chinas other main influence lao tzu

China’s Other Major Influence – Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu, the name of the person said to have started Taoism, was one of Confucius’ contemporaries, with both of them making their own impacts and marks within the Chinese culture.

While it was Confucius who instigated Confucianism and all of the Philosophical teachings that came with it, Lao Tzu – believed to be a sort of “mentor of Confucius” started Taoism and supposedly had his followers compile all of his teachings and sayings in a book called the DaoDejing or “The Way of Power”.

Also known as the Tao Te Ching, this book is one of the most translated, ranking second only to the Bible and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. Consisting of 5000 words in 81 chapters, the DaoDejing was probably written around the 6th century BC. Chapters 1-37 are often grouped as “Tao,” or The Way, while chapters 38-81 are “Te” or “Virtue.” The third word, “Ching,” means “classic.”

Taoism revolves around the belief in the existence of two fundamental forces and/or tendencies in the world, called the “yin” and the “yang”, with the latter representing the active, light, masculine force, and the former the passive, dark, feminine force. Taoists – followers of Taoism – believe that the interaction between these two “prevailing” forces will result into the current state of things.

The two forces complement each other, and must always be considered as a whole. Yin and yang affect every aspect of life, including business. The key to life, according to Lao Tzu, is to find the middle ground, or Tao, between two forces, which is often a compromise.

Verse 57 in the DaoDejing applies to leaders: a leader must first “stop trying to control,” and he must also let go “of fixed plans and concepts.” Taoist leaders do not rely on strategy and a marketing concept: they have faith in the ability of the universe to govern itself, and so they will literally let a business organization run itself.

Taoism is a philosophy that can be very hard to understand. Compared to Confucianism, which spoke of moral codes and ethics, Taoism is in its strictest sense, the study and/or pursuit of “the way”. What is peculiar, however, is that the DaoDejing does not define what “the way” is; going as far as explaining that it is impossible to define.

Nevertheless, plenty of the ideas and values that Taoism revolves around such as harmony, duality, comfort with contradictions, contemplation, meditation, etc are deeply embedded within Asian civilization.

An estimated 50 million people, mainly Chinese, practice Taoism today. It’s important to know Taoist ethical principles if doing business in China. These principles are:

  • Selflessness
  • Moderation
  • Embracing the mystery
  • Non-contrivance
  • Detachment
  • Humility

In a sense, Taoism acts to counterbalance the strictness and firmness of Confucianism, with it focusing on non-commitment and remaining at peace with the so-called natural forces.

Within the Chinese culture, the influence of Taoism is evident in the intense dislike the Chinese people have for absolute statements.

In the world of business, it manifests itself in the difficulty for the Chinese to find a specific position to favor during negotiations, or the common practice of favoring vague job descriptions.

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