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Book Review: Solidarity and Reciprocity with Migrants in Asia: Catholic and Confucian Ethics in Dialogue.

ARC Admin
2022-10-18 08:11 UTC+7 438

Solidarity and Reciprocity with Migrants in Asia: Catholic and Confucian Ethics in Dialogue, Mee-Yin Yuen, Mary. Oxford, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillian, 2020. 239 pp.

Rico Jacoba

Religion and Social Communication 19, No. 1 (2021)



With her extensive experience in pastoral concerns, her theological and ethical competencies, and her sincere concern for the migrant women in Hong Kong, Mary Mee-Yin Yuen wrote this book to help in moral and ethical discernment. This book is essential because globally, there are thousands of migrants and refugees who die each year.[1] Migrants in Hong Kong were affected by this perilous global migration journey and experienced discrimination from their employers and the residents.[2] Yuen wrote this book employing an interdisciplinary approach, bringing into dialogue different disciplines in moral discernment. Drawing from virtue ethics and blended it with Catholic Social Teachings (CST) and looking at the different traditional practices and ethical principles of Confucianism is her way to articulate a hybrid approach to understanding migration issues in Hong Kong.


In this review, I will highlight several thought-provoking themes. The first theme is on “Migration and women migrants in Asia and Hong Kong.” Under this theme, I will present the author's viewpoint and purpose about migration's essence and its impact on women migrants. The second theme is on “Justice and human dignity in Catholic social teaching.” I will lay out Yuen’s main points about justice, human dignity and how these values are relevant in women's migration narratives. I will also present the different Catholic social teaching (CST) approaches to the development of the Catholic human rights discourse and the limitations of the rights language as presented in the book.


The third theme is on “Christian relational virtues (hospitability, compassion, and solidarity).” Under this theme, I will explore how Yuen illustrates the three social and relational virtues hospitability, compassion, and solidarity in moral discernment. Furthermore, I will present the striking ideas of Yuen on the theological virtue of charity. Moreover, I will also consider how the virtue of prudence is vital in Christian moral decision-making. The fourth theme is “Human relatedness, benevolence, and reciprocity in Confucian and Neo-Confucian ethics.” I will be exploring how the author presents Confucianism and the features of virtue ethics in early Confucianism.


Furthermore, it is also important to examine how the author discusses about the relational self and human relatedness. Exploration will be extended to the nature and essence of "ren" and the notion of harmony in society. Finally, I will also include how the author understands Neo-Confucian ethics, particularly in terms of the unity of knowing and acting.


Migration and Women Migrants in Asia and Hong Kong


Immediately in the preface, the author provides the context by presenting a glimpse of migration in Asia and how this phenomenon implicitly and explicitly affects the life of migrants. The migration phenomenon in Asia has a long, diverse, and complex history.[3] Migration cannot be separated from the complex interplay of social, economic, class, religious, and political factors that interact to displace people from their homelands.[4] At the start of the twenty-first century, the world saw the development on a colossal scale inner and outside relocations made conceivable by reasonable worldwide travel, advanced broadcast communications, and broadband web.[5] Pope Francis, in his concern about the situation,[6] called on society to overcome what he labeled "the globalization of indifference." Responding to the Pope's call, Yuen explored how the Church's social teachings (CST) interact with Confucian ethics in regards to the pressing issue of migration in Hong Kong, with considerations of some ethical theories and emphasis on virtue ethics.


In chapter 1, Yuen argued that "migration has undoubtedly been one of the most common and relevant experiences in the history of humankind since its very beginning." She noted that migrants "are often treated like outsiders or ‘the other,’ being excluded from the mainstream society." Yuen reminds her readers that "treating the poor and the marginalized with care and hospitality has always been an important teaching and lived experience of Christians in different ages of the Church."


In line with this, Yuen presents three teachings: the foundational level of motivations, the directive level of norms for life in society, and the deliberative level of conscience. These teachings are to be actualized to mediate objective and general norms in concrete and particular social situations. Yuen explains that the first level is the heart level, motivating people to care and act. The second is the rational level which refers to norms, principles, and themes to help people interpret reality and discern various courses of action. The third level is the integrative level challenging people to link these norms to their everyday lives. These are three different activities.


Yuen argues that it is essential to emphasize the "other-regarding" dimension of virtue ethics. Harmonious relationships, spiritual or religious practices relevant to moral cultivation, and virtues that can transform a person and communities to be more compassionate toward the underprivileged are considered necessary.


