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Valar Qringaomis

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Chinese Filial Piety as Child Abuse (2/2)

(Continued from Part 1)

"There is another piece of evidence that traditional Chinese cultural values uphold the absolute rights of parents to inflict harsh physical punishment upon children while the children are obliged to endure or even to show enjoyment of parental punishment. The classical writing Shuo Yuan (cited in Tai—Ping Yu—Lan) contains a story about one of Confucius’s disciples, Tseng Tzu, believed to be one of the authors of Xiao Jing (Hsiao Ching) (The Classics of Filial Piety):

When Zeng Zi [Tseng Tzu] was working [weeding] in the field he accidentally broke the roots of a young plant. His father Tseng Hsu was so angry that he picked up a big pole and hit him. Zeng Zi [Tseng Tzu] was knocked to the ground and was unconscious for quite a while before he came around. He jumped up. approached his father, and said, “I have offended your lordship. You beat me with such strength I am worried whether you might have hurt yourself." Zeng Zi [Tseng Tzu] then retreated to his own room, played chin and sang. [This was intended to show his father that he was happy and had no hard feelings at all.]

When Confucius heard about this incident, he ordered his doorman not to let Zeng Sen in should he come. [His name is Sen. Zi (Tzu) is an honorary address by the writer.] Zeng Zi [Tseng Tau] thought he had not done anything wrong, so he sent someone to Curlfucius for an explanation. Confucius said. "Have you not heard about the ‘blind man‘ who had a son named Shun [a legendary emperor of a prehistoric dynasty] who served the old man [his father] with such devotion that whenever he was sent for he would present himself at his father's side. However, whenever his father wanted to kill him he would not present himself. He would wait on his father when his father demanded his beating with a small stick. I le would run away when his father wanted to beat him with a thick rod. Now you have submitted yourself to your angry father's beating with a huge pole. Are you trying to get your father to kill you? lf you do not submit yourself to your father's beating you would not be right. But if you do let your father beat you to death then you are not filial [because he would be leaving his father heirless]. Which is more wrong? You tell me.“

It is clear that according to Confucian logic a son should use his judgment in voluntarily submitting himself to his father's beating. He should run for his life when the stick is large enough to kill him. The question, then, is: What if the son makes the wrong decison? He would be either an unfilial son or dead.

That the Chinese culture encourages a son's masochistic submission to parental physical punishment is also clear from another story in Shuo Yuan:

Han Boyu [Puo Yu] was at fault. After his mother beat him he cried. His mother asked, “You never cried when I beat you before. why should you cry this time?” He replied, “Your son Yu suffered from pain when you beat him in the past. Today I did not feel the pain which indicates mother's strength has weakened [hence becoming old and unhealthy]. Therefore I cried."

Han Boyu [Puo Yu] was an adult, but there are stories about a young child who learned to endure pain rather foolishly, that is, according to the perspective of the Western world. The following story indicates how the Chinese appreciate a young child's exhibition of extreme consideration toward elders.

A five-year-old “filial girl“ endured the pain caused by injury, not uttering a word of protest, when her grandmother, who was giving her a haircut. mistakenly cut the girl's skin because of poor eyesight. The girl accepted the pain rather than let the grandmother know of her bad eyesight which would indicate her age and failing health. [Tai-Ping Yu-Lan, chap. 415]

Children's consideration of their parents is supposed to last all their lives. Another well-known story is about an old man, Lao Laizi (Lai-tzu}, whose deed was selected for the modern twenty-four stories of filial piety. This seventy—year-old man, in order not to hurt his aging parents’ feelings and aware that they were very old, would wear multicolored clothes of children's fashion. One day when he was serving drinks to his parents Lao Laizi lost his footing and fell to the ground. While lying on the floor he imitated a baby's cry so as to create an illusion that the parents were still young enough to have a baby sort (Tai-Ping Yu-Lan, chap. 413). This Confucian exemplar symbolizes the Chinese value that a son remains a son all his life (Solomon 1971:34—35). Whatever the reality of actual treatment of children in Taiwanese society today (to be discussed later), I am concerned with the possible effects of sociocultural values that overemphasize parents‘ rights at the expense of children's rights. The traditional moral principle of filial piety could legitimate parents‘ abusive and unreasonable behavior toward their children. Infanticide, for instance, is known to have been a tolerated Chinese custom, and during famines children could even be sold for food (Ho 1959). Although these phenomena can be explained in economic terms as owing to the scarcity of resources and to population pressure, they nevertheless manifest how cultural values permit the Chinese to sacrifice the young generations for the older. Cohen (1976), for instance, maintains that in rural Taiwan children are regarded as property to be disposed of at will by their parents, and in many parts of traditional China children could be sold into slavery or to entertainment institutions without their consent. Traditional legal codes provide for extremely harsh punishment of children who harm or kill their parents, yet parents who commit the same acts on their children are lightly dealt with or excused. The precedent for this anomaly can be seen in the following example from the legal records of the Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty (1644— 1911 A.D..):

