Frankie Lee draws together the thoughts of the Hong Kong Hub during their conversation at Hong Kong Ming Hua Theological College and later over Facebook and email.
During the summer of 2010 a group of Anglicans in Hong Kong, lay and ordained, were asked to consider ways in which Chinese people resolve conflicts, and by doing so, to offer ideas of resolving conflicts to the wider Communion. Over two nights of inspiring discussion at Hong Kong Ming Hua Theological College, we have learned a lot from each other, all of us having come from the three different dioceses of the Province of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSKH). All of us generally agree that there is much to be learned from the classical Chinese word/philosophy of ‘Hé’ (和), whose concept is heavily influenced by Confucian and Taoist teachings. While the Chinese character ‘Hé’ (和) has normally been translated and understood as the notion of ‘harmony’, this word/philosophy carries a much deeper and richer connotation rooted in Chinese culture.
For us, ‘Hé’ plays an vital part in Chinese thinking and in solving conflicts, and we have mentioned some well-known Chinese phrases, all of which include this particular Chinese character (和) to help illustrate the profound meaning and philosophy of ‘Hé’ (和). For instance, we stress that ‘Hé’ is precious’ (以和為貴), and the need to treat everybody and everything with ‘a quiet mind and a peaceful disposition’ (心平氣和). Some of us also recall the age-old saying that: ‘Prosperity is born out of a household in “He”/harmony’ (家和萬事興). Generally, the concept of ‘Hé’ speaks of the forbearance (‘Ren’, 忍) and suppression of personal goals in favour of the Common Good. Nevertheless, it is worth stressing that this is not to suggest that ‘Hé’ is equated to conflict avoidance, or the suppression of differing views or voices to maintain peace and harmony. Rather, the classical understanding of ‘Hé’, heavily influenced by Taoist and Confucian teachings, does allow room for disagreement and honest discussion. For instance, Confucius is recorded saying that: ‘the gentleman agrees with others without being mere resonance; the mean man resonates even if he does not agree.’ (The Analects Confucius quoted Zi Lu, 君子和而不同, 小人同而不和₀ «論語· 子路第十三») For Confucius, it is important, and is indeed possible, to maintain a peaceful and harmonious (’Hé’) relationship while there are disagreements. If people only seek pragmatic and easy solutions by echoing each other’s views, while secretly disagreeing, this is not true ‘Hé’ because misunderstandings and tension still exist.
While ‘outward’ agreement and compromise may lead to short-term peace, it is neither true peace nor a way of maintaining long-term stability and peace. Hence it is vital to seek out opposing views and to understand why there are such disagreements, while at the same time to have the ultimate goal of ‘Hé’ in mind. The concept of ‘Hé’ encourages dialogue and open discussion with people of opposing views, and this can be summed up in a short Chinese phrase, ‘Qiu Tong Cun Yi’ (求同存異): ‘While seeking the Common Good, one needs to tolerate Differences’. Rather than seeking uniformity of views, or, for the sake of avoiding tension and confrontation, to oppress differences, the classical philosophy of ‘Hé’ does allow room for disagreements and open debate. As one of the members of our Hong Kong Indaba’s Facebook has noted, ‘Qiu Tong Cun Yi’ emphasises the necessity to look for the ‘common grounds among different parties first. It is because, the common ground is more important than the differences…it is to allow the differences exist among the groups, giving spaces for the higher aim—to reach the state of harmony’.
Therefore, rather than oppressing differences and suppressing varied voices, one should approach conflicts with the goal of promoting ultimate harmony and true peace, which is ‘Hé’. Hence the use of ‘Hé’ is not regarded as merely a means but also an end in itself, driven by trust, sincerity and an honest care for others. Nevertheless, the concept of ‘Hé’ has often been perceived as a means to suppress disagreement because, in real life situations, it always seems to call upon conflicting parties to compromise for the sake of maintaining peace and harmony. It asks people to give up their personal objectives to preserve unity. This, however, is not to suggest that ‘Hé’ is imposing an artificial peace. Rather it seeks to the call upon the conflicting parties to ‘calm down’, to have a ‘break’, and to create some sort of a ‘quiet time’ for the conflicting parties to consider and study each other’s views, with the strong hope for them to negotiate true and long-term peace and harmony.
