Chinese philosophy told by my grandfather

The informant talks about her grandfather teaching her a well-known philosophical passage and somewhat like an idiom

Informant: Then he would tell ma another story about being ambitious, or living out to your full capacity from Zhuangzi again. “If you are a bird, you should be the biggest bird in the sky, 大鵬鳥. They are so big that when they spread out their wings, the occupy half of the sky.” I would challenge him “It doesn’t make sense. Then there would be only 2 birds in the sky because 2 would cover the whole sky!” Then he would tell me that “If you are a fish, then you should be the biggest fish in the sea. The big one that’s called the whale.” I would tell him, “No, sorry grandpa, whale is not a fish, it is a mammal!”

But then when I went back to Penghu, where my grandpa lived for 10 years of his life since he came to Taiwan with his father when he was 11, I finally realized how come he was so strict and serious all the times. We got off the bus at the community center where they were offering the elderly a luncheon that day. All elders sat up straight listening to the head of the village talking, no one was walking around, no one was talking, they all sat up straight listening. Then we went to a small park. The decoration at the park was red lantern with 三字經, another didactic passage telling us how to behave well, to be loyal to your emperor and filial to you parents and stuff. They got a grant to refurbish a section of the village where no one lived there many more. They made ceramic plates on the house, again with all didactic passages like honor your words, work hard, don’t be lazy, be polite and kind to others…

Growing up in Taiwan, I knew the phrase 慎終追遠, which means to know your ancestors. I probably used it hundreds of time writing essays and stuff, but I never really felt what it meant. This is the sad part of the modern day education, we learn many things as a knowledge, the meaning of those words literally, but not really felt it. You would have to really spend the time to talk with, live with, go back to the environment he grew up, then you would really understand how and why he was the way he was. I thought I knew my grandfather, but I always hope he would not be so dead serious. But it only took me 10 minutes setting foot in the village he grew up with, then I understood why he was so serious, then I really understood the meaning of 慎終追遠.


This is a very important part of the chinese culture, displays of filial piety is incredibly deep-rooted in our culture and it is something that is taught to toddlers in the east still practiced today. This is something that is quite lacking in the west, except for Hispanic culture as I am told. That aside, growing up in America, I rarely see filial piety being practiced. After hearing this story it really is interesting that coming from a Taiwanese family as well, although my parents do not feel that I must be obligated to be filial to them unlike they have been taught all their lives, it is something that is very eye-opening to me.