion until you have read the person’s trusted sources. This has several good effects, such as showing respect for the person’s opinions and sources (NOTE: “respect”, not “agreement”). More importantly, such knowledge will provide you with the keys to that person’s mental stockade.
Rule 4. Having accomplished 1 through 3 above…Use the person’s own statements and sources against them in a casual, friendly manner. This frequently opens a slight crack in the mental armor that allows you access to the person’s shielded brain. Once you have access, then you can gently insinuate simple, non-threatening thoughts and ideas that do not directly attack the person’s beliefs, but which rather causes that person to internally begin to question their beliefs.
Rule 5. Don’t expect to convert anyone instantly…not during the first discussion nor any subsequent discussions with that person. Conversion of a fixed, inflexible mind must come from inside that mind. You must plant a seed inside that mind and water it, feed it, and let it grow all by itself. Conversion takes time and patience.
Same Friend Offered Me A Beautiful Essay On “BE”
“BE” by James Luce
Life is a unidirectional path with lots of curves and bumps
Life is crowded road where you will encounter a lot of grumps
Yet it’s amazing what can happen when you say “Can I assist ?”
Holding out a helping hand is always better than an angry fist
Don’t be the Grinch, rather strive to be one of those Forrest Gumps
Be the kind of person that you’d want everyone to be
Be the kind of person who puts “Others” ahead of “Me”
Be the kind of person who is held in great respect
Be the kind of person who does not ignore or neglect
Be the kind of person who bounces babies on their knee
Be the kind of person who helps out another in a bind
Be the kind of person who’s of a gentle state of mind
Be the kind of person who lends his eyes to the blind
Be most of all and forever be a person who is kind.
NEIL NORTON is a Certified Arborist since 2002 and holds a Masters Degrees in Business Administration and Latin American Studies from Tulane University. Neil is passionate and active around issues of tree conservation and education, both locally and nationally. He teaches Qigong and Taichi since 2008. Neil loves inspecting trees, and thoroughly enjoys his encounters with clients and their trees in all the hidden neighborhoods of Atlanta.
We find friends in many quarters, proximity, common interests, school, neighbors, and even on the internet. I often encounter new friends in movement. My friend Billy Lee has asked me to share my perspective on friendship and movement after demonstrating to him some Qi Gong.
In Qi Gong, an ancient Chinese series of movements, we often discuss different types of learning, whether auditory, visual, and/or kinetic. Perhaps there are different ways of being friends. I know that becoming friendly with someone often has to do with a “feeling”. Love at first sight would be an extreme example. Often there is just something that intrigues you about the other, which could fall into the categories of types of learning. You might like the sound of someone or how they look. Alternatively, you might be repelled by someone on the same grounds. I found that my movement when not paying attention, which can appear quick and intense upsets dogs. I know because they bark at me. What does it mean to be kinetically drawn or repelled by someone?
So much of our language comes through our body. When we move together in unison there is a power and reinforcement that is shared without words. I have always considered myself a kinetic learner, it is a language that comes natural to me. While I have learned to adapt, words have always been a struggle. I enjoy my Qi Gong practice as it allows me to share with others through movement. Often in movement, I find I can be truer to myself and relate more genuinely than through words.
Movement also allows me to align myself with nature that combines both elements of me and nature as reflected in my body. For me, moving in sync with nature means slowing your breathing pattern and coordinating it with my mind and body through gentle movements. When we move with nature, our movement takes on a deeper meaning. Combine that with another person and it becomes reciprocal. Sometimes I practice what I jokingly call Tree Gong, a type of Qigong with a tree, where I slow my breath and stand like a tree, envisioning your exhalation of carbon dioxide and inhalation of oxygen, exactly inverse to what the tree is doing.
While movement most always starts internally, it is always expressed in an external fashion. Some types of movements are more accepted than others, for example tennis on a tennis court, or frisbee on a field, or dancing in a club. The ancient arts, like Tai Chi and Qi Gong, not only connect us with those of past, but it is also an excellent way to connect with those in our present. There have been several occasions when I attracted unwanted attention practicing Tai Chi in public. So, finding a safe place to practice is important, unless you are trying to make a statement, but do not be surprised if the statement is misinterpreted or worse is threating to someone.
Many feel constricted by their ability to move, whether it is emotional or physical. Each of us has our own ways to move through gravity on Earth. We are nature, each one of us, so embrace a method and do not judge yourself, just breath and move. The next time you see a movement practice, whether dance, tai chi, qi gong, throwing the frisbee or playing ping pong, consider partaking. There is power in moving together and in unison with nature.
Neil is one of my son, Gary’s very best friends. They grew up together in Ladera as neighbors and schoolmates when they were near ten years old. I was an active participant in many of their sports activities. One year, Neil got injured and could not play baseball for quite a period. He and I got to know each other and became friends as we watched and cheered for his teammates and had many fun and interesting conversations. Neil and family visited us earlier this year from Atlanta, Georgia. I invited him to write for this Friendshipology Website. Thanks, Neil, for adding “TREE GONG” in our vocabulary.
In Chinese Culture, ‘Yi Qi’ is possibly the most respected quality about Friendship. My esteemed friends, Dr. Stephen Lee, Prof. An, and James Luce have articulated beautifully what “Yi” (義) and“Yi Qi” (義氣) mean in https://friendshipology.net. I try to understand it in my personal life. Who among my friends would I consider indeed to have“Yi Qi” (義氣) ? Three persons stood out immediately.