In chapter 2, the author applies the "Pastoral Cycle" or "Social Analysis"[7] to the migration situation in Hong Kong. The Pastoral Cycle is a particular theological method developed by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), designed to help Asian bishops, church leaders, and pastoral workers better understand Asia's social realities. Applying these methods to the phenomenon of labor migration in Hong Kong, Yuen concludes that migrants are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Among the migrants, almost half are women. Very often, they have to face the problems of sexism, racism, and classism. They are too often victims of human trafficking and heinous exploitation. Women play an increasing role in all regions, and all types of migration[8] and the migrant is a gendered subject.[9]


Furthermore, Yuen presents issues related to "women labor migration and social exclusion." Yuen suggests that we can understand more how they are excluded and marginalized in a society by employing social exclusion and inclusion to examine the case of women migrants. Yuen argues that social divisions in Hong Kong in terms of class, ethnicity, and gender have increased, and the migrant population is among the worst affected. She notes that in Hong Kong, there is a hierarchy of citizens. There are citizens of the ethnic Chinese elites, the new Mainland migrants, Europeans, Americans, East Asian expatriates, and marginals such as Filipino, Thai, Indonesian, and Nepalese workers. Racial inferiority in Hong Kong is not merely varying degrees of disdain for others. It is the product of a system of differential exclusion of resident peoples from political power. The social structure and changes further segregate the poor, the marginal, and the minority from full participation in this semi-ethnocratic milieu.


To illustrate this claim, Yuen presents the narratives of three groups of women migrants in Hong Kong. The narrative of a Filipina who was often scolded and treated rudely by her employers.[10] Likewise, she narrated the story of ethnic minority women from South Asia. She explains that ethnic minorities are migrants who have settled in Hong Kong and have become Hong Kong residents. Sarah, a woman from Pakistani is an example of a migrant who experienced discrimination because of her culture.


Another example is the case of "new migrants." New Chinese immigrants look similar to native Hong Kong people and speak Chinese. However, they speak different dialects and come from different cultural backgrounds. Thus, they often face many challenges related to communication, employment, housing, living conditions, and interpersonal relationships. The new immigrants who are employed work long hours in unstable working environments with low wages and few benefits. Yuen claims that there is a gap between native Hong Kong people and new immigrants from China. Culturally, the images of Mainlanders portrayed in mass media are often negative, depicting them as uncivilized, having poor hygiene habits, and prone to violence and crime. Thus, they are often in tension with the local people.



Justice and Human Dignity in Catholic Social Teaching


In Chapter 3 Yuen introduces the relevant themes of Catholic social teachings (CST), particularly the notions of justice and human dignity. She discusses the ethical approaches of CST that aim at addressing different audiences—Catholics and non-Catholics. After that, she delineates the Catholic human rights discourse development and its relationship to the natural law approach. Yuen argues that "justice is both a key theme in the Scripture and CST and a cardinal virtue in the Catholic tradition.” In the Scripture, justice has the meaning of showing concern for the weak and vulnerable. For her, justice is understood as a habit whereby a man/woman renders each one his/her due with a constant and perpetual will. Justice aims at restoring our right relationships with God, human persons, and creation. Furthermore, Yuen stresses that justice is a foundational principle in CST, as human persons are created in the image of God. Indeed, the author emphasizes that every person is an end in himself/herself, not a means to some other purpose. From this perspective, each migrant or migrant worker is a human person and should not be treated as a commodity or a mere workforce.


Since the Second Vatican Council, rights language has become a critical ethical discourse. It is important to note that, though employing rights language, the Catholic theory of human rights has distinctive features from the Western liberal tradition. In this chapter, Yuen explains the relevancy of justice and human dignity to the women migrants. She claims that in applying the principles of justice and human dignity to the lives of migrant women, sometimes we need to enter into conflict with oppressive structures of injustice. In the same manner, she further explains the different approaches of CST.


In chapter 4, Yuen brings forth the issues of migration, human rights, and obligations. She argues that the key is to reconstruct what human rights are from the Catholic perspective. She explains that the Catholic account of human rights includes spiritual goods and material goods, civil rights, and economic rights. Moreover, Yuen discusses the natural law conviction of a social self with a communitarian nature. The centrality of her discussion is the argument that "the human person is an essentially social being." Yuen believes that the common good is a higher goal based on a religious tradition. "Communitarian nature of the self" in the Catholic tradition would not lead to dislocation of the individual from society and neglect the virtues of a community that upholds the common good. She then further discusses in this chapter the "sacredness of human life."


