I wrote here before about how I am currently studying Chinese. The other day, I was taught "how to ask about family members" in my lesson.
When the subject arose, I asked, humorously, "What if I am asked if I have a father? What should I answer in my case? 'I have a father, but he's not here. He used to be here, but now he's already passed away,' I guess." My usually kind Chinese teacher's face grew troubled: "In China, you never use your father or mother as the punch line of a pun or a joke."
In television variety shows and other programs in Japan, there are occasionally situations where celebrities will say bad things about their parents who passed away and laugh it off, and to my teacher, this was apparently rather upsetting. When I thought about it, I remembered seeing once on some TV program that China topped the list of countries that respected their parents the most. While the culture as a whole places importance on respect for elders, it was reported that parents occupied a particularly important and large role in the custom.
But even then, of course that doesn't necessarily mean that all parents in China are wonderful and looked upon highly by their children. There are probably many children who do want things like talk back to their parents or complain. Instead of suppressing such emotions by saying that speaking about such things is taboo, I think having the freedom like in Japan to turn criticism of one's parents, which may contain some scalding elements but is still filled with love, into something everyone can laugh about isn't a bad thing at all.
Still, especially when it comes to parents who are no longer with us, it is probably not such a good thing to speak ill of them or turn them into the butt of a joke after all. Even if they weren't perfect, parents tried their hardest and lived out their lives to the fullest.
I'm thankful to my teacher for explaining Chinese thinking to me with a stern look, and in my heart of hearts, I apologized to my father. My father was a man who loved jokes, so I think that somewhere in heaven he is laughing about me cracking one about him in my Chinese lesson. But I also think that there is something to be learned from the Chinese idea of taking care of the elderly and respecting your parents. That's because I had come to look down on older people recently for not being able to keep up with the newest science and technology and lagging behind.
In another five to 10 years, I will even more clearly have ushered in my silver years. I don't mean to say that I want to be respected no matter what I might do. Still, I would definitely be happy if those around me afforded me some degree of esteem without making a big deal about me having reached "a certain age." Once again, I feel like I have learned yet another thing from the cultural differences between Japan and China. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)