My FF Fraternity Brother, Allan Chou, wanted to promote“Yi Qi” (義氣) in our FF Fraternity. When he heard that I needed to have a souvenir designed with suggestions “10 Do’s” and “10 Don’t’s” on “How To Promote Friendship”, he immediately offered to have 500 fans designed and made in Shanghai, and he personally brought them to my Portola Valley home near Stanford University in three super-size suite cases. He did all that while busy managing his business in China, as well as teaching at Fu Dan University’s Graduate School of Business. His “Gung Ho” spirit “Qi” (氣) and our “Righteous Cause, “Yi” (義) made him one of my most trusted and respected friend, indeed.
My cousin, Ming Cho Lee, a highly respected Professor at Yale School of Drama, was surely not a socially “Gung Ho” type person. Yet at one critical time, he demonstrated unusual and unexpected “Yi” (義) and“Yi Qi” (義氣). His step-sister’s young son got into serious political trouble in a 1960s anti-establishment student movement. The young fellow and friends in Los Angeles may have overstepped the legal boundaries. As Ming Cho considered his stepsister a true friend, he set his immediate obligations aside and at once flew from N.Y.C. to L.A. to consult a famous defense lawyer friend to find ways to assist the young nephew. He felt that was the right thing to do, and he stepped up voluntarily as he knew his stepsister and nephew urgently needed the help.
My wife, Lucille, has my deepest respect and admiration even when I do not always understand her rationales. During college years, she met a slightly older friend who invited her to join a Chinese Women’s Sorority. This friend became an “older sister” to Lucille – very kind and always helpful and caring. However, their life philosophies became more widely different as time passed – Lucille became more Liberal and this friend more Conservative. About ten years ago, with husband already gone, this friend was deeply in debt to the credit company as her daughter was on drugs and was charging everything on her credit account. For two years I heard weekly telephone conversations between Lucille and her friend near our West Coast dinner time. This friend would call and vent her frustrations – the same complains – for almost an hour or so each time. Lucille seemed to have been giving this friend the same advice which obviously was not followed. Lucille made a visit to N.Y. and voluntarily paid off her friend’s credit card debt, but the friend still allowed her daughter to use the card as usual. This friend got very ill and had to have her leg amputated. Lucille took a week off to N.Y. again This time to clean their house for possible sales. This friend finally died, and Lucille went to help manage her memorial service. This is what I consider to be “YiQi” (義氣) – doing more for a Friend – most loyally, most unselfishly, and more than expected normally.
Yi Qi and Male Bonding East and West Syntax and Semantics
– 20 Feb 22
(Before proceeding, you will find it useful to first read Stephen Lee’s entertaining and informative article about Yi Qi that is posted on this site.)
As I’m composing this essay, East and West are just barely balancing on the verge of WW III. The US/EU could go to war at any time with Russia, China, North Korea or all three. I hope you are reading this essay in peace.
The question in the title of this article came to mind as a result of having read and discussed a draft of Stephen Lee’s article about the meaning of Yi Qi (righteous loyalty), its ancient, complex, and fascinating philosophical/linguistic origins via the transmogrification and malleability of Chinese characters, concluding with a discussion of Yi Qi in China today. Stephen notes that there are seemingly coincidental similarities between manifestations of Yi Qi and what in the West is called Male Bonding. For example, Chinese tales of the mythical folk hero warrior, Guan Yu, extol the virtuousness of truly righteous loyalty, the warrior standing by his fellows in danger and never betraying them to the evil enemy. Stephen notes that there’s also a sinister side to Yi Qi as represented by the 108 Outlaws of the Marsh. These folk heroes stole from the rich and gave to the poor, similar to the Western myth of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. The difference between these two gangs being that The Hood bunch returned to the Nottingham people the money stolen by the local aristocratic crowd from those same people, whereas the Marsh bunch gave the money they stole from the aristocrats to poor people who had not necessarily been the original victims. Thus, The Marsh system was not as efficient or equitable a redistribution of wealth scheme as perpetrated by the Hoods. However, both involved the commission of many violent felonies. The West has many examples Yi Qi/Male Bonding that are not remotely pure, righteous, good, or productive. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are two loyal buddies gone bad…sticking together through adversities of their joint making and dying side-by-side in a hail of retributive bullets. Another, larger, example is The Wild Bunch. These four dastardly desperados didn’t have a shred of the Cassidy/Kid humor and joie de vivre. Not a bon mot between them. Neither of these two gangs gave any of their stolen loot to any poor people, keeping it all for themselves. Yet they too are folk heroes because of their devotion to Yi Qi. And then, of course, there’s the Mafia, American folk hero murders and extortionists simply dripping with Yi Qi and blood. In modern America the ideal of Yi Qi in all its variations is robust. Every extreme is represented, from fraternal charitable organizations (pure) to drug cartels (toxic), with political organizations (dominated by male bonding) located somewhere in between those poles. Thus, it’s clear that it’s really not just a coincidence that China’s Yi Qi is paralleled in the West with Male Bonding. It’s not a coincidence because, after all, we’re all humans. Our ancestors faced the same problems and mysteries, few of which have been fixed over the millennia. The difference today between each of us and between our cultures is simply a manifestation of different routes to failed resolutions of our common problems and mysteries.