In chapter 5, Yuen discusses the relationships between migrants, receiving communities, and the dynamics of virtues. She explains the relevance of virtue ethics in nurturing people's caring attitude in the receiving countries toward the migrants. Yuen argues and demonstrates that virtue ethics is not egoistic. She explains "why and how is Christian virtue ethics useful in motivating Christians to commit to social justice and show solidarity with the marginalized, mainly migrants.” Yuen concludes this chapter by saying that Christian virtue ethics offers a good prospect for motivating Christians to commit to social justice and extend solidarity with the marginalized, mainly migrants. These features include the human agency's role and continual practice of specific actions, cultivating emotions and imagination, emulating moral exemplars and spiritual practices. Yuen argues that for Christians, taking Jesus as the role model in Christian virtue ethics entails Christians as disciples. To follow Jesus, we need to cultivate virtues through imitating Jesus with moral imagination in different contexts, not just copying what he did. In her observation, the different virtues, especially justice and solidarity, have been seen in social ethics literature. However, very often, they are employed as principles or duties rather than virtues. Hence, according to Yuen, it is necessary to demonstrate what roles they can play in individual Church members' lives and what people practicing such virtues look like or will do.


In her presentation of Christian virtue ethics’ social dimension, it is a kind of theological ethics rather than philosophical ethics. Virtue ethics emphasizes the notion of human good or end or telos, transitioning from who we are to who we could be. According to Yuen the optimal development for a human being is not to be wealthy or famous, or powerful but to be a presence of God's love and goodness in the world. On the issue of "human good and other-regarding virtues," Yuen proposes that virtues are both self-regarding and other-regarding. Furthermore, virtues are supposed to be culturally sensitive. Immersion, therefore, is a necessary move in making the right decision.


Christian Relational Virtues: Hospitability, Compassion, and Solidarity


In chapter 6, Yuen focused on the cardinal virtue of justice and three interrelated virtues: hospitality, compassion, and solidarity. These virtues are derived from the cardinal virtue of justice. For Yuen, these three virtues can be interpreted from the threefold dimensions of reason or intellect, affection or emotion, and practice or moral action. She further argues for the importance of the virtue of charity and the virtue of prudence. The former has the unifying function of directing their subject toward a personal union with God. In contrast, the latter can make the right decisions and right judgments about things being done, directing the various virtues to their ends with the right reason. These two are imperative in guiding Christians to love tenderly, act justly, and walk humbly with God and neighbor.


Chinese Confucian Ethics: Human Relatedness, Benevolence, and Reciprocity


In chapter 7, Yuen presents the Chinese Confucian ethics. Based on the history of New Confucianism development in Hong Kong and the colonial government's educational policy, Hong Kong culture is a hybrid—a blend of Chinese and Western values. Confucian ethics is rich in virtue features, emphasizing becoming good or virtuous through moral cultivation, seeking excellence of character or disposition, and focusing on human subjectivity. She, therefore, discusses the social values and virtue features of Confucian ethics, with a focus mainly on its early Confucian texts. The virtue features of Confucian ethics exhibit the significant virtues of Confucian thought. These virtues include a relational person, caring for the other, taking care of people's needs, or putting them first. It also includes a ruler's moral integrity, forming the social virtues of benevolence, humaneness, and compassion among people and leaders, building a cordial and trustworthy relationship between the rulers and the ruled. These are beneficial to sustaining the well-being of human persons, mainly the migrants and other underprivileged, and the society at large and nurture the other-regarding virtues of a community.


In Chapter 8, Yuen makes an in-depth reflection on the thought of Wang Yang-ming on moral self-cultivation. She proposes that Wang's moral self-cultivation is an integrative approach, comprised of the fourfold dimension of knowing and learning, emotion/affection, establishing the will, and moral action by practicing inner scrutiny of every thought and reflection on every act in daily life. It is a holistic way of moral formation which helps to overcome the dualistic view of knowing and acting, spirituality and morality, personal ethics, and social ethics. Yuen also compares and discusses the commonalities and differences between Christian ethics and Confucian ethics. She finds that many Confucian ethics features are commensurable with Christian virtue ethics, although there are fundamental differences in the details. It also provides insight into transforming Christians and motivating them to actualize the moral vision of building a society that emphasizes common good and solidarity with the marginalized by focusing on the heart/mind, which guides both the cognitive and affective parts of our bodies. All these insights shed light on our understanding of CST.


