Chinese Attitudes Toward Nature, Time, Good and Evil
Chinese Attitudes Toward Nature, Time, Good and Evil
As for the attitude of Chinese people toward nature, it is undisputed that it is marked by a strong feeling of harmony, for example, oneness of nature and man. According to Dong Zhongshu, who was the most important philosopher of the Western Han, Heaven had its will and purpose. It was Heaven that made the sun, the moon, and the stars move, the four seasons change, and all animals and plants grow and die. Heaven was kindhearted, so it made things produce one another; Heaven was also severe, so it made things overcome one another. Moreover, Heaven created a ruler to rule over the people. This meant that Heaven wanted the people to be ruled.
When a ruler did something wrong, Heaven would be angry and would give the ruler warnings by causing strange natural phenomena to happen, such as eclipses, earthquakes, floods and droughts. This theory——the interaction between Heaven and man——had a clear purpose. On the one hand, it was intended to show that the ruler’s position and power were given to him by Heaven, and should not be questioned; on the other hand, the ruler should be virtuous and benevolent, and govern well, so as not to incur Heaven’s anger. Dong had a well-known saying: “The Way is great because it originates in Heaven. Heaven does not change; nor does the Way.
” I would like to explain the idea clearly by an example. That is Feng Shui. Feng Shui (also known as “geomancy”) is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of both Heaven (astronomy) and Earth (geography) to help one improve life by receiving positive qi. Maybe many people think it is superstition, but I consider it can reflect the pursuit of harmonious life of Chinese people. There are four purposes in Feng Shui, seeking the harmony of human body; the harmony between people and people; the harmony between people and society; the harmony between people and nature.
Let me give a small example about placing a bed. The bed shall be slightly higher than the knee and not near the door. And it shall face to the south and back to the north in order to adjust duxhlt, the aorta and large veins direction of the blood circulatory system, so that people can fall a sleep easily, and have a high quality sleep. The bed can’t facet the west, because the rotation of the earth is from east to west, making the blood rush toward the head, and people can’t sleep soundly.
Beam presses which mean air conditioners hang above the pillow, or the lights suspend above the bed, bring about oppression, and cause adverse effect of body and mind. Mirrors can’t face the bed, if not people may be startled easily in midnight, and can’t be peace. It really can express the attitude toward nature, uniting of heaven and humanity. As for the attitude of Chinese people toward time, three features will be mentioned about. The first is round- type time outlook. In the oriental world, farming is the major way of carrying out material and exchanging goods dominates all the economic life of the whole society.
This pastoral civilization treats human and the nature as interrelated and interacted,the world as an integer organically linked. So in oriental society the round-type time outlook is that nature and human is integrate. This kind of time outlook holds the view that time is like a circle and all the things in the world return to its origina1 state after a cycle of time, for example, the alternation of day and night, the come and go of the four seasons,the turning of the twelve months, the increase of the age and the growing of plants.
This kind of time view makes the Orientals handle the time at their disposal and do things at ease. For instance, when a teacher has not finished an important point in his class,he can prolong his class. At the Chinese wedding feast, few people will come at the time which is written on the invitation card. Moreover, Chinese use time very casually and intangibly. Chinese prefer to say some uncertain words 1ike “at once”, “sometimes”, “a short while”, which a1ways confuse the westerners.
Chinese students who are studying English tend to misuse the tense when communicate with foreigners. In a word, Chinese don’t have clear differentiation concept of time. The second is polychromic time system. Polychromic time system means people are very casual in using time. In other words, being punctual is important, but not strict. Polychromic time system is the heritage of traditional agricultural society. People are used to do severa1 different things at the same time and do things emphasizing prime time.
Chinese think that everything in the world develops with the cycling of time, so people catch the time that is ripe for acting, which means each step of our action is determined temporarily by our surroundings. So action is poorly planned by Chinese. In some occasions, people can do many things in the same time. A Chinese salesman can check out with the first customer on the one hand,and show the goods to a second one on the other hand, even greet a third One at the same time. However, westerners can hardly accomplish them and also can not accept them. The third is past time orientation.
Time orientation is a relatively stable factor in cultural difference. It is connected to the historical background of the. Generally speaking, people who have too heavy tradition, look up to history and past, so their time orientation is past-oriented. Chinese belong to past-oriented. People show great respect to the past. The past experience and 1esson are important reference for today’s success and failure. Chinese show respect to ancestors and teachers. They like to say things by referencing to the old books and stories. That is why Chinese call teachers “lao shi”. “lao” means old.
People attach importance to age and experience, because they are symbols of power and wisdom, so words like “lao” and “da” always mean respect in Chinese. As for the attitude of Chinese people toward good and evil, perhaps the most extreme view of goodness is found in the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism maintains that we are born pure and are closest to what is called “loving kindness” when we enter this world. Hence, people are good, and our culture is what makes us evil. The view of goodness is also found in Confucianism. Meng Zi made the original goodness of human nature the keynote to his system.
To him, the virtue of humanity together with the accompanying virtues of righteousness, rites and wisdom arises from the inner springs of the human heart. These four cardinal virtues come in their seed form—the “four beginnings”, as the feeling of compassion, shame, modesty, and of the distinction between right and wrong. Such feelings are universal among mankind and they come as naturally ad taste for food, and sight for beauty. This, Meng Zi argued, can be seen in the fact that a child naturally loves his parents and that a man will instinctively experience a feeling into a well.
Therefore, human nature is originally good, and will be good if it is guided by its innate feelings, just as water is inclined to flow downward. In contrast to the concept of the goodness of human nature advocated by Meng Zi, Xun Zi declared that human nature is originally evil because human desires inevitably lead to greed and strife if left untrained. Believing that goodness can only be acquired, Xun Zi stressed the value of education and environment. To him it is environment and authority that make the man, and it is obedience of the precepts of the sage-kings that produces the goodness that is in him.
In the end, however, not only is the life of virtue a possibility but even sage-hood is within reach. Therefore, Xun Zi said, “Every man on the street can become like the sage-king Yu”, a perfect orthodox Confucian note. What mentioned about are viewpoints from the ancients. Nowadays Chinese attitudes toward good and evil are very wide and vague, not like Christianity which has a “ten commandments”, making the general public even those without much cultural literacy has some certain standards, ruling what can do and can not do, their attitudes toward good and evil are absolutely clear.
But to Chinese, nothing must been done and nothing can not be done. The boundary between good and evil is obscure, in some condition something is good but in other condition it may be bad. To Chinese the boundary is always about degree, whether it is excessive or not. For example, talking between Chinese friends sometimes contains abusive language, but it doesn’t mean they hate each other, most of time, it is just joking. That behavior is not really evil, but if it is overdone, it will be.
Chinese People’s attitude toward nature, time, good and evil have been formed gradually, and they are relatively stable in a long time, but they are not without changes. The better living conditions, the development of the economy, the improvement of the society and the increase of the interaction of people from different cu1tural backgrounds will undoubtedly have subtle effects on their views, although it is also a long process. What I talking about is some basic attitude of Chinese, it will help foreigner to understand Chinese better, but not always apply to every Chinese at every time.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 12 November 2016
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