A Letter from a Deconfucianised Chinese

The following is a mail received from what I would consider an enlightened Chinese. Most impressive. Most impressive indeed.

Hey Ed,

I was born in a Hokkien/Mandarin-speaking family.  Before I first entered into primary education, my parents had always spoken to my siblings and me in Hokkien. Despite that, I couldn’t speak even a proper sentence until the age of 7 when I first learnt English and Mandarin at school. This is certainly telling about my linguistic ability at that point in time. I guess that was the time when my socialisation began. From then on, I was taught on various ‘Confucian’ qualities and values, such as not to talk too much, to study hard so as to get good grades and have a ‘good future’, to be obedient to the authorities, etc etc, as what many other Chinese families in Singapore would do.
I do not remember being taught to question everything beyond the self-interest. Though my academic results during my primary education wasn’t as good as the average, which was also mostly due to my linguistic ability, it was not surprising at all that I was well-liked by most of my teachers as I was the most quiet and one of the most well-behaved student in my class. That attributed to my limited linguistic ability and the Confucian values inculcated on me by my parents and teachers. By the end of my primary education, I could only speak Mandarin as my ‘first language’ and couldn’t even string a proper English sentence in conversation. This is certainly an impediment in even learning new concepts, let alone new perspectives. On a side note, you might be thinking that I must have been very fluent in Hokkien. On the contrary, I still couldn’t speak Hokkien properly even by then.

My de-confucianisation began when I started to develop a sense of curiosity at the age of 12/13, just about the time when I entered secondary school. I began to read up on history of WWI/WWII, history of Cold War, history of Malaya, definitions of various political and economic systems, such as democracy, Communism, capitalism, and whichever that was appealing to me that was out of the scope in school, though not on comprehensive issues yet. The sense of curiosity, together with my ‘visualisation’ skill that was developed over time, certainly helps in improving my academic results by leaps and bounds without relying too much in rote learning and also in appreciating perspectives, albeit with my not-so-perfect linguistic ability at that juncture. Also, I also tended to interact more with my classmates who were ostracised by the ‘majority’ who found the former ‘weird’ and hard to communicate. Although they could be idiosyncratic relative to the ‘majority’, I would prefer the former as I found them more engaging to have my conversations with due to the fact that they provided more new perspectives than the ‘majority’ that I interacted with. I would have done more to eradicate the ‘they is they’, ‘us is us’ dichotomy by speaking up for those ostracised ones and by convincing the ‘majority’ to accept them as unique individuals instead of adopting a neutral stance in the face of those groups. But then again it might be due to us not being mature enough during our teenage years. Nevertheless, it definitely developed a sense of empathy towards others, especially the ‘marginalised’ ones. In addition, I also liked to interact with exchange students from other countries that came to visit my school for a cultural exchange, be it Chinese nationals, Americans, etc. They never failed to provide new perspectives during the exchange.

You might be wondering what caused my de-confucianisation and personal development to take place. Well, actually I wasn’t completely sure. But one thing that I’m sure is that since my family and I converted religion from Taoism to Buddhism, my parents become much more open-minded and put less pressure on my studies and my personal development. That might allowed my development to take place naturally. Also, the teachings of the Buddha certainly helps a lot in becoming a more open-minded and empathetic individual.

About 2 years ago, I took a step back and almost became more Confucianised in thinking (or maybe not as I still did not develop the basic critical introspection to question just about everything) due to the influx of foreigners who would compete with Singaporeans for jobs in the milieu on the surface. During that period, I sort of developed cognitive dissonance as it was not my usual practice to dismiss the foreigners. I even sought to validate my new belief, which is now obsolete, by visiting the ‘opposition’ blogs, which are also xenophobic in nature and more often than not promote their self-interests. Though the ‘opposition’ blogs created awareness in things that the incumbent party has done at the expense of the mass, I almost fell into their trap by not questioning those opposition supporters of their oversights.

Very fortunately, about 1.5 years ago, I stumbled upon your blog from the link that you put in Seelan Palay’s personal blog. Frankly speaking, your unique views on articles posted on his comment section ‘sparked’ my inquisitiveness to knowing your perspectives on your personal blog. I still remember that it took me between 30 minutes and 1 hour just to understand the first article that I read on your blog. I can’t remember which one it was. On the very same day, I actually took almost half a day to read and make a bit of sense of your articles which are tagged under “50 years of the PAP”. It was very interesting. Only then did I realise that the ‘opposition’ supporters are too overrated. It was only a few months ago that I started to follow your personal blog. During the period since I first read your blog, I didn’t provide any comment yet as I needed to fully understand your perspectives on my own before I could start engaging in issues that you’ve raised. I must thank you very much for teaching how to engage in critical introspection in comprehensive issues, as well as exploring all new possibilities. Also, as I’m currently majoring in xxxxxxxxx at NUS, the skills learnt from my course, such as providing rigourous proof, is cross applicable in critical introspection process as the former helps the latter in defining issues more clearly, connecting all the dots present in specified conditions, and thinking issues more logically.

In conclusion, given the fact that I started very late in a perfectly Confucianised environment and bloomed quite late as well, in my opinion, it’s really not easy to get where I am in terms of perspectives. Having said that, to grow as a person, we need to learn many more perspectives. I guess to be a true Chinese is to not be Chinese, in a more detailed terms, to be a Chou-Chinese is to not be a Qin-Chinese. Having said that, in real life, I still portray myself as a quiet ‘guai kia’ who does not question most of the time among most people that I hang out with, which can be very stifling.


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