STEPHEN LEE CONTINUES TO EXPLORE DIFFERENT CHARTS –
From: “Mindfulness Turns A Brain from Antagony to Compassion”to “Self-assessment For Personal Growth in Good Citizenship”, to adding “Four Levels of Friendship” to the above. May 2023
It occurred to me after creating the two-dimensional and four-quadrant chart in my last posting on How to Turn Fear to Compassion, that there is an interpretation for the number inside each small box of the chart.
An obvious interpretation is a score of Fear vs Compassion, ranging from -8 to +8.
Let’s explore the following definition:
Good Citizenship = Unselfishness + Understanding of the Needs of Others
Poor Citizenship = Selfishness + Suspicion of the Intention of Others
Then we can interpret the numbers in each small block of the chart as a Score of Good or Poor Citizenship. In this perspective, the words in the lower left quadrant should be revised to describe poor citizenship. The new chart is as follows.
A score of zero may be described as an Indifferent citizen. A score of 1 – 2 may be described as a citizen with Pity for others. A score of 3 – 4 as one with Sympathy, 5 – 6 as one with Empathy, and 7 – 8 as one with Compassion.
On the score of Poor Citizenship, the adjectives to describe the different levels may be Passive, Cautious, Resentful, and Antagonistic?
Citizenship Score (-8 to +8)
If a social score (from -8 to +8) is self-awarded to a person after a mindful act self-assessed with a Citizenship Score, it would be informative to self-ask how he or she would rate his or her level of Selfishness to Unselfishness, from -4 to +4. This is of course a subjective and qualitative self evaluation, but over time, the self assessment will still provide a valuable indicator of self improvement.
Then the two numbers, the social score and the self rating of Unselfishness, would be two useful statistics. They can be also visualized as statistical distributions or a statistical mean value of the person doing the self assessment or for a group of people if the data are collected for people in different groups, socially or culturally. If both the social score and the self-assessed Unselfish index for a population are plotted as a statistical distribution on top of the chart, as shown in the following chart, for two different years, the improvement would be noticeable.
This approach would also be used for comparing different groups of people over the same year of study, for example, to see if culture makes a difference.
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
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.
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!
Billy Initiated : I just noted the difference between the Eastern and Western approaches in teaching the GOLDEN RULE. The Western approach is ” Do unto others as you would want others do unto you.” and the Eastern approach is: ” What I do not want others to do unto me, I shall not do unto them.” One is Active and the other Non Active. Cheers ! Billy
Joshua Responded :
Hi Billy – that’s quite interesting! Anabel Jensen advocates for “the Platinum rule” instead: Do unto others and is truly best for them.
Anabel Clarified :
Hi William, I hope you are continuing to thrive. Yea! Josh was close. I call it the Palladium Rule—an extremely expensive mineral. And, the rule is to ASK what they want and then provide that. The secret is in the asking not guessing. Yes-let’s have lunch and discuss. Love, anabel
Rick Hanson Added :
Billy, this is really interesting. It highlights how the Five Precepts in Buddhism – as well as much of the moral teachings in general, and even the ultimate realization – are expressed through negation, e.g., not harming, not stealing . . . even not conditioned, not dying, not subject to arising and passing away. You might know about Thich Nhat Hang’s reformulation of the Five Precepts in the affirmative: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness- trainings/ .
Obv, both approaches are needed. Meanwhile, yep, there seem to be some ways that the different orientations – between doing/not-doing – loosely track what some might see as Western/Eastern sensibilities. Cheers back!