All You Need Is Destiny | Speaking of China

22 Responses

  1. Sveta
    Sveta September 19, 2011 at 3:11 am | | Reply

    How do you say destiny in Chinese? I honestly haven’t heard of that before…is fate the same as destiny or are they two different things? I’ve always thought that they’re the same thing actually. If I end up with a certain Chinese guy, then it will truly be destiny 🙂 Thanks for giving an interesting topic to discuss with a Chinese guy hehe. I’m curious if Chinese equate destiny with soulmate…sorry for many questions.

  2. Chris Waugh
    Chris Waugh September 19, 2011 at 4:10 am | | Reply

    @Sveta: I’m guessing the Chinese word in question is 缘分/yuánfèn, which I’ve heard fairly often to describe how a couple came to be a couple. I haven’t heard any equivalence between 缘分 and soulmate, or any word that would equate to soulmate.

    @Jocelyn and all others: For that matter, love and destiny have always been quite separate concepts in my experience, even though they are both often evoked when discussing couples. I’m really not sure how to explain the relationship between the two. The two can coexist, and it would seem that destiny can exist without love, though I’ve never seen that personally (at least, I don’t think so… but looking at some couples I’ve met… ). But love without destiny?

    And when one looks back at one’s life and all the what ifs?, one does see a role for destiny. What if I’d stayed in Changsha instead of moving to Taiyuan and then Beijing? What if I’d stayed in Taiyuan? What if I’d moved to Japan, Korea or Taiwan (all things I thought about in my single days)? What if I’d never signed up for those Chinese classes? All of those what ifs?, in some alternate universe, could’ve easily led to me never meeting the woman who is now my wife and the mother of my child. I’m not a superstitious sort, but there is a role that destiny, no matter how loosely and unsuperstitiously defined, has to play in how our lives unfold.

  3. ordinary malaysian
    ordinary malaysian September 19, 2011 at 6:31 am | | Reply

    Interesting topic. The Chinese really believe that when two people come together as a couple then it is all down to 缘分 (yuan fen) or what is commonly known as fate or destiny. And it is interesting that some scientists are now talking about synchronicity, that for a particular event to have happened as it happened, a thousand and one things have to have happened exactly as they happened. That the mere flutter of the wings of a butterfly a thousand miles away can and does affect how and in what or which way an event turns or pans out. And it is hard to dispute one way or another whether that this is so or not. Very much like how two people meet and eventually end up married or living together.

    However, I think love has little to do with destiny. Two people may be destined to be married, but they may not be destined to love each other in the romantic sense. If you observe, you will notice that not many married couples are in love with each other when they marry. More often, it is the case of one being in love with the other. Or even that both are not in love with each other, and yet they are married anyway. It is quite rare for a married couple to be mutually in love. Love may or may not happen after marriage, but you see the point. Destiny does not require love as an invariable.

    The concept of soul-mates is quite alien to the Chinese generally. Soul-mates are supposed to be the spiritual complement of the other in every sense of the words, but the Chinese concept of destiny is quite different. And soul-mates may not be destined to marry, although they may be drawn to seek each other without necessarily being consciously aware about it. But when they do meet, it is like aha! no words need be spoken and they need not necessarily want to live together. It is enough that they have met and they mutually know.

  4. Chris Waugh
    Chris Waugh September 19, 2011 at 6:49 am | | Reply

    @ordinary malaysian: Define love.

  5. Bruce
    Bruce September 19, 2011 at 8:41 am | | Reply

    It is fate. There is always someone for you. It’s all true 🙂 lol . If you have a happy relationship, those people will call it destiny. If you don’t have good relationship, they will call it *blah,blah,blah*. You guys add in the blanks. I believe in fate, destiny and love. You can run but you can’t hide from destiny.
    Bruce 🙂

  6. Craig Hart
    Craig Hart September 19, 2011 at 10:24 am | | Reply

    I have a bit of a hard time accepting a love/destiny explanation. The idea of destiny is certainly a romantic one, but it also brings up a lot of questions, such as: Is there only one person for everyone? What about divorces or spousal deaths? Suppose two people are in love together and then one loses the attraction, but the other maintains it?

    Perhaps it just seems too simple, the idea that if it works it was meant to be and if it doesn’t, well, then it wasn’t. Perhaps when we are in a fulfilling relationship, we don’t want to believe there could be another person we could be happy with (as it should be). If the relationship happens to sour, we become willing to explore options.

    In any case, great topic!

  7. cool
    cool September 19, 2011 at 11:43 am | | Reply

    Now the chinese are just getting over sentimental about this romance stuff… no more different than people who believe in meeting their soul mates and being the one and only and living for ever and ever…happily after phhhffft

  8. Joel
    Joel September 19, 2011 at 12:17 pm | | Reply

    Have you ever heard “love is destiny”?

