From the heart come the greatest virtues

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Monday, February 25, 2013 at 7:02AM

We've already talked about filial duty to parents and fraternal respect for siblings. The third cornerstone means honesty and loyalty to country, corporation and, in ancient China, to the emperor.

The two elements which form the third cornerstone are (middle or centre) and (heart), meaning that loyalty and honesty should be etched in the centre of one’s heart. This follows if the first two cornerstones of filial duty and fraternal respect are in place.

What has honesty to do with the first two cornerstones?

From infancy, if a child is not instilled with the right values, the first people he or she could lie to are parents and siblings, which later in life extends to other relationships with country, employers, friends and spouses. Confucius taught that when parents are alive, a child should not wander far away from them. And if a distance should separate the family, the child should notify the parents of his or her whereabouts as a matter of courtesy and etiquette, because filial piety is defined as not giving parents any cause to worry other than for illnesses.

In modern societies, questioning children on their movements is sometimes interpreted as being controlling or authoritarian and inconsistent with the child's natural rights. But if not well and consistently nurtured, children will easily lie to parents about their whereabouts and activities. It may conflict with Western ideas about individualism, but from the Asian perspective passed down through Confucius, the principle is that a child who is filial and respectful to elders will rarely be rebellious and insubordinate in his or relations with superiors, including bosses and other authorities.

Therefore loyalty to country or corporation is a value first nurtured from the home and instilled in the individual’s heart. Confucius expounds this philosophy in the classic 大学, or Great Learning. In order to govern a country well, he says, one has to set one’s family in order, and to do that one has to set one’s life in order. Confucius further describes the steps to inculcate values in oneself. Thus integrity begins with the self, then with the home and country.

The Chinese suffix for country is . So, for example, China and America are 中国 and 美国 respectively. However the word for country is 国家. It is formed by two elements: country and families (). The implication is that without families there wouldn’t be a country and vice versa.

To the ancient Chinese, loyalty to country was so great that the inventors of paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass did not ascribe their names to their inventions but instead to their country and emperor. Hence these four great inventions have always been attributed to the Chinese.

What then does it mean to be loyal to one’s country or corporation? Would emigrating or leaving one’s company to join another for better prospects be deemed disloyal? I think not. Betraying one’s country by selling secrets that put one’s fellow citizens in harm’s way, or taking bribes and engaging in fraudulent behavior would certainly be deemed disloyal and corrupt.