My father had never approved of me reading stories from the Three Kingdoms when I was young. But one one occasion, when I asked him to explain the meaning of 义, he quickly referred me to the episode of 千里走单骑 in Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义.
When Guan Yu was surrounded by Cao Cao’s troops, he was persuaded to surrender. Guan Yu was at that time, escorting two of his brothers’ wives. He was not afraid to fight Cao Cao’s men to his last breath, but when he thought of the two sister-in-laws he was escorting, he reluctantly surrendered and was instantly treated like a VIP at Cao Cao’s residence. In spite of his surrender, Guan Yu refused to fight on Cao Cao’s side. The latter knew that there was no way he could recruit this loyal sworn brother of Liu Bei and decided to release him.
At the battle of Red Cliff 赤壁大战 when Cao Cao lost his entire navy, Guan Yu was sent to block Cao Cao’s escape when the latter was defeated by the combined forces of Shu and Wu. When Guan Yu intercepted Cao Cao, he freed him, knowing that he would face the death penalty if he didn’t manage to capture Cao Cao. Why would anyone be so “stupid”? But no. Many people idolise Guan Yu. They see him as a role model and respect people with the same exhibition of 义.
The whole concept of 义 revolves around repaying an enemy’s kindness and fighting shoulder to shoulder with one’s brother on the losing side at the expense of one’s life. What about 不义? That would be abandoning ship at the first sign of trouble, happily accepting all gains and rejecting all pains in a group effort.
I would like to believe that all cultures at least value if not practise the concept of 义. But I often find, to my surprise and disappointment, that 不义 is sometimes regarded as “only human” to some people. When someone in the family starts a new business, wouldn’t it be nice to take cover and come back when all the initial setbacks are cleared? Should it bother anyone that some table tennis player is already engaged? It’s perfectly human for her to dump her fiance and go for someone “better”? Sure, it’s none of our business, but I think we should still be aware whether such behaviour is 义 or 不义.
Sadly, we will see more and more of such things happening in modern society. But that’s not the saddest part. The saddest part is for people not to think that it’s wrong to do such things. Only human, they say.
Mercenaries aren’t always that bad, especially when your own family members are not very different, thinking that changing sides is perfectly acceptable as long as the pastures are greener. When times are good, they enjoy with you. When times are bad or when a stressful situation arises, they start blaming the key characters, demand to be protected from all risks and accept no responsibility for the downturn. Only human?
First appeared in www.newagedentists.com © Chan Joon Yee