Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Filial piety

I was procrastinating at work today, and surfing randomly when I remembered where I sometimes hung out before and during the early days of my time in Singapore. I stumbled upon this post and started thinking about the difference between Western and Asian relationships between parents and children.

I am Chinese but have never really embraced my culture. Having lived abroad and now in a relationship with a Western man and having friends from all over the world, I am no longer fully in touch with the Chinese values.

I am getting married soon and recently I had a quarrel with my mother because she was upset that I hadn't thought about booking accomodation for the entire family for the wedding (my family live in Malaysia). I would have paid anyway but because I didn't want to create an expectation, I wasn't going to say anything until the bill was presented.

She then brought up the fact that I had never given my parents a cent despite the fact that I "earn so much". (Conveniently forgetting the expensive presents when I visit (admittedly not often) and me giving her every single cent in my savings account after taking out only enough money to cover living expenses for a few weeks when I decided to move abroad for work. And she reminded me that so and so booked the entire resort for their family when they got married....

I am upset of course with her implying that I was an ungrateful daughter but I'd like to find out whether I have broken a tradition or failed an obligation - and whether this would apply in a Western as well as an Eastern culture.

Frankly, my fiance's parents would never have expected us to pay for them to come and they are flying in from Europe and they even offered to contribute towards the wedding expenses, but we said that there was no need although we were grateful for the offer. They are a lot less well-off than my parents. But then again, maybe they are an exception rather than the norm...

My first reaction was that the poster's mother is a terrible bitch, however reading the other posts in the thread I remembered the differences between Western and Asian parents, and the concept of filial piety that is so important in Asian (especially Chinese) culture. In somewhat general terms, filial piety means to be good to one's parents; to take care of one's parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one's parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one's job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not be rebellious; show love, respect and support;display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one's parents, including dissuading them from moral unrighteousness; display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out sacrifices after their death.

I also remembered that my friend ED is thinking about getting a girlfriend; and AR has recently proposed to his girlfriend - even though they are as gay as Elton John. I suspect (no, I know) the influence of the parents is definitely there.

I am not going to judge them, or others when they act according to what apparently is such a strong culture influence.

My mom and stepdad were here this weekend and I spent two full days of "quality time" with them. They accept me for what I am, and for that I love them and will always treasure my time with them, as long as they live. Money doesn't come into the equation - my parents had my brothers and me because they wanted to have children, not as some kind of pension fund for their future.

Again, I do not judge other systems, but in my cultural context I am glad I was born in the Western system.

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