As such, it is vital not to regard ‘Hé’ as a means to exclude, to suppress differences or to silence voices. In the name of maintaining peace and harmony (’Hé’) it is easy for one to choose the trouble-free option of avoiding conflicts all-together. People may be persuaded to sacrifice their personal goals for the time being, for the sake of maintaining unity or temporary peace. Yet, while one particular confrontation may be suppressed with either of the conflicting parties giving up their personal goals, tension continues to exist and eventually will lead to other confrontations. Therefore, in real life situations, ‘Hé’ is used both as a means and an end, with the goal to pursue ultimate harmony and peace for all parties. For instance, when there is disagreement and opposing parties are in great tension, it is quite normal for a third party to step in to mediate (‘He Shi’, 和事) and to ask the conflicting parties to calm down. I will come back to the role of this mediator later, but now it is worth stressing that the main objective of the mediator is to help the parties concerned cool down, stressing the need to be in harmonious (’Hé’) relationship. As noted earlier, the famous Chinese saying, ‘Prosperity is born out of a household harmony’ (家和萬事興) will be emphasised here to persuade the conflicting parties that only when united does the ‘house’ stand in strength and prosperity.
This is a very important stage of reconciliation. While more often than not, when in conflict, people can easily turn an objective argument into personal attack, this therefore tests the skill of the mediator to keep the opposing parties away from, for example, offensive words which do more damage than good in helping to make the arguments clear. If the mediator succeeds, this will lead opposing parties from the heat, and allow them to calm down and, most importantly, to help the conflicting parties to gradually realise that it is on the issue or an argument that they disagree or dislike, not the people involved. The mediating work here is to prevent turning an ‘objective’ debate into one which involves personal insults and attacks. As has been stressed earlier, this is the first stage of reconciliation to bring along ultimate ‘Hé’. Furthermore, I would argue that the notion of ‘Hé’ goes further than recognising the other party’s concerns, it also requires one to learn to affirm the other party’s position and to learn to take upon oneself the responsibility of the issue or problem under discussion. This means that one is to be cautioned not to turn the discussion into a personal assault while, at the same time, being prepared to apologise for the possibly of hurting the other party. This does not mean that one should be without principle and compromise all the time, but it emphasises that one should learn to be both confident with one’s argument, yet also be co-operative and accommodating in his/her approach to the debate.
Hence the notion of ‘Hé’ is more than affirming each other’s needs, which is indeed important, but emphasises relational harmony. This calls on the conflicting parties to show empathy and to be willing to sacrifice if required for the Common Good. ‘Hé’ is also related to the Chinese understanding that one should never be over-confident of his/her knowledge, status or ability, but be prepared to learn from others, including those whom one may consider less knowledgeable, lower in status or without much talent. This is stressed by the Master Confucius himself when he says: ‘When there are two people who walk beside me, I can always see them as teacher and learn from them. I will select what is good and learn from them, and will watch out what is bad and avoid’. (The Analects Confucius quoted Shu Er; 三人行, 必有我師焉₀ 擇其善者而從之, 其不善者而改之₀ «論語· 述而第七») Therefore it is vital to encourage conflicting parties to learn about and try to appreciate the needs and concerns of each other.
In our discussion group in Hong Kong, we also talked about the concept of ‘Mientze’ (literally translated as ‘face’), which is usually translated to represent one’s reputation, moral standard, personal performance and status. The concept of ‘Mientze’ goes deep down in Chinese culture. In a conflict situation, it is particularly important to make immediate moves to soften the tension between confronting parties and prevent either side from losing ‘Mientze’. Since, if one party feels that he/she is losing ‘Mientze’ in public over an argument, one may be easily led to believe and see the opposing party’s criticism as a personal attack without much difficulty. It must be emphasised that damages to ‘Mientze’, in real-life situations, are very likely to have lasting repercussions which will spill over to future debates and deepen the tension between the opposing parties, regardless of how ‘objective’ or how well-intentioned the arguments may be.
