On China, Part 1: Respect Confucianism’s Hierarchy, Taoism’s Nature & Buddhism’s Individual Responsibility

Japan is a gateway to Asia, but across the sea lies the world’s largest population toiling away to create the second largest economy in the world. China is on the rise looking to take advantage of good business opportunities and increase their presence in the global economy, as if we couldn’t already feel them. Are you looking to benefit from China’s tremendous growth?

First, some basics: Not only do they have the highest population and the second largest economy, but they are the oldest continuous civilization. China, while operating under a Communist political system, has liberalized its markets and expanded rapidly. Though do keep in mind that the Communist Party in China permeates through almost every facet of Chinese life including business. Politics play a significant role in Chinese business, for a rise in the company is also a rise in Chinese bureaucracy. The Chinese businessman’s primarily goal is to protect oneself and position instead of getting immediate business goals accomplished – business goals take a backseat to self-preservation. China is also notorious for violating Intellectual Property Rights, as they favor things made in China, and will use reverse engineering on your product to produce their own. So if your area is in technology, be aware that this is common.

Essentially a group oriented culture, there is a strong tradition of individual responsibility in China. While the Chinese still see your representatives as being exactly that, representatives of your company, they value the individual. This mentality originates from Mahayana Buddhism, which believes that individuals can obtain nirvana (peace/end of suffering) through hard work and sacrifice. Mahayana Buddhism stresses individual responsibility to achieving nirvana. The effect of this belief is that Chinese group orientation is not as strong. In this way they are similar to Americans who, while having a responsibility to their group or organization, also have a responsibility to themselves in achieving their state of nirvana. Dependency on others, in China, occurs when many individuals perform repetitive tasks to achieve a communal goal.

China adheres, like Japan and most of Asia, to the teachings of Confucius. Confucius’ belief in the rigid hierarchy in society is embedded from the meeting room to household: it dictates a respect for elders, the importance of saving face, honor, and humility. The emphasis on hierarchy normalizes inequality in China, where they believe it is natural that some are in power and others not, that some dictate and others follow. This passivity in the static nature of the world is rooted in one of the other major religions of China, Taoism. Taoism, known for the yin-yang symbol, teaches passivity (founding philosophy in martial arts), which is used as a justification for the static nature of the world. Due to their belief in this static nature of the world, they are unwilling to change for change’s sake and therefore it will take a lot of convincing for them to change their ways.

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