Notes on Dr. Angela Wong’s Presentation

Family is an important topic in Asia but modernity has challenged our past conceptions and ways of organizing families. Urbanization, like migration, removes family members from their original birthplaces and splits families across countries. Modern values instigate diversities and pluralities, causing the unfolding of new family forms including nuclear family, single family, cohabitation, and same sex unions or partnerships. How do we understand “family” now? In what ways are family values still an important part of Asian culture? What are family values and how much do we need to hold onto them? In her paper, Dr. Wong probes the conception of family to re-examine family values as represented in Asian cultures and to renew an early Chinese vision of “family” as well as an early Christian vision that could provide some imagination for us to move beyond existing boundaries.

What is Family

. To build the broadest alliance across religions and cultures, the World Congress for Families recognizes only one form of family – the “natural family” – a man and woman bound in a lifelong covenant of marriage for the purpose of the continuation of the human species, the rearing of children, the regulation of sexuality, the provision of mutual support and protection, the creation of an altruistic domestic economy, and the maintenance of bonds between the generations. This “natural” family is the fundamental unit of society, the key to all healthy and progressive civilizations, making any other forms of family unacceptable. This form of family is “natural” because it is the most “common” and overwhelmingly self-evident” form across cultures and history.

The Relation Between Family and the State

. The American Christian right and its global pro-family movement expose the intricate relations between family and state. Control over families, including one’s wife and children, and control over local and state power structures are closely related to conservative values (Petchesky). In China, the traditional family form was a convenience to protect patri-lineal interests. Members organized under one family name were entrusted with the duties of protecting the name and interests of the males in the family. The careful regulation of family/women’s lives sets the foundation for the ordering of a society and governing a family was no different from the governance of a state..

Resources for “Reimagination

.” Far from being a domain of the private sphere, family has often been in the forefront of public debate and policy formulation. In fundamentalist terms, family is the key to preservation of culture and values, therefore, women being designated primarily to the domestic sphere, are the ones who bear most of the burden of preserving the family. As a result, any reformist formula of social regulation, control, and reordering always falls on women and the family.

In Daitongshu, the Book of Great Communion, Kang Yuwei, a high-ranking scholar and official of the late Qing period (1858-1927) described a utopian state called daitong. In this state, the world was common to all. Men did not love only their parents as parents nor treat as children, only their own sons. Kang appeals for the abolition of family boundaries and making all “Heaven’s people,.” a vision shared by Plato in his Republic and by Karl Marx. Kang’s appeal was made when the values and structure preserved in family had become a stumbling block to progress. Members of family were bonded to each other emotionally and exclusively to the point of ignoring matters common to all. What the reformers suggested was the reforming of values and human relationship at their roots.

Sally Purvis argues that Christian ethics is radically communal. Family, as both biological and sociological unit, was theologically radicalized by Jesus teaching. Jesus redefined Christian family when he claimed that those who do God’s will were his mother and brothers and sisters. Jesus and Paul point to a family as an incorporation of the understanding that all love and all relationship are set within the context of love of God. What defines family then, is not that it is “natural,” but the loving relationship among its members, regardless of forms. It is the place where the three great Christian ethical principles derived from the Golden rule -mutuality, reciprocity, and egalitarian are being explored and set to practice for the Great Communion.

There is a saying among Chinese that “wherever one’s heart is settled, there is jia (home).” In an age of fast transportation and extensive migration, defining family implicates attempts to live as “aliens” among strangers, the ability to cultivate “homes” in the changing setting depends on our ability to define family and home away from traditional family and home and place at its center, the order of love.

One of the modern challenges to family is the separation of our world into the private and public realm with the family designated to the former. Too many examples confirm that the separation of private and public is only a convenience that contributes to the perpetuation of patriarchal control. The ruling of the family is still seen as key to the effective ruling of the nation/world.

Buzz Group Discussions. After Dr. Wong’s talk, the participants divided into buzz groups to discuss the following questions:.

1. How do you define a family? What distinguishes a family relationship from the others? What are some of the traditional family values that have been creating obstacles for women and minors?
2. In what ways can you agree with abolishing the boundaries of family? How does seeing family in a communal context help us? What are the problems? What are some of the traditional resources that could help us to reimagine alternatives?

Defining Family.
Agnes Brazal, outgoing EWA coordinator reminded the group that family is a social construction, which evolved over time and recently been used as a justification for public/private divide. Agnes suggested that family should be regarded as space to build a loving community regardless of form.

The Family needs to be understood as more than a biological relationship. It is a community that supports the individual. Angela was thanked for her insight that family is one that supports love. We need to extend our definition of family to include extended 2nd families, said Virginia.

Public/Private Divide, Woman’s Space.
According to Angela, the public/private debate emerged from the industrial revolution’s distinction between private property and public property. The domestic realm is defined as away from the public and is tied-up with the household. How do we define a woman’s space? Women can enjoy themselves with other women but they also need time alone. Different cultures look upon isolation and individuality in their own way. Nonie pointed out that in the time of Jacob, the premise was that when women live together, they menstruate together. There was also public communal space: the hut. But In Indian culture, over emphasis on community can spell death to individuality (Pushpa). Space can be abused and it becomes problematic (Claudia). A community that wants to transmit tradition is not the community we are talking about. What we mean by community is something that gives persons space to articulate similarities and differences (Angela). We need men who are conscientized to provide a different perspective on things. We must also remember that Marriage does not measure the depth of relationship.

*Dr. Angela Wong Wai Ching is a feminist protestant pastor with the Chinese University of HongKong

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