Anna and the King, or when I learned my boss was a king

First, a true story. Before my trip in 2003, I perused the local library for any information on China, and all I could find were pictures of men and women dressed in blue uniforms, riding bikes from a book published in the mid 1980s. China wasn’t in the news, wasn’t a rising power, but most importantly to me was different, a literal Wild West for a native Californian who had grown up in the Silicon Valley during the 80s. In many ways, my experience mirrored Anna Leonowen’s experience in Thailand during the 1860s (she also thought her employment in Siam would be a romantic excursion), and continues to mirror the experiences of expatriates working in China even today. I would like to explore the dichotomies presented in the story of Anna Leonowens (told by Peter Krikes, Steve Meerson, and directed by Andy Tennant in the film, Anna and the King) through three rules (or quotes from the film) as well as the impact of those rules had I known and practiced them during my first year.

Rule #1: “Best not to assume too much.” In the beginning of the film, the prime minister of Siam chastises Anna for jumping to conclusions she may be swaying the king towards changing his policies, when in fact he was just being polite. In her book, Leonowens remarks with stunning audacity (even to the end of her five-year stint in Siam) at the brutality of the culture, the uncivilized manners of the king and his ministers, and the horrifying treatment of the common people with an attitude that would do her contemporary Harriet Beecher Stowe proud. Even in the film, Anna (portrayed by Jodie Foster) presents an image of a woman far more interested in securing the rights of women forced to serve as wives for the king than the bloated attitudes she taught her son to convey to appointed princes, illustrated when he shoved the prince of the country because of an insulting remark.

When I first arrived in China, I came saddled with a college education (worth around $100,000), a three-month EFL certificate to teach English, as well as six months teaching experience in a local community center in Chicago. However, when I arrived at the city where I was supposed to teach, my guide told me to stay on the train. Five hours later, I got off the train in a tiny mountain town near the border of Russia, escorted to my “apartment” (the operating room of the school’s former dental clinic, complete with chair and instruments), and a day later I was dumped unceremoniously in front of thirty-five toddlers and told to teach them English. No book. No introduction. No experience.

Little did I know that my boss knew as little as I did. I was selected for my position through a third party. When arriving at the newly-built school, they did not even have enough time to prepare a room or the prescience to issue me a proper visa; they were forced to bribe the police just to keep me in-country. Just as I made wrong assumptions, Anna was far more concerned with the rights of the women under her care, and she seemed to care little that Thailand was suffering from the brutal border violence in Burma, or hardly respected the stress of a man with thirty-two wives and eighty-two children. During Anna’s five years with the king, he also lost his favorite daughter to cholera, saw his beloved younger brother die, and even through his trials managed to turn Siam from a medieval kingdom to a country that embraced free trade and European education.

Rule #2: “Most people see the world as they are, not as it is.” Perhaps Anna should have shone the mirror back on herself, rather than criticizing the people of Siam for their acceptance of slavery. Her conclusion shows promise of transformation: “…or perhaps that is my weakness.” Even King Mongkut, according to Anna’s book, viewed her little more than a servant, having no concept of the suffragette popularized from John Stuart Mill. However, the world must be seen from both perspectives, the observer and the observed, as in the space between observer and observed is reality.

When I returned to the United States in 2004, I remarked to my family and friends that during my employment as a kindergarten teacher, I was little more than an indentured servant. I was locked behind the gates of the school (much as Anna was in the palace compound). Services were forced outside of my contract (similar to Anna’s translation and editing services, in addition to her tutoring of the prince and her teaching of the king’s 82 children and wives). I was also used as a marketing ploy for the school because of my white face, blond hair, and blue eyes (just as Anna was used when asked to serve as a third party to the governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring).

After ten years of living in China, perhaps I should not be surprised that the way I was treated was much the same as any other employee. At the time I saw corruption and nepotism; I now understand the realities of an ancient culture suddenly forced to adopt suits and ties. Just as there is beauty in the culture of coffee shop meetings and neighborhood potlucks, there is also beauty in morning employee exercises and the midnight blaring of disco boomboxes in the community square.

Rule #3: “They are the ways of one world.” By the end of the film, Anna has grown, throw aside her colonial attitude and adopted Thai life. While Anna’s real life was starkly different (she left Thailand a sick, tired woman, and a royal court that breathed relief at her departure), the film presents a vision all foreign workers should embrace. One culture is no better than another; difference must be judged according to the fruits, and fruits must be sampled carefully with an open mind.

When I left China in 2004, I had been through a gauntlet: moved to three different schools over one year, never teaching the same students for more than four weeks at a time, one fired colleague, one colleague that fled the school during the middle of the night, police raids on the school campus, and learning how to jump the school fence during the night so I could write e-mails to my parents. Seven of my colleagues angry, bitter, disillusioned or fired by the Chinese leaders who simply reflected Chinese values, and me? I had no desire to return to that country again.

Years later I realized that had I kept a more open mind during my time, I might have had a stronger impact on those I touched. King Mongkut’s final words about Anna were that she was a “difficult woman,” and while his son Chulalongkorn appreciated Anna’s diligence, he agreed with his father her impact was minimal, given her frequent desire to accost and challenge the king on matters of court legality. During the last month of my employment, I was also called “difficult” through my attempt to speak for those I felt were being unfairly charged by my boss.

Or when I learned my boss was a king. Midway through her service to the king as governess in 1864, Anna plead from the king to have an increase in salary, to which he bluntly refused and then followed up shortly after with a request for her resignation (feeling he would lose face if he fired her, as he did hire her). She denied him and over the years the king grew to bear her, culminating her time in Siam with a refusal to act as an intermediary in the writing of a letter to Sir John Bowring, a source of sensitivity for the king given his close relationship with the governor and desire to not hurt Bowring’s feelings (Bowring, 2011). After being forced from the palace by armed guard, Anna finally deigned to write a letter to Bowring, but only of sentiment (not of any substance). She returned to England; a year later, the king died, giving the throne to his son Chulalongkorn (Anna’s pupil).

Real life clashes harshly with the romantic image of Anna in the film, which ends in a slow waltz under a moonlit gazebo, the king and Anna embraced, tears rolling down their faces, the forbidden love of a god and mortal woman hand-in-hand hidden behind their eyes. King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) sadly recounts in the last line of the film of the love his father held for Anna, and the good she did for Thailand, giving power and authority to Anna’s transformation.

Near the end of my first year in China, I remember walking into my boss’ office to say hello. He was sitting behind his desk wearing his favorite turtle-skin glasses, playing Counter-Strike (a popular computer game among Chinese youth). I asked him how he was doing, and he gruffly looked up at me, smiled, nodded, and then went back to his game. Leaving the office almost as quickly as I entered, I could hear the bullets clatter from his gun to the ground, and the sound of his rifle reloading. I had caught my boss in a rather unrefined moment, yet was also reminded of the enormous authority he wielded. He knew he had power. I judged, to my shame.

The assumptions foreign workers make discredit them; their insistence on viewing the world through their particular cultural lens becomes a burden; but their transformation into holistic learners to respect and even admire culture, is the defining characteristic that sets them apart from others. Kings may be kings, servants servants, but beauty is always found when one is neither, but a learner.


Bowring, P. (2011). Sir John Bowring: The imperial role of a lifelong radical. Asian Affairs, 42(3):419- 429.

Leonowens, A.H. (1870). The English governess at the Siamese court: Being recollections of the six years in the royal palace at Bangkok. Retrieved from

Philosophy of education

I come from a long line of uncommon teachers. An uncommon teacher is one who teaches or trains in the duties of an everyday work life, rather than in a classroom. My father was a videographer who far preferred explaining the intricate guts or the laborious editing process than the actual job of shooting a wedding or editing the event afterward. In his spare time, he would elaborate on the way a car engine was put together, why the clouds were cumulus before a storm, or the exact process of how to perfectly cook a soft boiled egg. My mother was celebrated as an encourager, a trainer, and a mentor. She relished in the act of taking a neophyte through what normally was an agonizing dance of making mistakes, and surpassed her peers in her ability to toss the neophyte into action while at the same time holding the learners’ hands. After 25 years of trying to operate a small sales business, she finally found her passion in mentoring and training missionaries for the field.

Background of new model. From these experiences of uncommon teachers, plus my ten years of teaching experience, I have developed a unique model of education for adult learners (specifically, above the age of 17). My model was inspired by classic theories of education (Bloom, 1956), combined with a Christological worldview and my own unique perspective. I have also used Jane Vella’s approach (2002), some ideas of Parker Palmer (1998), and some of Bruce Chilton’s research (2000) on the concept of the teacher during first century Jerusalem which paved the way for the unique style utilized by Jesus. In this paper, I will apply each of the ten areas of my model to a specific question relating to learning theory. The goal of this paper is to clearly illustrate and define a new model of education and learning that is both based on the transformation of the individual towards a Christ-like state, as well as instilling an ethical approach towards cross-cultural education (specifically in comparison with Chinese models of education, as I am a teacher in a Chinese university).

Based on apotheosis (or heroic transformation), my model should not be confused with Meizrow’s transformational model (1991), which focuses on the three meaning schemes of beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions. My model uses three core concepts of educational psychology in Bloom’s taxonomy (1956): cognitive (to know), affective (to change behavior), and psychomotor (to experience). I relate the concepts to 1st Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith (cognitive, to know), hope (psychomotor, to experience), love (affective, to change behavior).”

With the goal of apotheosis, each of the three concepts (faith, hope, love) expands into two paths. Faith (known in the model as enlightenment) opens into synthesis (ability to process knowledge) and intellect (ability to utilize knowledge), hope (known in the model as pilgrimage) opens into enculture (lifestyle) and expertise (skills), and love (known in the model as virtue) opens into eudaimonia (happiness) and discernment (critical thinking). Faith is dyadic, necessitating an acceptance of both belief in a creator and reason (see Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on fides et ratio, September 14, 1998), hope is ultimately focused around the eschatology of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth through the return of Jesus Christ, and love is centered in the Second Commandment: “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:30-31). I will review each of the ten concepts in my model by answering a simple question about adult education and learning. I divided the questions into three categories: 1)What is learning?, 2)the adult learner, and 3)the teacher as learner.

Figure 1: Original educational model of transformation

educational transformation

What is learning?

1. What is the purpose of learning? The purpose of learning is heroic transformation, or what is known in Greek as apotheosis. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and accepted and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul was an educated man, studied in the classics, letters, and holy texts yet he continued to encourage transformation into the image of Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). For myself, education has always been an occupation of a hero-raiser, but as a Christian heroic qualities must always be drawn from the image of Christ.

Jesus was a teacher and leader, mentor and encourager. He was a recognized as a rabbi by other teachers of the law, and was a member of the highly celebrated chasid caste (rabbis who were anointed by God and could channel the ruach, or Holy Spirit), revered even among Jewish leaders such as Gamaliel (Chilton, 2000). He was a pupil of John the Baptist, and continued his master’s legacy through the practice of John’s mishnah (words and actions that conveyed one’s teachings), while making the mishnah totally his own. Just as Christ transformed his own talmid (disciples) through mastering halakhah (a rabbi whose actions were equal to his words), so a teacher must focus on transformation, specifically oriented towards teaching and training pupils so that they do adopt the same methods and capacity to think critically in their own lives. The purpose of learning, therefore, is to become transformed into a new creature in the image of Christ.

2. What is the definition of learning? To learn is to fundamentally process information in such a way that the information is coded and chunked for interpretation, also known as synthesis. According to Waitzin (2007), learning is accomplished when a series of tasks take place, much like a long journey: 1)intelligent preparation, 2)cultivated resilience, 3)informational naturalization through incremental practice so that 4)when one carefully assimilates information for pattern recognition (known as chunking), 5)the focus becomes enlarged, simplistic, defined, and ready for utilization. Synthesis is classically seen as the solution to the struggle between thesis and antithesis, where common truths are reconciled between the proposition and reaction to said proposition. In learning, synthesis is the ability to hear an intellectual concept, intuit the boundaries, and classify what is common for categorization.

As an aspect of faith, learning as a journey is intimately attached to the act of listening, watching, and practice. As Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). In many places in scripture, learning is equated with receiving the Holy Spirit, implying a humility that passes intellectual boundaries (Galatians 3:2), ending in a beautiful communion with the Creator of the universe.

3. What is the truth of adult learning? The truth of adult learning is that no matter how much one learns, learning can never be truly achieved without embracing enlightenment. For children, learning is a technique that allows them to pass through the expectations of society: test-skills, essay patterns, and reading abilities are important powers to achieve academic fluency. However for adults, learning must breathe on its own, just as Palmer states: “geologists are people who hear rocks speak, historians are people who hear the voices of the long dead, writers are people who hear the music of words” (p. 107, 1998). For children, the aspect of being learned is one’s educational status; for adults, the act of maturity in knowledge, where light is literally shone onto a dark space deepening insight through a delicate dance between spiritual truth and reason. In Palmer’s example, the act of listening to rocks doesn’t transform the geologist into a rock worshiper, the historian into a necromancer, or the writer into a mystic; rather, the enlightened adult is able to put the two disparate concepts in his mind, both the material and the immaterial and hear the knowledge within.

Learning, according to God, cannot be divided from the act of experience as experience is the best teacher. In the Old Testament, the word lamad is repeatedly used to describe the act of teaching (over 80 occurrences alone, with 16 references in the book of Deuteronomy, and 26 references in Psalms). However, lamad is also used interchangeably with the act of learning. When God tells the Israelites to learn something, He is telling them to teach it – when He tells them to teach something, He tells them to learn it. One cannot teach something without truly understanding the implications of what is taught. Lastly, lamad is also used to signify the word train, bridging the gap between the act of teaching and the act of learning through the process of incremental practice.

The adult learner

1. Why do adults learn? Adults learn because of the necessity of enculturation, the first aspect of pilgrimage (or hope). While education for children is mandatory in most countries, education for adults is optional, used as a catch-up enculturation mechanism to renew or introduce skills necessary for survival in a given context. Enculturation is the process to acquire value according to a set behavioral standard within a given culture through deliberate action, either on behalf of the student, the teacher, or both. Adult education takes many forms: universities, training programs, community colleges, Sunday school, even in-house corporate consultants and equipping classes.

As I teach graduate students in the school of engineering, my classes focus on equipping students with the ability to communicate in the English language their specialized fields and common lives, so that they can increase their prestige as professionals and improve their socialization skills. However, my students are primarily studying English to be acculturated out of their cultural worldview and into a non-Chinese worldview. Enculturation and acculturation are similar; while enculturation teaches relevant skills in the native context, acculturation is the method for teaching relevant skills in a foreign context. Both enculturation and acculturation are relevant reasons for adult education, although enculturation is by far a more necessary component of society.

While an important aspect of society, enculturation is an even more important aspect of the Kingdom of God. One of the two aspects of hope, enculturation (or lifestyle) is the process of preparation as adopted children of God (Romans 8:23) into the holy Kingdom, and is significantly anchored in the future rather than the present. As a teacher, I seek to communicate the lifestyle and hope (elpis) that is sanctified by God through my actions and my words, while at the same time helping my students prepare for the lifestyle that awaits for them on this Earth. Therefore, teaching values such as love and respect for the sacredness in life is important to my teaching, with the hope I can inculcate those values within myself and my students as well.

2. What methods do adults use to learn? The three methods adults use to learn in my model are the intellect (faith aspect), expertise (hope aspect), and discernment (love aspect). The intellect is the ability to utilize knowledge, expertise is the skill needed in order to create change within a society, and discernment is the method to increase one’s capacity to critically assess either personal behavior or the behavior of another (such as a person, an idea, or a thing).

The intellect is the action aspect of enlightenment, where the learner not only utilizes the knowledge they processed through the act of synthesis but also reflects on how the knowledge was used (expertise and discernment). Expertise is the action aspect of pilgrimage, applying intellect in discernment to accomplish tasks using knowledge learned through synthesis and enculturation. Discernment is the action aspect of virtue, when judgment on the rightness or wrongness of intellect and expertise truly supports the end goal of education (apotheosis) or design methodology (eudaimonia). The three methods are entwined with each other, necessary for transformation to occur.

Praxis is an important tool in methodology for adult education as it acts as a gauge for whether the intellect, expertise, or discernment was used properly. According to Vella (2002), praxis is both a deductive and inductive activity used to foster an increase in intellect, expertise, or discernment (what Vella calls knowledge, skills, and attitudes). The act of praxis involves a close analysis of content, the act of re-creation in a different context, and a re-analysis through participatory examination. Applying Vella’s praxis to my model would mean taking a lesson for my engineering students and identifying the key truths (the intellect), re-purposing those truths for my business students (expertise) and critically assessing the value of those truths outside of a classroom of engineers (discernment).

More importantly, though, are the lasting values represented in the methods. The intellect without God is related by Solomon as “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26), because the purpose of obtaining intellect is vain rather than holy. Solomon also said that if skill is used in envy of one’s neighbor, the expertise obtained is “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4:). The spirit of God (also known as God’s ruach) was the physical manifestation of God’s love for his people, the presence of God in the Temple, the power which anointed kings, and the aspect which saved through physical manipulation of the earthly elements. Even in the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma was used in the same capacity as ruach, although the pneuma rather than presiding as a covenant between God and His people inhabited the disciples and anointed each of them with the legacy of the chasid; a truer testament of God’s love could not be found. However the key truth about the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment: when Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was led by the Holy Spirit and only after his experience did he truly begin his ministry as the answer to prophecy (Matthew 4:1-11), to bring the love of God to every person on the earth.

3. What is the importance of learning as an adult? The importance of learning for adults, according to my model, is to practice faith, hope, and love. In my model, faith, hope, and love are represented by the concepts of enlightenment, pilgrimage, and virtue. Paul compares the practice of faith, hope and love to the maturation from child to adult (1 Corinthians 13:11), and then draws a metaphor of a mirror to explain that in the practice of faith, hope, and love full knowledge of the self is realized. Therefore, the importance of learning for adults to for adults to learn about themselves and understand how to holistically practice the love of the pneuma.

Contemporary theories of education stress the importance of learning as a participatory activity helping society move from a more mechanistic worldview focused on materialism to a world focused on discovery, creation, integration, and peace-making. Vella (2002) stresses six quantum concepts regarding the current of learning: 1)relatedness, 2)holism, 3)duality, 4)energy, 5)uncertainty, and 6)participation. Her model is known as dialogue education and is empowered by quantum concepts, which like Palmer (1998), stresses the importance of learning as a community.

Paul in the book of Ephesians also stresses the importance of learning in community. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul goes beyond quantum thinking, saying that the body is one creature, each part necessary for every other part.

The teacher as learner

1. What is the role of the teacher in adult education? The role of the teacher in adult education is to convey virtue through both words and actions. According to Dungy (2010), teaching must be oriented towards building lives of significance, creating a legacy of lasting value, and traveling together (student and teacher) so that integrity, character, and faith is strengthened for all involved. Education is about empowerment, which makes the teacher the one who empowers.

I connected virtue together with love because love without virtue is savage and lustful but love with virtue is pure, honor-bound, and noble. As a teacher, my job is to love my students in the same way that God loves his people or that Christ loves us. Paul was compelled to classify virtue apart from knowledge, given the popular sentiment that virtue (arete) was in itself knowledge. Paul says faith must be supplemented with virtue, but virtue with knowledge, showing that the two are not the same (2 Peter 1:5). The result of teaching must always be measured with a yardstick of virtue: were the students’ lives enhanced, did they grow in excellence, were they empowered because of the example their teacher set?

2. Personal design methodologies. As I grow as a teacher, I recognize that learning is intimately connected with happiness. If students are happy, they are more open-minded and willing when learning but if unhappy about a subject, more close-minded and skeptical. In his inspirational book about teaching, Burns describes a student referring to his teacher: “You helped me to realize that learning is the key to a full and happy life” (2011). He explains that the best teaching comes from the heart, not from a book, that excellence is about making a class fun, inspirational, and applying teaching methods of self-empowerment where worth is equal to possibilities of the future.

In my own experience, the concept of eudaimonia (happiness) is the core value in my design methodologies. Developing activities and assignments which not only increase value but confidence, love, virtue, hope, and enlightenment are key aspects to my design methodology. While I have struggled over the last ten years of finding a happy medium between encouraging the professional capacities of my students in taking charge of their own education to defining exactly what is necessary to pass a course, I have consistently tried to develop materials which have lasting, eternal value.

In an environment of stunning negativity, I feel the necessity to design courses that not only empower but educate. Tom Wolff, an educator in a Chinese university, wrote a book detailing 18 different kinds of complaints, with a collated 412 submitted allegations over a two-year period, indicating the level of dissatisfaction existing for many foreign teachers in China (2009). Given that learner autonomy is not stressed in the Asian classroom (Ma & Zhang, 2009), curriculum that is based on students needing to do self-evaluation, self-direction, and personal engagement with course material must be tempered to fit the unique model of education present in China: teacher-centered, test-based, and attitude promotion (Gao & Watkins, 2002). Inserting happiness into the utilitarian model present in many Chinese classrooms is a necessity for invigorating learners beyond the walls of the classroom.

3. Personal teaching methodologies. I have described teaching and learning as the same through the Hebraic lamad, with a beautiful example of Jesus as both teacher and learner. Hope is the cornerstone of my teaching methodologies as it is the act of pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Jesus established the Kingdom through the granting of the Holy Spirit upon all, including the Gentiles.

Just like Jesus’ example, in Chinese tradition the word jiaoxue xiangzhang literally means “teach-learn each other-grow up,” a common phrase among teachers to explain the importance of learning what you teach. Confucius said: “He who is able to acquire new ideas while reviewing old knowledge is worthy of being a teacher” (The Analects, Book II:11). Zhang made a connection between the affective learning of the student and the competence of the teacher in a given subject, showing a relationship between the teacher’s mastery and passion of the subject taught (2011). Therefore, the need for me to not only be a continual learner in my field but a teacher is absolute.

