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    Showing The Way

2005-07-25 06:32

The Tao of Chinese Business paints a broad picture of Chinese business strategy. Its eye-catching title may raise questions like: Why Tao? Why not Confucian and Buddhist philosophies; not to mention history, society and politics? But don't worry; all these influences are included to develop a comprehensive and sure-footed account of the problems and possibilities of doing business with Chinese companies and markets.

Although Tao (literally "The Way") is only one of the philosophical systems that underlie traditional Chinese thinking, it has become inextricably interwoven with Confucian and Buddhist ideas. The authors call this philosophical melting pot "neo-Taoism", and use it as the basis for studying the "ancient, civilizational chasm between Chinese and Western philosophical thought".

On its own, such an analysis could be very abstract and academic. But when combined with a broad overview of Chinese history, interviews with leading Chinese businessmen and illustrative case studies, the result is a very perceptive and readable analysis of Chinese business strategy. Anyone who has worked in China will recognise the underlying credibility of the picture that emerges.

Authors George and Usha Haley are Professors at the University of New Haven in the US, and Chin Tiong Tan is Provost at Singapore Management University. All three are widely published and have carried out many projects and studies in Asia. As they comment "Chinese markets introduce a bundle of contradictions for Western managers". Their insightful exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese companies relative to their Western counterparts help to deal with these contradictions.

The authors repeatedly show admirable cultural awareness and sensitivity. The discussion of guanxi (trusting relationships) in China emphasises that guanxi is not just "jobs for the boys". Instead, it comes from a business ethic based on trust rather than litigation. In the same way, contextual morality is clearly distinguished from the more dubious concept of situational ethics, with its implication of flexible standards. As we are told, "Chinese ethical and moral standards are generally inflexible, but can vary according to the context".

Yin and Yang are well-known as the "harmonious interplay of opposites in the universe". The Tao of Chinese Business takes this concept seriously, showing how Western companies can succeed in China and how Chinese companies can succeed overseas. And to bring everything together harmoniously, a new strategic planning model is outlined that synthesies the best of Chinese and Western thinking. Recommended reading for anyone working or competing with Chinese companies.

(China Daily 07/25/2005 page12)


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