Welcometo Alice’s Restaurant!
Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, released in 1967, is the generational anthem for most War Babies (1939-45) and Baby Boomers (1946-64). The first seven minutes forty-two seconds of this song are about Arlo’s adventures in Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Thanksgiving dinner at Alice’s restaurant and his subsequent arrest and trial for littering and creating a nuisance…but that’s not what he came to tell you about. He spends the remaining ten minutes fifty-seven seconds singing about the Military Draft, a very hot topic during the Vietnam War. I’ve started out talking about Yi Qi. Here’s what I really came to talk about: The Roots of our Common Humanity and the Routes we need to collectively take so as to reacquire our Common Humanity. The primary focus of this essay concerns how to restore harmony among and between the bitterly splintered factions of our originally Common Humankind. These factions we usually refer to as our myriad cultures, nations, economies, minor genetic variations, languages, philosophies, religions, and other artificial, antagonistic, and divisive instruments of civilization. The original humans fought over food, water, and basic survival. In today’s world we have dozens of more things to fight about, most of which have nothing to do with food, water, or basic survival: patriotism, politics, beliefs, irrational prejudices, languages, and cosmologies. What could be more idiotic than to go to war or start a bloody riot over skin color, a flag, a political party, or especially those variable cultural answers as to where we all came from originally and why. “Especially” because nobody really knows and probably never will.
So…Let’s talk about just one of these splintering factions, the least likely to stir up patriotic or cultural animus: Languages
My father and his three older siblings were China-born, children of a Presbyterian missionary in Shandong Province during the disarray of the prolonged warlord period. When I was a very young child, I remember that my now grownup Aunt Beth hung embroidered towels in her New York apartment that read East is West. It was not until several decades later that I began to understand this cryptic message. We will return to this theme shortly, but first…
There’s a traditional belief/stereotype among Westerners, Anglo-Americans especially, that the Chinese people and their language are inscrutable. Well, what does that mean? The dictionary says, “impossible to understand or interpret”. So, perhaps Americans criticize the Chinese because Americans aren’t intelligent enough to understand what is being said or written in Chinese. In turn, Chinese people traditionally believe that Americans are blunt, both in language and mind. So, perhaps Chinese people criticize Americans because our dominant language, English, is, for the most part, direct and blunt and, well, plain ol’ Anglo-Saxon…avoiding ambiguity of meaning whenever possible. Or perhaps there’s another explanation for these stereotypes.
The source of these cross-cultural stereotypes is most likely the syntax and semantics of their respective languages. If Yi Qi is translated as “righteous loyalty”, that’s inscrutable to an American. But if it’s translated as “male bonding”, there’s no problem. Let’s see which language and which culture is more inscrutable by comparing two quotations. Which of the following quotations was written by a Chinese scholar and which by a Western scholar:
A man is never too old to learn. vs. A man is never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
Both of these aphorisms have a similar message, but one is blunt while the other is a bit fuzzy. So, it may surprise that the first quotation was written by an anonymous Buddhist scholar several thousand years ago and that the second is by the famous British scholar, C.S. Lewis.
Which of the following quotations is more inscrutable?
What is the sound of one hand clapping? (an ancient Buddhist riddle)
If a tree falls in the forest when nobody’s around, does it make a sound? (Bishop George Berkeley, a 17th-century Anglican)
They both seem inscrutable to me. Well, maybe these aren’t representative samples. Maybe Eastern thinking really is more inscrutable than Western philosophy. Let’s start out in neutral territory, somewhere neatly in between East and West: Ancient Greece was influenced by Egyptian, Iranian, and Chinese scholarship that flowed along the Silk Road and other trade routes. Our neutral thinker of choice is that famous pagan Plato. He postulated that physical objects and indeed the entire observable universe was nothing but shadows of True Reality (what he called Forms) that we mere humans could never see or experience. Returning to Bishop Berkeley, who goes Plato one better, we find that this inscrutable Western Christian scholar believed in Immaterialism, a philosophy that denies the existence of all material substance. That is, all objects and indeed the entire observable universe exist only as ideas in our minds. If we don’t think about something, it doesn’t exist. There is no reality at all. Let’s now compare, using the inscrutability scale, these two Western philosophers with their ancient Chinese counterparts. Several thousand years ago in pre-Buddhist China, philosophers thought about the Dao. The Dao is an ultimate source that connects all things and the entire observable universe. Everything is real, tangible, observable…no Forms or shadows or ethereal existence-only-in-the-mind. Rather the Dao is a Way or Guide that is observable, accessible to cultivated people who have the leisure time to contemplate it. In this real world, patterns can be detected, cyclical patterns that interact between the polar forces of Yin and Yang. Yin is a symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, and passivity. Yang is a symbol of heaven, maleness, light, and activity. While these distinctions are offensive to our modern Western views, they match perfectly with how both Westerners and Easterners have divided things up for millennia. Furthermore, traditional Chinese philosophy at least acknowledges that water is wet, rocks are hard, a chair can be sat on…in short, the world exists in reality. We can see that in the Pre-Science Age, the Greeks, Chinese, and Europeans postulated a similar answer to a shared mystery. Yet it was the Chinese solution that is the least inscrutable. But what about modern times? Is the situation different now? Only slightly. If you read the modern Western philosophers, you will note extensive incorporation of Eastern ideas from the Dao, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, and even some of the Hindu scripts. Reading modern Chinese philosophers, one finds substantial bits and pieces of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Bergson, Dewey, and Heidegger. Ahhh. But then there’s those ambiguous scribbles called Chinese characters that they use for writing. Not like good, clear, alphabet writing with just a few, easy to write and type letters. Certainly this makes English less inscrutable than Chinese…or does it?