    Many times. Almost always from under-40-year-old Chinese.

    What do you think?

    I think it’s a tragic combination of lazy Chinese fatalism and superficial popular Western notions of romantic love.

    Love is a choice. You don’t “find” love; you “make” love. Actually, love is better as a verb. You choose to love; you love. Period.

  9. ordinary malaysian
    ordinary malaysian September 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm | | Reply

    @Chris Waugh, love is not a definition. Or at least I don’t think so. Of course one can try. But I certainly can’t. You know and I know. And there is no need to nit pick. One can go on and on and try to define, to pigeon hole, try to differentiate, try to understand, try to comprehend and one may be right technically, one may be intellectually satisfied with one’s definition. So what? Is definition the thing or the feeling the thing? And there is no right love or wrong love, unless you are defining love by its consequence. Love is just love. As an experiment, try to fall sanely in love or be sanely in love. Then you tell me what is love. And whatever you come up with, I won’t or can’t say you are wrong. You are right. And that’s what love is. They say love always is and not is not. Is not is a negative definition, a negation. Love just is, a celebration. Beyond that, I am as ignorant as an ignoramus. And I am happy about that.

  10. ordinary malaysian
    ordinary malaysian September 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm | | Reply

    @Joel, so you choose to love. Just like you choose the food you eat or the clothes you wear. That’s good for you. And I am not being sarcastic. That’s great and that’s wonderful. Of course it’s always great to make love and of course you can do this better than you can choose to love. But are you serious about choosing to love? Does this happen to you?

  11. Joel
    Joel September 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm | | Reply

    @ordinary malaysian

    I don’t want to give the impression that I’m one of those anti-romantic, pedantic, emotionless robots who sees everything in terms of which hormones are pumping through your brain. I’m all for cheesy romance! 🙂 But I want it to be truly meaningful, not merely vaguely and superficially sentimental and devoid of meaning that can be articulated.

    So it’s hard to understand your question when you don’t define the key term (in your response to Chris). “Love is just love” is pretty meaningless.

    When I say love is choice, or that you choose to love (or not to love), I mean a person can choose whether or not to put another person’s needs above their own, to voluntarily, self-sacrificially act as if that person’s value is greater than one’s own (even though you’re actually of equal value). It’s by definition unselfish and deliberate; it’s deliberate choice and action. Different kinds of feelings are often involved, but it’s not determined by or dependent on those feelings. This applies to all kinds of relationships: with your wife, boss, friend, parents, children, etc. You can love someone even in moments where you don’t like them. Feelings change and come and go and come and go. Love does not.

    Re: romantic feelings and romantic attraction — I’m not saying you can just choose to make yourself feel romantically attracted to someone. Choosing to love and choosing to feel a certain way are not the same thing. But I do think you can intentionally choose to do things to help nurture particular kinds of feelings for someone, to give those kinds of feelings a better chance to grow over time (good and bad feelings). You can choose what kinds of thoughts and feelings about a person you will indulge, and which kinds you will ignore. You can choose what you will say about that person, and how you will talk to that person. You can choose how to treat that person. And you can choose what kinds of thoughts you indulge about other people (like internet porn or attractive women at work) that would get in the way of your feelings for your wife (for example). All these things will influence how you feel about the person. For example, a wife who likes to complain about her husband with her girlfriends is not doing herself and her relationship a favour, because talking like that about her husband reinforces and encourages her negative feelings towards him.

    It doesn’t mean you can guarantee yourself that you can make yourself become strongly romantically attracted to someone; it just means you can deliberately influence particular feelings and give them a better chance to grow.

    There are different kinds of “love.” Other languages, like ancient Greek, make this clear because they have different words for different kinds of love (e.g. erotic love, brotherly love, self-sacrificial love, etc.). But in English we just have “love”, usually not preceded by an adjective, and a capitalist/consumer/entertainment culture exported around the world that manipulates the word for profit. We do have some other words that might be useful for clarifying what we mean, like “affection”, or “attraction”, but almost no one uses them that way. “I’m physically attracted to you” or “I feel really strong positive feelings in general toward you” or “I’m willing to sleep with you if you’re affectionate towards me” just doesn’t sound as smooth as “I love you,” even if in a particular instance all “I love you” might really mean is, “I need you around to make me feel good about myself” or “let’s agree to mutually use each other to sooth our individual emotional issues.”

  12. Chris Waugh
    Chris Waugh September 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm | | Reply

    @ordinary malaysian: The way you used ‘love’ in your first comment suggested to me that it could be defined in a rather romantic way. Forgive me if I misread. My point was that love is extremely difficult to define, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say impossible. It is a many-splendoured thing that manifests in many ways and takes many forms and constantly changes although it always remains the same.

    hmmm… perhaps instead of rewriting Beatles songs we need to rewrite the Daodejing? “The love that can be called love is not the eternal love.”