Different actions and words carry with them varying degrees of force either to damage or to enhance one’s ‘Mientze’, and their relative power is closely related to the relationship one is in. Generally speaking, depending on the intimacy and closeness of the people concerned, their words and actions can mean very different things. The stronger one’s criticism, the more likely it is to cause the one being criticised to lose ‘Mientze’. More caution is therefore demanded and this requires more ‘politeness’ by the criticising party to the criticised, in order to create a ‘Hé’ environment where both parties may feel respected—both have been given enough ‘Mientze’—and hence they are more likely to listen. In our group, we call this the modern ‘culture of face-giving’ (給面子的文化). When people are in conflict, as noted earlier, a third party may act as the mediator to act between the conflicting parties to negotiate a solution to the problem. In practice, this mediator is normally a person who has the respect of both conflicting parties, who is likely to share the same social network of both parties, and someone who has a higher status or authority than the parties concerned.
The mediator’s role is to separate the conflicting parties and to ensure that neither side loses ‘Mientze’. This is why this mediator is likely to have moral or formal authority over the conflicting parties and/or have the respect of the parties. The mediator normally asks the parties to give the mediator ‘Mientze’ and to quarrel no more. The mediator may stress the earlier saying which emphasises ‘Hé’, such as ‘Prosperity is born out of a household harmony’ (家和萬事興), and remind the conflicting parties of the need to be together and united. Generally speaking, if the mediator has enough ‘Mientze’, the parties will cease the argument without each side losing ‘Mientze’. In the process of negotiation, the parties may take different ways and each side will be asking the other side to give ‘Mientze’. Normally, in order to keep a harmonious and peaceful relationship, with the help of the mediator who will provide the ‘set of steps’ (下臺階 )for the parties to ‘step off the stage of battle’, the parties are likely to concede and give ‘Mientze’ to each other and agree to disagree.
Perhaps, it will be good to illustrate my point with a life-example. One is invited to a dinner party by a friend, who also invites other people, most of whom one does not know. While the friend is proud of his/her cooking, even if one does not find the food at all delicious, one will try to say ‘good words’ to express appreciation of the friend’s hospitality. This is not being dishonest but being courteous. Imagine how embarrassing it will be if, at the table full of other guests, one publicly criticises the food, and how easily the friend may see this as a personal attack with the intention to bring disgrace in front of others. No matter how good the advice may be, which may possibly improve the way of cooking, yet after having been criticised in front of his/her guest, it is quite unlikely that the cook will listen. Nevertheless, if one really feels giving some useful suggestions on how to have the food made better, one can choose, for example, to speak with the cook privately after the dinner party. This resonates Jesus’ advice of first speaking with the ‘believer who sins against you’ privately before bringing the argument to open discussion (Matthew 18: 15-17). I believe we should bear in mind Jesus’ advice when we are involved in disagreements with others, even when we feel we are in the right and others are wrong.
This leads us to another important aspect of Chinese thinking which is about the concept of ‘Guanxi’ (關係, the closet English translation of this word is ‘relationship’ or ‘network’). The Chinese understanding of ‘Hé’ places more emphasis on the ‘Guanxi’ than on the individual concerns of the conflicting parties. The traditional Chinese philosophy of ‘Hé’ stresses human relation, places significant emphasis on people’s ‘Guanxi’ with each other, and understands that each person has his/her place under Heaven. Thus, true peace and harmony cannot be achieved without first having a society which is in ‘order’. It is worth mentioning here what the coordinator of the Hong Kong Continuing Group, Fr Samson Fan, has noted in our Group’s Facebook of another profound saying of Confucius quoted in Yu Tsz:
‘Hé’ (和) is the value of performing ‘Lǐ’ (禮; this word/concept can loosely be translated as rite, or courtesy). Of the ways of the kings past, this is the most beautiful of matters small and great. However, there are times when this is not acceptable. When one only seeks ‘Hé’ for its own sake, without be regulated by ‘Lǐ’, this does not do well. (The Analects of Confucius, quoted Yu Tsz)
有子曰:「禮之用, 和爲貴₀ 先王之道, 斯爲美; 小大由之₀ 有所不行, 知和而和, 不以禮節之, 亦不可行也₀」«論語· 學而第十二»
Referring to this quotation, Fr Samson points out that, while ‘Hé’ is a core concept of Chinese values, it needs to be disciplined by ‘Lǐ’ when one should not seek ‘Hé’ for its own sake. Fr Samson raises a vital question in relation to the link between ‘Hé’ and ‘Lǐ’. It is worth reiterating my argument which has been noted earlier in this paper that the philosophy of ‘Hé’ should not be seen as either merely as a means or an end to itself. Rather it should be understood as both a way and the goal which aims for a Common Good (大同) in which there is true peace and harmony.
