1992 / 10月
Ju Gau-jeng as told to Teng Sue-feng /tr. by Peter Eberly
From the cachet that comes with earning an MBA degree in the West to the spate of books on Japanese-style management, we're searching around frantically to learn the management skills of others. In fact, there are plenty of lessons on management and leadership to be found in ancient Chinese writings.
Looking at Leadership Through History introduces the art of leadership in ancient China for people in the business world of today. We interviewed the author, Professor Hsu Cho-yun of the University of Pittsburgh and specially invited national legislator Ju Gau-jeng, who prides himself on being a "disciple of the Confucian school," to review the book.
Most management books on the market today are translations from Japanese, but if you look at them closely, you'll find that Japanese-style management takes a lot of material from ancient China.
In fact, there are lots of ancient Chinese writings that provide lessons on business management. Strategies of the Warring States, Garden of Anecdotes, A Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government and An Expanded Supplement to the Wisdom Sack contain an inexhaustible wealth of material. Here's an example. One day Wen, the marquis of Wei, heard the imperial ensemble playing in the palace and said "the pitch on the left is too high." A visiting foreign official in residence named Tien Tzu-fang who was standing next to him laughed and said, "A head of state doesn't need to understand music. All he needs to know is how to appoint the right conductor."
As the story points out, many managers make the mistake of spending too much time on what they're most familiar with. The business affairs manager who has been promoted to general manager yet still keeps meddling in the business affairs department is making the same mistake as the Marquis of Wei, for instance. He's acting as a business affairs manager instead of a general manager. That can be dangerous to the firm because there are many departments--financial affairs, personnel, sales, research and development--and the general manager is supposed to watch over them all. His job is to choose the right people to head them up.
National leaders can be like that, too. They listen to the orchestra and then say, "The pitch on the left is too high." Actually, as long as they appoint a good conductor, they'll get a good orchestra. A lot of people make the same mistake. They get involved in what they understand and let the rest slide.
Rereading history, fusing the rift: My point is that there are lots of ancient Chinese books worth studying. The problem is that people today don't know anything about our history. It's a serious problem. It's not just that we don't know anything about it, we even deny it.
After the imperial examination system was abolished in 1906, people who received a traditional education lacked new ideas, but those educated in the new way, under the influence of the anti-Confucianism of the May 4th Movement, completely denied tradition, and that created a serious rift in the intellectual world.
Today we have to become acquainted with our own history again because if we don't, we won't be able to define ourselves in the present or orient ourselves for the future. Any creative work that is cut off from the past is accidental and fortuitous. The only kind of work with deep roots is that which is consciously drawn from the well of the past.
Western missionary schools played a leading role in the course of China's modernization and have had an unconscious influence on the way we look at our history and tradition. What started out as opposition and denial ended up as emotional rejection and willful ignorance, a mentality hostile to China and tradition, where tradition is a synonym for backwardness and China for feudalism and reaction.
Chinese today are strangers to the writings of the past. In fact, our tradition contains a lot of outstanding ideas and materials that you simply won't find in the West. As a vast country with a long, unbroken history, China built up its own, unique systems of managing resources and personnel. The imperial bureaucratic system was admired around the world. It inspired the British civil service system in the 17th century, and that in turn was imitated in Germany, which takes great pride in its civil service system.
Chinese-style management traced back: Chinese-style management was exported overseas, and now it's coming back to us. We had these valuable ideas we weren't using, and the Japanese took them, digested them for us and then sold them back to us at a high price. Why didn't we revise and organize them directly ourselves? Maybe the way Chinese studies is taught in our schools is too narrow. It's always leaned heavily toward poetry and moral cultivation, to the neglect of social and political issues.
Why not study the writings of Ku Yen-wu and Wang Fu-chih, for instance, who were determined to find out why the Ming Dynasty had fallen to the Manchus? They pondered the problem constantly and traveled all over the country, and their words were written in blood and tears. The pain of China's fall meant more to them than a loss of their country--it meant the loss of traditional culture.
Or look at the national constitution written by Chia Yi and Tung Chung-shu during the Han Dynasty. The most marvelous part of it is the promotion system. Each district with a population of over 200,000 would recommend a worthy official to the central government each year. The Han Dynasty relied on scholars to bring stability to the country. Promoting people on the basis of wisdom and virtue--it's much more enlightened than the electoral system now.
I recently reread On Salt and Iron, a great discussion on fiscal policy held in 81 B.C., six years after the death of Han Wu-ti. It went on for over five months and involved the imperial censor and more than 60 leading scholars. The level of debate was much, much higher than that in our Legislative Yuan. People don't understand the ancients. We think they were backward, but actually we're the ones who are ignorant.
Looking at Leadership Through History, by Hsu Cho-yun, is basically a collection of lectures in which Professor Hsu introduces ancient Chinese thinking on leadership to business people who may not be familiar with Chinese history and culture, writing in an objective, readable style.
It wouldn't be fair to criticize the book from the standpoint of a professional historian. But any attempt by Chinese people on Taiwan to explain Chinese history to the business world using their own perspective is worth affirming. In particular, it's very appropriate that Professor Hsu chooses Hsun-tzu, the Confucian, and Han Fei-tzu, the Legalist, to set up a theoretical structure for Chinese-style management.
Confucianists and Legalists: The Confucianists and the Legalists are a single entity in terms of their academic source. Of the four main schools of thought in ancient China--Confucianism, Mohism, Taoism and Legalism--Confucianism and Mohism were the two most prestigious at first. The Confucianists were on the right wing and the Mohists on the left. The Confucianists stressed rites and ritual, the rectification of names and self-cultivation. The Mohists' basic standpoint was that of the working classes. They were against ritual and aggression and advocated peace, equality and the Will of Heaven. The Mohists were like socialists; they were unhappy with the status quo. The Confucianists were pragmatists; they advocated gradual reform and they wanted to build a "kingly government."
The Legalists spun off from the Confucianists during the Warring States period. They paid too much attention to names and neglected the reason for paying attention to ritual. The more extreme among the Mohists became Taoists, who completely denied reality and advocated a return to nature. Neither Taoism nor Mohism is very suitable for governing a nation, so the mainstream of political thought in China was occupied by Confucianism and Legalism.
My field of study is the philosophy of law and the state. Actually, in examining the origins of the state from a theoretical point of view, you never get very far away from what Hsun-tzu said over two millennia ago. My point is that Hsun-tzu is a much stronger thinker than either Machiavelli or Hobbes, who are considered the founders of modern political science. It's just that we of a later generation haven't lived up to our ancestors by adapting their thought to the new environment produced after the contact of Eastern and Western culture. It's a pity.
Author: Hsu Cho-yun
Publisher: Hong's Academy for Culture and Economics