Click below for the other "Living and Learning" posts.
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During the month of June I will be posting segments of The Emperor's Teacher (the big business book that will rock the world). Chapter two is called "Living and Learning," and forms (along with chapter one, "Breaking the Vessel") the first section of a three-part book.
If you have read The Art of War, you have arrived at the doorstep. Still, no one ever managed anything in China having just read Sunzi (Sun-tzu), but don't despair. You are now ready for what comes next in leadership. Compiled nine-hundred years ago, it is the greatest management book ever written, and there are only two problems: (1) it is in "medieval" Chinese; (2) it is 10,000 pages long. No worries, though. That's what I am here for. I have been studying this stuff for thirty years, and I have been waiting for you. Welcome. 歡迎.
Let's begin to study real Chinese management together.
|[a] Massive Pre-stump RL-|
In the heart of the Warring States period, the "Legalist" (法家) philosopher Han Fei's (281-233 BCE) example of a farmer in the state of Song sums up every negative quality of procrastination, silly hopefulness, and fatalism that can be found in early Chinese thought—and our own. The farmer and the stump in the state of Song is one of the most memorable examples in Chinese literature of missing the point entirely—of seeing only yesterday while tripping over today.
|[b] Structure, contingency RF|
So why does Han Fei tell it?
Because he asserts that Confucius, Mencius, and especially their all-too-shallow followers...are stumpwatchers. Han Fei criticizes those who looked to the past for models of government, and said that those, for example, who sought to bring back the virtues of the Duke of Zhou, were fuzzy-minded dilettantes with no clear idea about how to proceed in a complicated world. They were no better than the dull-minded farmer in the state of Song, waiting for the rabbit to charge (or for the Duke of Zhou to appear).
That means you, Confucius and Mencius!...he seemed to say.
Even in those volatile times, this was very harsh criticism. He derided the kinds of extremes that any bookish tradition can create. For every thoughtful, meaningful action that emerges from careful study, there are many more people who get caught in the morass of detail, or fail to see the other three quarters of a problem placed right before them. "That wasn't supposed to be on the test," we (seem to) hear one cry. "I have just decided to look at these two aspects of the complex problem," says another. "But that doesn't fit the model we've constructed," sniffs a third.
Those people stare at stumps and wait for events to charge at them. Han Fei has no time for them, and regards them as more dangerous than thinkers we will soon consider (notably Zhuangzi) who seem much more fuzzy and ethereal. Staring at stumps is worse than time-wasting, from Han Fei's point of view. It is distinctly dangerous—and far more insidious than taking the day off to go fishing (stay tuned).
|[c] Drones RF|
Think about that. No, don't pretend this is a classroom exercise in which the teacher shows that s/he is engaged with students' needs; it is not the kind of managerial "group exercise" we all hate. No, this is the real thing. I mean, this matters, people. Think about the fact that no matter what you read or study, the moment in which you will act will be different.
No, stop rushing. I don't just mean "different" in a basic or general sense. I mean completely different. The first is studied or rehearsed. The second (the moment) is lived. You are an understudy in the Broadway play of LIFE. The moment has come. The question is not "how do I pass the test?" The question (at least for those who aspire to be leaders) is "how do I excel?"
Really think about it. It's that important.
Han Fei reflected upon these matters a great deal, and he thought that the Confucians were a joke—with all of their books and sages and treasures being just so many rows of stumps in the big field of life. People who read books in order to act in the present, for Han Fei, were no different than a dimwitted farmer who cast aside his plow to wait for another rabbit to charge headlong into a stump and die—serving him a ready dinner without a moment's work, save a little skinning, gutting, and cooking.
There is no free (charbroiled rabbit) lunch, Han Fei seems to say, and he is consistent in this message. Let's take a look at one more of his jabs at Confucians (particularly Mencius) who stressed that gaining the goodwill of the people was the most important aspect of rule. Not so for Han Fei, and he is merciless. The people are morons, he seems to say. I can imagine Mencius shuddering in rage and stammering, had King Hui replied with such language.
|[d] Compliance, authority RF|
This is harsh, indeed, and these phrases will certainly resonate for anyone who has picked up a "newspaper" in China in the last...two thousand years or so. Let's take a look at the very particular way that he criticizes the Confucians, though. It is memorable, to say the least, and that is where will will end for today—with argumentation...or bickering.
If you have paid any attention to the twentieth century (and into the twenty-first), you will note certain parallels to Han Fei's rhetoric in today's global politics.
Those who do not understand how to govern all say: “Obtain the hearts of the
people.”…[But] the people are no more intelligent than an infant. If an infant’s
head is not shaved, his sores will not heal; if his boils are not lanced, his illness
will worsen. Even when someone holds him and his loving mother does the
shaving or lancing, he will howl without stop, for a baby cannot see that a small
discomfort will result in a major improvement.
 Songyang Academy "General Cypress." Dengfeng, Henan. Photo taken by Robert André LaFleur.
Living and Learning 5 Living and Learning 6 Living and Learning 7 Living and Learning 8
Living and Learning 9 Living and Learning 10 Living and Learning 11 Living and Learning 12
NEXT—Finding the Way