Filial Piety – Have You Called Your Mother Today?

Mr Liew Mun Leong, CapitaLand’s President & CEO, kicks off CapitaDNA, a brand new series

Issue: Jul 2012

New online portal, Because iCare Exchange, unites CapitaLand family through virtual interactions and exchange of ideas
Mr Liew Mun Leong, CapitaLand’s President & CEO, gets the ball rolling on the CapitaDNA series by contributing one of his emails that gently reminds the CapitaLand family what filial piety means

CapitaLand INSIDE has launched an exciting new column called CapitaDNA. This space will allow everyone at CapitaLand to share their experiences and thoughts on the company’s core values and corporate principles by contributing articles to CapitaLand INSIDE Different Geographies.

CapitaDNA entails our 6 Core Values. These values and guiding principles represent how CapitaLand does business, how it treats its stakeholders and how the staff interacts in the workplace. As the Group continues to grow, this DNA is crucial in differentiating itself from the rest.

To kick off the new column, President & CEO Mr Liew Mun Leong shares an article from his book, “Sunday Emails from the CEO, Volume Two”. While CapitaLand consistently looks after and builds up its people within the CapitaLand family, part of that building process includes helping each of them to become a more well-rounded person. As such, Mr Liew’s article addresses the importance of building up one’s family at home, too.

Click here to submit a CapitaDNA article

Dear Colleagues,

In a previous email, I encouraged you to take your parents on holidays with the rest of the family so that your children can get close to their grandparents. This may promote filial piety in the family. Last week, a TV programme moved me to write more on this topic.

While working out last Sunday morning at a Hong Kong hotel, I chanced upon a nostalgic interview of a former movie and opera star on Pearl TV. In the 1950s and 1960s, as a young boy, I enjoyed watching her Cantonese movies and TV programmes. She should now be in her late 60s or early 70s but nonetheless she remained elegant and gracious.

She is currently leading a social club of about 50 volunteers who would visit government-run old folks homes to entertain and cheer up the elderly. They bring simple gifts, as well as talk and sing to the old folks to offer them warm friendship and moments of entertainment. During the interview, she spoke enthusiastically about how the bored old folks—who were spending their twilight years in isolation from their families—simply needed some companionship, songs and simple conversation to cheer them up. Some elderly female residents would ask her how she kept herself so well-groomed and what powder or lipstick she wore. She responded by jokingly comforting the old folks that they were beautiful enough without makeup. That was a humorous but touching moment.

She explained that many of the old folks were abandoned and taken into government-run homes during the late 1980s,when their children and immediate families decided to emigrate to the West. This seemed to be a common, knee-jerk response in 1997 to the mistakenly fearful prospect of Hong Kong “returning home” to China. Whether their apprehension was right or wrong, some families emigrated to what they felt were safer havens in the West and ended up leaving their aged parents behind in old folks homes. I was told that some countries might not have approved these elderly folk as immigrants. Some grannies might also have stubbornly protested against being uprooted and transplanted to a foreign and non-Chinese-speaking country. Some of them, I suspect, might have simply been left behind for convenience.

The TV interview left me with mixed feelings. It was gratifying to watch my childhood star, who was grown up now, mobilizing volunteers to help cheer up these old folks. I applaud her. Senior citizen helping less fortunate senior citizens. But I was saddened by the bleak future of the old folks cast aside by their children. Where are their children now?

They had decided to pursue a seemingly brighter future in another foreign country as China reclaimed Hong Kong rightfully under its “One Country-Two Systems” rule in 1997. As it turned out, during the last 12 years, Hong Kong has prospered more than ever with the support of the world’s fastest-growing economy—their motherland, China.

The irony is that many people who emigrated have since returned to Hong Kong over the years. Some even had regrets about selling their homes at low prices and having to fork out more money to start afresh in Hong Kong. Political persuasion and poor judgement aside, is it appropriate to leave our elderly parents in the care of organisations or folks unrelated to our families whilst we head off elsewhere in pursuit of a brighter future for ourselves? Where is our sense of filial piety—long considered by Chinese as the greatest of virtues and a core value of Chinese families and society—to both the living and the dead?

Coincidentally, I read a similar touching story of the abandoned this morning. In an article titled “Leaving is Hard to Do”, Cynthia Low of The Straits Times wrote about how difficult it was to leave Singapore. An expatriate here for nine years, she had to leave to spend time with her children, presumably in their home country. She recalled a memorable encounter during her nine-year stay in Singapore. While on assignment at a voluntary welfare home, a frail old woman grabbed her hand and asked if she would listen to her sing. The old lady then regaled her with the song “Shanghai Tan” (上海滩) while holding her hands tightly. Cynthia was gladdened to be the chosen audience of the attention-seeking old loner. What a sad story, and to think it happened in Singapore. As a child, I was taught two Chinese sayings on the virtues of filial piety:

“There are three unfilial acts. The greatest is not to have procured the next generation.”
(不孝有三,无后为大)

This means it is unfilial not to have children to continue the family line and it resonates well against the modern demographic trend of falling population. The family call has also turned into a country’s patriotic call. So we should procreate for both the family and the country.

“Raise children to protect against old age.” (养儿防老 )

This may make sense but is now a lesser argument with our CPF, pension funds, insurance and so on, which, if properly managed, can support us in old age.

If the virtues of filial piety—the most important of which is to procure the next generation and for protection in old age—are valid, why then are elderly parents left in old folks homes?

We should also consider the following Chinese sayings:

“A dog won’t forsake his master because of his poverty; a son never deserts his mother for her homely appearance.” ( 狗不嫌家贫,子不嫌母丑)

“To understand your parents’ love, raise children yourself.” (养儿方知父母恩)

And from an unknown source:

“Adolescence is when children start bringing up their parents.”
(青少年时期就是孩子开始 反哺父母的时候)

Nowadays, filial piety is hardly promoted or spoken about in families, classrooms or other influential social environments. In my younger days, Chinese operas, movies, radio and Rediffusion would broadcast historical and legendary stories which often promoted traditional core values such as patriotism and filial piety. They have all faded away and been branded as old-fashioned. Perhaps we should bring back these simple but meaningful types of entertainment.

To some, I may appear old-fashioned, preaching outmoded traditions, customs or practices. But I would argue that it’s only right that children, once grown up, should look after their elderly parents. After all, their parents brought them into this world, worked hard to raise them and showered them with love. I believe it is this conviction that has brought me to where I am today.

Thus, we should be grateful and filial to our parents just as how we would wish our children to treat us. Wouldn’t you? Someone once told me: “If a man is filial, he can’t be a bad person.” What do you think?

We ought to reflect and do some soul-searching on whether we have done enough to be filial to our parents. When they are no longer around, we may regret that we have not done enough to look after or repay them for what they have done for us. Trust me, it will never be enough. Sometimes, it’s too late. Here is one useful reminder: “Have you called your mother today?” So have you?

This article is adapted from Building People:
Sunday Emails from a CEO, Volume Two (Sunday, 20 Dec 2009)

Chinese version

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