Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bakri Musa confused about Confucianism

Dr Bakri Musa, a surgeon who practises in the USA, and writes prolificly and eruditely on Malaysian and Malay affairs, have penned another interesting article titled ‘Malaysian Malays’ Competitiveness’ as part of his series on ‘Towards A Competitive Malaysia’.

I read it in Facebook but you can see the same article at his blog. However I disagree with one section or rather one phrase of his article. He wrote (note highlighted part):

[…] By this reckoning, Singapore Malays should be the most competitive. In many ways, they are. Their per capita income and educational achievements surpass other Malays in the region, but compared to their fellow citizens, they still lag behind.

This is so because their government, being predominantly Chinese with their essentially dog-eat-dog Confucian ethics, does not have the willingness or capacity to nurture its lagging minority. […]

I felt obligated to reply, as follows:

Dear Dr, though I enjoyed reading your article I am afraid I have to take issue with your phrase "... Chinese with their essentially dog-eat-dog Confucian ethics".

The first part "... Chinese with their essentially dog-eat-dog ..." is generally (though not always) true, and really not unique to the Chinese but a regrettable outcome of a capitalist system, eg like your USA under the conservative Right. Maybe in this, there's much to say for socialism.

The latter part "... Confucian ethics ..." is what it is, a system of ethics. It's oxymoronic to have a term 'dog-eat-dog ethics' whether the ethic system belongs to Confucianism or Islam.

Confucianism is about cultivating, practicing and promoting the 8 virtues of benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, fidelity, loyalty, filial piety and service to elders. That the general Chinese Singaporeans or mainland Chinese don't practise them doesn't mean their 'dog-eat-dog' mentality is an outcome of Confucian ethics ;-)

Unfortunately Dr Bakri has mis-identified some Chinese capitalist behaviour as outcomes of Confucian teachings (nothing could be so far from the truth), perhaps in the same way many believe (incorrectly) that all Arabs are Islamic terrorists, all Muslims are fanatics or all Israelis are also 'victims' like their Holocaust kinfolk.

In reality there are plentiful examples of 'dog-eat-dog' mentality all over the world, not least in the USA. If you don't have money there, you're in trouble - the medical system may be of gold standard but it's diddly squat beneficial to you if you don't have the moolah eg. ambulance officers might not take an injured if he/she doesn't have insurance cover. Compare that to the free dental system in a socialist country like Cuba.

My mate who lived in Washington for years told me sad stories of corpses being found in each and every winter, usually elderly homeless people who slept on the sidewalks, parks and back alleys, victims of poverty where they were allowed to perish in a 'dog-eat-dog' system.

Another issue that I didn't bother commenting on his Facebook site was his statement "... it is just not in the Chinese culture to help those less fortunate, especially those outside their clan or race".

I believe the Chinese (perhaps not the Communist Chinese or Singapore government) is second to none in philanthropy - they have a proud history of excellence in philantropic performance, whether conducted by religious or non-religious organizations, even in Malaya/Malaysia.

Take his comment about the Chinese 'not helping those outside the Chinese race', as one small example - it was in the immediate aftermath of the last tsunami that Penang Chinese organizations were among the first, if not the first, to be giving out much needed aid to Penang Malay fishing communities on its north-west coast ...

... leading one Malay resident to comment (words to the effect) that the Chinese gave out aid without first determining whether the recipient was a Chinese or Malay, Muslim or non-Muslim, UMNO or PKR member.

Such discriminations would be completely anathema to Confucian ethics or Buddhist teachings, two principal guiding value-systems of the Chinese. Sadly, Dr Bakri hasn't been well acquainted with the precepts and teachings of these two religions, well, with Confucianism anyway, from what he had written.

Then there was another medical (hole in heart?) case of a Malay baby, made well known through Jeff Ooi's blog just a few years back, where the majority of donors for her surgical operations were generous Chinese Malaysians. The father of the baby acknowledged this, remarking his astonishment that the Chinese could be so generous.

Therein the father's comments could perhaps be found a possible reason for a common but incorrect belief by Malays, like those of Dr Bakri, of so-called Chinese ruthless selfishness and non-charitable qualities and racially-based charity.

