by Jian Ping
I’ve been taking classes at the Asian Classics program at the Graham School, University of Chicago. It’s a four-year program covering history, literature and religion in India, Middle East, China and Japan. We have about twenty people, our age ranging from the 40s to 70s and our background differing from lawyers, scientists, school teachers, retired business owners/executives, full-time mothers, and this spring semester, as we turn our studies to Buddhism, a Zen priest. It’s a wonderful group and we meet every Saturday in Hyde Park campus for two sessions, which last for three hours—truly an enlightening and fun experience.
This is our third year, focusing on China. My husband Francis and I are both in the program. Since it’s on China, we participate more in class discussions, bringing in our cultural perspective and understanding. During the winter semester when we were studying Confucius and Mencius in one session and Tang poetry in the other, Francis and I sometimes took turns to read the text in Cantonese and Mandarin respectively, to the amazement of our American classmates—the same text sounded so differently.
I grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China, therefore, never learned Confucius’ Analects. I very much enjoyed reading it. In addition to the English text, I also read the Chinese, and sometimes, compare them side by side. I have to say that it is much easier to read it in contemporary English than the classic Chinese.
This morning, I took out The Analects and thumbed through the first few pages. Once line immediately caught my attentions:
The English translation by Roger Ames goes: The Master (Confucius) said, “When your father and mother are alive, do not journey far, and when you do travel, be sure to have a specific destination.”
This is about filial piety. According to Confucius, a filial child who observes the right ritual, 礼, should stay close to his/her parents so as to take care of them and if he/she has to travel, to tell the parents specifics about the journey so the parents can be relieved of worrying.
I know I cannot qualify as a filial daughter since my mother lives in China and I am far, far away. I do call her every weekend, though. I chat with her and two of my older sisters—Yan has moved back to care for her since Father passed away in 2008, and Wen lives two flights up in the same building and spends every evening with Mother, tending to her needs. Filial children in its true sense!
Is it because of my astray from the teaching or the next generation who grow up in the U.S. that the tradition is fading into history?
My daughter Lisa and I live in Chicago, in two apartments less than two miles away. But I seldom see her—she is either too busy with her work or her social life, or I, by the same token, too busy with my writing, reading or social activities. However, I think it’s fair to say that my longing to see her is much stronger than her desire to see me.
Last weekend, Lisa went to Florida to join a group of friends for a short vacation.
“Please drop in a line or two and let me know you are okay,” I wrote to her via email. I know she checks her BlackBerry and does texting constantly.
Four days passed, not a single word from her. I have to get on Facebook to check her postings to learn her whereabouts.
I don’t know I should blame her or kick myself. I wonder when I can ask Lisa to read Confucius’ Analects.