There is nothing like the non-professionals who have never done any dirty work from the ground level, telling the amateur professionals how to be a leader.
If those five virtues ("wise (zhi), trustworthy (xin), humane (ren), courageous (yong) and strict discipline (yan)") of leadership are not embedded in the conscious of the readers, they will rarely do the right thing.
One cannot read something and understand it immediately. They need to study it from a content perspective first. To get the tangible view of the greater picture, it is important to understand it from a context view. Learning, experiencing and finally leading with proper leadership is a difficult process for most amateurs.
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December 16, 2007
The Newest Mandarins
By ANNPING CHIN
Lei Bo is a philosophy graduate student in China whose faith is in history, and by habit he considers the world using the thousands of classical passages that live in his head. Three years ago he was studying in an empty room in the School of Management at his university in Beijing when students began to amble in for their class on Sun Tzu's "Art of War," a work from either the fifth or the fourth century B.C. Lei Bo decided to stay. He had taken two courses on "The Art of War" in the philosophy and the literature departments, and was curious to see how students in business and management might approach the same subject. The discussion that day was on the five attributes of a military commander. Sun Tzu said in the first chapter of the book, "An able commander is wise (zhi), trustworthy (xin), humane (ren), courageous (yong) and believes in strict discipline (yan)."
The students thought that a chief executive today should possess the same strengths in order to lead. But how did the five attributes apply to business? Here they were stuck, unable to move beyond what the words suggest in everyday speech. Even their teacher could not find anything new to add. At this point, Lei Bo raised his hand and began to take each word back to its home, to the sixth century B.C., when Sun Tzu lived, and to the two subsequent centuries when the work Sun Tzu inspired was actually written down.
On the word yong (courage), Lei Bo cited chapter seven of The Analects, where Confucius told a disciple that if he "were to lead the Three Armies of his state," he "would not take anyone who would try to wrestle a tiger with his bare hands and walk across a river [because there is not a boat]. If I take anyone, it would have to be someone who is wary when faced with a task and who is good at planning and capable of successful execution." No one ever put Confucius in charge of an army, said Lei Bo, and Confucius never thought that he would be asked, but being a professional, he could expect a career either in the military or in government. And his insight about courage in battle and in all matters of life and death pertains to a man's interior: his judgment and awareness, his skills and integrity. This was how Lei Bo explored the word "courage": he located it in its early life before it was set apart from ideas like wisdom, humaneness and trust. He tried to describe the whole sense of the word. The business students and their teacher were hooked. They wanted Lei Bo back every week for as long as they were reading "The Art of War."
Scores of men and women in China's business world today are studying their country's classical texts, not just "The Art of War," but also early works from the Confucian and the Daoist canon. On weekends, they gather at major universities, paying tens of thousands of yuan each, to learn from prominent professors of philosophy and literature, to read and think in ways they could not when they were students and the classics were the objects of Maoist harangue . Those inside and outside China say that these businessmen and -women, like most Chinese right now, have caught the "fever of national learning."
Scholars, however, are cautious. They revel in the possibility of being able to study the classical texts without an ideological tether. But they warn that this kind of learning cannot be rushed and does not lend itself to easy adaptation. The classics are not simply primers on how to succeed or lessons in the glory of the Chinese nation. Having survived the ravages of the Maoist era, when Confucius' call to "revive the spirit and the practice of the earlier rites" was derided as "an attempt to reverse the course of history," the classics must not lose their distinction in the hullabaloo of the market economy or under the pressure of globalization.
These scholars are also doubtful that the "fever of national learning" will last. They see it as a political event, staged by party leaders to celebrate national pride. But students like Lei Bo and many of his classmates and friends discovered the joy of reading classical texts long before the political rally began. One friend became enamored with books when he was a toddler, and by the time he was in junior high, he was poring over intellectual and political history from the 11th and 12th centuries. Another was drawn to the sound and beat of classical poems ever since he could remember, and so now he is studying Tang poetry in graduate school. Lei Bo's journey was more tortuous. (Unlike his two friends, whose parents are factory workers and farmers, his father is an environmental scientist and his mother, a librarian.) After being steeped in Marxist education, Lei Bo took a sharp turn in college while he was pursuing a degree in chemistry. He became disenchanted with communism and was deeply suspicious of any political philosophy that encouraged fixation on a single goal without any regard for the grim consequences this could have. He aired his displeasure on a Web site, which led to a brush with the public-security police.
It was readings in Western philosophy that saved him from more serious trouble. Translated works were widely accessible in China when Lei Bo was an undergraduate. Habermas, Heidegger, Arendt, Popper, Foucault and Derrida were all popular then, and now Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss have been added to the list. Chinese men and women, especially the educated young, are book-hungry, and writings in Western political philosophy offer them several ways out of the firm grip that Marxism has had on their reasoning and their judgment. Lei Bo latched on to Heidegger, who alerted him to the importance of historical thinking and historical imagination; his writings convinced Lei Bo that any experience is inseparable from its past and future.
This, however, does not mean that Lei Bo avoids the more pressing subjects of the day. Now in China, he says, it is the students in law and the social sciences who call for more personal freedom, and it is also this group that sees great promise in the concept of democratic government.
But students studying history and philosophy seem to ask more questions. They want to know whether there is an appropriate way to pursue the idea of freedom; whether this chase, which is often complicated by the tangles of human relationships and life's unwanted circumstances, can become a test of one's interior strength. Learning the texts, for them, is learning to think. Lei Bo and his friends, for instance, found resonance in Confucius' description of freedom at the age of 70: "I was able to follow what my heart desired without overstepping the moral bounds." They thought that this was perhaps the most perfect freedom one could experience.
In speaking with Lei Bo and other students, I've been struck by the clarity of their convictions about China's past and future. They understand why Confucius described himself as a transmitter and not a creator and why he said that he "had faith in antiquity." History does not just provide actual lessons from the past, but, more important for the students, history gives them the chance to consider the right and wrong of human judgment even though the deeds were done long ago. And for this reason, they are taking the long view of their country's future and are reluctant to put their hope in any sort of quick fix or in any ideal, even one that is as appealing as democracy. They want change but are not ready to consider drastic corrections, not until they have absorbed what is stored in their history and cultural tradition. They are not utopians. They want reforms but, for now, only as measures to check the totalizing tendencies of their state. And, some of them ask, was this not the intent of the founding fathers when they wrote the American Constitution?
Annping Chin teaches in the history department at Yale University. Her most recent book, "The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics," has just been published.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company