禮 always means “Rites” or “Ritual”. My point was to contrast rites with rights, normally understood as the rites which do not point to themselves, but carry with them the ultimate aim of the promotion of true harmony and peace. I would argue that there is much resonance between the Chinese notion of ‘Lǐ’ and the Anglican Common Prayer tradition. The Prayer Book does not and should not point to itself as an end in itself, yet it is within this Prayer Book tradition that we Anglicans, of different languages and cultures, have been living together for hundreds of years. For us, rites, liturgies or any Christian practices and customs, are created for the worship of God and points toward God; they are of themselves of no value if they fail this purpose. Rites are there to help us to serve and to promote true peace and harmony and we, as humans, are not there to ‘serve’ the rites.
To take a well-known example, in the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer, both the consecrated bread and wine are not defined as either a symbol or whether they have been transubstantiated into real flesh and blood. The Communion services speaks nothing more than the core of Anglican belief that the bread is the Body of Christ, who ‘died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving’, and the wine is ‘Christ’s Blood’ which ‘was shed for thee, and be thankful’. By faith with thanksgiving, in the beauty of the Communion liturgy, it seeks to embrace people who hold different theologies of the Eucharist. It is at the Lord’s Table that all are embraced and welcomed. Nevertheless, the Communion liturgy here does not point to itself, but to God and to God’s Grace for all people.
It is worth noting here that ‘Lǐ’ is one of the classical Five Cardinal Virtues (五常), which include ‘Yen’ (仁, benevolence), ‘Yi’ (義, righteousness), ‘Lǐ’(禮, rites and courtesy), ‘Zhi’ (智, wisdom) and ‘Shin’ (信, faithfulness). These Five Cardinal Virtues are often linked with the Three Principles (三綱), which explain the ‘rightful’ relationships of people in a hierarchal structure—namely the relationship between the emperor and his officials; that between father and his son; and, that between husband and wife. While both the Three Principles and Five Cardinal Virtues can trace their origins to the teachings of Confucius, Mencius and the Legalist schools (法家) respectively during the later part of the Zhou dynasty (from the second half of the 8th century BC to the first half of the 5th century BC), they have been used jointly since the Han Dynasty. However, even though the Three Principles and Five Cardinal Virtues have had a profound impact of the thousand-year history of China, there is not enough space here to explain in detail what and how they influence Chinese thinking. Nevertheless, it is worth stressing that both the Principles and Virtues principally set out that each person has their place under Heaven, and to act contrary to one’s status, class or place, will disturb the ‘order of things’ which will lead to discord, disruption and damage of Harmony and Peace.
For example, the traditional reading of these Principles and Virtues speak of the duty and responsibility between a ruler and his/her subjects, between parents and their children, and between older and younger people. People are defined according to their places under Heaven, and they should act according to their status and places under Heaven. This notion has, however, been abused over the centuries with, for instance, tyrant emperors oppressing their subjects by invoking their divine right from Heaven as prescribed and understood in the Three Principles. Nevertheless, an abuse of a system or a philosophy does not justify its abolition altogether. The Classical Chinese concept of ‘order’ and its related belief in the interdependent nature of humans lead us to understand the philosophy dynamically rather than literally. This means that we need to see the philosophies of the Five Cardinal Virtues and the Three Principles in their own historical and cultural contexts and to understand the concept of one taking one’s place under Heaven as a way and a process through which one learns to be human (to be whole). In other words, the heart of these Virtues and Principles, in close relation to ‘Hé’, emphasises the individual to assume his/her moral and natural obligations which are inherent in his/her position, and focuses on human relations above the individual.