Here’s a simple, plain, typed-with-letters sentence in English. “As a linguist, I love ambiguity more than most people.” See? Clear as a bell, sort of. This sentence could mean that the linguist “loves ambiguity but doesn’t appreciate most people” or that “most people don’t love ambiguity as much as he does”. Well, perhaps Anglo-Americans can at least take comfort in the fact that English words are clear, unambiguous, and never inscrutable. Except maybe just a few, such as the word “sanction”. Even though this word is typed clearly with letters, “sanction” can mean either approve or disapprove. Compare with those Chinese scribbles. Approve: 批准 could never be confused with Disapprove: 不赞成. And then there’s flammable and inflammable. Both mean capable of catching fire. The list of inscrutable English words is almost endless, if not also eternal or infinite. To conclude with a good, clear Western question…If waves really exist, where do they go when they reach the beach?
The above process of analyzing languages can be applied also to all the other previously mentioned factions of civilization that divide our Common Humanity, but such a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this essay. Very briefly, all the philosophic, linguist, religious, and other cultural artifacts and variations extant today are just a dense, swirling fog keeping us from seeing that we’re all just humans trying to figure out how to stay safe in a dangerous and confusing world…and once safe, how to get along in peace. All the past and present isms of religion, politics, and philosophy are just failed and conflicting experiments. We are bungling alchemists in a universe based on cold and uncaring physics. We are all humans, evolved from the same genetic mixture that uniquely gave us an opposable thumb and an immensely intelligent brain, a brain that learned how to use the thumb for more than climbing trees and gathering fruits. We’ve used our thumbs and cumulative knowledge to build and to destroy; to make war with technological gusto and diligence; to strive for peace but neither sincerely nor successfully. Humanity gets an “A” in the course of evolution for our millennia of effort, but a C- for achievement. We are still ignorant children playing with fire. The time left for us to grow up is perilously short. No one culture, no nation, no person is passing the course. We need to give all others a break. Stop the chest thumping, stop the celebrations of our respective failed experiments, and get back to the difficult task of studying, striving to find better ways to achieve harmony and to solve all our common mysteries.
Now back to Aunt Beth’s embroidered towels… “East is West”
Like a maze when first encountered, all of Humankind’s myriad, eclectic routes through life over time and place appear jumbled, confused, and divided into many paths. Yet on closer examination, there is continuity, harmony, and a common goal. The maze is not made of many parts, rather, like Humanity, it’s an indivisible unit, a living organism thriving in the same soil under the same sky. Viewing the maze from above is much different than from on the ground. An individual can’t see that there’s a common goal when inside the maze, rather only the varied pathways. Most of the paths are dead ends.
The trick for Humanity is for everybody to harmoniously help to find the correct route to the common goal.
Following are my thoughts after a casual conversation with my wife, asking her about her perspective on the Chinese words Yi Qi (义气). Her reaction was that Yi Qi is not commonly used by Chinese women in their conversations among close friends. So I asked her, “What is the closest equivalence of Yi Qi for Chinese females?” She replied that Chinese women refer to their close female friends as 闺蜜(Gui Mi) and regard keeping personal secrets as important.
Women, or more specifically, Chinese women, relate to their female friends differently than Chinese males. To Chinese women, there are two types of behavior between close friends. The first one is the relationship through emotional empathy. Emotional closeness may be enhanced by shopping together and sharing personal secrets, news or opinions about others. Having the same wavelength and being able to know what the friend means even before they speak are validations of close friendship. Women friends do not focus on analysis of right vs wrong over behavior among them. Expressing opinions of other people outside their close circle tends to increase their bonding. When a close friend feels hurt by someone outside the group, the first reaction is empathy and emotional support.
The second type of behavior is loyalty which is not as active or aggressive as between male friends. Female loyalty is insistent but not demanding extraordinary sacrifice. It can be stubborn but not outwardly demonstrated by physical acts. It looks down on betrayal but does not usually resort to violence for resolution. In other words, Chinese women have more than one way or standard in keeping or rejecting another woman as close friends.
Reflecting on what she said, my thoughts came back to the Chinese male traditional minds and my attempt to reconcile these thoughts into a coherent construct for myself. Rethinking about the meaning of Yi Qi, the meaning of Yi is clear. It is Righteousness. The second word Qi (气) is fuzzy. It can mean air or it may mean energy, as in Qi Gong (气功), the Chinese exercise which includes breathing for cultivating the internal movement of energy. Yi Qi is then a righteous energy, or a righteous motivation. It therefore reduces the degree of absoluteness of righteousness. For more than two thousand years, Chinese women were culturally suppressed and confined into a different circle of existence and activities than Chinese men. The traditional Five Relationships prescribed a fairly rigid social hierarchy, defining functions and obligations. At the top level, between the Emperor and government officials, Loyalty to the Emperor is the virtue. At the Second level is Father and Son where Filial Piety is the virtue. At the Third level is Elder Brother to Younger Brother and deferral to the elder is the virtue. At the Fourth level is Husband and Wife where Obedience by the wife is the virtue. At the Fifth level is Friends and Yi Qi is the virtue. This positioning of women below brothers and just above friends is accepted without challenge.
