27 October 2008

Economic Culture in Chinese Diaspora (I of II)

It is indisputable that in the minds of the Chinese Diaspora population there is not one but three strands of definite cultural intensity: Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. However, in most current socioeconomic theory, Buddhism and Taoism are neglected to be mentioned.

With the rise in popularity of socioeconomic theories relating to the success of the Chinese in business, particularly dealing with Confucianism, in this post I attempt to try my hand at a little theorising with respect to the other Chinese traditions. This is the first part of a 2 part series, providing a brief introduction detailing the link between Taoism and Buddhism respectively with economic success by Chinese Diaspora populations. Chinese diaspora often left China before the time of the Cultural Revolution, and in many cases the traditions of these streams are more prevelant within them than within their mainland Chinese counterparts.

An introduction
Taoism is yet another form of Chinese religion/philosophy, which surfaced around the same time as Confucianism (Chad; 2007). Its founder is believed to be the mysterious Lau Tzu (many historical accounts actually believe that he never existed), and is based on two books said to compile his sayings and teachings, the Daode Jing and the Zhuang Zi. (Chad; 2007). This article addresses two of the more obvious Taoist beliefs relating to economic success: that directly derived from scriptures associated with the government, and the concept of wu wei. In this article only wu wei shall be discussed, as the concept of government is irrelevant for Chinese diaspora unless the government they are living under displays Taoist tendencies in an economic sense (such tendencies centre around non-interference in economic matters, tending towards free market sympathies).

On wu wei (无为)
Wu wei is not an easily translatable concept. It can be explained as taking the path of least resistance as a way to solve problems (Encyclopaedia Britannica). But this too does not fully portray its depth, and is shown most easily through how water has wu wei. Water is most esteemed by the text of Taoism for its adjustability, and strength yet softness.

Water is flexible; adjustable: if one was to pour it into a container, it would take that shape. If one was to change the shape of the container, it would also change shape. Yet the water itself does not change (Park; 2005). Water is analogous to the person, and the container to the situation: the person should be able to change “shape” in order to do what is required in the situation, yet without changing themselves.

This is beneficial for the overseas Chinese populations: they are encouraged to adapt to different situations, such as those in which the logic used is unlike their own. The emphasis on adaptability and flexibility encourages them to make the most of this kind of situation and find a way to succeed. This is especially useful in for the migrant Chinese, who may or may not be working with other Chinese when they conduct business, enabling them to take opportunities which may have otherwise not been possible.

Alternative logic also provides the end result that those with this belief are more likely to think their actions through before performance, or re-evaluate during and after the act. This also adds to the likelihood of success in a potentially hostile environment (Robinson; 2008).

Strength through Softness
Water is strong: it can wear away rocks. Yet it is also soft: one can jump in without hurting oneself. Water in this case is meant to be analogous to the person’s behaviour: it should be soft enough to get out of conflicts, yet hard enough to do what needs to be done (Park; 2005). This is an important skill which can benefit the Chinese diaspora: the ability to get one’s point across while still appearing amicable to others. Useful in business negotiations, it could be that this skill allows for them to create networks outside their own networks with relative ease, thereby integrating them into the business society as a whole and exposing them to a greater number of opportunities which could result in potential success.

All in all, it cannot be said that Taoism plays no role in the psyche of the overseas Chinese. Its role due to its philosophy of wu wei and emphasis on adaptation to the situation as it presents itself. However, this is by no means the full story: Buddhism plays a similar role in supporting economic success in these peoples, and will be elaborated on in a later article. Although, I must admit, that the richness in cultural background means that it is unlikely for any article to ever fully do such a topic justice.

Berg, H. van den. Economic Growth and Development. Lincoln: McGrawHill
Irwin. (2001)
Chad, H. "Taoism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Zalta E.N. (ed.)
Accessed: 14 April 2008
Dorn, J.A. China in the New Millennium: Market Reforms and Social Development. Cato
Institute (1998)
Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Wu-Wei”. Accessed: 14 April 2008
Park, S-W. “Economy of Water: A Spiritual Basis for an Alternative Economy”. The
Ecumenical Review. Geneva: World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Vol.5 No.2 (2005)
Robinson, B.A. “Taoism”. (2008)
Accessed: 13 April 2008

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