This may sound very odd to modern ears, especially in the West, but one does wonder whether the excessive individualism and obsession with ‘human rights’ has done as much good as bad to human society. The Chinese notion of ‘Hé’, as noted repeatedly in this paper, places much importance on human relations, with its emphasis on maintaining harmony and peace. While ‘Hé’ does not suppress differing views, it does require people to respect each other and calls upon people to sacrifice their personal goals for the sake of the Common Good. One has to appreciate that, for us to grow together in an interdependent and harmonious relationship, we have to learn to ‘sacrifice our small self for the great self’ (犧牲小我 , 完成大我, a modern saying).
Moreover, within an interdependent relationship, one’s identity does not rest on one’s own self. One’s identity is built within a set of networks, including one’s family, friends, occupation and philosophy. In other words, one is not complete until and only when one is within the ‘great self’. This close-relatedness can be seen in the ways and words we use to describe ourselves. For example, when Chinese names are written or spoken, the family names always come before the given names, and this speaks a lot about how we understand ourselves and how our identity rests heavily on the families from which we come. Chinese parents often describe their children as their ‘bone and flesh’, and this not only displays the closeness between parents and their children, but also stresses that the children are parts of the parents and the wider family network. Hence traditional Chinese philosophy teaches that the children’s ‘hair and skin come from parents, so no damage should be done to them’ and that the ‘children should live a good and honourable life so that the children’s names can be renowned and remembered in generations to come, and by doing so, the parents will be honoured’. (Xiao Jing, a classical book about filial piety; 身體髮膚, 受之父母, 不敢毀傷, 孝之始也; 立身行道, 揚名於后世, 以顯父母, 孝之終也₀ «孝經»)
In an age which stresses the rights of the individual and ‘equity’, the call for collectivity, duty and responsibility may appear very weird and one may even find it unacceptable to speak of one’s taking one’s place under Heaven. Nevertheless, it is vital to stress that, within traditional Chinese thinking, in order to achieve true ‘Hé’ where there will be true and long-lasting harmony and peace, one needs to learn to take upon oneself one’s responsibility in society before one even begin to talk about one’s rights—bearing in mind that one’s rights and identity can only be understood in relation to one’s place within that society. While traditional Chinese teaching stresses the duty of subjects to the emperors, and it also calls upon the emperors to live up their roles as heads and fulfil their duties to bring peace and justice to their subjects. A classic example can be found in the Great Learning (Da Xue, «大學»), when it stresses that the higher the position the higher one’s responsibility and moral conduct.
For me, the Chinese understanding of self finds much resemblance in St Paul’s teaching on the Church being the Body of Christ. Anglicans have always professed themselves to be part of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ in communion with Christians of all ages and in all places. We also believe that we have each inherited different gifts from God. As St Paul describes, we function like different parts of the body, each having its different function, but we need each other to be whole, under the supreme Headship of Christ our Lord. Therefore, while we pay our respect to bishops and leaders of the Church on earth, our obedience to them comes from our allegiance to God, and we believe that, regardless of one’s particular ministry (whether as verger, bishop, reader, or as a lay Christian), each one of us is equally loved by God. While we are different, we need each other because we all share the common identity as part of the Body of Christ. Since we believe that the Anglican Communion (our Family) is a gift from God, we need to learn to respect each other and try to appreciate each other’s views even if these views seriously challenge ours. Furthermore, if our Lord can eat with sinners and outcasts in society, to the point that He even shared His Last Supper with Peter who would deny Him three times and Judas who would betray Him, we are encouraged to be at the same Table and share meals with those with whom we disagree. We should even be prepared to eat with our ‘enemies’ whom our Lord has commanded us to love, without whom we are never ‘whole’.
