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UPDATED: August 17, 2009 NO. 33 AUGUST 20, 2009
The Culture of Aging


GOLDEN OLDIES: Does getting old have different meanings in different cultures? (LONG HONGTAO) 

Dissimilarities between the Chinese and Western cultures are vast. Aging significantly points to these differences. The great Chinese thinker Confucius expressed very definite thoughts about his own aging process. In many ways his words contrast with the verses of the famous Western playwright, William Shakespeare. These two creative men had specific ideas about the stages of a man's life. The question is: Where is it better to retire—in the East or in the West?

According to the Analects, a record of the words and acts of Confucius and his disciples. Confucius divided his life into five stages. My translation of his definition is: "I made it my goal to learn at 15, got independence at 30, and was no longer confused at 40. I knew the true meaning of my destiny when I was 50; I was able to accept advice of any kind at 60. At 70, I could do anything I wanted without fear of breaking any rules."

In contrast, Shakespeare said:

"All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.

And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress' brow.

Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon's mouth.

And then the justice,

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