The 1000-Year-Old Tradition
Confucius was a Chinese philosopher in ancient China, whose teachings have deeply influenced the Chinese community for over a millenia. His teachings focused primarily on filial piety and respect for elders and seniors. Until today, Confucius' teachings are evident all over Asia. The Chinese community in Malaysia is no different, especially those who've gone through the Chinese schooling system. Malaysian Chinese have fought for decades to maintain their independent schooling system against integration with the rest of Malaysia's national schools. In these Chinese schools, Confucianism is hard-wired, by default, into the system. As a result, students are automatically indoctrinated with his teachings from a young age.
A lot of Malaysian Chinese tie their cultural identity to Confucianism, so much so, that children are automatically expected to revere their parents undyingly and unquestionably. They believe that parents created the children and so, the children owe them everything. This is markedly different from Christianity where Christians believe that there is only one Father in Heaven and parents are merely conduits for God. In Heaven, you and your biological father become brothers-in-Christ. Confucianism is not a religion, but a way of life, but it's impact on society today is just as profound as that of religion, if not more.
So, what is so wrong with Confucianism? What's wrong with respecting your parents and elders? Nothing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving and respecting your parents. Everyone is encouraged to do that. Moreover, Confucius also taught the Golden Rule, which is universally accepted and should be practised.
What I find unacceptable about Confucianism, though, is that you must put the interests of your elders ahead of your own, with no questions asked. Why should you let your parents/elders make decisions for you if you are capable of thinking on your own? Even if your own thinking is reasonable enough, why does Confucius demand that you obey your parents? Theoretically, if they ever asked you to kill yourself, then according to Confucius, you absolutely must kill yourself! Where did Confucius get the misguided notion that all parents are rational people? Such rigid rules are not without disastrous consequences.
One example I can remember is from Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Outliers' about Korean pilots. In August 6, 1997, Korean Air Flight 801 crashed in Guam, killing 228 people. Prior to this, Korean Air also suffered unusually high rate of crashes. Going through the plane's blackbox, investigators found that the Flight 801 Captain, who was fatigued throughout the flight, had blundered. The First Officer and Flight Engineer were both uncomfortable with their Captain's decision, but because of their Confucianist culture, were not able to strongly voice their objections to him. Instead, they had to remain subservient and politely hinted on potential problems. The result was a tragedy. Confucianism crashes planes!
The truth is, everyone deserves respect regardless of their status/position. The young must respect the elderly and likewise, the elderly must respect the young. We cannot have one-sided rules where someone is always right because of their higher status. The fact is, nobody is perfect. The elderly can be just as flawed and misinformed as the young can. It is imperative that we respect each individual's freedom. Also, one doesn't need to observe such archaic rules in order that one can be identified as a Chinese. It is much more important to be a rational person first, and a Chinese, second.