Besides his occupation as a talmid of John the Baptist, the book of Matthew describes Jesus as both learner and teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus would not have told others to emulate his example of gentleness and humbleness if He himself was also not on a journey of learning. As a student of John the Baptist, Jesus continually enhanced his kabbalah (spiritual technique), emphasizing the need for purity not from outward structures but from inside (Chilton, 2000).


Six years ago I began to teach Chinese students at the university level. Knowing what I know today and applying my philosophy back then, my teaching would have been dramatically different. Rather than delivering lectures to my students, personally investing in them for the purpose of apotheosis into the divine image of God. Rather than trying to change society through sweeping reform activities, focusing on mentorship. Rather than legitimizing myself as a scholar without peer, stooping beneath my students and deigning to believe that even they could teach me. Finally, seeking felt needs of my students first, rather than as a last resort. Applying these would have radically altered my teaching, and no doubt will radically alter my future as a teacher — no… a learner.


Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Burns, T. (2011). Thank you, teacher: An appreciation of a difficult job well done. London: Axis Publishing Limited.

Chilton, B. (2000). Rabbi Jesus: An intimate biography. New York: Doubleday.

Dungy, T. (2010). The mentor leader: Secrets to building people and teams that win consistently. Winter Park, FL: Tyndale.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, D.A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Meizrow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: John Wiley.

Vella, J. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: the power of dialogue in educating adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Waitzin, J. (2007). The art of learning: An inner journey to optimal performance. New York: Free Press.

Wolff, T. (2009). Teaching EFL in China: What every foreign teacher should know before they go. New York: Nova.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarify as predictors of student affective learning: a Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.

Holism and idealism: a different paradigm

Standing in front of a crowd of around 600 students seated in an auditorium, I held up my hand to silence them. In the quiet atmosphere of nervous silence, one of the girls sitting in the front row looked at the test and began to explain (in a rather loud voice) her displeasure at the nature of the test, speaking in a loud voice and prompting students behind her to peer over their desks like curious cranes at the little squawking bird flapping her wings. In all my years of teaching, that girl wasn’t the last outburst during a test I encountered – but never had I witnessed such an emotional reaction to an exam. Little did I know how important the test was in Chinese culture, even as I angrily told the girl she had to leave the auditorium (and therefore, I most likely sealed her fate). I probably should have realized the importance the next semester when one of my students (again, sitting in the front row) began crying over her test paper as she stared with huge weepy eyes at an abstract diagram of vocabulary and pictures, continuing her sad session until she had to pull out a handkerchief and wipe away her tears.

According to Gao and Watkins, student achievement is a public event in China, measured chiefly by the exam at the end of the year. Most teachers (according to Gao and Watkin’s research) view their job as teachers in five key areas (listed from student-centered to teacher-centered): Conduct guidance, attitude promotion, ability development, exam preparation, and knowledge delivery. To generate data, the authors used a mapping-plane as well as Kember’s “conception of teaching” as a guide (1997), then based on interviews and a questionnaire (School Physics Teachers’ Conceptions of Teaching, SPTCT) generated responses from student-centered to teacher-centered from keywords and phrases. Kember’s “conception of teaching” involves six separate categories: the essence of learning, the essence of teaching, the role of the teacher, outcomes, content, and teaching methodology.

While the authors are critical of China’s test-culture, they also recognize that the system has lasted for more than 1,000 years (from the Tang Dynasty), when the Kefu was used in order to promote scholars into positions of the government, and lasts to this day known as the gaokao (high school test). Gao and Watkins suggest two different orientations from their research: a cultivating orientation (composed of conduct guidance, attitude promotion, and ability development) and a moulding [sic] orientation (composed of exam preparation and knowledge delivery). While the authors do show comparisons between the variant orientations and western models of teaching, they also recognize the uniqueness of the five key areas, due to the complex context of China’s history and culture. However, while western models of teacher are generally centered around knowledge transmission, they do not contain the holism embedded in Chinese methods. Hence, for the teacher aiming to work in China a new paradigm of teaching must be recognized.

Teachers of Chinese students (even Chinese students abroad) would do well to remember Han Yu’s words from the Tang Dynasty: “What is a teacher? A teacher is the one who shows you the way of being human, teaches you the knowledge and enlightens you when you are confused” (Shi Shuo, published 1973). In China, the teacher is admired; this admiration does not come from vacant authoritarianism, but from the tradition of teaching as an Ideal. Confucius, China’s greatest teacher, considered the goal of teaching to achieve ren (or humaneness, a self-actualizing state that can only be achieved through holistic scholarship). Teachers from the western tradition look back on Socrates in admiration: a man constantly surrounded by eager learners, seeking to unravel the secrets of the universe who in his self-centered idealism caused so much disharmony in his society that he was forced to commit suicide; his pupils continued his tradition of critical scholarship, breaking down structures and unmooring their minds from the proverbial dock of history, into Aristotle’s dream. Confucius, on the other hand, relished in harmony, died an old man happily surrounded by his pupils who eagerly copied his words into what would become the most powerful continuation of culture on the planet.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics’ conceptions of teaching; Learning and Instruction. Journal of EARLI, 7(3):255-275.

Liu, Z. (1973). The way of being a teacher in China – the way of teachers. Taipei: Chung Hwa Book Co. LTD.



The Teacher’s Identity: a review of Palmer’s “Courage to Teach”

My first “real” teaching experience was standing in front of a crowd of four year-old children, holding up cards of colors and numbers, and then dancing until my audience was giggling so hard that they forgot they were speaking a foreign language. While not all teachers may have had origin stories as kindergarten teachers, my journey into the teaching profession began quite unexpectedly. What you realize (even as a kindergarten teacher) is that teaching begins with relationship and only after a relationship has been established can learning take place. When the eyes of the teacher lock with the child and there is a spark of trust – then, only then – can learning begin.

As children grow older into adults, they fashion more poetic and artistic ways of learning, but in the end relationship continues to be the keystone, even in university and postgraduate studies. Parker Palmer recognizes this key fact, as the thesis to the book “The Courage To Teach” centers around the community that grows and is watered by the teacher. Even though I teach in a different country, culture, and sometimes language, the relationship between student and teacher is still tantamount, albeit interpreted and visualized differently. Even though expectations for what that relationship means may differ from culture to culture, the student and teacher can never be separated.

As a teacher, I have struggled with the concept of who I am as a teacher. Am I an instructor? Am I a friend? Am I a spiritual guide to help my students reach the next plateau in their lives? Am I the sage on the mountain, or the muse that whispers secrets into the hearts of learners while remaining at a distance to observe a transformed life? Palmer explains that the core of a teacher lies in his or her identity. “Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.” (p. 12) In other words, identity forms the central axis upon which teachers revolve around: how far they can grow, their possibilities of self-actualization, how they relate to their subject material, and the extent to which students can grow under their tutelage. However, teachers are not the impact mechanism which affects students, according to Palmer; rather, once the teacher identifies the work of teaching as a vocation where “deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet,” (p. 30) then the result is what Palmer describes as good teaching. Good teaching is the penultimate goal, because the beauty of education lies in the subject-based classroom, where ideas are met with passion from both teacher and student. While Palmer wouldn’t necessarily say that the content of the lesson is more important than the teacher, neither would he say that the teacher is deserving of authority because of privilege or status; rather, in the mashing of paradox and fulfillment, within that tempestuous storm lies the diligence of purity and true knowledge, keys to unlocking true learning.

Perhaps the most insidious barrier to true learning is the atmosphere of the classroom. Teachers often complain of toxic environments, where students are uncompromisingly stalwart in erecting and rebuilding barriers to learning the teacher attempts to pursue. Sometimes these barriers are as simple as a consistently snide attitude toward the material of the class, and sometimes these barriers are as poisonous as repeated attempts to derail other students through an elaborately orchestrated coup. However, such grand dreams of Hell are merely illusions from the teacher’s fear, transformed into monsters and shadows that if not countered lead to a true malformation of bad teaching, where the teacher loses all credibility in not only the students but in himself or herself as a bearer of knowledge. Palmer classifies this barrier as “the teacher’s fearful heart” (p. 47), and reflects that the only true counter to fear is a change in attitude. Rather than combating the toxicity of the environment, the teacher should treat good teaching not as benefiting the student, but rather as benefiting the teacher. “Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest.” (p. 49) However, Palmer doesn’t say that the teacher shouldn’t attempt to care for the students, as “a good teacher is someone who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken – so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence” (p. 46). In other words, a teacher has priority, but if the teacher is at risk of falling to fear, confidence falters and only the strongest student survives, if survival can even be called a hope.

Wisdom is generally found in paradox. Many view this as the “wise man’s crutch,” with popular sentiments such as “during peace, prepare for war,” or “the wise man knows he is not wise.” Simplistic philosophical algorithms which propound great thoughts by abusing the existence of unspoken space are the sage’s artillery. As a teacher, I am held to account to the things I teach and often see myself on that distant high hill; what the wise man on the hill often fails to perceive however, is that while he chose solitude over community (as many scholars do), he stands out as he is the only one on that hill. According to Palmer, paradox is the key to good teaching; creating environments of tension in which learning can occur. He mentions six different kinds of environments of paradox: protected but open, inviting but dangerous, self-led in community, realistically archetypal, a community encouraging solitude, and a place of active discourse and quiet reflection (p. 76-78). Tension is the key to unlocking potential; tension for tension’s sake does not create potentials, but neither does tension for learning’s sake. Rather, exercising one’s abilities in the medium between light and dark, while aiming the mind at a goal allows one to critically assess the virtual environment, and through that assessment, self-knowledge is increased, which when utilized as a source of energy, helps create bridges over rivers of mystery and encourages us forward into the mist. In the end, the ability to learn can never come from any other but the self. However, the teacher must take full responsibility over the environmental design.

Palmer asserts strongly his Quaker identity, and perhaps nowhere stronger is his dedication to his faith in his preaching of the community of truth. As a teacher, I operate primarily in community but also outside of it – a class is a scheduled activity, required by the state, encouraged by the culture, and associated with shame and honor in the social spectrum. The student has no choice over the material studied, nor choice over the tasks assigned, and no choice over the time of the prescribed learning nor the length of that learning. In a true community the voice of the many act as one, but in a classroom, community cannot be understood in traditional terms; if purported as such, such definitions serve only to act as a rationalization for a more positive teacher and student relationship rather than a communal activity. For this reason, Palmer explores the concept of community not as a commune of individuals but rather as “the community of truth, the grace of great things, the transcendent subject, the ‘Secret that sits in the middle and knows,” and the sacredness of soil that Palmer believes community is rooted in not as physical and objective fact but as the numinous energy at the heart of reality, which binds all together, teacher and student alike. (p. 112) While this definition may seem obscure and philosophical, heis not claiming that community shouldn’t be held accountable as a collection of individuals working in harmony, but rather the spirit of community must be central to the reason why all parties are gathered. In other words – attitude. The classroom cannot be understood as a social requirement without the prescience of why and how that gathering of hearts and minds is necessary for personal growth. Even a person who hates learning must find an apple in a dry orchard if he seeks to become more than what he was; for this reason, community doesn’t spring out of the ground like a well of water; a teacher must, like a focusing iris pointing a laser of light at a spot on a wall, create an atmosphere of an “eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” (p. 105) For Palmer, that conversation deals with a particular subject, but I believe the teacher, as a leader, must also know how to wield the power of the iris wisely; a teacher does not exist in a vacuum.

In our modern society, we are inundated with data. Wikipedia boasts millions of pages of information, our liberal arts colleges offer hundreds of different majors, each major holding under its wings several different disciplines, even a field such as engineering must now be understood as mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, structural engineering, coastal engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and so on. The university has responded to this and does its best to offer as comprehensive an education as possible. Palmer asserts that what has happened in our society because of the rise of data collection is backward; rather than being more knowledgeable, we are less; rather than having more skill, we have trouble knowing how to actually process the data into action. Furthermore, in the university, classes often operate from one of two poles: where the teacher is a bastion of knowledge, or where the teacher workshops the students into pseudo-professors where every emotion or thought has value, regardless of the extrinsic value those ideas carry. Palmer’s solution then, is to offer less meaningless data, but data of value to the community. “The human brain works best with information presented not in the form of isolated data bits but in patterns of meaningful connection, in a community of data.” (p. 130) Hence, the responsibility lies on the teacher to carefully select information for a course that not only is aligned, but mindful that both the learners and the tutor are members of an intricate biological microcosm that grows and changes from the things touched, sensed, and experienced. Hence, the goal of education should neither be the holy hand grenade of knowledge from Heaven’s ambassador, nor should the goal of education be for students to play Battleship with their texts and hope to sink their opponent’s navy. In the center of everything lies the passionate subject, a bendable but intractable member of the learning society which is strategically selected by the teacher while at the same time open to interpretation. After all, the subject won’t go away if a student interprets it into oblivion, but that interpretation may reveal a deeper secret about the student previously unrealized, as long as the student is able to focus on the step-process of the latter obliviated idea.

Teaching is a personal art. Teachers draw from their lives stories, metaphors, experiences, emotions, and fears, in this complex interplay of personal elements a unique teaching methodology is practiced. Each teacher carries different variables into the classroom, and as such, rubrics, selection of curriculum, even priorities and time schedules differ from class to class. One teacher telling another teacher how to teach better can be explained by thinking of an image of a bird telling a beaver how to build a better home out of sticks. While both the bird and the beaver use the branches of a tree to build their homes, they are not the same creature and have different goals even though both are trying to provide for their families. Given these barriers to discussion, how can one teacher benefit from the experience of another teacher, without feeling the need to clone himself after that teacher? Palmer outlines a three-pronged process, which I will restate as preparedness, sacredness, and reflective paraphrasing. (p. 156-160). Preparedness concerns the full background of an issue, even data which might seem non-relevant. Sacredness is an attitude of pure exploration of situation and methodology. Reflective paraphrasing is the final step in the process where the listener tells the focus what she or he said, along with clarifying questions and non-confrontational observations. While these three methods may be useful in bridging the gap between teachers and allowing them a space in which to conceptualize themselves in a different environment, Palmer asserts the necessity for educational leaders to encourage dialogue. “Good talk about good teaching is unlikely to happen if presidents and principals, deans and department chairs, and others who have influence without position do not expect it and invite it into being.” (p. 160) Palmer’s premise, from the beginning of the book to the end, maintains a healthy accountability for those in power, whether those people are the teachers in charge of their classrooms or the leaders in charge of their teachers. As a person who has influence without position, I am encouraged by Palmer’s words.

The dread word for any teacher is invariably reform. It’s not that teachers are enemies of reform, but reform means change and forced systematic change is not a teacher’s bread and butter; much like the amputation of a limb, teachers view reform as a soldier might leer at a medic holding an axe in his hands. Teachers spend a lifetime developing strategies for use in the classrooms – elaborate rituals, choice texts, personal philosophies that others would find ludicrous outside of the tiny spec of wood, metal, and paper that comprises the classroom. Teachers spend countless hours pouring over evaluations, trying to come up with crazy theories in the sometimes haphazard goal of shaping lumps of teeny, naïve, and hormonal creatures into something their societies can be proud of on both an intellectual and a social level. So when words like “educational reform” get thrown around from other teachers (especially those outside the system) often the result is met with cold distance, apprehensiveness, or even outright rejection. Palmer recognizes the inherent weaknesses of reform, especially as reform tends more or less to be institutional rather than carrying intrinsic value. Hence, for Palmer the strategy is not to find ways of incorporating reform within the teacher’s life, but rather reforming the concept of the movement. To illustrate the reformed movement, Palmer uses four stages: institutional rejection in community, establishing support systems and a shared vision, opening goals and vision for public critique, and establishing a reward system outside of institutional values. (p. 172) Rather than working through the institution, Palmer asserts that a movement has value as “movements have the power to alter the logic of organizations because an organization is, at bottom, a system of social sanctions: do this and you will be punished; do that and you will be rewarded.” (p. 186) However, given the foundation of an institution lies in punishment and reward rather than passion and community, movements are to the institution what a shot of morphine is to a man bleeding on the battlefield: a second chance, a reawakening, and a re-purposing of “the power within each of us that in communion with powers beyond ourselves, co-creates the world, for better or worse.” (p. 189)

As a teacher in China, there are further challenges. I don’t have the space to talk in details, but there are five cardinal concepts of social intelligence of great importance in Chinese society: mianzi (face – impression management/self-presentation), wuxing/wulun (holism – social cognition/information identity), guanxi (relationship – attunement/interaction awareness), renqing (favor – influence/behavioral affectation), and yuan (fate – concern/interest management). Teaching in China affords me space; as a foreigner, I am not privy to the intrinsic culture, but I am aware that the culture where I live is far more attuned to social intelligence than my own and as a teacher I must train myself to be keenly aware or face the consequences. I bring this topic up because while Palmer’s model of teaching works well in a Judeo-Christian culture based in the sophistry of Plato, Aristotle, and Adam Smith, the Chinese worldview towards education is very different, founded in the entirely different philosophical petri dish of Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi. While Palmer identifies areas of improvement for the vocation of a teacher, most teachers would welcome his suggestions even though they might balk at their own responsibility to change; in China, I’m afraid many if not most teachers would find Palmer’s suggestions not only amazingly out-of-touch with the ideals of the teacher, but unusable except in particular situations where western ideas are more welcome and schools have been incentivized to test out alternate theories.

For myself as a scholar living in a foreign country, I have come to recognize that Palmer presents two significant challenges to me: firstly, that in order to function as a teacher in China, I must relearn basic concepts about human action. Not only does Palmer explain the inherent spirituality of the teaching profession, but he does so in a way that revitalizes old ideas in new colors. I must learn this language of human action, how to interpret what I see before me, and how to speak that language in such a way that I know who exactly I am, how my fears root me to inaction or backward thinking, how to approach the paradox of east and west and use that so that I can create a more positive learning environment. Concepts like mianzi and renqing are extraordinarily powerful as relationship modulators, while wuxing, guanxi, and yuan establish even the expectations of my own work. Mianzi and wulun alters/limits the extent to which I can affect change among my students, wuxing and yuan influences the amount of power I have as an influencer without position, and guanxi changes the nature of promotion, benefits, and even the concept of the movement.

Secondly, while I do believe that I have the spiritual gift of teaching, I don’t believe I am currently investing myself in it to the fullest extent.  While the culture is challenging, I am not naïve enough to believe the system would be any better in another place – so Palmer speaks directly to my attitude and the necessity for me to be a light to others, no matter how dark the island may be.

Managing worldview polarity: Gerzon and the art of leading through conflict

Gerzon begins his book “Leading through conflict” (2006) by outlining three different kinds of leaders: the demagogue, the manager, and the mediator, however these simple classifications don’t do justice to his meaning. The demagogue is Gerzon’s example of a leader who operates in the field of conflict but rather than using conflict for organizational transformation, uses conflict for personal self-gain. The manager is the myopic leader who operates primarily in the short-term (p.43-44) and who is limited by his frame of reference (p. 32), while the mediator isn’t necessarily a figure but rather a set of skill development that the manager or demagogue can use in order to transform themselves. One of the key problems at my university has been the demagogic systematization model of leadership for the professors in the graduate and post-graduate programs, wherein to keep their funding they must compete with one another as tiny demagogues in tiny kingdoms. This has created spillover into the students, as they often take the role of the manager and are forced into compartmentalized cultures of short-term bursts, without the power to actually affect the demagogic system one way or the other.

In order to counter this negative environment, I would like to divide Gerzon’s ideas into developmental stages and action-step processes. The four developmental stages are: systems thinking, presence, conscious conversation, and dialogue, while the four action-step processes are integral vision, inquiry, bridging, and innovation. I will give a short illustration of how these work together in my own personal context. I will look at how to manage the the worldview conflict between the national staff and a foreign expert who disagree on educational philosophy, namely in the way scores are given to students, as the Chinese worldview regarding scores often differs greatly with western ideals.

As a mediator (being trained in the stages and steps above), I must first position myself properly so that I can clearly understand each side’s point-of-view (p. 77). This can be achieved as simply as relating to national staff as a third party or even as an observer. Then I must begin the process of identifying stakeholders and relating to each stakeholder the realities of the situation from both sides (p. 91). During this process however, I must center myself in self-reflection so that my actions translate into engagement rather than disengagement or fear with an illusion of apathy (p. 112). Once I have established myself an an integral authority comes the hard work: discovering the source of discontent on both sides through a gentle journey of questioning and using those answers to paint a story, nothing more (p. 124). There are two key developmental stages that must occur within me, however: I must treat each conversation as a relationship (p. 144), working towards mutual transformation (myself and the conflicted party), and I must discipline myself to question even the most basic assumptions I might hold about the situation (p. 172). Finally, there must be an implicit agreement within both parties for the accomplishment of a finite goal (p. 191 as example), as any strategies can only come out of the process of discussion while in recognition that the conflict exists (p. 211).

When I utilized this method in my work, the following occurred. After positioning myself an an authority on both parties, I was able to gain the trust of both (miraculously). I explained the complexities of the problem to both parties from each point-of-view, namely the Chinese mentality about scores coming from the culture of the gaokao (national exam), and the American mentality about scores coming from the grade-point average system. After convincing both that I truly wanted to be involved in the solution, I began the process of asking where the tension lay. The American was offended by the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude, while she did not even consider it a problem; she felt that was her job. Therefore, I had to present each case to the other and help each agree that mutual transformation was most beneficial, even though I had my doubts about the stubbornness of both parties to be reciprocal. However, to my amazement, both parties were willing to bend once they understood each other’s reasoning, and while a perfect triage wasn’t the result, both were transformed. The Chinese staffer was less critical about her assessment of the American’s methodologies, and the American was less sensitive about the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude. The healing process is still happening, but I believe with the gentle care of a healer, both will come through.