Chen Wenxun [Wen-hsun] scolded his son when the latter brought him a cup of cold tea. The Father poured the tea on the ground and picked up a stick with which to beat his son. The son ran away and the father chased after him. The ground was slippery because of the spilled tea and Wen-hsun lost his footing, struck his head, and died as a result of his injury. The sun was charged with a crime and the verdict was "detention in prison for strangling." [Scharfstein 1974:8]

ln his discussion of legal enforcement of filial piety in traditional China, Scharfstein (1974:7—8) says that a father is within his rights to beat his adult son until blood is evident. Furthermore, a “child, of whatever age, who scolded, cursed, beat or seriously disobeyed his parents, could be put to death by them without fear of intervention by the law.“ Although the present law in Taiwilri would hold parents responsible should they harm their children, public opinion is often on the side of the parents.

We must understand that continuing efforts to promote filial piety in Taiwan are based on sociopolitical motives...

Solomon (1971) attributes the successful establishment of a Communist state in China to the Chinese socialization process and its fundamental emphasis on filial piety. Wilson's (1970) study leads to the conclusion that the “socialization of filiality" in Taiwan accounts for the people's willing submission to authoritarian rule despite the government rhetoric of liberty and individual freedom and a democratic political system...

Anthropologists and psychologists usually portray the period of Chinese childhood under the age of five or six as one of indulgence or, in Solomon’s (1971:39—60) words, as the “golden age" of life. This stage is said to be characterized by gratification of food and comfort needs as well as by absence of punishment. Based on my own observations and interviews, I tend to disagree with the belief in a golden age for young Chinese children. Aside from my own observation of mothers spanking young children for disagreeable behavior, informants from both sexes and all ages almost unanimously agree that discipline is necessary as soon as a child begins to “understand things" (dung shi) (tung shih); that is, when he is able to talk, to walk, and to comprehend adults‘ instructions. Common methods of discipline include punitive measures such as kneeling on the floor and being beaten on the buttocks, legs, or palms with a bamboo rod...

Chinese parents are faced with a dilemma regarding disciplinary beating of their children; the choice is between unwillingly inflicting pain on the child or allowing the child to become a delinquent by not punishing him. As a father said, “We know that beating too heavily or too frequently is not right, but a most ‘abusive' parent is one who does not discipline his or her child, hence ‘drowning the child with love.‘ Ni-ai (literally, “drowning with love") was condemned by 33 of our 40 questionnaire respondents. Although Solomon (1971:65) describes ni-ai as Chinese parents‘ anxiety over their indulgence or show of affection to their children, 28 (70 percent) of our respondents defined it as “answering to whatever children demand" and 9 (22.5 percent) responded with the definition, “no disciplinary punishment or no physical punishment. "

To show how Chinese parents punish their children against their own wishes, we cite a popular proverb: “[A parent] beats on [the child’s] body, but pain is in the [parent's] heart." Chinese children are trained to accept their parents’ beating and other forms of punishment as necessary and beneficial to them. Wilson (1970: 102) conducted a Survey among 695 schoolchildren in Taiwan and received predominately positive answers about the need to be punished...

Cheng (1944:51) points out that in traditional Chinese society “Chinese children were not allowed to talk back to their parents, to ignore their commands or thwart their wishes. They were discouraged from criticizing the acts of their father and mother even if these acts were heinous and wicked"...

Boys above the age of seven or eight may receive beatings quite frequently. In rural Taiwan it is not uncommon to see a boy running and crying aloud, pursued by his mother with a stick in hand, while bystanders watch with amusement...

A boy of twelve, after he had failed an examination and received a zero mark, was ordered to kneel down and eat a boiled egg. This treatment is perhaps the best example of symbolic humiliation, for the egg symbolizes zero; eating an egg is a symbolic reenactment of the failure...

Although we may argue that the Chinese express affection in culturally meaningful ways and through subtle and symbolic gestures, we may still fail to explain how the parent-child bond is maintained and intensified in later years. For years I have observed Chinese parents freely express or display their negative emotions toward children (anger, rage, disgust, frustration), but they hesitate to show affection or pleasure. Mothers in particular are prone to demonstrate (or mock) pain, frustration, sufferance, or sadness as a means to elicit children's sympathy and, consequently, submission to parental control in order to alleviate the parent's suffering. In a sense, Chinese children may suffer (though unconsciously) a kind of emotional abuse which is not found in Western cultures. Yet this very negative emotional demonstration on the part of the parent may intensify the desirable parent-child bond, both for young children and for adult offspring. Thus the mother-child bond and a weaker father-child bond are psychologically long-lasting relationships and are very profound in social reality.

Contemporary Chinese families express the desire to have children without explicitly noting their utilitarian value. Most of our female respondents (21 of 24) thought children are treasured because they “provide pleasure for life." But, interestingly enough, male respondents still stress the cultural value of having children to carry on the lineage or descent line. This interesting contrast is statistically meaningful"

--- Child Abuse in Taiwan / David Y. H. Wu in Child Abuse and Neglect: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (1983)
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