However, a thought suddenly came to our minds. There is a Chinese saying, “Brothers are like arms and legs. Wives are like clothing.” Interestingly the origin of this saying traces to the same brotherhood of the three persons who exemplify Yi Qi, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. They swore in a blood ceremony and promoted themselves from friends to brothers. Later, Zhang Fei lost a battle which resulted in Liu’s wife being captured by the other side. Liu Bei was credited for this saying while forgiving Zhang Fei.
Imagine how Chinese women would feel about this saying! Male friends can be elevated to brothers, like flesh and blood but wives are mere replaceable clothes? Is it perfectly understandable that Chinese women do not relate to the term Yi Qi and do not include it in their common vocabulary?
This subject is so broad and deep that the most I can hope to do is to stimulate the readers to explore on their own, afterwards. I myself did some research and learned from many sources. I found that Internet search with Chinese characters trailed with “in English” can bring up articles which may be helpful to people who cannot read Chinese. As both traditional characters and simplified characters are encountered in book and articles, I showed both versions in the title, but for the rest of the article, I will use only the traditional characters
Let me begin with recounting my mental journey in the last few days after Bill asked me to write on this subject.
From my personal understanding of the word Yi and the words Yi Qi, I knew they were related but not identical. Yi is clearly a Virtue and the closest English translation that comes to my mind is Righteousness. Yi Qi is like a code of conduct between friends or the force/energy leading to such behavior. The closest English words for that behavior are loyalty and comradeship. Intuitively, we associate a Virtue with goodness in its particular aspect, within which it is often considered mandatory. How often do we hear someone say Righteousness is optional? But we know that acting loyally for a friend may not always be the righteous thing to do. This is the reason why Yi is called the 大義, the big righteousness, and Yi Qi is called the 小義, the small righteousness. Strictly speaking, Thus Yi Qi is not the same as Yi but they are definitely related.
The traditional character of 義 is made up of the character for sheep 羊 on top of the character for I 我. An interpretation of this combination is that a sheep stands for kindness. Combined with “I”, kindness from myself to others is Yi. This is only from the perspective of the origin of the word.
The philosophical and scholarly meaning of the word 義 traces back to Confucianism. In fact, more to Mencius (372-289 BC) than Confucius (551-479 BC). Mencius was a fourth generation disciple of Confucianism. They lived during the historical period called Spring and Autumn, from 770 to 476 BC, after the Zhou dynasty and before the Warring States period from 475 to 221 BC. During these two periods, China was divided and wars were frequent and common.
The highest Virtue according to Confucius is Ren 仁. It is translated as Benevolence in English. The word is made up of two parts. Human or 人 on the left and Two or 二 on the right. It indicates the relationship or behavior between two human beings. Confucius never defined Ren with a single all-encompassing description. He answered different questions about Ren in different perspectives or aspects. To learn about Ren by reading Confucius’ Analects is like listening to many blind men describing an elephant after touching it and concluding what an elephant is. (My analogy should be taken only as a metaphor and not meant to be derogatory.) It states that holistic knowledge is derived from many observations from different perspectives which involve parts of the whole. Trying to grasp the whole at one attempt risks leaving some important parts out. It is also for this reason that learning is a life-long journey – it takes years of observations and learning to form a better and more complete understanding. Before I go on, I would like to point out that the single-character-based Chinese language has a systemic advantage over multisyllabic languages in fostering rapid retrieval of thoughts or concepts through the power of association and memorization. When another word is added before or after a word, that pair of words become a potential extension of the meaning of both words. For example, the pair of words Ren (仁) and Ai (爱) which means Love often are used together. So Ren takes on the meaning of “Love for others” as well. 仁慈(Ren Ci) is another common memory association adding Kindliness to the meaning of Ren. Likewise a common pairing is Ren Yi (仁義) which automatically brings Yi out, not as an extension of the meaning of Ren but an ordered pair of two Virtues, Benevolence and Righteousness, ranking Ren before Yi. Along the same logic of association, the pairing of Yi and Qi thus expands the thought on Yi to Yi Qi, creating interest on the second and both topics! While on this track of thoughts, Chinese proverbs are commonly made up of four characters. They are easy to memorize visually and by sound, by the literate as well as the illiterate. Quoting a proverb is often a way to justify the validity of a personal opinion. It is as if a proverb is an authority of truth. Plain words by themselves are not as powerful as words that have a historical or moral story behind them. In other words, there is often a moral to the story. Parents use their favorite proverbs to teach the behavior of their children either consciously or unconsciously by way of their habitual language. But alas, popular culture also creates catchy four-character good sounding words which look and feel like classical proverbs. Titles of popular movies and drama series have become sources of sound-alike proverbs. But I digressed. My mind is wandering into modern day Artificial Intelligence algorithms which are trained on massive data so that an answer is popped out when presented with an input. Our real mind works like that too! It has accumulated a big data set of words and ideas connected by association, preselected by our personal confirmation bias. I wonder, “Is this related to the concept of Qi?” Is that an explanation for the motive force beneath 義氣? I brought up two-character and four-character groupings. What about three and five? Three-character hymn (or doctrine) 三字經 (San Zi Jing) was a classical and traditional “teaching tool” for children’s memorization. It starts with “人之初, 性本善” meaning “At humans’ beginning, their nature is originally good.” This shows the influence of Mencius on Chinese culture. On a side note, San Zi Jing is also used as a widely known euphemism for swear words and foul language, at least in the popular culture of Hong Kong.