ASP Integral vision – positioning oneself geometrically so that all sides of the issue are visible, “Instead of staying ‘in your seat, climb the stairs’ and view the situation from a higher level – ‘a bird’s eye view.’” (p. 77)

DS Systems thinking – finding connections between disparate elements within a complex system, “the consciousness of each stakeholder [must be] raised about the complexity of the issue.” (p. 91)

DS Presence – self-reflected awareness translated into engagement, “Despite the range of methods for catalyzing presence, virtually all of them combine one of two paradoxical elements: disciplined, focused ritual or utterly authentic spontaneity.” (p. 112)

ASP Inquiry – context-driven questioning, painting a story. “True listening involves entering the perspective of another human being.” (p. 124)

DS Conscious conversation – relationship-orientated discourse towards mutual transformation, “when sender and recipient become truly interactive, with each able to shape the relationship, it is no longer mere communication. It can become a conversation.” (p. 144)

DS Dialogue – not a skill or activity, but a capacity, “While they claimed to want ‘dialogue’ they ultimately failed to practice one of its cardinal principals: questioning assumptions.” (p. 172)

ASP Bridging – bi-acculturation process of taking two worldviews and merging towards a finite goal, example of Soviet/American film directors coming together to crush the Soviet/American stereotypes found in their relative film industries (p. 191)

ASP Innovation – ideas come from exploration of conflict, “Mediators are ready to change the rules of the system… they do not ask how to ‘alleviate’ it or ‘minimize’ it. They ask how to ‘end’ it by redesigning the system that causes or perpetuates it.” (p. 211)

“Fix the process, not the problem.” (p. 222)


Gerzon, M. (2006). Leading through conflict. Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

OSP: Strength-building in the classroom

 In March of 2014, I met students at a Starbucks coffee shop for a period of three days. During my interviews with the students, I asked each student a series of questions, one question which was directly related to their five strengths (according to Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). During the question process, once I wrote down the five strengths, I made a mental note of each and altered the questionnaire process to conduct an experiment with each student.

In total, I asked the same five questions of around 120 students in my attempt to assess each students’ level of fluency in speaking English. In previous interviews I had conducted, I also asked the same five questions of my students with the difference being the wording of of each question being the same. For the experiment I conducted in March of 2014 however, I altered each question to match the strengths of each of my students, and I discovered that students were not only willing to share their ideas with me, but were excited to do so. I also discovered that during this process, I was energized. After four hours of interviews, I felt more excited than I had been all day, and given my introvert nature I was quite surprised.

During the course of the semester I had my students complete several assessments. Among those assessments were Buckingham & Clifton’s StrengthsFinder (2001), Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors (2006), as well as the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. I wanted to test whether there was a connection between the three assessments. During the course of the semester, I also took these assessments to judge if there was a way for me to improve myself in selected areas of my vocation. This paper is an explanation of the results, as well as a collection of recommendations for educators seeking to learn how to implement assessments in their classes effectively, use Strengths-based theories as positive reinforcements and teaching aids, and how to address personal goals of improving varying areas addressed by assessments.


I examined approximately 120 students from a top-tier Chinese university. 42% of the students examined were females, while 69% of the students were males. About 35% of the students were originally from the Tianjin-Hebei area, another 35% were from the provinces of Shandong, Henan, Anhui, and Shanxi, while the other roughly 30% were from other provinces. Students were from 15 different Master’s programs, with approximately 30% from the School of Chemical Technology, 25% from the school of Mechanical Engineering, 10% from the School of Automation, 10% from the School of Civil Engineering, with the remaining 40% from a collection of about 12 different schools. In total, students came from approximately 43 different majors. Around 78% of the students came from engineering-related majors; the other 21% came from applied engineering in cross-disciplinary fields.

Students were Master’s-level scholars in their first or second year of study (out of a total three years) and were studying on government scholarship (tuition-free). In addition, students were members of laboratories from which they received monthly stipends (data is not available) varying from around $49-$98 per month, depending on the student cohort project group. At the university, students were selected by advising professors to take part in research projects and receive a certain stipend, depending on size of the research fund given to the professor, the number of students chosen to help in the research, and the academic scholarship the student earned.

Students had an average age of 23.68 years. While the classes and assessments were conducted in English (except for the StrengthsFinder), only 25% of the students had an acceptable level of spoken English when the project began (above beginner level), with the other 75% of students queried beginner level or below. While student levels of English may have improved over the course of the semester, most assessments were given at the beginning of term. More details are in the Appendix.


StrengthsFinder. In my survey of 120 students, the most exceptional strength was Responsibility, with almost 7% of the students being in their top five strengths. The top three strengths for my engineering students were Responsibility (6.8%), Harmony (6.5%), and Learner (6.3%), while the bottom three strengths were Competition (0.51%), Maximizer (0.51%), and Consistency (0.34%). A sharp drop occurred between the top three strengths and the fourth highest strength (Focus, at 5.1%), lending some credibility to the validity of the top three strengths. The StrengthsFinder test was a test translated into Chinese. While I was not able to personally vouch for every question on the test (I did not translate the test), not one student contacted me with any problems in taking the test; the questions were straight-forwardly translated, with little to doubt. However, the test was free (and as such, it cannot be endorsed by Gallup), and while it served in function for the identification of the five key strengths, the test results listed the top five strengths in alphabetical order rather than by ranked score, and were a supplement to the main focus of the test. I have listed the full results of the scores for all 120 students in the Appendix.

Career Anchors. In contrast to the variety of the StrengthsFinder assessment, Schein’s Career Anchors assessment is far more limited. In my survey of 120 engineering students, I found that the top three anchors were Technical (21%), Lifestyle (19%), and Stability (18%). Similar to the StrengthsFinder assessment, there was a sharp delineation between the top three anchors and the bottom five anchors, with the fourth anchor as Independence (12%), while the following anchors scoring far below my expectations Managerial (9.8%), Service (8.6%), Creativity (6%), and most surprising, Challenge at the bottom of the list (5%). Some of the test may have been invalid, as the test given to the students was not endorsed by Schein, but inspired by his concept of Career Anchors. While I can safely vouch for the validity of the test from myself (my scores were accurate), given that the test was entirely in English it is possible students mistranslated portions of the test when trying to interpret.

Myers-Briggs. The most unconventional of the assessments I gave my students was the Myers-Briggs Personality Typology. I designed the test myself, designed primarily from a collection of various theoretical approaches to the assessment based on the following principles: introvert/extrovert as a function of energy gain/depletion, intuition/sensory as a function of gathering information, thinking/feeling as a function of making decisions/reaching conclusions, and judging/perceiving as a function of lifestyle. The test was a simplified form, wherein each category had an odd number of dyadic statements from 9-11, where the participant selected the statement that fit him or her best (greater than 51%), and then tabulated the column’s statements to designate the appropriate letter. In the past I have used this test with strikingly accurate results, although my participant level of English was much higher than my engineering students; hence, the results are somewhat flawed; the amount of time given in class to arrive at the four-letter conclusion was barely forty-five minutes, and while there were some questions, my experience with my students this term was that compared with previous student cohorts, their level of listening/reading comprehension was far below the average.

However, the results were rather fascinating as a majority of students calculated themselves as the type ISFJ (25%) and ISTJ (21%), following with ISFP (7.6%, a huge drop) and ESFP (6.7%, a surprising statistic given the engineering background of most of my students). The bottom four types were INTP (2.5%), ENTP (1.7%), ENTJ (less than 1%), and ESTP (with a striking 0% of students). The full results are listed in the Appendix.

The “white elephant in the room” regarding all assessments is the paradox between impression and honesty. Many times participants of assessments will select choices that are either composed of a rational thought-process associating false attributives of self-perception or societal expectations. Regardless of these outliers, the results are still helpful as they inform the researcher of either importance or virtual importance these assessment categories have in particular cultures, whether they are national cultures, generational cultures, or organizational cultures.


Previous impressions can often discolor and even distort the greatest intentions. In reviewing the results of the assessments, the most surprising results were in direct contravention to my previous assumptions about the Chinese educational culture. Growing up in California, Asian culture (to me) was terrifying competitive, to the point where many of my Asian-American friends would not be allowed to leave their homes during schooldays, and would only be given one or two hours on Saturdy to leave the house and visit family. While my impressions are obviously infected with generalizations and stereotypes, there is significant experiential clout to support the thesis of Asian competitiveness as a carried over tradition from China and other Asian countries which maintain strict governmental testing cultures (Yang, 2011). Given that competitive is a necessary element in traditional Chinese society, I thought that competition would be a strength built into students from a young age, but according to my results, not only is competition a very rare strength among many Chinese students, is it a non-existent strength, barely registering at even a half percentile in the surveyed student population.

However, there is also significant proof that (at least in the schools of engineering at my top-tier school) most students view tests as barriers rather than knowledge assessments; when querying my students from last year on their test-taking methodologies, a majority of students responded that upon taking the test, they merely guessed and did not even take the time to consider the question (even though they had ample time, many of them left the test site early). The scores are reflective of this strategy, as nearly 55% of the students who took the final English written exam failed (below a 60%), and nearly 75% of the students who took the final English reading comprehension test failed, with the highest score at 82%. Furthermore, the reading comprehension test was divided into two tests, where the test with the highest score would be entered into the student’s grade. While the test-taking cultures at my university may be unique, when I taught at a previous top-tier university my students’ main incentive for scoring high on tests was an improvement of their GPA for entrance into foreign university MA/PhD programs; when the incentive for GPA was not present, most students did not participate in activities for their own benefit, and if the student took a difficult class with the danger of lowering their GPA, the traditional tactic was to drop the class.

I could write a book on exploring the unique attributes of the StrengthsFinder results. Other curiosities for me include the lack of students possessing the strength of consistency and woo (especially given China’s unique face culture and the necessity of guanxi for social relationships), while the greatest strength by far was that of Responsibility, showing up as a top five strength in nearly 40 students’ inventories. The concept of Individualization was at 4% (24 students), coming in at #11 (out of 35 possible strengths) for student strengths, a surprising statistic that deserves more time to explore. One item of interest is that within the 24 students who reported Individualization as being in their top five strengths, only four of those students also reported Harmony as being within their top five strengths; while Harmony was reported in 38 out of 120 students as a strength, quite often Harmony was not associated with Individualization. Given China’s focus on self-cultivation and self-actualization, perhaps there is merit to the concept that the “harmonious society” purported by both Confucius and modern political theory is little more than a surface behavior meant as a force of stability rather than a personal value. However, as Harmony is the second highest strength reported, societal and cultural mechanisms must exist to support the development of Harmony as a strength.

According to the results of the Career Anchors assessment, not only was Lifestyle at nearly 18% of student anchors (the second highest), independence was at 12%. Had I not had an experience in 2009 which prompted me to question my understanding of Chinese culture (in which I was let go from a job with the statement, “In China, work is work, family is family” after missing a canceled class for my own wedding, in which the school forgot about the date), I might question the high Lifestyle anchor given the perception that most Chinese families utilize the grandparents to raise the children while the parents both work, in some cases in other cities. Nevertheless, Career Anchors do not operate on a practical level but an ideal level – according to Schein (2006), Career Anchors are the deeply emotional limits we allow ourselves to move within our careers; the incentive and drive we have to achieve, and the support beams to protect us from our fears.

Scoring as the fourth highest anchor (above Managerial and Challenge) was Independence at 12%. Further research needs to be done to explore this strange statistic; perhaps the fault lies in the test group – engineers, often working alone in laboratories under the instruction of a professor who only communicates by e-mail and is rarely seen once or maybe twice a term, my students must learn to cope on their own and perhaps as they also see their cohort project work as training for their future jobs, Independence becomes a requisite of success. However, given the fundamental nature of Career Anchors as deep-seated emotional cores of vocation, I have my doubts; in my time in China, I have increasingly become aware of a subtext of virulent individuality within the culture that asserts itself on a subliminal level through cynicism to the system, and on a visible level with the refusal to identify on a heart-level with ideologies (although surface agreements are quite common) and instead freely develop ideas aware from the political norm.

Finally, the Myers-Briggs assessment showed that most of my engineering students were intensely introverted, with a significant proportion of extroverts misplaced (noted from my questions of whether or not they enjoyed their major, the majority of extroverts responded that they did not and were seeking other means for a career outside of their degree). Engineering as a field of study seems to encourage (at least within my Chinese university) a disposition of introversion, sensory information, and action-oriented judging lifestyles. In previous studies I have noted an almost 50/50 with regards to the various typologies, although previous participants were members of a much broader pool of disciplines (including the liberal arts). However, I am curious about the statistic regarding the type ISTJ, as nearly 70% of those students received a very poor score in their English fluency level, indicating that during the assessment process they may not have understood the statements.

Philosophical foundations

According to Buckingham and Clifton (2001), vocation must be positioned according to strength, not weakness. The reason I gave my students assessments (and the reason I took those same assessments) was to evaluate cross-cultural viability, validity, and practical application of those three assessments. Students engaged in graduate or post-graduate work are training for their future careers – at my university more than others, given the increased presence of key laboratory recruiting programs engaging students and professors. For this reason, having a clear understanding of how strengths, anchors, and personality types affect one’s potential job choice is important.

However, in my research I did not find any conclusive connections between the three assessments. Anchors had little to no connection with Gallup’s 35 strengths, and while Schein’s Career Anchor of technical/function could be associated with the Myers-Briggs introvert type, my conclusions are far from conclusive, given how anchors function not as personality indicators but as spatial checkpoints in the mind that determines the limitations/exponential growth of career mobility. The usage of assessments therefore, is more helpful than not, given the variety of assistance they can give in determining factors of relevance for vocation. In my own assessments, my top five strengths (in order) were Strategic, Connectedness, Learner, Ideation, and Individualization. My top three Career Anchors were Service, Technical/functional, and Lifestyle. My personality type was INFP. No one student in the entire 120 matched me strength for strength, anchor for anchor, and only four students shared my personality typology (sadly, students who have done very poorly in my class this term!). I also discovered that no one student shared the same strengths as another student, rarely were the anchors related to a confluence of strengths, and quite often the personality typology from students who shared the same four letters held entirely different strengths and anchors.

Given that people are a resource that should be developed (Hardy, 1990), I believe that the use of a combination of assessments will help students grow in self-awareness, more fully able to recognize false patterns and set the student on a path to a new foundation for future aspirations. While Benner most aptly speaks of the “false self” as originating from the sinful nature and separation from God (2004), in China such discussions cannot be contained within the classroom given the sensitive political climate. However, I believe it is pertinent to help students scale the false patterns in their life given by society, family, even personal weakness resulting in the development of emotional security protocols meant to protect from growth. Bridges claims that transitions are a natural state, a function that continually occurs in one’s life regardless of desire for change or the lack of (2004); just as I am currently in a transition (Seeberger, 2014), so many of my students are also likely in some stage of transition. As a teacher, I am increasingly seeing my job not as a lecturer but as a guide for developing through transition from one stage to the next stage, whether that transition occurs in the formation of skills for critical consideration, practical skills for the workplace or international market, or even the honest helping hand of an older, hopefully wiser, scholar interested in the same basic necessaries of life as any other honest student.

Hardy believes that human work should be a form of justice (1990), in which vocation is not only for the purpose of spreading sacred love to all people but that the love itself is justice in a world that shows little concern for the neighbor. Career anchors function as the core of self-image in vocational assessment (Schein, 2006), and as vocation when embraced becomes a kind of self-actualization (Hardy), vocation becomes an expression of identity, community, and perhaps even one’s spiritual gifts (Benner, 2004). Methodology for learning how to perceive oneself away from the false self requires intense meditation, humility, divine contemplation, and solitude, and has resulted in the development of the RBS (Real Best Self), a practical methodology of coming to terms with tacit and misunderstood truths over a period of several months (Roberts et al., 2005). While the RBS does have limitations (it does not, for example, evaluate inconsistencies as it is strengths-based), the RBS is a good practice for those desiring to know themselves more fully.


Another important denominator for my work in vocational self-development in understanding how cultures operate in different areas of the world (in my situation, China). Specifically, the data acquired in this project has been important to my own understanding of China (or misunderstanding, perhaps). Several factors have arisen because of this study that will change not only how I view my own vocation but how I help my students prepare for theirs.

Context is important, even within micro-cultures. Many of my errors in curriculum planning and change agency strategies for encouraging personal development resulted from a generalization about Chinese culture that I have now discovered is false. As Lewis states, generalizations can often lead to egregious errors as well as the posturing of oneself within a cultural black hole (1996). Thankfully, my research has alerted me to such errors. For example, in order to encourage students to pursue high grades, I posted grades on the door after each class and handed out scores to groups instead of individuals. While this activity did create consensus within the student groups (clarity of expectation was supported as students discussed the scores) it no doubt created unfair forms of anxiety; based on my research, the far better method would be to focus on the independent initiative within each student, while allowing for group consensus in discussion but not creating a nervous atmosphere due to a majority of students unable to cope properly with the competitive nature of the class. While students at my previous university embraced competition as a natural reaction to the environment of being the top university in China, students at my current school do not share the same aspirations or fears.

Self-cultivation. Moral development is exceptionally important to Chinese students, as recognized in previous research I have done (Seeberger, 2012), however I was unaware of the extent of important until this term when I was researching Chinese culture and found that nearly every major philosophical system in China is focused on moral development (Gerstner, 2011; McDonald, 2011). Growing up in the United States, by the time I was in college I had a good idea of what I actually wanted to do, but many of my students even by the graduate level had no answer for this question when I asked them in their initial interviews. Part of this is no doubt an effect of the prescribed roles within relationships that people feel they must abide by (Yi & Ye, 2003), but much also comes from a belief that non-action will lead to greater perceptive and mental powers (Gerstner); students in my classes are maestros of knowing when to hold their tongues, respecting the gentle and fragile relationship that often exists within authority figures (teachers) and followers (Bai & Roberts, 2011). Therefore, as a figure of authority, I must make it my primary task to help students learn how to self-cultivate, particularly in the practical areas of moral development (rather than the postulations of theoretical concepts); in other words, practical ethics.

Strength-building at the core. Most academics are focused on information sharing; very few academics have strategized their curriculum to take advantage of student strengths, and then use the classroom as a vessel to help bring those students closer to their gifts. Academics primarily views itself as a gift for mankind, rather than seeing itself as a method for mankind’s gifts to be explored. In my courses this term, I made some small headway into strengths-building, but my goals were primarily investigative. In the future, I hope to bring strengths-building into stronger array, by implementing individual and group meditative strategies for understanding the self and where the self fits into the strengths given to each. Furthermore, I hope to escalate strengths-building into incorporating strategies of students developing each other not only peer-to-peer, but within small work groups. In my work as an English teacher, I am given leeway to designing personal curriculum (rather than relying on state-sanctioned textbooks) and I mean to take advantage of that. This term I have been focused on helping students develop a code of ethics, but of what use is a code of ethics when the student does not know himself or herself? Having students work through an RBS-styled project, as well as using that knowledge to develop opinions about subjects relating to ethics will be an increasingly important venture for me to pursue.

I will also be intentionally using my strengths (Str/Cnnctdnss/Learnr/Ideation/Indvdualzation) in more intentional ways, and encouraging students to do the same within the context of our class. For example, to build my strength of strategy I must give myself time to carefully consider various options, collect data, and review the data so I can better formulate a conceptual framework for future iterations.

To build my strength of connectedness, I must endeavor to get to know certain students on a personal basis and make more of an effort to decentralize the class from a lecture environment and settle into a more personal, close environment where I am given more opportunities to interface with individual ideas (even at the expense of certain students who do not wish to take advantage).

To build my strength of a learner, I must seek to constantly be open to new ideas, even ideas that go against everything I know – by fastidiously asking questions and rewiring my intellectual capacity for renewal instead of dwelling in the knowledge I already have.

To build my strength of ideation, I must continually attempt new ideas in my classes, even at the expense of failure; while making myself even more aware of other ideas already in the field of teaching and adopting a willingness of openness regarding those ideas.

To build my strength of individualization, I must focus on the more intimate relationship between teacher and student, and attempt to personally connect with certain students who desire that connection, and not worry about students who don’t. In the past, I have thrown myself against the tide by attempting to be everything to everyone, while trying to maintain that intimacy – inevitably, though, this results in a thin veneer barely visible, where I am lost in the crowd of faces as I try to give a piece of myself to everything. In the end, I disappear, but I do not actually reappear on the other side, dissolving like mist.


I agree wholly with Benner when he states that transition cannot occur without divine help (2004). However, in my positive as an educator in a public university in China (even as an educator in an educational institution), I can only pray that my ability to operate as a positive influence comes through my life, in my actions, in my smile, in the interactions I have on a day-to-day basis with students, faculty, and even friends. When Hardy states that vocation is not only an act of the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, but also that the second great commandment is a form of justice in itself (1990), I can’t help but wonder how that translates across cultures. What does “love” look like to the average Chinese student?

Elmer states that Christ is the only culture that can reach across national boundaries, as believing in Christ is the only way to truly transform and begin the process of transition (2006). If Christ is the only capable change agent of moving seamlessly across culture, how can I emulate him in my daily walk and my daily work? Traditional change agency theory postulates only for the temporal; organizational closeness and synergy between the change agent and the target are as close as classical theory approaches to the concept of true transformation (Lunenberg, 2010). Even Hardy claims that the Christian worker must promote “what is true, noble, and worthy in human life,” but so often even those basic cultural perceptions are grounded in the culture into which we are born (Adler, 1997). How can we (or I) hope to cross that divide?

I believe in the end it comes down to Connectedness, straight from Buckingham and Clifton’s mouth (2001). At least for me. My ability to draw away the wall between myself and those I interact is the answer I have been given for bridging that divide, for addressing those childhood passions, natural emanations, and positive emotions people carry inside them which eventually if watered translate into strengths. Each person has been given capabilities to address the divide between the justice of Christ and our daily walk. If I ignore this strength, I will continually butt my head against a wall, but if I embrace this particular strength and build it through practice, assessment, and and self-debrief, I believe I can begin to unlock the potential inside me that will operate no matter where I find myself.

In the end, vocation is not a job; vocation is not even a career; vocation is a mindset and a promise. The true self emerges, the false selves fall away, transition comes as natural as breathing, and each day is a form of justice unto itself whereupon you embrace the challenges of the world in the best well you know how – through your strengths and the gifts given to you (or me) by God. My vocation becomes my anchor, and while I may not be strong enough to carry my anchor with me as I walk through life, I will grow stronger in the process and learn how to work within the path laid before me. You cannot be everything to all men; only Christ can. However, you can be something to many men, and that is worth striving for.


