The Historical Roots of Chinese Cultural Values and Managerial Practices

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

To understand current Chinese culture and managerial practices requires an appreciation and understanding of important Chinese historical fibres and philosophical orientations, important historical figures such as Confucius and Mencius, Sun Tzu and Sun Pin, Lao Tzu, and others are discussed, along with cultural values such as guanxi, dao, dé, li, and ren. This paper provides insight into the major figures and philosophies which have shaped current Chinese cultural values and provides a deeper understanding of why the Chinese have adopted their unique management style.

INTRODUCTION

China's recent and impressive economic gains have captured the attention of the world. With the world's fastest growing economy and largest population, China is poised to change the landscape of global business. China has become the fourth largest economy in the world in a very short time. This economic gain is driven in part by an impressive expansion of China's manufacturing base and export abilities; both of which are expected to continue to increase in the coming years and to outperform its large competitor, India (Black 2007; Wu 2007; Lee, Rao, and Shephers 2007). With China's economic growth comes an increased need to better understand the strategic thinking of the Chinese. The last few years have seen an increased interest in understanding the business and managerial practices of the Chinese (Quer, Claver & Rienda 2007). In the hope of either capitalizing on China's growth, or being able to defend against its economic threat, many in the West and beyond have taken a much greater interest in China. One area of particular interest is a better understanding of Chinese culture and management system.

In order to truly understand another culture, it is necessary to explore the sources of the values of that culture. A deeper understanding of a culture is achieved when one explores the historical antecedents of the beliefs and values of the people comprising the culture. While much literature is devoted to current business practices and cultural do's and don'ts, this information provides only a superficial understanding and limited ability to work with people in the targeted culture. For example, while it is useful to understand that the Chinese place their family name first and given name second, a deeper understanding and appreciation of the importance of family and collectivist orientation can be gained by examining the sources of those cultural practices. Wong (2005) has proposed that management researchers have failed to appreciate the importance of history in explaining the management practices of the Chinese. This paper attempts to provide a better understanding of Chinese culture and management practices by exploring the most important historical figures and philosophies of Chinese culture.

Some of the more common characteristics of Chinese management and organization are: centralized control, collectivism, harmony, authoritarian and paternalistic leadership, flexible strategies, family-staffed businesses, and strong organizational networks and business connections. These characteristics are practiced both in China and overseas by the Chinese Diaspora. All of these practices can be traced to important historical figures and schools of thought beginning with the very early rules and philosophers of China.

LAO TZU AND THE SAGE KINGS

Early Chinese civilization saw the rise of great leaders. Two important figures in this early period were the Sage Kings of High Antiquity, Yao, and Shun. In particular, Yao is seen as a model of effective and morally perfect leadership. He is credited with many improvements including the establishment of a calendar useful for the planting of crops and the creation of harmony among the villages. Yao' s rule was wise and humanistic. When great floods devastated China, Yao suffered along with his people. He developed a social and political structure that helped to unite the Chinese people. …