Encountering technology with traditional Chinese five cardinal relationships

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Dr. CHAN Kai Pak (CHAN) grew up in Hong Kong. After completing the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination with nine distinctions in 1987 and representing Hong Kong in the 30th International Mathematical Olympiad, Chan went on to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA and received his Bachelor and Master Degrees there. He became a Christian in 1990 and got his Doctor of Ministry in 2016 from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. CHAN is currently serving as Interim Pastor at Boston Chinese Church of Saving Grace. He has extensive experience in student ministries and network ministries apart from his profession as a software engineer.

In view of the drastic technological advances from 1992 to the present, which have changed the worldwide scenarios of technological development. CHAN explored the landscape of technopoly and its threats and consequences. He expounded the scenario of technopoly as follows: ubiquity of information and knowledge, artificial intelligence challenges human intelligence, robotics replaces large portion of the workforce, globalization challenges values and culture, and "winner takes all" economics.

CHAN reviewed the stages of technological development in relation to global, including Asian cultures and societies. Technology has been developed from tool using culture to technocracy and now to technopoly.  In a tool using culture, technology defines the techniques. In a technocracy, technology defines the problems. In an age of technopoly, technology defines the humans! In a technopoly, technology becomes an end to itself. Technology is considered as superior to traditional cultural values. It becomes a "totalitarian technocracy”. Now, in this age of technopoly, human thoughts and human values are subordinate to technology. 

Neil Postman in his book, Technopoly: The surrender of Culture to Technology, describes how Americans have turned the technology into a religion. Postman proposed to rebel against technology as a solution. Echoing with Postman, CHAN proposed to encounter this by integrating the Traditional Chinese Five Cardinal Relationships with Christian values in the Asian context.

How can the integration of Chinese five cardinal relationships with Christian values provide ways to preserve and revitalize coaching in face of technopoly and faith? CHAN explained that the five cardinal relationships in the Confucian system are Asians highly valued relations, namely: Parent and child (affection), Ruler and minister (rightness &loyalty), Husband and wife (differentiation), Elder and younger siblings (precedence), and between mutual friends (trust).  He then proposed that the Five Cardinal Relationships and Biblical Faith could be understood as: God as Father, God as King, Christ as husband, Christians as brothers and sisters (Christ is the first born), and God as friend. 

CHAN expounded also that it is possible to integrate the five Chinese cardinal relations into a biblical-covenantal framework to resist technopoly in the Asian context. Technopoly has become an idolatry and even Christians succumbed to it.  The restoration of traditional Chinese values, including the five cardinal relations, would then be seen as “resistance” in the Asian context. The key to revival of traditional Chinese values is to understand covenantal commandments verses legalistic commandments. Under the legalistic context, commandments are subject to be perverted into being oppressive; whereas within a covenant, commandments may help to affirm and protect human dignity. The Book of Philemon in the Bible is a good case for exploration; it testifies how covenantal relations can go beyond the demands from Roman slavery system.

Relationship is the key element in Chinese/Asian cultures.  Hence, CHAN proposed a Four Steps Action Plan to resist Technopoly in the 21st Century: (1) Be content; (2) Pay attention to the side effects of technology; (3) Build family and community; (4) Emphasize meanings and missions over numbers and metrics.  Contentment is a defense against idolatry. In 1 Timothy 6:6, which says: “But godliness with contentment is great gain”, precedence is important. Recognition of traditional Chinese culture, like biblical covenants, values history and names, and pay more attention of proper titles and etiquettes.  Hence, each person has his/her proper place in their relations.  

Lastly, CHAN admitted that human values in Asian cultures encountered also the danger of being eroded by technopoly. Technological development in the Asian contexts became a means to empower the authority/ government rather than to empower ordinary people as it was in the Western world.   In China, it is easier for the government to gain massive control while people trust in technology. As a result, human decisions, moral choices, and human values would easily be taken away by the dominance of technopoly. And there is a real danger that human judgment and thinking would not be valued anymore if numerical data are over-emphasized and are wrongly used.