    @Joel: “Destiny” can be a “lazy x fatalism” (it is by no means unique to the Chinese), but in a loose, weak definition, it could also be a recognition that there are many things in our lives beyond our control, that each of our choices has unforeseen consequences (both good and bad), and that many things had to happen ‘just so’ for us to end up where we are now. In that sense, I think it does have a role to play in this equation. I agree completely, though, on what you say about the “destiny is love” thing.

  13. Miriam
    Miriam September 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm | | Reply

    @Joel- beautifully put and totally on the mark!

  14. David
    David September 20, 2011 at 8:09 am | | Reply

    This blog is an island of sanity in a ocena of lunacy. One of the greatest miracles of our times is how someone as bright and intelligent like Melanie Gao ever grew up in Alabama…hard to believe!

    Is she really from Alabama and is she really living in Nashville, TN?

  15. ordinary malaysian
    ordinary malaysian September 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm | | Reply

    @Joel, I never thought that love can be cheesy romance or anything else. That is the trouble with the human mind. It wants to put things in neat compartments so that it feels secure. You can bestow whatever attributes you want to love, but just enjoy it. You have already defined love and set its parameters, what is there to say? For example, love is by definition unselfish. Love never change. The apostles said that too. Very Pauline or should I say Paulish? But what is your very personal experience of love? Or do you wish that love should just meet the Paulish ideals? Really? Is that your personal experience? Ideals are ideals and ideas are ideas. They are all concepts, not existential apart from the mind. We can try to live up to ideals, but that is not the same as the experience.

  16. Joel
    Joel September 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm | | Reply

    To answer your question: Yes, that is my personal experience. It’s also what I conclude when I study, observe and think critically. Some of it’s pretty obvious, imo. Obviously the word “love” is used in all kinds of ways to mean many different things. I happen to think that some of those meanings are better than others.

    (By the way, good job identifying, at least generally, the inspiration behind what I wrote. 😉 I don’t think Paul deserves most of the credit, though.)

    That is the trouble with the human mind. It wants to put things in neat compartments so that it feels secure.

    I think it’s “safer” and more secure feeling to speak vaguely about things, because then you can’t be held accountable for what you say because you aren’t actually saying much of anything; there’s less chance of being shown to be wrong. But I’m not so sure it’s very fair to assume and assign motivations to someone as a way of dismissing their ideas.

    For someone who apparently believes nothing much concrete can be said about love, you sure seem to have a lot to say about love. 🙂

  17. ordinary malaysian
    ordinary malaysian September 21, 2011 at 6:55 am | | Reply

    @Joel, good for you. What is pretty obvious? If some things are so pretty obvious why the need to express oneself? If love is study, observation and thinking or the result of, that’s also good for you. You don’t have to agonise. Just do the holy trinity and presto, that’s love baby. And you are not wrong, you ARE right. Love is the holy trinity. Just celebrate not cerebrate. Love is not about safety. Love is not about winning an argument. Ah, you see, the human mind, always wanting to define, always interfering, instead of just celebrating, instead of just being.

  18. Joel
    Joel September 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm | | Reply

    We may have misunderstood each other a little bit. I don’t intend to sound snarky at you. No hard feelings!

  19. ordinary malaysian
    ordinary malaysian September 22, 2011 at 9:30 am | | Reply

    @Joel, that’s love.

  20. E. Woo
    E. Woo October 2, 2011 at 2:06 pm | | Reply

    有緣千哩能相會 無緣見面不相識
    I think that says it all for the Chinese and yes, I believe it too!

  21. cris
    cris October 10, 2014 at 8:35 pm | | Reply

    A Chinese guy and I happened to simultaneously use 缘分 (yuan fen) several months ago to describe our relation and the way we met. After I arrived in China I started to take group dance lessons and liked so much the dance of this teacher that I started to practice in individual classes with him and then we both discovered that we really liked dancing together, talking about dance and that we really have the same feeling with dance. Even though my Chinese is very poor and his English as well, we manage to understand each other very well when we talk about dance. I am learning Chinese and am used to writing some Chinese expressions or idioms to remember them. One day I showed him my last list of Chinese expressions and when falling on the expression 缘分 (yuan fen), he told me that he really thought that the fact that we met was 缘分 (yuan fen) … and actually it was also what I really thought when I first read this expression, that somewhere it described it so perfectly. I personally think there is really something magic in the fact that we happened to meet. And I know also that Chinese people are particular keen on trying to put a romantic sight in everything… what I personally find very cute. But by the way we are “only” friends and are both engaged with someone else. It is true that compared to love and friendship which is a progressive process, the use of the expression destiny defines more something that falls on you, and which seems magic when you starts to think about all the “what ifs” that could have made you miss this particular person…

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