Coming back to Mencius’ teaching on Yi, the first chapter of the Works of Mencius, “King Hui of Liang, Part I” 梁惠王章句上, recounted that Mencius went to see King Hui of Liang and the king asked for counsels to profit his kingdom. Mencius replied, “Why profits? My counsels are benevolence and righteousness. If your Majesty asks to profit your kingdom, the officials will ask to profit their families. The common people will ask to profit their persons… Superiors and inferiors will try to snatch profit one from the other and the kingdom will be endangered… If righteousness be put last, and profit be put first, they will not be satisfied without snatching all. There never has been a benevolent man who neglected his parents. There never has been a righteous man who made his sovereign an after consideration. Let your majesty also say Benevolence and Righteousness and let these be your only themes. Why must you use that word Profit?” [Paraphrased and abbreviated from James Legge translation.] From this opening chapter of the Work of Mencius, it is clear that he continued the Confucius emphasis on both Benevolence and Righteousness. Where he started to be more practical for his contemporary period of more wars and disorders is his approach of emphasizing the utility of advocating Yi. Extending his teaching, Mencius brought out the four 端 Duan, Ren Yi Li Zi 仁義禮智, translated as principles or limbs by Legge and loosely interpretable as beginning. I take my liberty and use “beginning” — “The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of benevolence Ren 仁. The feeling of shame and dislike 廉耻 is the beginning of righteousness Yi義. The feeling of modesty and complaisance is the beginning of propriety Li禮. The feeling of approving and disapproving is the beginning of knowledge Zi 智. The key point is that a common human feeling of shame and dislike was pointed out as a starting force of Righteousness. Before letting the number Four get too much weight in our brains, I hasten to point out that there are slightly different lists of virtues in Confucianism or Chinese culture. One list of Five adds Xin 信 or Trust. This list is called Five Constant Virtues, 五常: 仁義禮智信. Due to the strong sense of relationships and hierarchical structure of the Chinese society, Chinese have very clear awareness of the proper behavior between the five relationships – King and officials, father and son, big brother and young brother, husband and wife, and between friends. Governing the first two relationships, the Virtues of Loyalty忠and Filial Piety 孝became prominent. They fitted very well into the feudal society of China lasting almost two thousand years. It should be noted that Loyalty to the King 忠 is a different Chinese virtue than Loyalty to friends義氣. With the revolution led by Sun Yat Sen in 1911, Western values got added to the traditional virtues. The list of 8 advocated in his writing consisted of Loyalty 忠, Filial Piety孝, Benevolence 仁, Love 爱, Trust 信, Righteousness 義, Harmony 和, and Equality 平. These eight words became commonly quoted. Before discussing about Yi Qi or Loyalty to friends, I would like to look up and look broader. Confucianism is human centric. Not a religion nor a complete cosmic view. In the many Chinese traditions, a single personal God is not postulated nor declared by faith. An impersonal Heaven with mandate given to a righteous King is the basis of the Chinese civil society. Lao Tzu 老子 is recognized as the philosopher who taught about Dao 道 as the universal Oneness. He is thought to be a senior contemporary of Confucius. His Dao De Jing 道德經 is well known. Chapter 38 includes the following passage. “Thus it was that when the Tâo was lost, its attributes appeared; when its attributes were lost, benevolence appeared; when benevolence was lost, righteousness appeared; and when righteousness was lost, the proprieties appeared.” If you would take this chain of reasoning further, would you say “when the proprieties were lost, legalism appeared?” One may further say “when legalism is lost, 義氣 Yi Qi appears!” With that, looking to the West and the world, we can understand why Fundamentalism or “reversing the trend of deterioration to the good old days” is such an attractive idea. Sorry, I digressed again. It is true though that after legalism was added to Chinese culture and developed into Chinese government systems and societal norms, personal survival still required making choices and facing the consequences. The circle comes back to “what profits me?” when making the choice. And not only profits but penalties or losses.
After traveling a mental road on Yi or Righteousness, it is time for me to take up popular culture in a historical journey for understanding Yi Qi. If King Arthur with his knights of the round table is a popular hero standing for Western virtues of chivalry, loyalty and brotherhood, etc., then Guan Yu 關羽, Guan Gong 關公 or Guan Di 關帝 (emperor or god) is the Chinese folk hero who stands for loyalty to fraternity. There are other historical or fictional heroes of course, but because Guan Yu is almost considered and worshipped as a deity by Chinese, especially when they emigrated to the diaspora, his influence on the Chinese people overseas, including the merchant associations and underground organizations, was significant.