Finally, in chapter 9, Yuen presents an ethic of solidarity and reciprocity with the migrants, especially women migrants who are the most vulnerable in the migrant communities. Yuen proposes that the complementarity of the principles-based human rights approach and virtue ethics approach can provide a suitable ethical method in Catholic social ethics. Whether the human rights principle or principle of solidarity sets a direction or standard for others to follow, they can tell what kind of actions we should engage in. Principles such as justice and human rights are to transform the objective realities. Virtues are the skills that strengthen us to decide how to act in a good way for our being and others; relational virtues can transform a person to do well to others. Yuen argues that given the possibility of multiple conceptions of human flourishing and virtue in the rights-based conception of the common good in Catholic social thought, the virtue ethics approach in Catholic and Confucian traditions can thicken and enrich human rights language. Yuen compares the virtue ethics approach in Confucian and Christian ethics and pointed out the two approaches' commensurable insights. These insights can contribute to the formulation of a more contextualized and inculturated Catholic social teaching. Yuen applied them to three specific social and relational virtues. She demonstrated how people who possess these virtues would respond to the needs of the migrant women and cultivate these virtues through concrete practices, including practices in daily life and spiritual practices. With the virtues of hospitality, compassion, and solidarity, we would recognize the neglected migrants as neighbors, attend to the suffering of the migrants with affection, and support the migrants by advocating their rights and justice.


General Observations and Critique


In her presentation, Yuen takes the hermeneutic of suspicion[11] as her starting point of giving the context of her arguments. Her presentation of the experiences of the women migrants in Hong Kong is a case of articulating the painful and harsh experiences. It is a good starting point to emphasize the advocacy that she wants to promote. The message is clear; the book aims to convey ethical treatment of migrant workers, especially the women. However, her hermeneutic of suspicion fails to consider that Hong Kong has more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers, primarily women from Indonesia and the Philippines.[12]


There are also stories of "light at the end of the tunnel." The Guardian reports that in Hong Kong, maids can study at the university.[13] There are testimonies that they are not just maids, but they are people of experience and many skills. Being a migrant worker is the start of their dream. There are also testimonies of good experiences.[14] For instance, Asti Maria from Malang, East Java, claimed that she would not meet different people if she continued staying at home rather than learning things as she has in Hong Kong. It has opened her mind about life. She claimed that life is not only about money. Life is also about communication, connection, and friendship.[15] Asti Maria said, "When I go back to my hometown I will feel confident because I am not only a migrant worker who sends money back home, but I also have more knowledge."[16]


In the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported that in Hong Kong, the Philippine Association of Hong Kong (PAHK) in June 2018, gave awards at the PAHK Charity Ball to the Most Valuable Pinoys (MVP) of Hong Kong in the following fields: Myrna Padilla (Technology), Leo Selomenio (Community Development), Dr. Michael Manio (Education), Lulu Salazar (Business and Professional Practice), and Xyza Bacani (Arts).[17] These and many others are testimonies that virtue ethics has a chance in Hong Kong. Such testimonies are glimpse of hope that justice, fairness, the common good, and solidarity will sooner be also a lived experience in Hong Kong.


Furthermore, benevolence and love are the core concepts and the fundamental principles of Confucianism and Christianity, respectively, which are two different types of spirit. Confucianism emphasizes benevolence, which renders it a human-centered religion, whereas Christian values love, making it a God-centered religion.[18]


However, there are also possible issues that the readers may find in this book. Yuen presents the views from the Catholic perspective by presenting the CST. The issue here is if this book is intended for moral discernment of the migrants themselves, they should be knowledgeable about what this CST is all about. Note that a lot of Christians themselves are inadequately knowledgeable of CST. Similarly, she perpetuated the Confucian tenets and presented the virtues that could strengthen us to decide how to act in a good way for our being and others. However, just like my first contention, not all migrants know Confucian tenets; hence, understanding Confucian virtues' whole context might lead to misinterpretation.


It is good to note, however, that her ethical decision-making approach is interdisciplinary. Yuen tries to explore the Rights Approach's blending, the Fairness or Justice Approach, the Common Good Approach, and the Virtue Approach. Each approach helps to determine what standards of behavior can be considered ethical, particularly in dealing with the migrant workers in Hong Kong.