Adler, N. (1997). International dimensions of organizational behavior, 3rd ed. Cincinnati, OH: South- Western College Publishing.

Bai, X.Z., & Roberts, W. (2011). Taoism and its model of traits of successful leaders. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):724-739.

Benner, D. (2004). The gift of being yourself: the sacred to self-discovery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. (2nd ed.) Lifelong: Kindle.

Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. (2001). Now, discover your strengths. Gallup: Kindle.

Elmer, D. (2006). Cross-cultural servanthood: Serving the world in Christlike humility. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Gerstner, A. (2011). Leadership and organizational patterns in the Daodejing. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):675-684.

Hardy, L. (1990). The fabric of this world: Inquiries into calling, career choice, and the design of human work. Wm. B. Eerdsmans: Kindle.

Lewis, R.D. (1996). When cultures collide: Leading across cultures (3rd ed). Boston: Nicholas Brealey.

Lunenburg, F.C. (2010). Managing change: the role of the change agent. International Journal of Management, Business, and Administration, 13(1).

McDonald, P. (2011). Maoism versus Confucianism: ideological influences on Chinese business leaders. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):632-646.

Roberts, L.M., Spreitzer, G., Dutton, J., Quinn, R., Heaphy, E., & Barker, B. (2005). How to play to your strengths. Harvard Business Review, January: Reprint R0501G.

Schein, E. (2006). Career anchors: Participant workbook. Wiley: Kindle.

Seeberger, B. (2014). Book review: Transitions. Unpublished.

Seeberger, B. (2012). Summative evaluation of Advanced Writing: assessment, methodology, and recommendation. Unpublished.

Yang, W. (2011). Paper tigers. New York Magazine. accessed on May 3, 2014:

Yi, J., & Ye, S. (2003). The Haier way: the making of a Chinese business leader and a global brand. Paramus, NJ: Homa and Sekey Books.

Discovering cultural acumen through social science

Project GLOBE defines itself as: a network of 170 social scientists and management scholars from 61 cultures throughout the world, working in a coordinated long-term effort to examine the interrelationships between societal culture, organizational culture and practices, and organizational leadership. The meta-goal of the Global Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Program is to develop an empirically based theory to describe, understand, and predict the impact of cultural variables on leadership and organizational processes and the effectiveness of these processes. (GLOBE monograph, Cultural influences on leadership and organizations) Both Mansour Javidan and Robert House are key members of GLOBE and are important members of the content of what I wish to discuss in this article, as they wrote “Cultural acumen for the global manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE.” (2001) Javidan is the current director of the Najafi Global Mindset Institute at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and House is known for being the author of the Path-Goal theory (which attempts to explain the relationship between leader and follower in the workplace).

Understanding GLOBE’s mission statement is important in understanding GLOBE’s stance on becoming a culturally proficient manager in a global organization. In Javidan and House’s article, the authors define cultural acumen as: the knowledge about cultural differences, knowing similarities among countries, understanding the implications of differences, and using and developing culturally appropriate skills. However, while GLOBE maintains that their goals are to “understand and appreciate cultural values, practices, and subtleties in different parts of the world,” their chief source of inspiration for the cultural dimensions comes from Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social scientist who categorized cultural differences around the world into four basic categories, all of which are included within GLOBE’s cultural dimensions along with five additional dimensions.

GLOBE’s cultural dimensions are assertiveness, future orientation, gender differentiation (Hofstede’s masculinity), uncertainty avoidance, power distance, collectivism-individualism, in-group collectivism, performance orientation, and human orientation. These cultural dimensions are what Javidan and House term motivators, or desires in a particular occupation, very similar to Edgar Schein’s career anchors (2006), except that unlike the concept of career anchors which deal primarily in workplace progression, cultural dimension motivators are an unchangeable Spinozan concept that is chiefly defined by the worker’s home culture. GLOBE’s definition of culture, therefore, is: “a set of shared values and beliefs.”

To appreciate Javidan and House’s presentation of GLOBE’s cultural dimensions, one must first recognize that they are writing from a positional bias. For example, in the article Javidan and House address the issue of performance orientation by describing strong performance oriented cultures are moving towards “deliverable results” while weak performance oriented cultures function “without any commitments or desire for results.” Living in a foreign country myself, I will be the first to admit my bias every time I step into the classroom; I feel guilt when I cannot identify and rigorously defend the results of my pedagogy, and I often reflect upon the Chinese staff at my school with a certain amount of contempt as I cannot visually ascertain and intuit that they are seeking results, and therefore view them in a lesser light as being less or not committed at all.

Therefore, for me as an expatriate educator to operate from a bias even though I have lived in this country for almost ten years and then to read about American scholars promoting a positional bias in cultural acumen, I find myself at a loss. For many Chinese teachers at my university, the concept of “deliverable results” is achieved not through the score of a test or even from the personal learning of a student, but rather from the value of the classroom relationship being maintained and the harmony of each in his or her station upholding that station to the best of his or her ability. One of my students flatly told me that when a teacher assigns him homework, he does not do the homework for himself but rather for the teacher, as a gift to the teacher. In such an environment, how can we possibly assign the concept of performance orientation, when what we perceive to be green is actually blue?

Javidan and House describe the concept of uncertainty avoidance as “the society’s reliance on social norms and procedures to alleviate the unpredictability of future events.” Even approaching this description I am at a loss for how to interpret the culture in which I live. The survey example question that Javidan and House utilize is: “In this society [China, for example], societal requirements and instructions are spelled out in detail so citizens know what they are expected to do,” with a question breadth between 1 (strongly disagree) to 8 (strongly agree). In other words, cultures that score high in uncertainty avoidance are “focused on facts” while countries low in uncertainty avoidance operate “without clear conclusions.” Is this really the case?

China traditionally ranks very low on uncertainty avoidance charts, which would insinuate by Hofstede’s definition that mainland Chinese culture is philosophically relativistic and lacks organizational strength (1980). While I have struggled with conclusions in China (especially regarding job expectations), there are just as many unsaid expectations that are just as important and require a different ear to discern. Success and failure in China often revolve not around your ability to function in a given task, but your ability to discern what the task is and then complete the task. China is not any less specifically task-oriented than Germany, except in the language used to communicate the tasks.

Finally, Javidan and House explain that for societies weak in humane orientation “generosity is not a key criterion in the process” (for example, Spain), as “the process and message tend to be simpler, more direct, and less focused on being supportive or caring.” I dare anyone to walk up to a Spaniard or German and tell them directly that they are not being generous with their words, and listen to what he or she might have as a response. Growing up in a German home with a father who spoke German as a second-language, while the surface of the words may not sound supportive, there is a great deal of support in the meaning. As scholars we must take care with our bias that we do not delegitimize another culture just because we do not understand it.


Hofstede, G. (1980). Motivation, leadership, and organization: Do American theories apply abroad? Organizational Dynamics: Summer:42-63.

Javidan, M., & House, R. (2001). Cultural acumen for the global manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE. Organizational Dynamics, 29(4):289-305.

Finding virtue among spamburgers and dim sum: Hofstede’s misplaced trust in Hong Kong culture as a Chinese cultural foundation

Hong Kong: 2010. My wife and I are walking under the colossal towers, moving between street and cloud as we escalate the Skyway, our eyes carefully scanning the perimeter of sidewalks and into glass-bound buildings for any kind of restaurant that would serve, well, Chinese food. After two hours of walking past spamburger joints and dim sum parlors, we give up and go into McDonalds. For an international city, Hong Kong is pretty barren of traditional Chinese restaurants. At the end of the week based on an internet recommendation, we head to Hong Kong’s premiere Chinese restaurant, the gaudy Jumbo Kingdom’s “Dragon Court”, but we barely start eating before we realize the food is cold and there isn’t a soul in the banquet hall except for us. Meanwhile, the cheers and hoopla from the upstairs “Topdeck” restaurant are in full furor, and for the next hour I had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps I should learn to eat spam if I wanted to appreciate to true beauty of Hong Kong’s culture.

You can’t judge a culture from the warped struggle of trying to find a style of restaurant. My wife is from northern China, but she has a love for the spicy Sichuan pepper but has no taste for the sweet southern style. Our experience in Hong Kong was a memory I will never forget, for the one reason that I felt more at home than she did; growing up in San Francisco, Hong Kong is the reflection of my home of San Francisco, or perhaps San Francisco is America’s reflection of Hong Kong.

Geert Hofstede, in his article entitled “The Confucius Connection,” (1988) makes a striking comparison between traditional Confucian philosophy and Chinese culture, going so far as to equate the former as not only having tremendous influence on the development of the latter but also incredible influence on the day-to-day operations of Chinese cultures. Hofstede uses the Hong-Kong based CVS (Chinese Values Survey) to determine the rank of 20 different countries in regards to the importance of traditional Chinese values, according to four key principles commonly ascribed to Confucius: unequal relationships between people, the family as prototype for organization, self-reflective human benevolence (not treating others as you would not want yourself to be treated), and perseverance towards virtue according to one’s station. Hofstede terms these four principles (and the accompany CVS differential values) as being “Confucian dynamism,” a uniquely eastern concept (dealing with the societal search for virtue) as opposed to the unique western concept of “uncertainty avoidance” (the search for truth, as obviously in the east they have no concept of the search for absolute truth).

Last week in my class, I spoke with a student about the concept of the generation gap. He was concerned because he felt that his parents and grandparents did not understand him at all, because they grew up in a different time. Specifically, his grandparents and parents lived through the reign of Mao Zedong, and suffered through one of China’s most intense periods of all time: the Cultural Revolution. More than a revolution, the Cultural Revolution was a period of time when friends became enemies, family members disappeared, and traditional culture was thrown into the bonfires of a country already suffering under a famine that killed 1 out of every 20 people (in addition to normal deaths). Schools were closed down. Neighbors whipped neighbor in public courts, and anything not necessary (chairs, even) were either given to the state or used as kindling. When I talk about a generation gap between myself and my parents, I am referring to the Free Love movement of the 60s and the hippie generation of the 70s; my concept of generational gap is nowhere near as extreme as my students.

Certain areas were spared of the tragedy of China: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan, four areas which hold the top four slots of the CVS. According to a research project by Shen Jianping writing in the Journal of Moral Education (1998), the values among early adolescents in Taiwan and the mainland are starkly different, with adolescents from Taiwan favoring people-orientation and inter-personal relationships (CVS values) while mainland adolescents favoring task-oriented values toward service to society and country, predominantly Maoist/socialist values. Even when speaking with my Chinese tutor and reviewing flashcards developed for spoken Chinese in Taiwan, she constantly wrinkles her brow when we discuss certain cards: “We never say it that way here! I have never heard it…” Even certain cultural axioms listed on the cards are alien to her, and while I wouldn’t call her a traditionalist, she is a woman who is highly educated and respectful of the ancient customs of China and aware of the existence of certain concepts.

Hofstede uses his four cultural dimensions to show the stark differences between the Chinese Values Survey and his own culture measurement, going so far as to actually score all of Chinese culture on four Asian “countries”: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. Never mind that Hong Kong was ruled by the British for 100 years, that Taiwan was the bastion of the Confucian-based civil government chased off the mainland, that Japan isn’t even Chinese, and that Singapore is only 74% Chinese, with the rest coming from Malaysia (a Muslim culture) and India (a Hindi and Muslim culture). Hofstede makes his most blatant statement when he lumps the mainland into these other four cultures: “We can only infer that in spite of Maoism [emphasis mine], many Confucian values remain strong in the People’s Republic.” There is a danger in lumping together huge variations into a pool and then labeling them the same. When I first arrived in China I was convinced I would find people practicing taiqi on street corners and quoting Confucius in school for their finals. However, I discovered a far stranger situation: people practiced taiqi but only when the sky was dark, and people talked about Confucius only as a “silly old man.”

I admire Hofstede’s attempt for syngery. Hofstede quotes a worker of a U.S. corporation complaining of his East Asian regional manager (an expatriate American in Hong Kong who was not complying with certain company rules) to the president of the company, to which the president replied: “I fully agree. His behavior is stupid and against policy. I have only one question. From the time he worked in headquarters, I have known [him] to be an intelligent man. How can a man be so intelligent in Los Angeles and so stupid in Hong Kong?” Hofstede’s argument ends with a passionate interplay between Confucian dynamism (in his words, a uniquely eastern concept) and uncertainty avoidance (uniquely western). According to Hofstede, uncertainty avoidance is the search for absolute truth, where the polar opposite would be holding to a purely relativistic perspective, and Confucian dynamism is strictly a societal search for virtue.

Virtue, however, cannot be understood without truth, even if truth is written as subtext. Truth is the lifeblood of all philosophy, even truth that claims truth is changeable, because truth then would be self-defined (based on context). Virtue, then, becomes transformative in itself. Therefore virtue (according to Confucius) is also based on context, except in matters of the state which is absolute. Hofstede’s bias shows clearly by his claim that cultures which do not ascribe to his absolute truth must not ascribe to absolute truth at all, just as his claim that societies that do not seek virtue first cannot be found outside of Asia. While the United States may not hold to the specific cultural tenets of saving face and honoring your elders, societal virtue is just as important of a dream, regardless of whether American democracy is as valid to societal perfection as the Americans believe.


Hofstede, G. (1988). The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4):5-21.

Shen, J.P. (1998). Moral values held by early adolescents in Taiwan and mainland China. Journal of Moral Education, 27(2):191-207.

The art of cultural conditioning: A query into Geert Hofstede’s early work into culture

Geert Hofstede fascinates me. As a young man, he took a trip to Indonesia and England. The first time out of his native country of Holland, he was struck with how different people behaved, and over the next fifteen years he developed his theory of culture based on the research he performed while serving as a director of personnel research at IBM. During that time, he traveled to various IBM sites around the world and conducted interviews; realizing the vast information bank of culture that IBM had, he asked them if they would be willing to open up that bank for the purpose of more in-depth cultural research. They told him no, so he left the company and joined both INSEAD and EIASM, two centers for academic business research.

Hofstede’s most well-known academic work, “Motivation, Leadership, and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?” (1980) is a classic, as his paper introduced the four cultural dimensions that have since been applied to almost every rigorous study of culture: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, and masculinity. While many other researchers have expanded on the four (Javidan & House, 2001; Jackson, 2002; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1998), Hofstede was one of the first academics to create a toolbox that academics could use to deconstruct and reconstruct a culture using a few simple tools, an analytic process which he called “cultural conditioning.”

Cultural conditioning, according to Hofstede, is the collective programming of a people group, according to family structure, education, religion, government, associations, law, literature, settlement patterns, scientific theories, architecture and buildings. These cultural conditions act as variables that differentiate one culture from the next, resulting in stark divergences between how a society views class structure (power distance), strength of organization (uncertainty avoidance), strength of identity (individualism-collectivism), and societal progress (masculinity).

His research took place between 1967 and 1973, using a 150-question survey, with 60 of those questions related indirectly to values and beliefs. Based on the results from approximately 2200 participants in 20 different language groups, along with an additional 400 managers queried between 1971-1973 Hofstede collated the index data for each question for each of his four dimensions of culture, finding statistically significant correlation among 31 national indicators. While it would be impossible to discover the source of Hofstede’s four dimensions (without asking him, of course), I find the need to associate a discrepancy of bias to Hofstede’s results given his indexing method used in the initial data collection, as data was collected inductively rather than deductively and inductive studies represent a certain bias on the part of the researcher.

More importantly, however, are Hofstede’s identification of particular cultural variables (a research track that seems to be lost in his later research) with leadership, motivation, and organization. For example, Hofstede explores the differences between Freud’s self-obligation (Austria) and Maslow’s self-actualization (United States) as differences in national motivation. He goes on to present three different leadership practices based on significant scholarship: Machiavelli’s strategic manipulation (Italy), More’s strategic idealism (England), and McGregor’s strategic participation (United States) as indicators and value systems of leadership. Finally, Hofstede addresses differences in organizational theory, using the examples of Weber’s formal structure (Germany) and Mao’s mutualist structure (PRC) of organizational management.

Hofstede’s original question of the relevancy of American theories in other countries is valid and important, but sadly a question that he doesn’t seem to ask again in his later research. Hofstede’s later research plays on his four cultural dimensions to such an extent, that the beauty of his initial analysis of variables is lost, and he becomes stuck in the miasma of his own Dutch cultural conditioning of identification rather than observation. I am not dense enough to recognize that were it not for his study of the four dimensions he would not have recognized the cultural variables, but his initial study was tainted with bias. For example, his description of the four cultural dimensions could be classified with the following table:

  Weak Strong
Power distance Classless Hierarchical
Uncertainty avoidance Relativism (dissipation) Organizational strength
Individualism-collectivism Lack of self Strength in identity
Masculinity No progress Progress

In many ways, Hofstede is a spiritual successor of other Dutch philosophers such as Spinoza (who claimed that people could not deviate from their design), Huizinga (who argued that history’s primary variable was cultural artifacts rather than more traditional concepts like war and disease), and Romein (who wrote that history had to be integrated in order to be valid). Hofstede attended the university of Gronigen as did Huizinga, although Spinoza (in a less official capacity as a participant in their study groups), Huizinga, and Romein all taught at the University of Leiden. Nevertheless, the bias that Hofstede presents in his cultural dimensions (strength versus weakness) is inimitably visible. Hofstede misses the key difference in his bias: that sometimes weakness is strength, or sometimes perceived weakness has nothing to do with perceived strength. As a general frame of reference, the four dimensions of culture have the inherent danger of misinterpreting the paradigm of a culture as being somewhere it is not.


Hofstede, G. (1980). Motivation, leadership, and organization: Do American theories apply abroad? Organizational Dynamics: Summer:42-63.

Releasing the anchor of self-perception

The first time I heard the word career was in a high school business class. “You want to make sure you choose the right career, something you are really passionate in,” she said. “If you choose the wrong career, you may later come to regret that decision.” At the time I was sixteen years old. For years, I had been traveling with my parents to Amway conventions; most of these adventures I spent a majority of my time in the hotel room watching movies, swimming in the pool, or exploring the hotel for any secrets it might hold, but in recent years I had begun to attend the actual seminars, and when I turned 16 I bought my first IBO Kit (Independent Business Owner) and then presented my “business opportunity” to my biology teacher, Mr. Cross.

Mr. Cross was known as one of the strictest teachers in the school… or perhaps even the universe. Never smiling, his brow always settled in a comfortable suspension-bridge shaped arc, his bright eyes behind a set of thick glasses, his tall spindly body hovering over students like an ominous shadow. So I decided that he would be my first, because I do enjoy a challenge. I didn’t know it then, but he was also my last. No, he didn’t dissuade me from becoming a millionaire, but he did allow me into his home, he spoke with me not as a teacher but took me seriously, and he wasn’t intimidating at all. He revealed to me something that would later become part of my ethos: that being a teacher didn’t mean that when you left school you carried your job on your back, but outside of the classroom, a teacher was as real as any other man, someone who sat on his couch in his pajamas and watched late night sitcoms, or someone who despite bringing piles of work back to grade, relaxed with some jazz and a cup of tea. The career doesn’t make the man, I learned. The man makes the career.

Fifteen years later I stopped struggling. I became a teacher.

Edgar Schein, more famous for his organizational opus, “Organizational Culture and Leadership” (1992), also was the author of a self-assessment called “Career Anchors” (2006). Schein begins by describing the inner career as a “self-image of competencies, motives, and values” (Loc 85), where competencies are defined as talents and skills, motives defined as aspirations and hopes, and values defined as character, beliefs, and priorities. For Schein, the anchor is a self-assessment which allows a person to understand the drives of his or her inner career (the self-image), and then once understood can more easily manipulate the external career (horizontal, vertical, or inward steps toward advancement) to better suit the purposes of that particular anchor (of which Schein lists eight). The anchor acts as a stable force which provides momentum and direction for movement in an organization or company and allows the worker self-direction and awareness of why he or she is drawn to particular types of work, or why the worker’s dissatisfaction erupts in overcompensating time spent in hobbies, second jobs, or leisure activities (Loc 160).

As confusing and fragmented as it is, experience more than any other power transforms our abilities and goals. Schein focuses on self-assessment and believes that by defining and clarifying one’s primary career anchors, he or she can become more fully developed. Schein lists eight career anchors: 1)technical/functional, 2)general managerial, 3)autonomy/independence, 4)security/stability, 5)entrepreneurial creativity, 6)service/dedication to a cause, 7)pure challenge, and 8)lifestyle. For an organization to be truly efficient and utilize their staff, they need to treat career anchors as strengths. 1)Specialists should be utilized in areas that requires concentration and focus, 2)problem-solvers should be given direct access to conflict, 3)agents should be the external arm of the organization, 4)pillars should be embedded deep in the organizational and offered opportunities to solidify and recognize loyalty and thereby keep the organizational solid, 5)creators should be given the freedom, incentive, and support to be innovative, 6)influencers should be placed at strategic locations in the organization to serve in capacities which drive organizational ethical standards, 7)warriors should be positioned in the hardest zones of disagreement with goals firmly communicated and rules of compromise fully explored, and 8)integrators should be the barometers of health in an organization, queried at periodic times to make sure the organization is healthy and thriving. By transforming the self-assessment of career anchors into action-oriented positioning, an organization can more fully appreciate the diversity present instead of using the self-assessment tool as a repatriation tool or mere encouragement for a single worker to take his or her career more seriously.

Our self-perceptions are the primarily limitation of the career anchor as a tool. Before I took the assessment I read through his book and came to the conclusion that my career anchors be service/dedication to a cause, entrepreneurial creativity, and autonomy/independence, as I identified strongly with those three in my personal belief system. However, after taking the assessment, I discovered something surprising: my three top career anchors were actually service/dedication to a cause, lifestyle, and technical/functional. Initially when reading through the descriptions of lifestyle and technical/functional, I scoffed at both but for different reasons. I believed that people who tested as lifestyle were more concerned with a life free of responsibility, and that people who tested as technical/functional were droll and boring. However, I realized that my own self-perception was flawed, and that my actions were a stronger reflection than my ideals.