To illustrate this, I tried to search for Chinese temples which exalt Guan Gong in the US, but failed to find a prominent one. But I found a website of the Guan Di Temple in the Yokohama Chinatown. It is a good source on the history of that temple, showing the importance of it to the Chinese immigrants in Yokohama. https://yokohama-kanteibyo.com/en/ Guan Yu is usually portrayed as a warrior or general with a red face and a long beard, carrying a heavy and long single-edged crescent-shaped weapon. He is known for his loyalty to the oath he took with Liu Bei and Zhang Fei in a cherry blossom garden. Upon capture by their military and political opponent, he refused to disavow his oath. This form of fraternal loyalty does not break any moral or legal norms. So it exhibits both Righteousness and Fraternal Loyalty. Noted is the historical period of this legend, about 200 AD, the end of the East Han Dynasty.
Cover of Comic Book depicting the heroes of Water Margin.
Moving into grey areas of morality is the popular stories of the “Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh” 水浒传. Several English versions are available in book or electronic forms. This very popular folks novel was considered by scholars as written in the Ming dynasty about 1500 AD but the stories referred to a group of outlaws who got together to fight against the corrupted authorities in the Song dynasty. So it is possible that these folk legends were passed down from that time, through story telling. In any case, story telling was a popular entertainment. These stories were very influential on the education and cultural behavior of the common people. The code of conduct of these heroes defying law enforcement in being loyal to one another and performing charitable deeds to the poor underclass was exalted as Yi Qi. Fraternal loyalty is raised above obeying unjust laws or officials.
However, the stories are not so black and white. They portrayed those folk heroes as humans with flaws. The ideal code of conduct is one thing but actual behavior was full of contradictions. Most people though, remembered the Yi Qi parts about their heroes. To describe the ideal code of conduct, we can read Chapter 71. I will attempt to give an English translation as follows: “原来泊子里好汉，但闲便下山，或带人马，或只是数个头领，各自取路去。 The good men in the camp, would go down the mountain, bringing their men and horses or with several leaders, going different ways. 途次中若是客商车辆人马，任从经过；若是上任官员，箱里搜出金银来时，全家不留。所得之物解送山寨，纳库公用；其馀些小就便分了。 If on the way they encounter carriages and horses of passengers or merchants, they let them pass freely. If an official going to his new post, and the boxes are found to contain gold or silver, the whole family is not retained and all the possessions are taken to the camp treasury for community use. Small items would be divided. 折莫便是百十里、三二百里，若有钱财广积害民的大户，便引人去公然搬取上山。谁敢阻当！ Within 110 miles and as far as 2-300 miles, if there is a rich and big family which harms the people, they would lead people to openly fetch and move their possessions to the camp. Who dare to stop them? 但打听得有那欺压良善暴富小人，积攒得些家私，不论远近，令人便去尽数收拾上山。如此之为大小何止千百馀处。为是无人可以当抵，又不怕你叫起撞天屈来，因此不曾显露，所以无有说话. If they hear about those suddenly rich people who bully the meek and the good people and accumulated richness, no matter how far away, they would send people to bring as much as possible to the camp. This they achieved in hundreds to a thousand places. No one could stop them. They do not fear complaints to the officials. Thus their deeds are not noticed and there is nothing to say. For our Western friends, doesn’t this behavior remind you of Robin Hood and his Merry Men? So, you may ask, what is different about Chinese 義氣? I would suggest that it is the large number of stories illustrating how these heroes act in response to their friendship and loyalty to one another. Using proverbs as evidence, the following common proverbs are just some of the data planted on Chinese brains which inspire 義氣: 路见不平, 拔刀相助 Encountering injustice on the road, pull a sword to help. 仗义疏财 Give money extensively to uphold righteousness 慷慨仗义 Be generous to uphold righteousness 舍生取义 Give up life to obtain righteousness 兩肋插刀 忠肝義膽 肝腦塗地 Stabbed on ribs in both sides; loyal liver and righteous gall; liver and brain smear the ground.
I would also suggest that it is the degree of its elevation as the most important virtue for friends living in the 江湖, literally river and lake, but meaning people like those heroes in the Marshes or Water Margins. Another image is the piers and the docks where laborers work. Extending the classification from dock laborers, we have the poor workers who emigrated to foreign lands to work and send money back home. Over the centuries, waves of these laborers went overseas to strange lands of different languages and customs. To survive, they stayed close to one another and helped each other out by forming associations, usually according to their regions of origin or family names. Temples and community associations became gathering places. Statues of Guan Gong or other deities were objects of reverence or prayers. Some societies had their codes of honor and oaths of loyalty. The Virtue of Loyalty to friends was greatly valued because it provided a sense of trust and solidarity. To use the tool of association again, a popular pair of Chinese words is 侠義 Xia Yi. The best translation of 侠 if treated as a noun is a heroic martial artist. Kung Fu movies are translated from the Chinese words 武侠片. Therefore when Chinese hear the words 義氣, memories of heroes in Kung Fu movies come up.
In my mind, because of my age and background, Kung Fu is associated with Bruce Lee. “The Big Boss” was his first Kung Fu movie seen in the US in 1971 and its background was about Chinese laborers in SE Asia banding together to fight against their employer who was a local big boss with a gang. The Chinese workers showed their 義氣 to one another and fought bravely against them.