I suspect that underlying this so incorrect belief could well be misinformation or inadequate information and/or poor observations, spliced with an intrinsic prejudice and/or deep-rooted suspicions of the Chinese character.

Much as I admire and am a follower of Dr Bakri's writings, and precisely because of this, I have long since sensed that he doesn't think well of Chinese, especially Chinese Malaysians wakakaka - mind you some pathetic specimens could have contributed to his disdain/dislike for the Chinese ;-)

This has been why I didn't bother to challenge his statement "... it is just not in the Chinese culture to help those less fortunate, especially those outside their clan or race". No point, especially when the recipient of my message or riposte already possessed a deep set perception.

It's not unlike some Chinese thinking poorly of Malays, or Indians, or of other ethnic groups - or of some Indians doing likewise. In fact there is a Chinese saying that one shouldn't swipe everyone down with one single bamboo pole. A few black sheep shouldn't be taken to mean the entire flock is black.

I am not sure whether I am correct here as I am now stepping into the realms of speculation, my personal speculation of course, that Dr Bakri may well be a closeted Anglophile. Now, it is my observation that Malaysian Anglophiles (or should this be Anglophilic Malaysians?) in general cannot stand the ways of Chinamen wakakaka.

I know because one of my good mates, an (ultra) Anglophilic Indian Malaysian, has frequently complained about the 'disgusting' ways of the Chinamen - the way they talk, eat, dress, etc ;-).

I suspect his ideal is for 'decent' gentlemen to dress up looking like the English upper class nobility, preferably in black tie for dinner (European of course), with the obligatory pre-dining dry sherry, and if possible, to offer a toast to Her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria Elizabeth - wakakaka.

Maybe because of me, he made very elaborate (at times agonising) efforts to distinguish Chinese Malaysians from Chinamen Malaysians wakakaka, where he reserved his disdain, according to him, only for the latter. He only made his prejudice stand out worse.


  1. Very erudite and astute observation... and probably a correct personal speculation too.

  2. Bakri Musa has now shown himself to be what he really is inside and it's not pretty! The sheepskin has sheared off.

    "Chinese with their essentially dog-eat-dog Confucian ethics". That as misinformed and racist as anyone can get!! I spit on such shallow comments!

    I wonder how he would describe UMNO dominated BN's one-sided politics and policies.

    We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

  3. Da-shue (大学, ), a Confucianism book for educating people, say this

    A government should not compete with the people on wealth gathering.
    A government that make itself filthy rich, will hurts the people.
    A wealthy society, will guarantee the continuous income of the country. In the history, no country or state are able to sustain long when the ruler rich but the people are poor.

    Dog eat dog?

  4. Yes, moo_t, unfortunately (as I suspect/speculate) Dr Bakri has a dislike or, if we want to be kind, disdain for Chinese, hence we should expect his comments to contain prejudiced views as his silly "dog-eat-dog Confucian ethics" - he lends himself open to invincible challenges as the one I have make.

    One could also ask how well acquainted is Dr Bakri with "Chinese culture" to make such a statement as outrageous as ... it is just not in the Chinese culture to help those less fortunate, especially those outside their clan or race". If this is not unsubstantiated prejudice I like to know what it is, and how he can show evidence that such selfishness is inherent in Chinese culture.

    But I don't take offence so much as I am disappointed by a supposedly learned person as him in making such reckless uninformed comments, more so when I admire his articles (those with the unsubstantiated prejudiced views).

  5. so ,you are saying that the chinese do not discrimate other races then? the middle kingdom mentality does not exists?

    do you know how many times i stood like an idiot when other customers (chinese who came after me) were served? i have only experinces this from the chinese never by a malay or an indian.i don't think you will understand the feeling .

    you can try to paint the chinese culture as white as possible that's your opinion.but don't try to misled people .i been subjected to racism in school by mostly chinese teachers(there are some malay,of course and what about the indians,no in my case.accept they are cowards too afraid to complain to hm).

    i know there are chinese who are colour blind but they in a minority.sugarcoating does not help anyone in the longterm

  6. Anon of 7:58 pm, huh?

    I was commenting on BM's statement "... it is just not in the Chinese culture to help those less fortunate, especially those outside their clan or race" by providing 2 examples which proved he was incorrect to make such a sweeping statement. Where was the white paint?