Chinese Tradition of Respect in an Authentic Context

一日之師,終身為父            -[元] 關漢卿

 “You need to respect someone the same way as you respect your father, if he has once been your teacher, even for a day.”

This famous proverb from Yuan Dynasty is a perfect annotation of how teachers are highly honored and respected in Chinese tradition and cultural norms.

The Chinese character “尊”(respect) derives from the picture of someone holding up a wine vessel, which indicates offering something nice to someone older or of higher social status. Therefore, in Chinese, respect implied a lot of looking up to, listening to, obeying and offering, which, I believe, has become increasingly difficult for younger generations to understand within our current social norms.

At INTL*, where the majority of the faculty were born and raised from a country other than the United States, it’s a tremendous treasure that our teachers bring different values and cultures to the school, imparting this knowledge to our students. The idea of respect has evolved throughout the generations and may not be the same today as it was in Confucius’ time, but learning about all the traditions in its authentic context, hence understanding the different expectations from teachers who hail from different parts of the world is a vital part of preparing students for an increasingly diverse world.

Nevertheless, the very essence of respect, which is deeply rooted in Chinese culture, is actually not much different from the rest of the world. It also denotes positive regard for another person for what he or she has done for you, and for society.  During brunch with my friends over the weekend, one of them made a comment about the teaching profession: “I don’t understand it, how is it possible for someone to love someone else’s children that much that they can deal with them everyday?”

We all chuckled over his comment, but I think he did point out something that sets teaching apart from many other admirable professions; you not only need extensive knowledge, skills, patience and passion to do your job, but you also need to have love, for both what you do and for all these individual little creatures that you put under your arm.

Simply for that, we need to re-emphasize and call for respect to teachers, everyday but especially on a very special day - September 28, the 2562th of Confucius’s birthday, also known as Teacher’s Day in Taiwan. I will be giving a presentation on the same topic to both elementary and middle school students at the assemblies and have students demonstrate their respect and gratitude to their beloved teachers in different languages, in appropriate cultural manners, and in their own creative ways.

*In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INTL) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.