However, there are still problems we may encounter with this approach. The first problem is that we may disagree on the content of some of these specific approaches. We may not all agree to the same set of human and civil rights. Other philosophers and ethicists suggest that ethical action is the one that best protects and respects the moral rights of those affected. For example, there is a debate over CEO salaries that are hundreds of times larger than the pay of a migrant domestic helper; many ask whether the vast difference is based on a defensible customary or whether it is the result of an imbalance of power and hence is unfair.[19] We may disagree on what constitutes the common good. There is no general consensus on what is good and what is harmful. This is contextual and can always be understood only in its own context.


The second challenging issue is that the different approaches may not answer the question "What is ethical?" in the same manner. Nonetheless, each approach gives us vital information to determine what is ethical in a particular circumstance. Moreover, much more often than not, the different approaches do lead to similar answers. Finally, the book is an interdisciplinary work and that it is open for critique from different disciplines. One may look at its veracity in the theological view, others may look at it in ethical perspective, and so on. Hence, we cannot make a general conclusion in one particular discipline. It is a book open for interpretation.

[1] Tara Brian, and Frank Laczko. "Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost During Migration." (2014), accessed March 17, 2021,

[2] Piyasiri Wickramasekara, Asian Labour Migration: Issues and Challenges in an Era of Globalization. Geneva: ILO, 2002, accessed March 17, 2021,

[3] Graeme Hugo, Migration in the Asia-Pacific Region, (Ginebra: Global Commission on International Migration, 2005), accessed March 17, 2021,

[4] Anthony Rogers, fsc. (Ed.). The Migrant Family in Asia: Reaching out and Touching Them. Manila: FABC-Office of Human Development, 2009. pp. 238.

[5] Jonathan Y. Tan "Migration in Asia and Its Missiological Implications: Insights from the Migration Theology of the Federation of Asians Bishops’ Conferences (FABC)." Mission studies 29, no. 1 (2012): 45-61.

[6] Recall that in his first official trip outside Rome after his installation as a Pope he went to visit the tiny island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily on Monday to show solidarity to African migrants who risk their lives trying to immigrate to Europe. Pope Francis liken this crossing boarder experience as “a thorn in the heart.” See Alessandro Special, Religion News Service, July 8, 2013, Pope Francis decries ‘globalization of indifference’, accessed, February 7, 2021,

[7] Brian Macallan, and Jurgens Hendriks. "A post-foundational Practical Theology? The pastoral cycle and local theology." NGTT| Nederduitse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 53, no. 3&4 (2012): 194-205.

[8] S&F Online, accessed March 20, 2021,

[9] Women comprised approximately 70 percent of export labor, the majority of whom are in domestic service work. The new international division of labor defines female roles in terms of sexuality, reproduction, and domesticity with a market ethos of commodification. In the Philippines, Yuen noted that the feminization of export labor and the commodification of migrant labor had become the main features of the labor export policy.

[10]Like Yuen this reality was also recorded by different authors. See for example French, 1986a, 1986b; Asian Migrant Centre 1991. In the article written by Nicole Constable she said “In Hong Kong, as in China, patterns of household work have undergone important changes over the past decade and a half. By the early 1990s, approximately 100,000 Hong Kong Chinese households employed "foreign domestic helpers" (FDHs), as they are officially called by the labor and immigration departments. In 1995 there were 150,000 such workers, including 130,000 from the Philippines and another 20,000 from Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal. The vast majority of those from the Philippines are unmarried, Roman Catholic women between the ages of 25 and 35. Although some foreign workers are of Chinese or mixed Chinese ancestry, they are also generally regarded as "foreign" by the people of Hong Kong.” (Constable, Nicole. "Jealousy, chastity, and abuse: Chinese maids and foreign helpers in Hong Kong." Modern China 22, no. 4 (1996): 448-479).

[11] Iben Damgaard, "Through Hermeneutics of Suspicion to a Rediscovery of Faith: Kierkegaard’s pamphlet “What Christ Judges of Official Christianity” in relation to Ricœur’s “Religion, Atheism and Faith”." Studia Theologica-Nordic Journal of Theology 72, no. 2 (2018): 198-216.

[12]The Guardian, “Domestic Workers in Hong Kong: what being a migrant means to me,” accessed March 17, 2021,

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] DFA, Filipino Expat Group Awards Most Outstanding Pinoys in Hk, accessed March 17, 2021,

[18] M. A. Lei, "The Comparison of Confucian Benevolence and Christian Love." Studies in Literature and Language 9, no. 1 (2014): 145-148.

[19], accessed March 21, 2021,