For years I struggled with the concept of career, ever since I first heard the word in my high school business class. I was a bookseller, a secretary, an undertaker (yes, I was), a videographer, a poet, a columnist, a projectionist, a lobbyist, a security guard, and a day care counselor. Nothing seemed to fit. “The rest of your life,” my high school business teacher might have said, “is defined by your choice of career.” Of course, she was wrong. Our lives are not defined by our careers; rather, we define our careers. The day I realized this, I was standing in front of a mirror, and on the other side of the mirror I saw Mr. Cross staring back at me, but with one difference: I was smiling.


Schein, E. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schein, E. (2006). Career anchors: Participant workbook (Kindle version). San Francisco: Pfieffer.

A personal mythology

Depending only on our assumptions to understand a culture is dangerous. Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner (1996) state that the only way to manage cultural change is to use stories to rewrite our assumptions about implicit culture. In this short essay I am going to talk about assumptions I had about Chinese culture (based on my initial reactions to experiences I had), and then relate several stories that changed my mind, and through these experiences explain some of the key differences between an American upbringing and Chinese culture.

“The Funeral”

When I first came to China, I had an opportunity to attend a funeral in the mountainside. Even though this was a funeral, I was curious to know how funerals among Chinese Christians differed from funerals among American Christians. You see, I come from a culture where the dead are mourned in personal silence. God, for Americans, is a mystical calculator they keep in their pocket, who I have often imagined has the voice of the late Richard Harris; a great, mournful voice, apologizing for the blood of the world, and a bright piñata for our confusion and angst, opening his arms to the barbs we throw in our pain and guilt. However, in China I experienced a different kind of God, one that surrounded the crowd on the mountain in a warmth only because we were together, and uplifted each person there with the peace of a prosperous and unique future, promising each family a future of peace while also promising each family a future of struggle.

The United States comes from a strong background of Puritan beliefs, capitalistic philosophy, Enlightenment idealism, and postmodern sensibilities, while China comes from a background of Confucian ethics, taoist emotionalism, historical precedence, and socialist methodologies. Every artefact of culture invaded my brain and tried to make sense, but continually failed: Russian winter jackets, German cars, French superstores, Korean movies, American fast food, Japanese televisions, and English accents: for a country that prided itself on an immense history and sterling culture, how could so many other cultures have so much power? In the United States, Chinese culture had been relegated to cheap restaurants, Japanese culture to cheap cars, and European culture to out-of-date emotionalism, but in China foreign constructs held immense power. In China, the political, military, and artistic systems were Russian imports, the economic model an American import, and the social system was a fragment of Marxist ideology and failed dreams, touched with a bit of ancient Chinese sentimentalism. The values and underlying beliefs of the two countries were not even comparable, and that fascinated me.

“The Cup”

While I was working as an English teacher at Peking University, I was invited to be a guest judge for an English-speaking competition, and later as an honored guest for the televised finals. In the story above, I spoke about internal characteristics of both China and America (values and underlying beliefs), but in this story I will speak about the external characteristics (the arts). Art in China has a long history of emulation, from the long-standing tradition of learning how to paint landscapes by copying the masters, to the art of calligraphy, a beautiful discipline where the artist instills his or her passion into the brush and the tiniest variant of movement in the shape of a word is considered beautiful and unique. As I was sitting in my front-row seat at the televised finals of the competition, this emulation became magnified in everything, although strangely the emulation was not from the Chinese masters but from American television shows.

Whenever I look back on the recording of the competition finals, I swallow a bit of my pride. Every object on the set, everyone sitting in the arena-benches in the audience, and every activity the participants took part in looked American… except when the camera panned to me. Bigger than everyone around me, dressed in a yellow tweed jacket, and clapping and smiling out of sync, I was noticeably different from everyone else in the audience, who were sitting quietly with their hands in their laps, trying to blend in with the background, not making sudden movements, but becoming a part of the portrait of intense expectations. The CCTV Cup was a realization that even as a spectator, my basic instinct was to act like an American, to move to my own rhythm, even when the rest of the world was clapping at the same time.

“Work is Work”

I was nervous; previously she had refused to see me, take my calls, or even recognize my desires to communicate with her. Just a week before, we were on good terms; suddenly we were enemies, beholden on opposites sides of a battlefield without a choice. She could not look at me; I could only wonder what I had done wrong. “Family is family, work is work,” she told me in her office, sighing and shrugging her shoulders as if she held a great burden. “When you work in China, you must understand this.” A week before, I walked up the aisle of a conference hall of the Saixiang Hotel in Tianjin, a city not far from Beijing. When I embraced hands with my bride, I had little idea that my school, unbeknownst to me, forgot about the date of my wedding and scheduled a very expensive class on that very day, and because there was no teacher to teach that class, the school not only lost a huge amount of money but also a great deal of face, and something had to change.

According to Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner, cultures deviate between universalism and particularism in the development of rules, and the use of internal and external control mechanisms to enforce those rules. China, for example, is highly universalistic when it comes to developing rules but incredibly particularistic when it comes to enforcing them. Furthermore, the influence of Taoist philosophy on Chinese culture has engrained among people a dialectic of natural movement between dark and light, or that people naturally transform from something into something else rather the American perception that people are born a certain way and can never change. Nothing good can last, and nothing can really last; therefore, the only things that last are the things that must change and in changing they last. After I was let go from the school, I spent a long time in mourning and anger, even though I left one of the most dismal schools and ended up in the highest university in the country, not even one day after I was let go. The American in me was stunned, but no one else seemed surprised. The American in me demanded retribution and punishment, but the Chinese seeping into me transformed that rage and frustration into the most amazing thing: forgiveness.

“The Walking Street”

More than the impersonal attributes of rules and control however, are cultural issues that affect a person’s self-perception as well as emotional state. Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner also relate the cultural values of individualism and collectivism (self-perception), and neutral and affective (emotions). Growing up in the United States, I learned some very difficult lessons about not allowing other people to define what I believed about myself, and that I was fully in control of my emotions: no external force could or should govern my state of mind, unless I allowed it to. Like most people, I believed what I knew to be the truth; that either people thought that way, or wanted to think that way because they knew in the darkest part of their heart, they also knew it to be true.

Consider my surprise, then, when I took my teacher for coffee. Over the last couple of weeks, I felt there had been some tension between us, and being that she was my tutor, I wanted to make things right. I should have realized something was off when the moment we stepped outside of the cab, she started walking on the opposite side of the street, and when I moved toward her, she reacted and asked me to stay a few feet away from her, but to keep walking. Perhaps she wanted to play the part of a spy? No, actually. She was embarrassed that others seeing her would think she was my girlfriend.

Later that afternoon, after buying her some ice cream to assuage her frustration as well as drinking a cup of coffee to try and force my brain to interpret the events of the day, she told me that not only had I embarrassed her in class by asking too many questions, but that everyday she felt a creeping doom when she had to mentally prepare herself to teach me. And here I thought I was the model student! I had been praised by my professors in university for my unflinching dedication to learning and truth-seeking, but in China I was considered a brute, little better than a hoodlum looking for an easy pinch (a term of endearment, I thought). However, for many people in China, self-perception is a reflection of perceived expectations from other people, and emotions are contextually defined by those same perceived expectations. I thought that by inviting my teacher out for coffee, I could make it right, but it wasn’t until I realized that by trying to make it right, I was constantly making it worse. Only after I changed how I acted in front of her in the classroom, was she able to change how she acted in front of me.

“The Teahouse”

One winter, I visited a friend who lived in the city of Xi’an. A prominent surgeon and Party member, a couple of years before he stayed with my parents in California while he was doing a residency as a foreign expert and cancer researcher at Stanford University. He quickly became a close family friend. While visiting him in Xi’an, I believed that like great family friends, we would spend some time together, visiting the sites, having dinner together, and speaking of my family back in California and his life there. However to my surprise we spent most of the time entertaining his friends, drinking in teahouses, schmoozing up to officials, and only speaking to each other in the car as we moved from place to place. By the end of the trip, I was so confused, upset, and in pain from the massive headaches I suffered from the large amounts of tea I drank, but more importantly, I was jaded by our friendship, believing he had used me to uplift his position as a Party member so as to ensure his status as the “surgeon with the exotic foreign friend”.

Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner speak also of three very important cultural concepts: specific and diffuse (responsibility), achievement and ascription (status), and past, present, and future time (orientation). My experience with my friend allowed me a unique glimpse into a special situation. My reactions were pure examples of American perceptions of responsibility, status, and orientation. As a friend, we should (responsibility) have spent the time together, growing closer and laughing about old times, thereby solidifying our status as friends, and securing the future of our relationship. However, in the mind of my friend, he would owe me far more by the simple act of allowing me an opportunity to show him off to his friends, and that action would ensure for decades to come his appreciation and dedication to us as friends. Furthermore, the status I would afford him would be “change in the bank”, so that in the future if I needed a favor from him he would be more than happy to sacrifice his time and effort to help me, something that even my greatest of American friends would likely need a lot of convincing to even consider. Once I had realized this, I was embarrassed, but I suppose I can write that off as being too American about the whole situation.

“The Man with the Turtle-Skin Glasses”

My first year in China I worked at a kindergarten. My boss was a big man built like a football player, with broad shoulders, a belly of iron, and huge, square-framed glasses that he claimed were covered in turtle-skin (he said with pride). I remember walking into his office for the first time and being surprised: he was sitting at his computer desk, playing Counter Strike, a popular computer game where the player acts in the role of a counter-terrorist officer and runs around a map shooting terrorists in the head. He was older, in his fifties, respectable, but when I walked in he motioned me to sit in a wooden chair beside his desk and continued playing his game. When he was done, he turned to face me and asked me if I liked Chinese food, and what did I think of the cold buns they served in the school cafeteria for breakfast. I was too stunned to reply; eventually I gathered up my energy and said it was good; I waited for some time, but he didn’t have anything more to say, so then I collected myself and after making up an excuse, went back to my room, about ten feet away just down the hall.

As a final conclusion to this short essay, I want to talk a little about leaders and followers. I wouldn’t necessarily say my boss was a good leader (he had to flee the country two years later) but he was an ordinary leader who did what he believed was expected of him. He was an authority, he was rich, and in general he didn’t have a lot of expectations of others except to not embarrass him and work with the other staff. He was always there, but rarely did he make his presence known unless circumstances demanded, but if his presence was made known his shadow fell over everything. Aside from being less personable, he was more or less like any other non-exceptional leader I had ever known. He expected his staff to fulfill their duties, and they expected him to tell them what to do. Sure, certain intricacies were apparent: the lack of discussion when he made a decision, the sardonic and cleverly worded remarks from the staff when he wasn’t around (as well as some moaning), and the fear of what it might mean to have a relationship with him. We are all people of flesh and blood and more or less respond in similar ways. If we let it, culture has power over us, but if we master it, culture is merely another language to learn.

Transforming values

Society is fundamentally ruled by the powerful, who maintain their power by offering others security. The powerful offer physical security, personal security, familial security, and quite often moral security that is based out of how that particular powerful group views the family and how they view the interplay between different members of the community. Opposing this “security” is more often viewed as a threat to the whole and put down immediately. The Pope was a shining example of how a leader could offer both moral authority and security, while at the same time stand out as a monstrous vehicle of power and dictatorship, “the leader of the world.” However, the United States was one of the first forces to truly challenge the papacy, and they did so through offering not only moral authority but intellectual authority through their espousal of freedom as a human right. During the beginning of the United States, scholars and thinkers were obsessed with the motivational forces that ruled over the human soul, and today, those motivational forces have evolved to values-based leadership. Leaders recognize today that people mobilize not only from the recognition of their own human rights, but from leaders who offer a living model of those values of human rights.

“Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, / but leech-like to their fainting country cling, / rise like Lions after slumber / in unvanquishable number — / shake your chains to earth like dew / which in sleep had fallen on you — / ye are many — they are few.” (Shelley, 1819) Even in the 19th century, popular culture had begun to embrace the idea that values could transform the world. Shelley’s criticism that leaders were so distanced from their followers that they were blind, unfeeling, and stupid, was a bold thing to say when rulers still felt they had divine authority on their side. The idea that followers of a divine authority actually had chains was less a statement that people needed freedom, and more a claim that people had a right to live their own lives without being chained in the dreams of a leader who was blind.

Are one set of values any better than another set? How can you make a differentiation, without making a judgment? For example, we look at modern-day Sharia bound cultures, where women are forced to wear headdresses and covers so that they are not seen in public, when in fact many of those women support that culture and when westerners criticize those cultures, the westerners are the ones who are in turn criticized for being immoral. Do leaders need to stand for the values of their followers, or do they need to reframe those values and transform those under them? Should the leaders in closed countries such as China and Saudi Arabia seek to transform their countries to become more like other countries and their values, or should they seek to solidify themselves in favor of their own people’s values?

I often struggle with knowing where my values lie in the country I live. I am an ex-patriot, and for many people I come into contact with I am the first ex-patriot (or foreigner) they have ever met. When they see me and watch me, everything I do becomes everything the other world is. If I cry or scream or smile, I begin to form their own minds about the actions of people who are not Chinese. If I cheat or steal or sin, that is added to the value system of other countries, at least in the eyes of those who are watching me, in the exact same way that I erroneously attached the ethics and values of China to Tracy, that tiny little Chinese girl in my second-grade class, or how I also erroneously attached a judgment of Iran by observing the parents of my friend whose family fled to the United States in the 80s. However, I am an image of the West, and there is nothing I can do about that. The values I espouse become the main line in inquiry for anyone I meet, unless that person is lucky enough to meet someone else and grow their judgment set. As a leader however, the values I espouse are even more important, not because it should matter to me whether or not someone has a favorable opinion of the values of people from other countries, but because that will affect my effectiveness in reaching that person and trying to help them grow.

Intercultural immersion: synthesis

There are certain moments of sublime clarity I remember from my childhood. Sitting at home at the dinner table, the wax from two red candles burning between a baked turkey and a Chinese rice dish, and the prayers of my mother before the meal asking that God would watch over not only my brother and I during the school vacation, but also the Chinese family that lived with us as they were adapting to life in the United States. I remember visiting my friend from Iran and eating dinner with his family, studying the golden-framed paintings all over the house and trying to understand why a family would place so many sculptures in so many places. I remember a missionary from Thailand coming through the front door of our home, handing me a ball woven of hard bark, and telling me that this ball was a soccer ball for the village children where they worked, and every time I kicked that ball I saw myself in dusty fields with other kids, sharing together in sore, reddened feet and the abounding laughter of enlightened joy my peers could never experience in their insular lives. These experienced were profoundly formed by my experience growing up in a family where foreign cultural values were embraced alongside the basic American values of expressed democracy, Christian service, and the manifest destiny of spreading the love of our faith to the corners of the Earth. There is both a sanctity and a blindness to manifest destiny though. Historically a masonic concept, over time manifest destiny has come to mean more than spreading a democratic faith to the far side of the dusty world, but has transformed into an American ethic that provides both our salvation as a nation as well as the seeds of our destruction as a people devoid of weakness and riddled with ethnocentric attitudes in the vain quest to bring light to the huddled masses of shades outside our borders.

When I graduated from university, I had that same fire to reach the world for truth (perhaps I still do, albeit in a different way). Freshly christened with two shining degrees (and an online certificate) I took a plane to China, eager to embrace my destiny as an educated neophyte granted the wisdom only $200,000 could have bestowed. I believed in the fundamental goodness of the learning process, in the transformative power of Christian light to reach across national boundaries and yank people into a more pure outlook and even in the prospect that English could transfer that same manifest destiny from myself to my students. I had traveled to over sixteen different countries and been given a unique perspective on the world that most people would be envious of, and came from a cornbread American family that had the blessings of both urban and farmer philosophy, along with the revelatory message of Christ for the world. However, as Elmer (2006) and Lewis (1996) both stipulate in their respective volumes, I carried my culture on my metaphorical back, with the intent to teach rather than learn, to bestow rather than grow, and to perform rather than reform. The most striking difference between Elmer’s servant model and the model I took abroad was that Elmer’s servant serves through lowering his face to the ground and submitting, while in my first couple of years in China I was a paragon of virtue who expected the natives to submit to my knowledge and grow into a new paradigm. In a word, I was a monster, albeit a gentle beast who preferred to embrace before consuming.

When I began to teach at the Chinese university, inwardly my desire was to serve the students. At the beginning and end of each class, I queried the students as to what they wanted to learn, as the administration “had no expectations” (outwardly, in any case) and my singular desire was to both communicate the love of Christ through my actions of intensely desiring to help the students perform their language abilities beyond even my highest expectations. I desired to serve, and still today I carry that same dream, although Elmer (2006) has taught me that to truly serve, I must carry no attitudes of greater-than but instead always approach foreign culture as a less-than, and Lewis (1996) has taught me that regardless of appearances, the people I am interfacing with have grown up in a reality so far beyond my understanding that I could well be on another planet trying to convince the natives that green was red. In order to really reach the other side of the gorge, I have to first give up my image of what I think the other side must look like, close my eyes, and once I reach the other side of the bridge, carry no expectations except for my own necessity to listen to the sounds and take in the colors.

Strange, though. I grew up in California, near San Francisco, a city that once upon a time was 90% Chinese. Asian culture is almost second nature to most people in California, but it is also different. Over the last hundred years, political upheavals, wars, famines, deaths, and the passing of generations have altered the landscape of culture, to the point where I wonder sometimes if two or three generations ago the culture was even relatively the same. Lin Yutang, a Chinese scholar who wrote in the early 1900s during the first Republic of China, writes about Chinese culture in his book “My Country, My People,” and while many of his descriptions seem apt, they are also off-putting, bridging culture with words but separated by time. Lewis (1996) remarks about Chinese culture, expressing the power of taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism over people’s lives (Loc 9199), philosophies which are barely even recognized among today’s Chinese youth (due to Mao Zedong’s policy of using the volumes of Confucius from people’s homes as kindling during the Cultural Revolution); culture transforms over time and eventually fades, replaced by the shared experienced and trauma of a people (Loc 10068).

Many times I feel like Joseph, the Hebraic hero who found himself sold as a slave to a rich landowner in Egypt, and years later became the second highest-member of Pharoah’s court. Elmer (2006) provides a wonderful illustration of Joseph, encapsulating his cross-cultural work into a model: acceptance, trust, openness, and serving (Loc 1965). The divide is wide, but with perseverance, patience, and humility the divide can be crossed, even when culture changes faster than one might hope and the cross-cultural worker finds himself struggling against the tides of an ever-changing sea.

As a cross-cultural worker in China and an educator, I often find myself existing in the China Hand paradox. A China hand (Zhongguo Tong) is a foreigner who has lived in China so long, that many people (even Chinese people) are quick to acknowledge their vast experiences and wisdom of even Chinese culture; having lived in China for almost ten years, I most qualify for this illustrious title and the respect it engenders, even though my cultural awareness still lacks. How can I become a servant in a culture that desires to elevate me? I am reminded of Christ washing the feet of his disciples, kneeling down and wiping away the grime of dust, touching broken toenails, cleansing wounds and blisters, pushing the dirt-covered sweat from gnarled hair, perhaps even removing pebbles and rocks from between the toes. In a society of cleanliness and purity such as Israel, for a man of honor (a king, even) to step down and wash his servants’ feet must have been considered abominable, a breaking of custom and culture, much like what cross-cultural workers feel when they make the initial breach into an alien land and witness people doing things they had never even considered as proper behavior. My dream is to be like Christ, to be a servant first, and to truly respect the Chinese culture in a way that only Jesus could. To be a servant means to serve my family first, breaking out of the American perception of the man of the house and moving towards the Christ-like habit of serving others first without the expectation that my humility will engender my greatness, but rather humility for humility – a state of mind, and a pattern of living.

Intercultural immersion: an evaluation of personal variances

In my analysis of Elmer (2006) and Lewis (1996), I looked at the basic philosophy the two men brought to the conversation of cross-cultural work, focusing on the need for understanding a culture beyond just book knowledge, but having an intimate awareness – an empathy – of how that culture operates on a worldview level. In this second paper, I will discuss how these perspectives transform my own life as an educator and a cross-cultural worker, by discussing pertinent issues from both books, as well as illustrate some problematic issues that have occurred as a result of my transplant into Chinese culture. Most importantly, however, I will discuss the power that I wield as a cross-cultural worker, in not only shaping others around me but being transformed intimately by the collection of new ideas foreign cultures introduce.

Before I came to work overseas, I had several academic degrees: two bachelor degrees (one in English and another in Biblical studies), as well as two certifications (one for teaching English as a foreign language and one for international business). I also had studied the Chinese language extensively before coming to China for my professional career. I was not only highly qualified, but motivated to pass on that knowledge to others. However, one stipulation Elmer makes is that education in different countries carries different expectations (2006, Loc 879). In the United States (where I earned my degrees), certain expectations are held for both students and teachers: academic originality, reflected critical thought patterns, and willingness to participate in opinionated discussions. However, in China those three aspects of education do not actually exist, as students in high school are encouraged to emulate rather than create, elaborate rather than criticize, and listen rather than speak. Such basic principles built into a system that for a thousand years operated and evolved independently of other cultural educational systems provided a stark challenge as an educator, and still I struggle with today. I continue to struggle inwardly in putting aside my philosophy of education, in the hopes of helping the process of transformation inside my fundamentally different students.

Even if, however, an educator such as myself can grasp the invisible lines of cultural variants, the problem arises of actually understanding why. Elmer (2006) uses the example of learning not only from but learning with the target culture (Loc 1143). Empathy (learning with) functions separately from sympathy (learning from): while sympathy is an acknowledgment of a different experience from the perspective of oneself, empathy is an insertion of oneself into a different perspective; cross-cultural work requires empathy, because while sympathy will allow the cross-cultural worker to react more positively to situational problems, empathy allows the worker to transform a basic ethic to a new worldview, while retaining elements of the old. Elmer gives the example of Isaiah 28:33-39, in which God’s care for even the most common of workers (a wheat farmer) is so specific that the Lord of Creation steps down from his throne to instruct the farmer in the most basic of work, from planting barley to grinding the grain. The model of the wheat farmer is the model for the cross-cultural worker, who in working with others (who operate from a totally different outlook) must take the care to truly understand them to the detail that God takes with the common farmer.