After Bruce Lee passed away, Kung Fu movies starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li were very popular in both the East and the West. Recognize though, the frequency and duration of exposure to this genre of popular movies and drama series were ten times greater on Chinese viewers because most of those works were not exported for Western viewers.
Another noteworthy Kung Fu movie well known to the West was made by Li An twenty years ago, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Recently this movie was quoted in a speech. In the movie, someone said to a martial arts master, “It must be exciting to walk the world, to be totally free!” The master replied, “But there are rules too: amity, credibility, integrity.” At this point of my mind-to-finger journey, I am stuck and hesitating. I reminded myself of being one of many blind men surrounding an elephant, describing it from only a limited viewpoint at a time. Then I realized that there is not enough depth though there is some breadth in what I have written. For more depth, I would encourage reading about Guan Yu and some of the stories in the Water Margin to get some details about what kind of behavior is considered as loyalty between friends. Interpreting the details in Western traditions, one will likely recognize the same values and the same challenges in making personal choices between conflicting values when friendship is involved. Hopefully, from these tradeoffs and dilemma, we all recognize the common human nature and meaning of life.
Winding up my mental journey, I found this survey result on the Internet dated July 2020: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/lifestyle/2020/07/top-traits-which-make-up-a-good-friend-revealed-in-new-study.html “Loyalty is the top trait of a best friend, a new study has found.” “To mark International Friendship Day on July 30, UK researchers have determined which qualities are needed to maintain a lasting friendship. The poll revealed that 79 percent of people wanted a loyal friend, with someone who is trustworthy claiming second place with 66 percent.” In my mind, I believe that human values are universal regardless of cultural differences. Relative priorities may vary because of the ways individuals are brought up in their environments, under the influence of culture and education. But definitely, we can learn more about ourselves by explaining our culture to other people and then realize that we share common values. Something new I have learned in writing this piece is that two thousand five hundred years after Confucius, I realize that I still have much to learn after reaching 70 years of age. I would attribute this to the addition of 2500 years of history, expansion of human interaction from one country to the whole world, and advancement of knowledge in science and technology. At least three orders of magnitude bigger and deeper! I would hope to continue learning for 30 more years!
POSTSCRIPT From Yangto Yin My better half always provides me with challenging and stimulating feedback. With one sentence she woke me up. “Yi Qi is not a dominant vocabulary in the female mindset. Not betraying personal secrets in close friendship is more important.” This explains why GUI MI 閨密 (secret) or 閨蜜 (honey) is a popular contemporary term used by women to refer to their closest female friend. Keeping personal secrets is a code of behavior expected between close female friends. It is a more frequent manifestation of Loyalty among female friends. Her remarks brought up a new image in my mind. My analogy of blind men around an elephant included only men and not women! I had not walked to the other side of the elephant to see the women there, both blind and not. I am the really blind one. Haha! Extending this though, not only is “holistic” inclusive of female and male, it should include both my left brain and my right brain! Where are the feelings and the beauties of Righteousness and Loyalty? Alas, my journey so far is still not broad enough! Bill, you still have more work to do! Sorry!
NOT TOJUDGE OTHERS ABSOLUTELY By Billy Lee – Feb. 2022
A recent post, “ It Takes Character To Apologize After 70+ Years” taught me a lesson and made me feeling more Hopeful & Encouraged. Yes, we have all made mistakes , but mistakes can be corrected. Feelings may have been hurt, but Good Feelings can be reinstated. Recognizing one’s own mistakes comes with experience and learning – sometimes enlightened by other people we trust. To apologize and offer amends shows maturity and indeed wisdom. Carrying a deep sense of guilt for any length of time is burdensome – not possibly enjoyable.
Sometimes we have hurt people without knowing so. Sometimes even good intentions bring unintended and not very good results. Often we react too quickly and most of the time we don’t take time to choose the most appropriate way to respond.
Two weeks ago, as my two adult sons came to dinner, I learned from them something unbelievable about myself. “ Dad, you were really blunt and demeaning to your Architectural assistants, when you had your practice at home. We heard it all. It wasn’t just once or twice ! “
Wow, I couldn’t believe that I was so unkind, but I could not deny that I had reprimanded the young assistants often and emphatically to drill deep my complaints. I had yelled “Stupid ! Have you no brains ?” Truly, I thought I was doing them a favor, but I did not do it the right way. Truly, I did not intend to hurt them, but I should have realized that the way I treated them was insensitive and inconsiderate. It could have hurt deeply as my two adult sons now assured me. I truly need to apologize to my young assistants – sincerely, most regrettably – belately – now after 30+ years.
I have been on the receiving side myself. My French teacher had called me, “Impossible ! Imbecile !” in front of the class. My mother had given me “Chestnut strikes” on my head how many times I don’t remember. Certain schoolmates had taunted me because I was Chinese and I was skinny with yellow skin. Fortunately, I am not a grudgingly sensitive person. I never considered myself a victim, and I found wonderful qualities from the same people after we got to know each other better. Being kind of naïve is my real blessing. Forgiveness just comes naturally for me. It has served me well. Indeed, in today’s world we really need more tolerance and forgiveness. Apologies are not effective if the other side is not willing to forgive. Apologies surely will not be accepted if there is no trust in its sincerity.
Indeed, I must thank my nurse maid who told me about Guan Yin (觀音) , the Goddess of Mercy , when I was a child in China.