Monday, October 5, 2009

Quintessentially Chinese?: Filial Piety Edition

The online flaming of Shanghainese Lou Jing has been disturbing on many levels: the appalling racism, the objectification, and the complete ignorance of this monoculture's denizens to what constitutes racist acts of statements have been ridiculous.

Not only has Lou Jing has been criticized for showing her face when she's a half-black Chinese, her mother has come under fire for 1) having an affair with an African-American man, 2) having and raising a child out of wedlock from that union, and 3) daring to show her face on any public platform for this stuff which she should be ashamed of.

Some selected comments have been translated here.

The slut-shaming combined with ugly racism really comes to the fore as it's slagged not just at Lou Jing's mother, but Lou Jing herself. I'm going to put aside the objectification of Lou Jing that has come out, ironically in support of her, and focus on Jennifer Kesler's comment:

"I’m sorry, are people actually giving Lou Jing crap because of her parents’ behavior? Am I understanding this properly?"
She said it here.
I responded with a description of the metaphysics involved with filial piety:

In Chinese family philosophy, what you do will reflect onto your family. So a parent’s crime will affect the child – whether it means the child will be haunted by the ghost of the parent’s crime, or will do the same thing continuing the line. Either way, as a child, if your parents do something bad, then you’re tainted. Goes both ways too – I was given a ton of crap for behaving badly because it would “reflect badly on my parents” and make it look like they’d done some shit to deserve the karma of having a horrible child the rest of society couldn’t approve of.
This metaphysical nonsense as an aspect which has always bothered me: filial piety.

The point of filial piety is that you're supposed to honour your parents, and do right by them. Right? Pretty straightforward stuff - your parents do a lot for you: they sacrifice time and energy on raising your sorry ass, support you and provide a roof over your head. In the society I grew up in, this investment of parents in children extends to supporting them throughout their tiertiary education. It makes sense - if you invest in your children and help them through the growing process up to the point where they can support themselves, then they'll be forever grateful and support you back when you're too old and crooked to support yourself.

Throw in some weird karma stuff: if you do something bad, then your kids are going to turn out bad. Because they learnt it from you, I presume, seeing as how parents are the first examples children have in life on how to live.

Which, in theory, should put the pressure on everybody involved to behave properly - parents behave properly because otherwise their kids will act up, and kids shouldn't act out because it makes their parents look bad.

Do we grok so far?

This bloody fucking theory, unfortunately, doesn't take into account a whole host of factors: class divisions means differing standards of behaviours between groups (and how!), disabilities, and influences from society at large.

Which means, since Lou Jing's mother was a slut who slept with a black man (omg a black man why a black man did you need black cock so damn much chinese not good enough for you is it), Lou Jing should be ashamed, because she comes from such low origins. Coming from such low origins, what does she have to be proud of? You'd have to do something like win the Nobel Prize to overcome the ignominity of being a union between a single mother and an absentee (non-Chinese!) father. Otherwise, the actions of your parents will haunt your life, be something to be ashamed of even though you, yourself, did nothing wrong.

And it goes both ways too - the actions of a child behaving badly makes it look like their parents are doing something wrong, hence why they've got a rotten child. Combine this with the perfectionist syndrome that plenty of East Asian families seem to exhibit and you have a clusterfuck of individual insecurities that include juggling personal happiness with perfect outward behaviour, putting on a good act to save face for your family.

I get that the concept of filial piety is supposed to create children who hold themselves accountable for their actions, in fear of the consequences of hurting the ones who give them the greatest support. I bet there are some people who think that if Lou Jing really cared for her mother at all, she would never have gone onto the public stage to "show herself off" (thus also revealing her mother's shame to the world).

The concept in practice though? Is often used to justify abuse of children: 'if I don't teach them right (e.g. beat them, verbally abuse them) then they're never learn to behave properly' - and children are supposed to be thankful.

It's used to silence others: 'if you cared about your parents, you wouldn't talk that way to your elders [because you make them look bad].' (This is particularly tied to age-ism.)

It's used to discourage alternative modes of parenting which might be more wholesome for the child: 'why do you let your child do X thing? Aren't you afraid what might happen if they get in trouble? What if what if what if?' - and is a form of peer pressure that forces people to conform to a specific standard way of living and functioning within society.

I'm all for accountability to the larger community. That's part of working towards social justice. But this is a concept that is the bane of a lot of misfit kids like myself, because it prevents us from becoming whole until we break free from the family home and learn how to live with ourselves without bowing to social pressure.

Good luck, Lou Jing and Mrs. Lou.

1 comment:

  1. Geez, it's almost metaphysically offensive.

    I kind of grew up believing that children don't inherit their parents' sins -- as a matter of fact, if a child sins before they hit majority the sin is supposed to go to their parents.

    Just reading this makes my metaphysical skin metaphysically crawl. It's like... if you fall, you FALL. FOREVER. NO REDEEMING YOU. NO REDEEMING YOUR LINEAGE. NOTHING WILL WASH THE STAIN AWAY.

    And that? That's like a recipe for a sick, stratified society. Gross.

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