August 14, 2010

"Mom, stop pretending to know something you don't!"


Image by xdanger via Flickr
"Mom, stop pretending to know something you don't!"
Another day in my art class one of my students (12 year-old) said this to her mother. I just cannot forget it.

For thousands years, being completely obedient to parents has been #1 moral principle for Chinese people. Disobeying your parents is like "taboo" to Chinese people. The most important teaching of Confucianism is "Xiao", which mean obeying and serving parents unconditionally. By my opinion, before China opened the door to the world over a century ago, all Chinese kids had been treated as lowest class human being since the beginning of their lives until they were parents themselves (upon the time they of course were still their parents' "slaves" but they also got the right to enslave their own kids as they wished). That's why one of Chinese authers Lu Xun screamed out "Save the children!" (in his most famous short stories collection "Call to arms" during early of last century).

Of course, situations have been changing since a century ago, but this tradition - the unconditional responsibility of children to their parents - still has been carried on (more or less) by Chinese people to wherever they go, because it was considered as a iconic culture element - without it, you are not a Chinese.

In my art classes most students are Chinese Americans. They are influenced by 2 quite different cultures - Chinese tradition from their parents and American culture from schools, or anywhere else outside of their families. However, by my observation they are 90% Americanized, while their parents - who are mostly the first generation immigrants - are mostly still very conservative in terms of Chinese heritage.

The parents of one of my students in painting class seemed to be one of the most traditional Chinese couples I have meet in this country (USA). They "love" their daughter, but they could not help to keep pushing her to the "perfection" they aimed for her on everything. They usually stayed in my classes, sometime the mother sometime the father (I let the parents stay if they don't have places to go), watching their daughter's performance even closer than I did.
One day the mother was in class, highly unsatisfied with her daughter's painting, could not help to stand beside daughter and gave her instructions of doing this and that. Of course her daughter was extremely annoyed and kept complaining and fighting back by refusing to follow her mother's "command". "I don't want to do it. If you like, you do it!" She said. To my surprise, the mother grabbed the brush painted couple of small things on the painting. I was seriously worried at the moment that daughter might be just so pissed off and destroy the canvas. But she didn't.
Feeling somehow obligated for some detailed instruction, I picked a brush to help the daughter to fix somthing on her painting. I mixed color and painted on canvas and mother immediately said "see, now it's right". Unfortunately, before she finished the sentence, I realized the color was NOT quite "right" and threw some words like "oops, that's not quite right." And the daughter just quickly captured the moment and said it very loudly: "Mom, please stop pretending...."

Hearing the daughter saying that so loudly, I was somehow relieved. I saw her acting like a brave girl who was able to be truthful to herself, regardless her selfish and demanding mother. Another time I heard some other students referred this daughter as a little "strange", "easy to get irritated" person, but I believe as long as she could be brave enough to let herself stand up in front of her parents like that, she will be fine.

This is just one small happening but it does tell me that something fundamental about Chinese people is changing. I cannot imagine I say the same thing to my parents when I was 12. And I never heard any of my contemporaries said similar things to their parents at this early age. I am just very pleased to witness such an rebellious action taking place in a traditional Chinese family.
And this happening undoubtedly enhanced my belief in "equality" and "liberty". As soon as we taste them, we cannot live without them.

*The picture is one of illustrations from a Confucian teaching book - the part that teaches how women should behave and serve their parents and husbands, which I have not bothered reading any yet. But the art works were excellent though.