Book knowledge and empathy can take the cross-cultural worker into the living room of another culture, but they cannot change the worker’s insecurities about stepping into a world that disagrees with his or her outlook. Lewis (1996) mentions that one of the most dangerous areas for cross-cultural workers exist in black holes, mental blocks that exist inside a mind that prohibit analysis of other cultures because of the isolation the worker received while living in his or her particular geographical home. “They wallow in powerful, all-encompassing ‘cultural black holes,’ core beliefs of such gravity that they cannot be questioned” (Loc 1859). Take the simple example of spitting: according to ancient Chinese philosophy, public spitting is similar to the practice of blowing one’s nose in the United States, a healthy activity that promotes flow in the body. On an empathic level, I can understand spitting on a public street because the pollution in China is so dangerous that walking outside for a few hours results in preparing a new wash (given how dirty the white shirt becomes), and so even thinking about the grime that is breathed in through the lungs on a daily basis is bewildering. However, I still cannot bring myself to spit on a public street, because of the barriers formed in my mind during the first and second grade of elementary school, when students who spit on the ground were sent to the principal’s office for a time-out; a cultural black hole, so strong as to induce a physical response of repulsion and a mental judgment when I see someone spitting on the sidewalk in China. The process for closing black holes is awareness – understanding how and why a worker responds a certain way, and then slowly working through a strategy of deconstruction and re-construction; identification is paramount, and after identification, the real work begins.

Just like Lewis (1996) and Elmer (2006), I suffer from stereotypical viewpoints. When Lewis describes Americans and Australians, not only is he crass but offensive (Loc 1749), and his description of the Austrians’ only national accomplishment being their obsession with paper recycling is meant in good humor but comes off like a stand-up insult (Loc 4144). Elmer’s encouragement to make “two or three local friends” (Loc 1359) is as insipid as it is ignorant (try twenty or thirty for real perspective), but regardless of these glaring holes in reasoning, all cross-cultural workers suffer from these problems, regardless of the worker being an American in China (such as myself) or a Chinese national or immigrant working in the United States. To deny these manifestations is to deny reality; that even the most educated, kindest soul carries baggage that they he or she never asked for, but is part of the basic building blocks of the intellect and must be trained accordingly.

Elmer’s call to model Christ (2006, Loc 1606) helps in this regard, as well as his recognition of the mystery that surrounds other cultures (Loc 1929) being a powerful and destructive force if not accepted willingly as God’s grace. Lewis (1996) explains that the power of history and the collective unconscious which exists within people groups is a force that all cross-cultural workers must not only be aware of, but submit themselves to, because the legacy of a people dramatically shapes “thoughts, attitudes, actions, values, plans, an a unique mindset” (Loc 10068) that most are unaware of, even if they have been educated in their own worldview. For myself, I must constantly be vigilant against generalizations, be continually humble in identifying my lack of understanding regarding foreign points-of-view, and live my life in constant prayer that God shapes me so that I am a force of healing rather than a force of fire when I interact with people who are most likely unaware of why there is friction but intensely aware that there is friction.

Intercultural immersion: an analysis of textual sources

One of the most humbling aspects of working cross-culturally is working with people from radically different backgrounds, and then inserting oneself into that pool of different mindsets and trying to make sense of it all. Duane Elmer and Richard Lewis have added to the cross-cultural conversation in their books Cross-Cultural Servanthood (2006) and When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures (1996). Both books attempt to explore the intersection between cultures, but while Elmer explores culture through his Christian vocation as a pastor and missionary, Lewis explores culture through his secular vocation as a teacher and businessman. While both authors approach the topic with radically different points-of-view, they do offer consensus on a select few areas, namely the need to separate oneself from the primary culture (home) so as to embrace the secondary culture (foreign), as well as emphasizing that while cultures can be different from each other, at the core cultures consist of people in their most fragile and malleable forms, capable of both corruption and beauty, no matter the culture or country.

While the old adage may be true: “people are just people no matter where they live,” cultures vary primarily because of three functions: history (collective experience), environment (physical surroundings), and language (communicated personalities). Lewis (1996) argues that cultures at their core function from a foundation of myth: “Germans believe in a world governed by Ordnung, where everything and everyone has a place in a grand design calculated to produce maximum efficiency” (Loc 1970). In his exposition of German culture, Lewis claims that this mythical perception of Ordnung permeates each person with the collective experience that is Germany, in the same way that Confucius permeates people from Asia (Loc 2904) and the establishment of the Napoleonic École normale supérieure defines how the French view leadership expectations (Loc 2016). From myths such as the Founding Fathers in the United States, to the old Viking Code in Sweden, to the tales of King Arthur and the Welsh stories of the Mabinogi in the United Kingdom, philosophies and cultural mythology form a very strong bond between people who claim a certain lineage, regardless of blood. Cultures may vary, but all people are flesh and blood and operate from a basic survival mechanism for the need of food, shelter, clothing, and security. Beyond even those four basic needs, people are connected through an even stronger link: their experience as human beings. Elmer (2006): “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (Loc 600). To only accept that people are different and move on is not enough; transformation, regardless of station, is what divides human beings from trees, mountains, and even animals. Elmer argues that true transformation comes from Jesus Christ, but while Christ is the inspiration, servanthood (through Christ) is the only truly cross-cultural attitude can that reach across the divide and transform people (Loc 1476). Cultural concepts of servanthood must be abandoned however, and instead Elmer relates serving to learning, “seeking out the knowledge of the people, learning from them, knowing their cultural values and then acting in ways to support the fabric of the culture” (Loc 1130). Serving others by honoring their ways fosters trust (Loc 947), and as trust operates different in each and every culture (Loc 855), the process for gaining trust must be inductive rather than deductive through experience and an approach of humility rather than superiority.

Intercultural competence is not only a process of education but of immersing oneself into a culture so as to embrace that culture personally. While cultures are different and can only be accessed through a humble attitude of learning, action within a culture must acknowledge the secondary as primary (see first paragraph), as cultures operate not only from a historical and environmental vantage, but also through a linguistic medium. Language is more than a mere collection of sounds, but contains an entirely different philosophical approach to life (Lewis, 1996) and often trains people to act in certain ways by altering personality to fit appropriateness of speech (Loc 2288). Beyond adapting to the personality of the culture however, Elmer (2006) also encourages the art of listening: “You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or with impressing the other, or are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or are debating about whether what is being said is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered” (Loc 1217). These two aspects of language (a sensitivity to spoken personality and listening to learn) constitute the two most immediate needs for intercultural competence, and if trained successfully would solve innumerable issues in cross-cultural work.

The most dangerous pitfall for cross-cultural workers, however, is adopting the mentalities of us versus them, superiority complexes, and stereotypical generalizations. Elmer and Lewis fall prey to all three of these issues in their books. Elmer (2006) struggles with perspectivism, a strategy he believes is helpful where a cross-cultural servant makes “two or three local friends” in order to find a basis to work from (Loc 1359), while Lewis (1996) falls much further into the pit, eradicating his reliability through multiple outlandish statements that were probably written more for satire than education, but come off oafish and insecure (Loc 1749, 2274, 2691, 6326, 9152, 9199). I won’t bother with rehashing his statements, but the selection in the latter sentence are only a few of Lewis’s egregious errors in generalization he happily bounds through the bulk of his otherwise very helpful cultural tome, a trivial selection of far more than I wish to list in this short essay.

Regardless of these trite statements from the two authors, their books are worth reading and studying, as both men acknowledge that the importance of understanding differences in culture are ingrained deeper than just etiquette and restaurant menus, but serve much deeper foundations, from politics (Lewis, Loc 2912), history (Loc 6982), and even differing perceptions of servanthood (Elmer). To cross that boundary between culture, to learn from another culture through the process of serving and transforming the self into a different perspective, is the first step to synergy, Elmer believes (Loc 1033), and synergy is the key to operating at full value when working abroad. Lewis (Loc 2314) believes that an international team can only operate at full power when each member of the team not only is willing to work with one another, but respects one another for who they are at their core. Core beliefs are not something a person can be induced to give up unwillingly, and quite often are so deeply built into the core mindset that awareness of those core beliefs is as foggy as the foreign culture; the goal then, is for the cultural worker to adapt him or herself to the culture they are either operating in or interfacing with, rather than expecting the secondary culture to transform around the primary culture.

Mao’s last poem: The dialectical journey from idealism to broken dreams, and the sorrow of the lone leader

Suffering from tuberculosis and schizophrenia, Feng Laiheng lay on his deathbed at the young age of 62, plagued with the nightmares of China’s Cultural Revolution and the persecution he received from Chairman Mao’s avenging angels, the Red Guards, because of a painting he completed almost 23 years before his death (Sullivan, 1996). In 1959, Feng Laiheng, known more popularly by his moniker Shi Lu, completed one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, Fighting in Northern Shaanxi. This “Chinese Van Gogh” (Jia, 2005) had created a bold landscape painting that hearkened back to Shi Lu’s admiration of the painter Shi Tao and his encapsulation of the lone daoist contemplating the vast emptiness of the universe in Waterfall on Mount Lu (17th century), except instead of the hero admiring everything and nothing, the hero in Shi Lu’s painting is standing in pyrrhic victory over the bones of his fallen comrades (Chang & Halliday, 2005), the sun filled with blood as a constant reminder to the Great Helmsman of the cost of change. Inspired by one of Mao’s personal poems (released in 1958 to the public), Fighting was a victory song of brutal and martial language (Appendix II:4-5), exclaiming both the tragedy of war and the power of a singular vision. Shi Lu encapsulated Mao Zedong’s mythic power as a leader in his painting: the utter loneliness of his character, contrasted with the roiling world beneath him, swirling in chaos, tragedy, and the lifeblood of people he had sworn himself (Chan, 2011).

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

In this paper, seven significant time periods of Mao Zedong’s life will be discussed, and in each time period I will discuss how, in my opinion, Mao saw himself change as a leader through the circumstances that impacted him (by discussing seven of his poems). Mao was an intensely personal but public man, his feelings both open to all for scrutiny and worship, but also closed even to himself. I will begin by discussing his coming into power as a Communist leader, and end with the events that eventually caused his downfall, with several significant events serving as descriptions of his leadership.

The lone hero. In 1925, Mao Zedong had left the honeymoon stage of his tenure as the representative of the Communist Party for the province of Hunan. After being criticized by Sergei Dalin (an envoy from Moscow shepherding many CCP activities in China), Mao was fired from his position and promptly joined the Nationalist Party (Chang & Halliday, 2005), fleeing from Shanghai back to his hometown for a brief respite, where he wrote the poem entitled Changsha, his first major poetic work and a startling clear account of his vision as a leader.

Mao’s poem Changsha introduces several core aspects of what would eventually define his unique model of leadership, the Lone Hero model. While he viewed companions as necessary to accomplish tasks (Appendix I:14), his particular dialectical materialistic point-of-view supposed that morality had less distinction with absolute principles of good and evil, but more distinction as a scale of transformation. “Who are our enemies, and who are our friends?” (Pye, 1976) For Mao, everything was mutually transformable, including enemies. For this reason, Mao states with vivacity that he “counted the mighty no more than muck” (Appendix I:22), showing a rare worldview that did not abide by the Confucian respect of authority in which the leader was a man of virtue, benevolence, and authoritarian sagacity (Chen & Lee, 2008), but instead was as malleable as “the waters” struck by Mao and his companions, in order to “stay the speeding boats” (Appendix I:24-25).

Another important attribute of Mao’s leadership philosophy was his loneliness (Tay, 1970). From the first line of the poem (“alone I stand”) to the end of the first stanza, Mao writes about his singular calling to save China from the calamity of the age (Tay, referencing the Huainanzi) and rule over the destiny of his country (Appendix I:13). Mao was very reticent in publishing his poems, whatever critics may accuse him of using his poetry to inspire his followers (there is no evidence of this), and agreed only when the aim would serve a political purpose (Li, 2010). Perhaps he saw in himself, the “man” referenced by the historian Ch’en Liang (Mao’s favorite author), who stated that “which heaven and earth and all the gods and spirits cannot change, is changed by man.” (Tay)

The philosopher. Mao was a trained classicist; from a young age to his elderly years, he was known to have slept on a “bed of books,” often sleeping on a custom-designed bed to make room for his library of Chinese classics next to his pillow (Chang & Halliday, 2005). One of the most well-read men of his age (at least in terms of Chinese classical education), Mao was also a prodigious philosopher and wrote a book on dialectical materialism called “On Contradiction” which claimed that the most basic law in the universe was the law of opposites (Chen & Lee, 2008). How did his philosophical discipline and his practice of writing poetry influence his practice of leadership?

One of Mao’s most famous poems was Snow (Appendix III), a verse he wrote after he had completed the Long March and effectively taken control of the Chinese Communist Party, or at least their military. In a moment of sublime meditation, Mao looked upon the lands north of the Great Wall, and imagined himself like the heroes of old: Qin Shihuang (who built the Great Wall), Han Wudi (founder of the Han Dynasty and the largest people group i China), Tang Taizong and Taizu of Song (the two kings of China’s “golden age”), and Genghis Khan (the only foreigner to conquer China).

However, his estimation of them, at least according to his poem, is quite low, stating quite plainly that both Qin Shihuang and Han Wudi were illiterate fools (Appendix III:17), Taizong and Taizu with shallow souls and petty appetites (19), and Genghis Khan as a man whose primary accomplishment was the fact he could shoot arrows better than any other man (22). Imagining himself as a conqueror, he planned to establish a base in Mongolia (Chang & Halliday, 2005), and perhaps much of his inspiration came from that feverish moment, looking upon the vastness of the Great Wall in the dead of winter, dreaming himself the prime hero of the ages, physical strength coupled with intellectual brilliance. The last line of his poem encapsulates perfectly his belief: “For truly great men look to this age alone” (Appendix III:24-25). In many ways Mao Zedong saw himself as one of the immortals, relating himself to the the intellectual hero of the Chinese classic Sanguo, Zhou Yu, through the art of alluding to another heroic poem, “Thoughts of the past at Red Cliff” (Tay, 1966).

The harbinger. 1961 was a tumultuous year for Mao Zedong. In the late 50s, Mao had attempted to force China into the position of a global superpower, through his policies of the Great Leap Forward. However, his policies backfired, and close to 30 million people died from famine, starvation, and disease. Mao’s own daughter grew sickly and diseased during the Great Leap, because she was forced to eat university rations and wasn’t allowed at her father’s table (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, in 1961 the CCP took action and ousted Mao as the president, electing Li Shaoqi in his place at a little place called Lushan, a retreat center for top government officials with a lake for swimming, nestled in the heart of the mountains. Two poems written in 1961 point to how Mao saw himself transforming as a leader, The Fairy Cave and Ode to the Plum Blossom, written four months apart from each other but showcasing a dangerous metamorphosis worthy of Kafka.

In August of 1961, the CCP met at the beautiful retreat of Lushan. As Mao and his comrades were swimming in the lake (even holding meetings in their swimsuits), there was a tense feeling in the air (Fenby, 2008). Mao was ignored by many of his former friends, and he began to form a dangerous liaison with his former enemy Lin Biao, a monstrous (but effective) man whose wife wrote of him that his greatest virtue was his ability to hate (Chang & Halliday, 2005). A few days after the retreat ended, Mao wrote a frightening poem, The Fairy Cave, in which he stated that beauty could only be found in danger: “On perilous peaks dwells beauty in her infinite variety” (Appendix V:4). Earlier in the poem, Mao wrote, “riotous clouds sweep past, swift and tranquil” alluding to his struggles at the Lushan Conference, but then he continued, “Nature has excelled herself in the Fairy Cave,” referring to the mythic cave of the Eight Immortals, buried deep within the mountains of Lushan.

Four months later during the harsh winter in which he daughter had returned home from school after having grown too sick to study, Mao wrote another poem, Ode to the Plum Blossoms (VI), in which he called himself the “harbinger of Spring” (VI:6). Calling upon the ancient forces of classical Chinese poetry, Mao related himself as the plum blossom, ushering in a rebirth of Nature (Tay, 1966).

The visionary. The last leadership element of Mao’s Lone Hero model would be his capacity for visionary leadership. In a strange way, Mao believed that he was fundamentally transformational in everything he did, if we understand his concept of transformation as being a social architect (as proposed by Bennis & Nanus, 1985) who designs and fashions a society through the demolition of the old. However, unlike Bennis & Nanus’s social architect, Mao saw trust as his reliability as “the desire to be worshiped” (Pye, 1976) rather than articulating consistency and straightforward direction. In Mao’s poem Swimming, he relates a Master stating, “Thus do things flow away!” (Appendix IV:9). In 1956, Mao had just obtained nuclear technology and told his inner circle, “we must control the earth!” (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, his aspirations for nuclear power went far beyond a simple arms race: being a superpower was a passion, a way for him to step beyond Soviet control (Fenby, 2008), a symbol of self-sufficiency. Much of Mao’s leadership decisions come with an attitude of risk, to where Mao even trivializes through arguments of dialectical logic (Pye).

Beyond turning China into a superpower, though, Mao sought to establish an immortal legacy for himself in his own country. Much of his poem, Swimming, relates his visionary dream to complete the project that Sun Yat-Sen (the first president of the Republic of China) began, but later was abandoned because of the rise of the warlords. Mao sees his dream of building the dam in mythic proportions, relating how even the mountain goddess will look in awe upon his creation (Appendix IV:18-19), foreshadowing the belief that he was equal to the gods and could alter the course of Nature as a chaotic harbinger of change, uniting a land that for thousands of years had been fractured.

Looking back on Mao Zedong’s leadership philosophy, much of what he believed was admirable: a man of vision to even rival the ancient mythic heroes, a force of change and transformation, a deeply educated mind with a passion for beauty, and a heroic nature which aims for the most basic of societal changes: elevating us to progress, so that we in turn can transform our world.

So what happened?

A refraction of logic: why talk about Mao’s leadership philosophy at all? Transformational leadership theory is most weak when viewed through examples of “heroic leadership” (Yukl, 1999), such as cases like Mao Zedong. Transformational leadership is easily abused, and the danger of transformational leaders is the lack of accountability; even today, scholars have not figured out acceptable ways to measure the factors and variables (Northouse, 2013). Even transformational leadership prophets (such as James MacGregor Burns) make the mistake of equating the best transformational leaders as an exercise of dictatorship in retrospect (2004), as evidenced by Burns’ two favorite transformational leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, presidents who are more or less equated as benevolent dictators or beloved princes.

Two final poems must be discussed, to find an answer to the enigma of Mao Zedong’s transformational leadership. In autumn of 1963, Mao and his inner circle finally made a move that would alter them forever: they broke away from Russia. For more than 50 years, the U.S.S.R. had infiltrated and controlled Chinese politics, from training the Nationalist army and supporting the Nationalist Assembly, to even writing checks for their Com-interns (such as Mao and his peers in the CCP) around China. But in 1963, Mao finally ideologically split from Russia, refusing to even speak with them any more about issues of political importance. To Mao, the day he split from Russia was a day of salvation. In the last poem Mao ever wrote, he proclaimed: “Don’t you know a triple pact was signed / under the bright autumn moon two years ago? / There’ll be plenty to eat, / potatoes piping hot, / beef-filled goulash” (Appendix VIII:14-20). But one line later, be bemoans, “Stop your windy nonsense! / Look, the world is being turned upside down” (21-22). Somehow, from the moment when he broke away from Russia, from that bright and beautiful autumn evening in 1963, to his last poem (1965), something went terribly wrong. Something had transformed Mao into the conquering hero he so despised; after he wrote that fateful final line, he never wrote another piece of poetry again. His lasting legacy would not be a poem, but the Cultural Revolution, the moment that took Shi Lu’s soul.

Guo Muoru: from friend to foe, to the end. Comrade Guo Muoru was one of a kind. An intellectual who fell in love with communism, he came from a long-line of scholars, was swept into revolutionary fervor, and became a close friend of Mao Zedong. Muoru went abroad to study in Japan (much like Sun Yat-Sen and Lu Xun, contemporaries of a generation before), married a Japanese Christian woman and had several children. When the war against Japan broke out, he returned to China while his wife stayed in Japan (she was not allowed to come with him), she discovered to her sadness that he had remarried and had several more children with his second wife. A fiery intellectual, Muoru wrote several treatises on the slave society of old China, and Mao became enamored of him, even going to far as to put Muoru’s diatribes into his own speeches as justification to rail against the old Confucian society.

However, in 1963, Guo Muoru wrote a poem criticizing Mao Zedong’s policies. Muoru’s son had just been sent to the countryside for re-education, and was upset enough to publicly humiliate Mao with a poem criticizing Mao’s divisive tactics in trying to destroy those who tried to take his power. Unlike other criticisms, Mao was incensed, relating Muoru like those “flies [that] dash themselves against the wall, humming without cease… shrilling… moaning… [trying to] topple the giant tree” (Appendix VII:1-7). At heart, Mao was an optimist, and he could not believe that people did not understand what he was trying to do; yet they did not. Not only did his peers not support him after the failure of the Great Leap, but his plans for turning China into a global superpower also failed, and his allies that he spent years nurturing and millions of currency supporting… most of them were toppled in revolutions much like his own. In his final poem, Mao (with a bit of sage-like wonder) writes, “Gunfire licks the heavens, / shells pit the earth… / a sparrow in his bush is scared stiff! / “This is one hell of a mess!” (VIII:6-9). In 1965, almost immediately after writing that poem, Mao Zedong began plans for the Cultural Revolution, setting up Cultural Revolution offices around the country, and preparing for the moment when he would unleash his “avenging angels” against his enemies.

