The role of Chinese wisdom in modern management

Albert Cheung

Into the 21st century, with the emergence of the economic powers in the east like China, India on one hand and the western economies losing its influence on the other, people particularly in the western world are escalating their interests in the empirical phenomena of the East - its cultural, philosophical and broader intellectual wisdom on how to create a richer and “powerful” tool of Management.

In this essay, we would like to catch a glimpse at the core content of Chinese wisdom and how its main elements help structure the skeleton of modern corporate management and its contribution to eternal survival and the growth of individual, corporate and country.

The root of Chinese culture and wisdom: I-Ching
The I-Ching can probably go on the shelf marked "Oldest Books on Earth". The Chinese character "Yi" (易) is made up of two characters: sun and moon symbolizing the universal law of constant change from night to day, summer to winter, life to death. Because of this, the I-Ching is also called the Book of Change. Its composition was an on-going effort spanning many centuries. It was ancient China's protocol to attribute important inventions and authorships to its emperors. In line with this practice, the authorship of the I-Ching was attributed to Fu His, the legendary ruler of China around 3,000 B.C. It was recorded that he was intrigued by the eight trigrams on the shell of a tortoise he found. These eight trigrams form the backbone of the 64 hexagrams which make up the core content of I-Ching. The 64 hexagrams, being individual combinations of lines and dashes, (solid-male or yang; broken-female or yin) represent situations or 'codes' to the world of commerce, politics, family and social affairs which are inextricably tied up with the elemental forces. King Wan of the State of Chau wrote 64 short paragraphs explaining each of the hexagrams. Since then many distinguished philosophers including Confucius have added commentaries. Eventually, the I-Ching as a collection of wisdom, philosophy, fine poetry, as well as a book of divination, was born.

The yin yang relationship
The theory of the eternal cyclical rotation of opposites – Yin and Yang – was arrived at by the ancient Chinese several thousands of years ago. This eternal flow of change governs the earth, its solar system, in fact, the entire universe. Yin stands for everything that is feminine, dark and cool and yang depicts male, brightness and heat. Each are opposite to the other; each draws strength from its opposite. For without the other to define it, they cannot exist. There cannot be light without shadow, coldness without heat, positive without negative, good without evil. Together, the opposites symbolize perfect harmony.

The Yin-Yang symbol denotes continuous evolvement within itself. A new cycle begins where its precursor leaves off. At the opposite end, the same phenomenon takes place – in reverse. The contradicting dot in the largest part of each cycle denotes that each portion (often its zenith ) contains the seed of the other. Nothing is absolute. Every liaison contains a mixture of Yin and Yang. Therein lies harmony. Thus, the basis for the I-Ching or the Book of Change was formed, which for more than 3,000 years has been held in high regard as a philosophy for earthly phenomena – human or nature.

In the real world, the yin and yang also represent the situation of opposition and conflict. As in real life day to day situation, conflict exists between employers and employees, seniors versus its juniors, government against its people, company against its customers. Most of our daily effort are probably spent in resolving this conflict and once a conflict is solved, another will arise as long as the sun still rise in the east.

Solution in resolving conflict : Fusion & Transformation
The main elements which contribute to conflicts of all kinds of are of 2 big categories:
Uneven distribution of resources
Difference in culture and values

In the commercial world, much of the management issues are actually involved in resolving conflicts between parties whether it is internal or external. The taichi diagram show that the yin and yang do not split in two semi-circle but interlock with each other in a “S” shape. This represents the fact that two parties do not exist independently but instead, dependent and closely related to each other as stated in the previous paragraph. Take recent strikes of Quantas or British Airway as examples, both the management and labor representatives stand firm on their requests and viewpoints that leads to heavy losses to all parties after weeks of deadlock. This rarely happens in the east, as much of the conflict can be resolved through Fusion and Transformation.

Fusion represents mixing things of different natures in harmony. Water and oil cannot be mixed together, yet through the addition of detergent enable the two elements mixing together. In the commercial world, labour dispute are often resolved via review of payroll and benefit through communication, discussion and compromise which is a good example of redistribution of resources.

When resources are scattered, then we need to consider transformation: change of standpoint of the parties to enhance the fusion or bringing things back to harmony. In the modern world, probably the most serious conflict happens among western governance and Islamic rule. The cultural and historical variation contributes factors. In the commercial world, change of standpoint can be achieved via dialogue or better communication to arouse awareness of social responsibility, mutual benefit, wholeness of an institution and viewing things from different perspectives.

The reason why there is less case of dispute in the eastern world versus to the western world can probably be attributed to the belief of yin yang relationship as stipulated in the taichi diagram. In the western world lots of disputes are usually resolved via court litigation whereas in the east through dialogue, understanding, cooperation and let go confrontation, arrogance and greed.

The role of Chinese wisdom in management is Harmony. As with the spirit of I-Ching, we should put ourselves in harmony with the ultimate abiding principle of the universe: to advance in favourable times and retreat in unfavourable times. With this wisdom CEO or managers will spend less of their time resolving conflicts but instead put more effort in creativity, business development, improving corporate efficiency….. that are more important to the survival of the company.

Master Albert Cheung(BSc.Tech) is a scholar and lecturer on the subject of Chinese wisdom. His interests in the subject dates from early school days when he discovered that scientific phenomena goes much deeper than causality: day to day causes and effect. Because of his passion and keen interests in the subject of Chinese wisdom and culture, he has made it a life mission to promote various subjects like I-Ching, Fengshui, Art of War, Chinese astrology (which are all reckoned to be difficult subjects in the eyes of the public) in the form of simple tools to be easily applied in everyday life. To popularize and share his knowledge on the subject, he has created and designed a wide range of books and products : Success on all levels,. The I-Ching wisdom, the I-Ching pictorial guide, the Strategy & Tactics (card & book set), the Emperor’s Stargate etc.

Currently he is a visiting lecturer at the HK Polytechnic University, the Chinese University teaching subjects on I-Ching, The Art of War, Creativity….He also writes articles for magazines, periodicals and is frequently interviewed by TV, and magazines for prediction of events and views of things in the aspect of Chinese wisdom. (Master Albert was invited for interview by CNN for years 2006 , 2007 & 2011, to give prediction on local and world events.)