Furthermore, as has been noted earlier, classical Chinese teaching encourages us to place ourselves in the other’s shoes and try to understand how we might have felt if we were in their positions. In our Hong Kong Continuing Indaba Group, we commended the important Chinese concept that calls upon us to discipline ourselves strictly while treating others with great leniency. (律己以嚴, 待人以寬) We understand that traditional Chinese philosophy stresses self-discipline. The Analects («論語») and the Great Learning («大學»), for example, both encourage one to discipline both one’s body and mind, and keep one’s desires and impulses under control. Confucius teaches that ‘being capable to discipline oneself and observe ‘Lǐ’ is ‘Yen’ (benevolence)’. (The Analects Confucius quoted Yan Yian;克己復禮為仁 «論語·顏淵第十二»)
This means that one will be truly benevolent if one is a self-disciplined person who observes the rites (’Lǐ’). While ‘Lǐ’ requires one to act according to one’s place under Heaven, and to perform one’s duty and responsibility as given by nature, the process and goal of being a well-balanced, self-aware and disciplined person who is capable of controlling his/her temper and feelings is therefore of utmost importance. This is similar to the age-old Christian theology of the relationship between ‘faith’ and ‘good works’. We Anglicans do not think that our salvation is earned by our ‘good works’, but by faith through Grace; but we also recognise that faith cannot exist without good works. Similarly, the observing of ‘Lǐ’/rites in themselves does not lead us anywhere unless we are first people of true benevolence ‘Yen’ (仁). Only because we want to do good in the first place—out of our search for ‘Hé’—will we readily put ourselves under strict discipline and observe ‘Lǐ’ earnestly. Our discipline and our performing of ‘Lǐ’/ rites, like the Christian ‘good works’ are not there to show off and to earn the respect of people surrounding. Rather, just like ‘good works’ are the outworking of the Christian faith (these good works are done naturally without the desire to earn praise from people), ‘Lǐ’ is the outworking of one’s emphasis on ‘Hé’ and the Five Cardinal Virtues stated above.
The Doctrine of the Mean «中庸», one of the Chinese Four Classical Books (the other three are the Analects «論語», the Great Learning «大學» and the Mencius «孟子»), states that: ‘The gentleman should be aware of places where he is not seen. He should be anxious and concerned in mind when he is in places where he is not being heard. Even in places where he is alone, he must be strictly disciplined, observe and live up to the standard of “Li”’. (The Doctrine of the Mean, first paragraph; 是故君子戒乎其所不睹，恐懼乎其所不聞₀ 莫見乎隱，莫顯乎微，故君子慎其獨也₀ «中庸· 第一段»)
This suggests that we have to discipline ourselves well before we can even consider criticising or judging others. As has been noted earlier, even the Master Confucius expresses that he has things to learn from anyone who happens to walk besides him; we have more reason to be modest and have the courage to open ourselves to the challenges and admonitions given to us by others.
As Christians, we are even further called to imitate and display the humility of Christ, who speaks about loving and serving others and who warns us not to ‘judge’ others lest we ourselves be judged. When we are criticised by others, we should learn first to forbear the critical party and try to see their good intentions when they make such criticism. Traditional Chinese philosophy speaks very much of the importance to forbear others, especially when we feel that others are criticising or offending us, or making us lose ‘Mientze’. Forbearance (‘Ren’, 忍) is one of the virtues traditionally taught in Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. A well-known Chinese saying which derives from Buddhist teaching advices that: ‘There will never be an end if people cannot learn to forgive but keep being occupied with anger, revenge and the repaying evil for evil. Far from it, we have to forgive others when we have the opportunity to do so’. (冤冤相報何時了, 得饒人處且饒人) Again, this finds much resonance in Christian theology when we are called to forgive (see, for example, Matthew 18:15-35). Our Continuing Indaba Group also cites a modern Chinese catchy phrase: ‘Forbearance for a while will clam the sea; willing to yield a few steps backwards allows one to see the wider sky and sea’ (忍一時風平浪靜, 退一步海闊天空).
To have good relationships among members of the family, each member needs to learn to forbear with one another and try to appreciate each other’s needs and concerns. In fact when one takes a few steps backward, one’s view of the world becomes much bigger and one’s horizon much widened. When one’s emphasis is on human relations and the responsibility of every person to promote harmony, and less on the rights of individuals, people will then be more willing to forbear with one another, and to engage in open dialogue. This is a different way of thinking, in opposition to modern Western stress on the individual, ‘rights’ and ‘equality’. This paper argues that, human relationships are very complex and often talk about ‘rights’ or ‘equality’ simply does not work in real-life situations. To take an example, there are times when married couples choose to leave each other for a while when they are having an argument—perhaps with one being in the bedroom and another in the study—so that both can calm down and talk about the problem later. Often in marriage, one side may have to ‘make the first move’ and even to ‘apologise’ in order to avoid direct confrontation, or to reconcile. Good family relationships often require more forbearance, sacrifice, communication and willingness to serve, than on the rights of the individual members of the family.