A retrospective. The importance of maintaining healthy leadership philosophies is paramount, even equal with the work a leader does in his or her capacity. Mao Zedong transformed his country, but at great cost. Were he here today, he might even reply, “The cost was inevitable.” But was the cost for Mao’s soul worth it? In the end, he became like those leaders he laughed at in his poem, Snow. Violent dullards who only knew how to conquer and little else. By the end of Mao’s life, he was hanging on by a thread. Hundreds of mistresses later, four wives, and out of ten children, only three survived to adulthood. One of his sons died in the Korean War, two of his sons died or disappeared during the Chinese Civil War, and the rest of his children either died in infancy or were abandoned. Mao was a figure who was constantly in flux, never in one place for long, and obsessed with the idea that through dissolution could come re-imagination; even in his own life.

Mao Zedong was purity, if purity could be composed of the essence of change. Yet I have to question if the purity of philosophy as a leader is viable to long-lasting positive change, especially as a Christian who believes that God’s grace is immeasurable and Christ’s love can heal all wounds. Mao truly believed that he was above the par, and he longed for that spiritual connection that he absolved himself with every night, sleeping on his bed of books. He longed to be welcomed into the abodes of the gods, into the cave of the immortals, and into the annals of great men. There is nothing wrong with that by itself. All leaders desire legacy.

However, we do not live in a vacuum. Mao’s concept of the lone leader, while he was able to accomplish many things, in the end he could not save himself. None of us can. We are incapable of self-salvation, and we will always fail when we try. There is only one way of salvation, and that is to make peace with our Creator, and understand that while we may live in a world where destruction breeds life and life is destroyed, our path as living creatures lies along the road of love. As leaders, there is a humbling to that – we cannot live without community, and we cannot live without love. To go without one or the other lies the loneliness of lamentation. To go with – is beyond purity: the eternal.


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I. Changsha (1925)

II. Loushan Pass (1935)

III. Snow (1936)

IV. Swimming (1956)

V. The Fairy Cave (1961)

VI. Ode to the Plum Blossom (1961)

VII. Reply to Comrade Guo Muoru (1963)

VIII. Two Birds: A Dialogue (1965)

Two foxes and a hen: The mask of harmony and illusion of the masses

Imagine a dinner table. At the table sit two foxes and a hen, and all three are discussing what to have for dinner. The analogy of the two foxes and a hen is often used to describe the concept of “the tyranny of the majority,” a theory in political science that epitomizes the power of the masses over the elite and the power they wield over the existing regime in establishing change. While “the tyranny of the majority” has been hotly debated for hundreds of years (ever since John Adams coined the term in 1788), any discussion regarding the influence of mass movements and harmony in society cannot progress without acknowledging the power the masses have played in national movements throughout history. Some experiments in nation-building (such as the Weimar Republic and the Republic of China) have proven to be disastrous, with many blaming those failures on a dictator seizing the power of the masses to gain absolute power, while other experiments in nation-building (the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China) have like-wise proven wildly successful, resulting in the formation of two of the most powerful nations on this Earth. However, whereas in the United States a dictator did not seize the power of the masses, in China one did, and yet both have proven to be successful examples of statecraft and leadership.

​        It would be a mistake to simplify the past in terms of what we do not understand. Many have characterized the rise of Nazi Germany as the fault of a people who allowed a dictator to take control because they were tired and disenfranchised (which may have been true, given that a loaf of bread in 1919 cost 1 German mark, but by 1923 that same loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks). However, the truth is that underneath the veil of a different time and culture, life was just as vibrant, with networks of various people in connection with each other (even in small villages), such as athletic clubs, religious organizations, charities, trade guilds and unions, and professional associations. In China before Mao Zedong, the country was perhaps even more vibrant, with a new literary era on the cusp of transforming word and art, modern technology and contemporary strategic theory introduced into the military, the establishment of universities and higher educational academies, a unified banking system, political and constitutional reform, as well as joining the international spectrum of athletes as a contender for the Olympics. The idea of a “mass society” composed of a “social void without attachments, alienated, rootless, and normless” is as fallacious as stating that dictators come to power because the people don’t want them to, but had no choice because the dictator seized this mysterious element in society and forced them to bend to his will. In most situations, the dictator is merely a sign of the culture, and the masses are an illusion used by political scientists to try and absolve the details of significance. While Hitler rose to power in Germany, similar movements inspired by race and despotism were taking place all over the world; Hitler may been at one side of the extremes, but he was not an outlier.

​        This discussion leads us to the question: if the masses are an illusion, then why did the 20th century see such an upswing of dictatorial governments and fascist tendencies? Societies are formed of complicated and amalgamated structures of inter-twining realities, and many of those realities influence one another like vines growing onto the trunk of a tree and branches joining with other trees to form multifarious organisms. It is not simple enough to say: the Great Depression allowed Roosevelt unprecedented power in changing the role of government, and neither is it simple enough to say that the struggle of China’s peasants empowered Mao Zedong in overcoming the Kuomintang elites. However, a more important question rises from this: how can we understand the complexities of culture, as well as train our leaders in the abilities to recognize and manage positive change in this hidden web of interests? As observers of other cultures and nations, how can we identify cultures of “false harmony” and prevent the volatility of violent revolution that inevitably will justify itself?

​        Many people see truth as an absolute concept, rooted in the interplay and consequences of moral quandaries as they unveil themselves in our chosen culture. When those consequences change, the subtle underpinnings of our morality may also shift, and if shifted too far in one direction may justify the radical movements we saw in the 20th century. The fallacious “cloaked outrage” that spurts out in revolutionary violence is a myth we used to absolve ourselves of the moral responsibility we have in guarding ourselves against own selfish desires for criminal justification or unethical ineptitude.

​        In China, one of the key political phrases of Hu Jintao was for his country to become a “harmonious society.” Overused, underestimated, and laughably hopeless, nevertheless it was the dream of the politiburo to wean China of inward tendencies towards social outbursts and contain the massive growth of a country heaving in an industrialized fervor from throwing itself off the mountain too quickly. The two foxes sit on the other side of the dinner table and have a staring contest with the hen, but who are the foxes and who is the hen? In political theory the foxes have often been considered as the masses, but in China logic defies and the masses are actually the hen, with the two clever foxes looking at the hen, knowing they could never withstand a full-frontal assault so they must play the angles.

​        We started this discussion trying to understand why the masses elected Hitler and Mao to be their defenders. However, what we have not recognized as yet is that Hitler and Mao understood exactly the play of the field and wielded the complexities brilliantly. Both men in their respective countries played people against one another, stole power from their contemporaries, and were intense intellectuals who understood and loved power. Leadership, as we can see, stands at the crossroads of the illusion of the masses. We believe that we live in a world that is free from the sins and madness of the 20th century, but we only delude ourselves. Napoleon believed that genius was the ability to recognize opportunity, but opportunity is more complicated than just random chance, but a nexus of circumstances sacrificing themselves on the same altar, under the shadow of the opportunist.

Multidimensionality in the follower dichotomy

James MacGregor Burns, for most of his life, has been known for his writings on transformational, transactional, and visionary leadership through his biographies of notable presidents. Burns even won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, making him an accepted expert on American leadership during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. He also believes strongly that leaders, especially visionary leaders, are the cornerstone to change, as evidenced by his strong support of repealing the American constitutional amendment to limit terms of office. For this reason, when reading Burns’ theories, we must take into consideration the extreme importance he places on the singular individual in the sea of complexity. Burns’ model of multidimensionality in the follower-leader spectrum is a fascinating study of the various layers that exist in change agency, particularly those of systematic change.

​        Burns’ model of multidimensionality centers around the central conflict between two parties: the opposers and the innovators. Between the two parties lies the inheritors, or people who stand for the status quo. Innovators introduce radical change to the status quo, while opposers introduce gradual reform. Outside agents known as partners then mobilize opposers and innovators into smaller organizations known as coalition builders, who go in one of three different directions: as supporting agents of opposers or innovators, or into break-away factions known as splitters, moving in a different direction than either opposers or innovators. Sometimes splitters will return to the inheritors, but most of the time they form nonfunctional organizations that end up moving into passivity.

​        In addition to this already complex array of ideological individual groups, a group known as the passives sit outside the action, watching, observing, and only taking action in the form of inaction and only from operative incentive from coalition builders. Some of these passives move further away and form isolates, passives who want to take stronger action and become short-term followers of the coalition builders, but in the end are too separated from the process to make any significant difference and end up being alienated from the core group.

​        Traditional theories of the follower-leader dichotomy generally focus on a single follower and a single leader, whereas Burns’ model displays a huge array of various kinds of followers with differing incentives for action. He stresses that situation (context) and agency (leadership capabilities) are important in distinguishing the level of strength for each of the inheritor sub-groups; situation and agency must constantly be evaluated, and the sub-groups can drastically change if the context shifts or leadership changes hands.

​        Burns’ model focuses primarily on visionary leaders such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, and the nature of the US presidency as examples and warnings for models of transformational leadership. His positive models, however, are dictatorial, singular, and heroic, extremely strong in trait-based leadership. For this reason, I question whether Burns’ model of transformational leadership can be applicable in today’s late modern world, where traits such as servanthood, collaboration, role-based leadership, and the learning organization are a focus of many businesses, and the heroic qualities of the 20th century contain too little accountability, both legally and financially, to be acceptable models today.

​        Abstract models are tricky, because they can be misinterpreted and misused without context. Burns uses the example of F.D.R.’s presidency to explain multidimensionality. In my own experience, multidimensionality exists although because the contexts I operate in are different and the leader is different, the way I interpret sub-groups of the inheritors is going to be altered. For example, in my university the inheritors are the older teachers, enmeshed in more traditional methods of teaching. The innovators are more like the isolates, as they are not respected by the traditional authority or given power to make changes, while the vast majority are opposers (who seek gradual reform, by referring to the status quo and moving towards the outside innovators but not recognizing they are moving in that direction). Splitters are generally composed of innovators who have not been accepted by the inheritors or opposers, and the true people who have power in my situation are the partners. They have the most power because they control the flow of information from the innovators to the opposers, and finally directly into the belly of the beast: the inheritors.

​        In my situation in China, the dichotomy between leader and follow is still just as complex, but the rules are different. Multidimensionality exists, and for the leader in China it is terrifying. The rules are constantly changing, and leaders not only have to have a strong sense of where the various coalition builders are, but have to be keenly aware of the partners behind the scenes. In that way, leaders are not leaders as we know of in the west (as instigators of change) but more as moderators of various groups as they charge into the future, trimming the branches here and there to make way for the power of the partners as they, over-time, transform into the inheritors.

Righteous anger ex nihilo: A portrait of Mao Zedong

Much of what we know about Mao Zedong lies in legend: an abusive father, a beaten son and mother, brothers loved more than himself, a poor laborer whose mother gave him all the benefits she believed she never had; a sworn nihilist, learned and angry, angry at a world that never offered him what was offered others and which he took by force. Mao is a complicated subject, but less able to be completed in the breadth of this short space. A man by whose hand millions perished, who believed that might ruled over light, except when the light when preparing for the darkness. Mao was a man who by his own pen, claimed that the only path to the future lay in the ruins of the past, no matter how many perished in that dream. A lover and a tyrant, a reformer and a dreamer, he was hated, scorned, mocked, feared, and loved madly during his life. He was a model of transformation, but perhaps not the transformation where the people who emerge from the pool are the same who entered.

        ​Mao ran away from his homeland nightmares to the metropolis of Beijing, where for his first job he took the lowly position of a librarian at Beijing University. He loved books. Mao was known to sleep on a literal bed of books, with such prodigious notes that even today scholars are riddling out his messages in the margins to discover the man beneath the monster. He was Plato’s Philosopher King, a man who believed that only through ideological purification and struggle could a classless society emerge from the madness of the battle between the capitalists and the proletariat. He was a conceptual demagogue who was not afraid of giving violence in order to reach a greater end. But above all, he loved power; the power over his colleagues, the power over his lovers, and the power over his people. His weakness, if we could choose one, was that he spoke two languages: the language of polity in which he used conflict as a vehicle to transform his society, and the language of narcissism in which he used conflict as a vehicle to secure personal power. He knowingly fashioned conflict to crush his rivals, to halt emergent opposition, and to maintain power until his last breath. Even at his death, many considered him to be a god. Yet by his hand, perhaps more than any other ruler in China’s history, a country was transformed and yanked through time by at least two or three hundred years, ripped through the portal of sacrifice until all she could do was lay on the side of the road, crying and bandaging her own wounds while the rest of the world looked down upon her, amazed but unmoved.

​        Mao was an inconstant lover of Marx. He believed that only by being refined in the fire could a better civilization emerge. He believed that by destroying the relics of the past, by killing the heroes in the hearts of his people, and by the annihilation of the old world could the new world be born anew. Many of us would look down upon his work, the lasting legacy of his politic, with scorn; yet how many of us would repeat what he did on a smaller scale were we to restructure an organization? The Hundred Flowers movement was a government sponsored catharsis of free thinking, in which intellectuals spoke out for the first time in years about their beliefs, yearnings, and hopes for China’s future; at the end of the Hundred Flowers movement, Mao took a pair of shears and cut the heads off the flowers. He organized raids, imprisoned people for what they had said, and brutalized the people he had sworn to protect. Were he to be asked why he did this, he might reply that only through struggle would the classless society, free from the landlords, free from the old thinking, emerge. While we as leaders may not take just drastic measures or go to such lengths, how many times have leaders taken power only to cut down the heads of the old regime? For Mao, the inconsequential held incredible weight and power, and every little petal had to be taken into account.

​        I write this short meditation from my relative’s home in the countryside of northern China. I am here solely because of Mao Zedong. After the Hundred Flowers movement and his horrifying experiment where he canceled all school, gave high-school students weapons and badges and told them to question, arrest, and beat any intellectual they could find, and then sent them on a government sponsored field trip to every village in China to cleanse wrong thinking, an entire generation changed. This wasn’t a subtle change, like what happened to American youth when the news was allowed to carry an opinion; the change in China rocked the world of an entire generation, uprooting them from their families, charging them with a sacred quest, and turning the streets of China into a bloody sponsored rampage the likes we have not seen since young striplings took up muskets during the American Civil War.

​        During that serendipitous time, my father-in-law, the son of an intellectual and landowner, was sent to the frozen wastes of China’s north to work in a mine, barely seventeen years old. He married the mine boss’s daughter, they had a daughter, and later he moved his family back to the city of Tianjin where my wife grew up. There is not one person in this entire village (where I am writing from) who does not have emotions about Mao Zedong. It was his ideals that established this village, and everyone from my grandmother, to my three uncles, to my many, many cousins, have been affected by the singular political philosophy of a man who desired to transform his country. Does China exist in a classless society today? Has the old world of Confucius, the Imperial Throne, and long queues braided behind silky and wind-blown robes been destroyed?

​        The answer is yes to some, and no to others. Such is transformation. Transformation is not perfect, and carries the struggle and sacrifice by those who were forced through it willingly (or unwillingly). The scars of the past remain on the faces of my loved ones, and their triumphs and failures remain etched into the hillsides and broken villas of Qidaogou. To claim that transformation is without refinement is to claim that a caterpillar can become a butterfly without being wrapped in a slimy cocoon for weeks at a time. To claim that transformation can occur without the blood of the innocent or the tears of the rejected is to hope that a country or organization can persuade the old regime to gently give up their livelihoods.

​        I am not defending Mao Zedong. He was a man who believed in terror to achieve his ends. He was a pirate, a lord of thieves, and a master of manipulation. He loved his country, and he also loved the power she could give him. He loved books, reading, and writing poetry, and he loved old churches. But he brought his country from a feudal state in which the king was the son of God, a country that even creeping into the 20th century made eunuchs of men who would enter into the imperial government, and a country where the Dowager Empress made a boat out of stone just so she could spite the poor. Perhaps there were other ways of transforming and carrying China into the future, but we shall never know.

​        My child plays in the next room, dancing on a bed heated by the fires that cooked our dinner. Trees comb the mountains outside the house like a military buzz-cut, and my grandmother is gazing at my son in the kind of love that tragedy has no power over, not even transformational tragedy.

An American theory of everything: Mutual self-actualization clothed in self-determination

I admit, I find Maslow’s triangle of appreciating needs satisfyingly secure as an American. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist and professor at a private college in New York City, was an extreme individualist. He was the first scholar to clearly state that human need was more than just material; he elevated psychology into spirituality. The psycho-spirituality of Maslow’s self-actualization, beginning with basic physiological needs, then increasing to security, belonging, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization, was an answer to many prayers for a more evolved form of psychology that moved beyond the trait-like (and dogmatic) approach of behavioralism and tried to forget about the mythic and slimy fallacies Freudian psychology brought; Maslow brought humanity back into psychology.

​        The application of self-actualization to leadership is when a group of individuals together seek to become self-actualized together, thereby creating a space for mutual self-actualization. The leader, recognizing this basic drive for people to self-actualize, also pursues this with his followers and together they are able to move towards the penultimate point of human spirituality as a unit and a team, but ultimately is fueled by a personal desire for improvement. The commitment of mutual self-actualization within an organization is a commitment to a value than is higher than anyone one person, but has the capability to help each person “become everything that one is capable of becoming” and turn each person into change agents whose self-determination contingency (upon the group value) becomes a destiny. The keystone to the mystery of self-actualization is a concept known as effectance, which is an ability which if utilized properly, people can remain undeterred by the events that surround them if they have learned how to train themselves to continual growth in paradox. Effectance is the most important skill to have when pursuing self-actualization and any leader should be well-acquainted with the theory and methodology of training people to strengthen their effectance.

​        Maslow’s ideas, as heroic and idealistic as they sound, contain one major flaw, and that flaw is actually the strength the ideas are built upon: individualistic self-determination. When he was 20 years old, Maslow married his cousin and left his parents forever. He could not stand the sight or even the thought of his mother, and he hated his father for most of his life. As a child, his father had physically abused him, and his mother had both mentally and physically abused him severely. He hated himself as a child; a victim of extreme antisemitism, he forsook people and hid in the library, abandoned the faith of his parents and became an atheist (later seeking to revisit faith by comparing his self-actualization with an actual spiritual experience), and when he finally was free of his family, became a sexuality researcher for most of his life, trying to discover why a woman in a sexual relationship with a man, felt the need to show dominance over him through manipulation or ‘castration’ while at the same time yearn for his respect. He finally deduced that human sexual behavior was almost identical to primate behavior, and through these conclusions deemed that needs were less based on the materialistic needs of the enlightenment and more based on self-propagated conception of a deeper level, because he had noticed in his monkey studies that their sexual behavior was primarily driven less by natural instinct and more by social attitudes.

​        Two singularly important issues arise from this discussion. Firstly, in cultures where individualistic determination is not only taboo but undesired, his theory of social attitudes desiring self-actualization falls short. Secondly, the fact that his theories were derived primarily by analyzing sexual attitudes of domination and submission falls prey to the fallacy that perhaps not everyone’s self-determination is driven solely by their sexual propensities, but perhaps by a deeper and more fulfilling role, especially for people who have allowed the Holy Spirit into their lives and given their sexual being to God instead of using it for their own desired ends. I question as a leader, how it is possible to even use Maslow’s theories in countries where self-actualization is considered poor form, and what’s more, how to implement his theories as a Christian with self-actualization taking the place of Christ.

​        Maslow was the first psychologist to define “humanistic psychology” which was composed of the following five claims:
​                1. Humans cannot be reduced to parts.
​                2. Humans exist in a wholly human context.
​                3. Humans are continually conscious of context.
​                4. Human choice leads to responsibility.
​                5. Human intentionality is rooted in meaning and value.

​        Essentially, Maslow says that our actions are not rooted to context, but rather are rooted to meaning. Context is important for Maslow (as people exist in context), but in the end there is a greater desire, a “transpersonal” desire to self-actualize to a more spiritual-type of existence. For a person whose context is derived from his or her desires to self-actualize, the five claims of humanistic psychology carries tremendous weight. However, for a person whose self-perception (and even self-actualization) is derived entirely from their context, humanistic psychology is a vapid and empty set of statements that has little bearing on reality.

​        The Ideal Man, in Chinese philosophy, is someone who has achieved ren, or humaneness. Humaneness is Confucius’s mirror-image of Maslow’s self-actualization, but in the opposite direction. Harmonious, self-sacrificing, humble to a fault, an inveterate nepotist and a wholly functioning contextualist, the humane person in Chinese philosophy disdains anyone who attempts to self-actualize and berates them for their pride, cutting the head off before wings can be grown. Today, many western ideas have filled the halls of China and transformed many into those who seek self-actualization, but usually if those people want to pursue their dreams they must leave the country. And usually they do, fondly remembering their homeland, but never forgetting that in their homeland leaders are but specters who hover behind the curtains, and workers are the cogs in a giant socialist machine, spinning into eternity so that the state, an inhumane creation, can self-actualize and find spirituality in itself.

An Evaluation of Goodboy’s “Student Use of Relational and Influence Messages in Response to Perceived Instructor Power Use in American and Chinese College Classrooms”

The striking nature of Goodboy’s conclusions come not from the actual conclusions, but rather from what he does not conclude. In “Student use of relational and influence messages,” Goodboy answers his question, “does ‘the model of relational power and instructional influence theory’ (posited by Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe, 2006), from a student perspective, communicate any relevant data to explain relational and social influence from the instructor’s use of power?”, although his conclusions while common (instructors should “use confirming messages which communicate to students they are recognized and acknowledged as valuable and significant individuals”, 202) are striking because of the conclusion not answered. Goodboy posits that instructor uses of prosocial power empower student satisfaction, while uses of antisocial power encourage the use of student BATs (behavioral alteration techniques), a reaction to a lack of trust from student to instructor based on the student’s perception of how the instructor uses power in and outside of the classroom. (195)

While Goodboy concludes that in the United States the most powerful method of fostering student satisfaction is the proper use of referent and expert power, the usage of reward power, previously thought to be a prosocial power base, actually causes an equal amount of positive and negative relationships among students and instructors (200), not helping foster student satisfaction at all. Goodboy also concludes that among Chinese students, the instructor’s use of referent power and legitimate power (previously considered to be an antisocial power) creates positive student satisfaction, while legitimate power and expert power helps to encourage student BATs, which actually has a more powerful affect than the United States in encouraging positive relationships among students and teachers; although no direct form of power has any affect on student-teacher relationships in China.

