A significant aspect of China is its long cultural and national history. The Chinese people, for longer than any other group on earth, have shared a common culture, which developed through a 5,000-year evolution. Certain events have significantly influenced this development. Chinese political structures assumed a pattern under the Han Emperors (202bc – ad220) that lasted until 1912. Confucian philosophy, preaching the values of filial piety, loyalty, righteousness, friendship, and the importance of education, took root during this time, strongly influencing the moral code of Chinese society.
Becoming the backbone of Chinese culture, these are still considered to distinguish the Chinese from other races. While the Confucian Classics lost their eminence in 1905 with the abolition of the imperial examination system, this did not end Confucian influence. Confucianism was simultaneously denounced by the Chinese Communist Party (M) in 1949 as a symbol of the old system and embraced as a model to re-educate the people.
For Confucius, the family, hierarchically-ordered, was the unit of society. The CCP attempted to replace the family with the Party. The difference between family and Party is that the family is tied by bonds of blood and emotion, which ideally can never be untied. The Party, contrastingly, is tied by political activities, and these bonds do not remain the same under all conditions. Similarly, the Confucian value of loyalty to the emperor was also transferred as loyalty to the Party and its leaders. Traditionally loyalty was based on harmony, with emphasis on mutual respect and supported freedoms. The CCP ideology of loyalty was based on absolute control.
Anti-bureaucratism is a constant feature in Maoist theory. The Maoists attempted to destroy the traditions of bureaucratization, regionalism, and localism (Tsou, 1968), with the idea of uniting Party and people, to bridge the gap between Party and the masses, and of controlling the cadres through pressures exerted by the masses. However, Chinese organizations remain excessively bureaucratic and compartmentalized. Instead of the old “class” system, there emerged a new “status” system, in which the position of an individual, not the heritage, distinguished that person from fellow comrades.
One revolutionary aim was to combat revisionism and hasten the creation of a classless society. Thus the Confucian value of self-cultivation and moulding of the personality as the basis of moral and political life, was adopted by the CCP to introduce ideals of self-education and the remodelling necessary to acquire the appropriate proletarian class attitudes (Dawson, 1978). Similarly, just as the Confucian educational system was concerned with developing Confucian virtues, the basic task of the new socialist education was to create heroic models of workers, peasants, and soldiers.
A common slogan during the Cultural Revolution was “save the country by education”. Schools and universities were closed down so that the educational system could be reformed. The new educational system undermined parental control by indoctrinating children throughout their schooling, separating children from parents and encouraging them to denounce their parents. Thus filial piety, a valued Confucian quality, lost its significance. Similarly friendship, another valued Confucian quality, often became strained under the pressures of the Cultural Revolution as individuals were forced to denounce each other for survival.
Strict control on thought and speech is contrary to Chinese tradition. Confucius considered it a responsibility of an individual to inform a superior when a mistake was made by the latter: stating that “If it becomes necessary to oppose him, withstand him to his face, and don’t try roundabout methods”. Yet this freedom was prohibited, and is reflected in the “Hundred Flowers” episode of 1957. Mao relaxed censorship, encouraging the educated classes to voice their views. A programme of “re-education” for those “rightists” who criticized the regime from “mistaken viewpoints” (Cotterell and Morgan, 1975) followed. The fear of voicing one’s views and the high “uncertainty avoidance” Hofstede (1991) attaches to Chinese culture is perhaps less a product of a collectivist nature, and more that of the oppression and suppression experienced under the Communist rule.
Since the beginnings of economic reforms in 1978, the CCP seems to have relaxed its hold on the Chinese people’s freedom, although it is difficult to estimate the magnitude of the difference between apparent and actual freedom. Given time and this “new found” freedom, the new-age Chinese should be able to recover the 60 years lost to political instability. The Chinese hallmark Despite the social changes imposed on the Chinese by the CCP, some traits of the Chinese culture have survived not only time, but also the Cultural Revolution. Summarised as the Chinese Hallmark, these include the areas of: 1Harmony; 2Time and patience; 3Flexibility; 4Trust and collectivism; 5Communication; 6The unspoken rule of “Guan xi”; and 7The concept of “face”.
Harmony. A key driving force underlying the Chinese culture is the concept of harmony or the maintenance of a balance of feeling. To secure harmony and happiness in the world, man must bring himself and his activities into a congenial relationship with the universe. The Chinese believe success is only achieved if one is at harmony with oneself, one’s peers and the elements of the Universe (Heaven and Earth). In the face of conflict, the priority for a Chinese person would be to maintain harmony between the opposing parties. However, the Chinese believe there is a limit to everything (over or underdoing something will disrupt the balance); thus discipline is required in maintaining this balance.
This discipline accompanied the long military tradition of the Chinese, who, in contrast to the opinion of many Western scholars, are capable of violence and swift retaliation, the countless wars and upheavals throughout Chinese history standing testimony to this fact. If Confucius was the “father” of the Chinese culture, then Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist, was the “model” for strategic thinking with strong references to war. “A capacity to retain diverse viewpoints at the same time is a notable feature of Chinese thought” (Cotterell and Morgan, 1975).
Time and patience. Westerners value time, which explains the phrase “time is money”, and which gives the Chinese an impression of their always being in a hurry. The Chinese, on the other hand, favour patience and calmness, which are virtues of Chinese culture, symbolizing sincerity, seriousness, competence and self-control. The possession and control of both virtues are demonstrations of strength and the Chinese people’s reluctance for outright confrontation should not be mistaken for a sign of weakness:
Avoid direct confrontation when the enemy is strong. Lead the enemy into lowering its guard by giving the impression of yielding. No pride is lost until the war is lost. When the enemy lowers its guard, strike (Sun Tzu). Sun Tzu also commanded the virtue of patience, arguing that “no matter how prepared one is, to rush into a battle is to expose oneself to the enemy”. According to the Chinese strategist, time, used correctly, can be a most useful and powerful weapon, and outlasting an opponent’s patience can often place oneself in a superior position.
Flexibility. The popular stereotype of the Chinese indicates that they are inflexible. This perception is perhaps caused by a lack of understanding of Chinese culture and of interaction with the Chinese. A popular Chinese proverb teaches; “to be successful in life and to achieve greatness, one must be neng qu neng shen (flexible)”. The meaning of the proverb reaches beyond adaptability. In the Chinese context, flexibility also demands the ability, in a no-win situation, to yield (qu) if necessary, or simply to reason. A further Chinese saying teaches: “Nothing in life is impossible, unless one has doubts in one’s own abilities”. In understanding the Chinese mindset, one must consider that there is hardly anything the Chinese find impossible.