To conclude, I would like to argue that sometimes a period of separation may help to serve for future long-term union and harmony. Like the husband and wife noted in the example above, the short period of separation allows them time and space to cool down, to think deeply about the issues and problems involved, and even to consider each other’s concerns; while at the same time neither side loses ‘Mientze’/’face’. This separation may sometimes be a very short period, while at other times this may be longer. Sometimes we may feel reluctant to separate. Traditional Chinese philosophy emphasises ‘Hé’ which places enormous importance on unity in difference and warns against light separation and division. Nevertheless, I will argue that sometimes perhaps a period of separation will change people’s previous held position. So often it is only when we have lost something which we have previously taken for granted that we discover we have lost so much. Separation may lead one to realise how precious it is for one to be part of the ‘big self’, and forces one to rethink whether it is really worth breaking relationship with those with whom one disagrees. Furthermore, sometimes it is only after a separation, when we look back, that we realise how much we had missed out when we were in conflict with others. One classic example can be found in the present relationship between Methodists and Anglicans. While it has taken us many years to realise the sadness of the separation, we are gradually working more and more closely in our common mission for the Gospel as one Christian family. We have become more and more appreciative of each other’s differences and gifts, which I believe is a blessing from God.
While writing this paper, I have wondered whether we have sometimes lost sight of and have not been putting enough trust in the Spirit. While, of course, we need to do our best to preserve unity, as Christ has called us to be One, yet we have to acknowledge that, just as the Communion is a gift of God to us and the world, it is God who is in charge. When we have done our best, we cannot but learn to trust and rest in God. One may recall the incident in Acts 15 when St. Paul and St. Barnabas had to choose their separate ways of mission because of the disagreements over whether John Mark should be on the trip. While St. Barnabas and St. Paul must have had a very close relationship as fellow Christian brothers, they eventually decided to go on separate paths. If we have stopped our reading here, we may find it sad to see these two important church leaders separate from each other over a ‘trivial’ matter. Nevertheless, if we continue our reading of the Biblical accounts, we realise that their separation eventually led to the furtherance of the Gospel.
It is a difficult decision to separate sometimes, but when one has sought all means to preserve unity and has failed, one can do no more than to consider a temporary separation, to put one’s trust in God and to hope that the separation is a way of leading to reconciliation and long-term harmony and peace. I will suggest that the ‘reunion’ after separation will require the work of the mediator again. The mediator will need to find ways through which conflicting/separated parties will not lose ‘Mientze’/ face if these parties have found reasons to reunite. In Chinese culture, the mediator may invite the parties involved to dinner, and, while eating, the mediator will ask the parties to give ‘Mientze’ to the host to reunite. In this way, both parties can then state that their reunion is due to their common respect to the mediator (to give the mediator ‘Mientze’) and both parties are able to preserve their honour. Of course, during the conversation, one party may say something like, ‘I am sorry, I should not have said/done this…’, while the other party will probably reply, ‘Please, no need to say sorry, it is actually my fault…’. While these may be honest apologies as both parties recognise their mistakes, these words are more likely to have been spoken as a matter of courtesy (’Lǐ’) to show that they are considerate of each other’s concerns and needs, are willing to give each other ‘Mientze’, and are prepared to seek a solution that works for both parties.
I present this paper with the hope that it may provide some insights in the current situation within our beloved Communion. Nevertheless, I stress that the concept of ‘Hé’ and its related ideas and means of resolving conflicts have derived from a particular Chinese cultural context. Caution is required if one is to apply the Chinese philosophy to Western contexts. I encourage my readers to keep ‘Hé’ in mind and see it as both a means and an ultimate goal where there is true harmony and peace. I stress the importance of forbearance and the willingness of one’s sacrifice for the Common Good. One should learn to be critical of both one’s own position and others, but never be judgmental of others, following the traditional Chinese teaching to keep oneself strictly disciplined while treating others with great leniency. Finally, as a Chinese Anglican, I leave my readers with the following Scriptural passage, with the hope that, when we are in tension, we may learn to cool down and listen to those with whom we disagree, and make our reply with caution and pastoral sensitivity:
Those with good sense are slow to anger; and it is their glory to overlook an offence.
Proverbs 19:11 (NRSV translation)