The two most significant studies prior to Goodboy’s survey on instructor power use was Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe’s model of relational power and instructional influence theory, which served as a foundation to the study by positing that the “instructor-student relationship . . . involves influence . . . [and] . . . by conceding power to one another in that prosocial power use yields long-term influence and antisocial power use yields short term [sic] influence.” (192) The second most important previous study was Golish (1999), as within Golish’s study was provided “19 compliance-gaining strategies, or BATs . . . which reported the students’ use of the guilt, flattery, public persuasion, evidence of preparation/logic, performance, utilitarian justice, punishing the teacher, reference to higher authority, and verbal force/demand BATs.” (195) These 19 compliance-gaining strategies were then compiled into Golish’s Student Behavioral Alteration Technique Typology, which along with the TPUS (Schrodt et al., 2007), SCSS (Goodboy et al., 2009), and SAST (Wanzer, 1998) were used to corroborate interlinked data to find appropriate Cronbach alphas for each subscale and associated power.

The data collection and procedures in calculating the data Goodboy used were highly advanced statistical algorithms and without extensive training, I would not be able to replicate his methods. Goodboy mentions that the coefficient obtained for the legitimate power subscale had low reliability, and “produced low reliability estimates in other research, . . . [so] instructional communication scholars may consider revising the subscale items of this measure.” (204) He also mentions that the questionnaire translation (from English to Chinese) was a weakness of the study, and while the grammar was correct, semantic meaning could have been different. (205) In all, 445 undergraduate students were selected to report on 248 instructors in the United States and China.

This article is a ground-breaking discovery into not only communication studies, but also the study of power. Goodboy’s weakness is the distance he places between pedagogy and standard teaching practices (due to statistical complexity). However, Goodboy proves that use of referent power and not reward, coercive, or even expert power, is the major influence on student satisfaction in both the U.S. and China, while legitimate power only has a positive influence in China if used correctly. As my goal in China is to learn how to foster relationships with students, this helps me immensely.


Golish, T. D. (1999). Students’ use of compliance-gaining strategies with graduate teaching assistants: Examining the other end of the power spectrum. Communication Quarterly, 47, 12-32.

Goodboy, A. K. (2011). Student use of relational and influence messages in response to perceived instructor power use in American and Chinese college classrooms. Communication Education, 60(2), 191-209.

Mottet, T. P., Frymier, A. B., & Beebe, S. A. (2006). Theorizing about instructional communication. In T. P. Mottett, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (Eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives (pp. 255-282). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Painted Skin, 画皮

Although based on a short story by Pu Songling called Painted Skin, the movie has very little to do with the original except for the chilling actions taken by some of the characters, such as the ripping of hearts from the chest, and a demon masquerading as a beautiful women by wearing human skin. That being said, Painted Skin is not such a scary movie, at least not as scary as the advertising promotes.

Scariness aside, Painted Skin is a multifaceted love triangle. It is a fantastic film, one with riveting action sequences, creative ideas and amazing special effects. There were moments watching it when I could not pull away. What is more exciting than a battle between ancient demons and super heroes, all based on the secret love for each other they hold inside? Although like most Chinese fantasy films, the composition is baroque and exaggerated, but that is part of the draw, especially since the turbulence is done so well.

What was most surprising though, was the accomplishment and wonder that comes from the movie. A film like this could have easily meandered into nihilism, but Painted Skin manages to stay afloat through the power (and destruction) that foolish, unbounded love can bring upon people, as well as through a healthy respect for the powers beyond this world. I had expected the film to end like most Chinese films, but Painted Skin does not disappoint.

The Last Fairyland

Memories of Old Beijing: the swirling, stone fairytale bridges of Beihai, crossing over crystal clear lagoons of budding flowers and jeweled rocks. People pace on the hillside, reading from the classics, while children run and hide in the caves beneath, playing hide and seek from their shadows. A long corridor of brightly painted wood shadows them as the readers descend from the hill, where they sit and watch the small waves curling in the vast lake beyond, little boats dotting the water like intrepid explorers. This is Beihai, the treasure land of Beijing.

I am walking up the hill, toward the towering and bulbous White Dagoba, the crown of a four hundred year old temple that was built from the lakeside to the top of the hill. There is a slight moment of vertigo, as the zigzagging stairs sway a bit, but I regain myself and continue the hike. Green, foudroyant sabina trees, strong and tall, shadow the staircase as I ascend, and fleeting birds dart from the tops of the trees. I am a little tired, after spending all morning wandering the halls of the Forbidden City, but being here in the middle of wildlife and quietude refreshes me.

I have spent the greater part of two weeks trying to find a picnic spot in Beijing. While it is not uncommon to see people eating happily away on the sidewalk of a busy street with a kebob of charred lamb between their teeth, I would hardly call that a picnic. A picnic is a time of joy and serenity, sitting on a mat while surrounded by beauty, letting the feelings of the day wash away while eating with family and friends. It seems I found the perfect place. As I walk up the hill, everyone is eating: there are five people sitting next to the temple wall with a bucket of fried chicken; further up there is a couple with a child eating some sausages and oranges. While there are no tables, people have turned the hillside into a dining room, leaning on trees, unwrapping sandwiches and perching themselves on smooth rocks, while sitting red tea and sending their gaze across the city. The whole island seems to be a giant picnic table, in the kindest and most beautiful sense of the word.

The view is incredible from the top. I recall the vistas of Anacortes, of northern Washington, with flourishing green islands amid ships and boats dotting the sea, tiny stars in a vast sky. This hillside used to be covered in a giant palace, once upon a time. Kublai Khan, during his reign as Emperor, built a wonderland called the Palace of the Moon (Guanghaidian), where he entertained visitors, and even entertained Marco Polo when the Italian came to visit China. Today the palace is gone, having been destroyed in an earthquake, and during the Ming dynasty the Yong’an Buddhist temple was built in its place, meant to honor a visiting Tibetan lama. During that same time, the Emperor Qianlong had a Rosetta-like stele erected on the hillside, which included Han, Manchurian, Mongolian, and Tibetan languages.

Descending the hill puts me in a kind of euphoria. I don’t realize until I have paid the small three yuan fee for a system of caves that labyrinths the entire northern part of the island, and find myself face-to-face with grim-faced bodhisattvas and craggy walls, little slits of light filtering in to light up the wry grins of these venerable holy men. They frighten me a little, but only a little. There is only so much a little clay man can do. I imagine myself as a little child racing through the caves, while my parents sit together on the crest of the hill sipping tea. It is all too reminiscent of Tom Sawyer’s Island.

At the bottom of the hill, pink, budding bunge flowers poke out from the ground, and the smell of mint-like sorboria fills the area. There are couples sitting by the lakeside on benches, hand in hand, watching the boats drift by. The Fangshan restaurant, famous for their Qing dynasty dishes, stands awkwardly out of time, and an imperial painted boat floats by, filled with Sunday families.

I make my way back to the entrance of the park, walking past the boating docks of floating paddle-boats and old rowboats. I would like to come back here someday and try them out. It looks fun.

The Circular City (Tuancheng), the ancient capital of the Yuan dynasty, confronts me as I exit the park. Once an island of pine trees, it later became an Imperial Palace, and then was destroyed when the Eight-Power Allied Forces entered Beijing. This surprises me: not even the might of the rest of the world was able to shake it, and while it was destroyed, it was again rebuilt and stands once more at the exit of this fairyland, once upon a time a model of where the gods were supposed to have lived.

Beihai, for thousands of years, has been a place of relaxation, thinking, and joy for the people of Beijing. Throughout the dynasties it was used as a pleasure palace for the rich and noble; then in the 20th century it became a place for revolutionary thinkers and reactionaries; finally in the 21st century, it has become a family paradise. No matter where you go, it is that small part of Beijing that has always spoken in a small voice to the heart of people, and been a place of meditation and contemplation. Even as a foreigner, it appeals to me a place of bursting creativity and reformed passions. This continues to mull through my head as I head into a taxi, and see the last mists of the lake disappear as the busyness of the streets rise into life.

Shadows of the Queen

“How much farther?” she asks me, her breath already starting to sound heavy. The air is thinner up here, and the cars less. A few pedestrians pace on the sidewalk, while a gentle evening breeze comes on, racing through the shadows of skyscrapers.

“I can see it, up there,” or at least I think I see the building. In truth, there are so many trees and buildings blocking the view, it’s hard to tell if the building up ahead is actually the tram center for Victoria Peak. We decided to take the Mid-Levels tour, a staggering 800 meter-long escalator that runs up the belly of Victoria Peak from the sea. It was mostly because last time we were in Hong Kong we wanted to go on the legendary stairway, but we failed to find the entrance.

However, this trip didn’t turn out much better. I look up to the mountain and see the giant square building that looks out on the horizon from the summit, and wonder if we will ever get there before the sun sets. We are wandering in the upper levels of the city, a dizzying blur of restaurants, rising streets, and apartment buildings that rise like dirks into the murky sky.

At least we managed to find the entrance. Located squarely at Central Station, one need only follow the elevated platform towards the mountain and then… walk up.


The island of Cheung Chau is a dream. We sit at a seaside restaurant, listening to the sounds of the waves lap against the anchored boats. The ferry that goes from Central Station to the island is setting out, leaving a wide wake that causes several of the neighboring boats to dangerous teeter to one side. It was an inexpensive and relaxing ride, taking about a half-hour. I spent a long time just sitting quietly and listening to the sound of the waves.

Cheung Chau is an island steeped in mystery and intrigue. Home to the famous Cheung Po Tsai pirate cave, it once was the Tortuga of Asia, being a safe bastion for hundreds of ships, and about 20,000 pirates. They were under the command of a warlord named “The Kid,” who harassed Qing dynasty officials for years until he was offered a position in the government, when he relented of his ways and became an enforcer against piracy. The unique shape of the island provided that the pirates could anchor their boats on the opposite side, and the heavy mist that often cloaks the area provided for an almost unstoppable army.

The island is also famous to having an enormous number of dogs, many of them wild. When we took our walk to the Cheung Po Tsai cave later that afternoon, we passed by a group of dogs that were hiding out in a local cemetery. They approached us, and we froze, feeling like wolf meat. However, they merely crossed the road and disappeared into the jungle, and we continued on our way.


The sun has nearly set; we are now climbing. Somewhere down the road we missed the tram, and every now and then we can see it climbing the green hills toward the Peak. The road has risen to about a thirty degree angle, and we are putting everything into just staying balanced. The roads in Cheung Chau were much nicer; as we scaled the hills of the island, we were walking through a fairyland of luxurious abodes, a literal amalgamation of British architectural styles reminiscent of Tianjin. Here, finally on the Mid-Levels, the multi-million dollar apartments rise high above our heads and disappear into the mist, the tops covered by gray fog and burning electric lights.

“There!” I proclaim, and then with a sinking feeling realize what is ahead.

She looks at me, sweet as anything. I’m not sure she knows what I’m putting her through. This was supposed to be a romantic outing, but it’s turning out to be worse than a high school P.E. Class.

As the road ends, a trail begins. We step over the chain and find ourselves looking at an even steeper incline.

“Is this ok?” I am exasperated. Such an ordeal, but what seems like just a simple request: see the top of Victoria Peak, but rather than going on the usual tourist buses, find our own way there. Such idealism seems to have gotten us into a bit of trouble.

She smiles. “Let’s go!” I admire her optimism.

As we scale the mountain, the barking of dogs echo across the hills. The Mid-Levels are home to some of the most expensive homes in the world, at least for their miniature size. Millionaires are lucky to own a single flat. Much of the upper-class Hong Kong citizens employ workers from the Philippines as maids, and own a dog or two. We didn’t know it at the time, but discovered later that this was a secret trail known to the owners of those dogs and their dog-walkers, as they were the only hikers we met on the trail. That, and the sound of our feet.


Two days before we were scaling a different kind of mountain. Located in the furthest south you can go in Hong Kong near the city of Aberdeen, Ocean Park is an amusement park known for two things: an endangered species zoo/aquarium, as well as roller coasters that not only have awesome speeds and hills, but are built in Hong Kong-style: into the hills.

Riding on a 1.5 kilometer gondola cable-car system takes fun-goers from one end of the park to the other, scaling a high mountain with an unprecedented view, and letting people off near the summit, where they must climb down to either the rides portion of the park (which also houses a number of aquariums) or make their way through a series of labyrinthine escalators to the lower parking lot.

The top of the park gives a great view of Aberdeen, as well as the vast sea that spreads out to the south. At the low price of about 240 Hong Kong dollars (that’s about 31 US dollars) the trip was one of our most memorable, viewing giant pandas, riding roller coasters, and taking in the sights of one of the most beautiful panoramas on the island.


The sun has set. As we climbed through verdant woods, the sun set into the horizon and fell below the sea. We climbed high enough to across the tops of the Mid-Level apartments, witnessing light fall on their side and turn into a kaleidoscope of steel and glass.

It’s windy on the peak, but we’ve found shelter at the top of the mall, where the only sound is the air whistling through our jackets. It’s beautiful here; the night sky has made it clear it will not be held back by modern technologies, with stars glimmering above our heads, shining through sparse clouds.

The horizon of Hong Kong is glorious, and it’s no wonder why it is memorable. We hold hands and look out across a sea of lights, until they are swallowed up in darkness.

Orcs in the CBD

I stepped through the portal and felt an ethereal sense wash over me, as if I had donned a new skin and personality. There were dragons playing among waterfalls and sharp crags before me, and I could hear the sound of battle-axes and war cries from the distance. A faint green hue flooded the room, giving the walls an ancient, decrepit look. Painted onto the walls was an elaborate mural showcasing a great war between men, beasts, and even fouler things, with magical energies swirling about their strange horned mounts and a sky torn open by a rift. Before I could take another step into the maelstrom, however, a waitress cheerfully greeted me and asked me how many to seat.

Welcome to Azeroth. Or Beijing. Anyways, what’s the difference?

I suppose China is famous for their themed restaurants. There is that one restaurant near my house that is Mao-flavored, with a giant portrait of the great leader looming over every table, and little red flags draped across the railings like a parade. Then there is the Mexican cantina, complete with Gaudi lanterns and long, pitted wooden tables full of beer and popping fajitas. Near the Yonghe Gong Temple, there is a small dive called The Rive (clever, being that it overlooks a canal) with long couches, fruity icees, and art books and magazines shelved into deep-brown shelves, just like an old college locale. I think, though, that this is the first time I’ve ever encountered a World of Warcraft restaurant, inspired by the famous online computer game. It was an experience, no doubt, that I will want to try again, just for the sheer audacity of it.

The menu was a colorful selection of dishes from the game. Just to prove their point that these were really Azeroth dishes (Azeroth is the game world), below each featured dish is a picture of a character actually hunting down the particular foul magical beastie, and then a beautiful photo of the cooked creature, with salivating spices and colors to match. The price for the food was also very decent, being that the dishes that are prepared are so unique. I believe my favorite dish was the plate of lamb-something-or-other, that was basically a plate piled high with lamb tenderly cooked still on the bone.

The owner was kind enough to sit down and have a chat with me. Yuan Yuan and his partner, Tao, started the restaurant a mere two months ago, after they had been burned out selling Olympic souvenirs and made enough money to actually, “do what they wanted to do, and just have fun.” They wanted a place to make their dreams of playing the game a reality, and also give other players a chance to not only immerse themselves in the culture of the game, but connect with each other on a real level, meet each other, get together for special gatherings, and even find love. Once a month, the World of Warcraft restaurant has a Cosplay gathering, when players can come to eat and party with their friends dressed up as their heroes from the game. Already there have been several romances that have gone that extra mile, thanks to Yuan Yuan and Tao’s efforts to host these special gatherings.

After our conversation, Yuan Yuan took me around the restaurant and allowed me to take some pictures, showing me the mural his friend painted, that even showcased his cousin and his cousin’s wife on the wall (as their characters, of course, in heroic repose), as well as the many friends who have come and given their pictures to the walls of the restaurant. The restaurant also features computers with World of Warcraft loaded on them that customers are free to play on (as long as they have an account for the game). Finally, he took me to a special part of the wall where players post messages to each other, a community board of hellos and requests to meet up in the game sometime.

As a night out, it truly was a unique one, “Blizzard Restaurant” will be hard to forget. You can find the World of Warcraft restaurant by taking the Line 2 subway to Chaoyang Men, and then taking bus 846 to the Gaojing Baiyun Shichang (高井白云市场), or taking the Line 1 subway to Sihui Dong and then taking bus 648 or 488 to the same stop (or alternatively, taking a cab to the address). My suggestion, if you’d like to save about 50-90 kuai. Once you find the Baiyun Shichang, the restaurant is located through the front gate, at the back. It is visible from the street, with a very long sign and a number of orcs looking very happy with some very sharp weapons.

Address: 暴雪餐厅:朝阳路高井白云市场内 Tel: 8576-8949 (local Beijing number)

Price range: Dishes cost anywhere from 10 kuai to 50 kuai, on your fancy. Some are more.

Postmodern Fantasy Literature: an overview of contemporary ideas

Lecture Goal: Give a broad view of contemporary American fantasy literature and where the ideas came from


1. Sword and sorcery in the 30s-60s, based on Weird Tales and Lord of the Rings

Weird Tales in the 1920s, born from Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu)

Fantasy, horror, myth, and swordplay – Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard

Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the idea of true adventure, from Conan


2. Heroic fantasy and dark magic in the 70s, 80s and 90s, based on Dungeons and Dragons (1975)

Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melnibone, combination of heroic myth and popular fantasy

Roger Zelazny, the Chronicles of Amber, and castles, dungeons, monsters and sorcerors

Tanith Lee, emergence of dark fantasy based on authors like Mervyne Peake with Gormenghast

Emergence of allegory, deep symbolism and heavy themes with Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea) and Patricia McKillip (Riddle-Master)


3. The American-style journey novel in the 90s and 2000s, based on The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan and the journey novel “Wheel of Time”

Terry Goodkind and the emergence of Mass-produced epic fantasy

George R.R. Martin, the anti-Lord of the Rings, beginning of the New Weird with China Mieville


4. Urban fantasy novels in post-2000 era, based on Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and urban fantasy

Anne Rice to Laurell K. Hamilton, and contemporary urban vampires and faeries, Wiccan stories

The Fantastic City and the New Weird, with China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer


5. Literary fantasy

Breaking out of the genre, with Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower, combining different forms

The movement of fantasy to break free from genre


Questions to ask at the end:

1) What was the first magazine to have sword and sorcery? 6) Where does Harry Potter take place?

2) Who created Fafhrd? 7) What is the religion about magic?

3) What was the game that inspired heroic fantasy? 8) What old idea does urban fantasy use?

4) The Wheel of Time was what kind of novel? 9) What did Octavia Butler break out of?

5) What happened to fantasy novels after Terry Goodkind? 10) What is current fantasy literature trying to do?


words to put on the board:

contemporary fantasy


Edgar Allen Poe

H.P. Lovecraft



Invented world

Sword and Sorcery

Weird Tales

Lord of the Rings

Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melnibone

Dungeons and Dragons


Tanith Lee

Mervyn Peake


Ursula LeGuin

Patricia McKillip



Journey novel

The Wheel of Time


New Weird

China Mieville


Harry Potter

urban fantasy





Jeff VanderMeer


Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower

Literary fantasy


The Prodigal Son of Jixian

The Prodigal Son of Jixian is a play I wrote back in 2008, for a show my then-school (New Century Language and Culture Center) put on to showcase student talent in speaking the Chinese language. I wrote this basic script, and then each student performing in the play took his or her lines and translated those lines into Chinese, and then our troupe performed the play for the school.

This play is roughly based off of the Biblical parable, “the prodigal son,” although deviates a bit as this story takes place around the turn of the new millennium in China.


The Prodigal Son of Jixian


Narrator: (8 parts)

Father: (26 lines)

Older Daughter: (15 lines)

Younger Son: (21 lines)

Contractor: (6 lines)

Fast Blaze/Ms. Liu: (12 lines)

Wild Kitty/Ms. Chen: (8 lines)


Prologue The Prodigal Son

(Enter Narrator)

NARRATOR: Welcome to our play. Some of you have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son. Tonight we give you the story with new clothes. Our story begins in Jixian, near the city of Tianjin, with a businessman and his two children, an older daughter and his younger, impatient son. The older daughter helps her father everyday, cleaning the home, cooking food, and taking care of household business, but the younger son plays everyday, not listening to his father or his sister, returning home late in the evening, and spending his father’s money. He does not go to school, but spends his days at the internet café, playing games and smoking cigarettes. This is the story of his life. This is the story of how he became a good man.


Act 1 Leaving Jixian

(Enter Father and Daughter. Daughter is just doing some housework, and Father is arriving home from work.)

DAUGHTER: Good evening, Dad. How was work?

FATHER: Good. That young man from your college came to visit. Do you remember him? The handsome one?

DAUGHTER (exasperated): Oh, please, Dad. You know I don’t have time for that. Everything I do here, with Mom gone…

FATHER: Fine, fine. Have you seen your brother around? I need to tell him something.

DAUGHTER: He’s been gone all day. He left this morning, said he was going outside to smoke. He has not returned home yet.

FATHER: You don’t know where he went?

DAUGHTER: He’s probably at that internet bar, the Great Wall Café.

FATHER: Go down there are tell him to come home for dinner. I have something important to say to both of you.


(Exit Father)

(Enter Son)


NARRATOR: That evening, the older daughter went to the internet café. Her brother was sleeping next to a pile of cigarettes. She told him to wake up, but he refused. She was very angry. She slapped him and carried him home. His eyes were very red, and he was not in a good mood. The family sat down for dinner.


(Enter Father. The family is sitting down for a nice dinner.)

FATHER: Next week, because of the holiday, my workers are going back to their hometowns. Because it will be a very busy week for travel, we can go to see your Aunt in the mountains.

DAUGHTER: That is great! I miss her so much. Is Cousin Li going to come home from Beijing?

FATHER: I heard, but I do not know. He is very busy. He has a really great job, you know.

SON: I’m not going.

FATHER: Of course you are going. What are you going to do here? You need some mountain air.

SON: I’m not going.

DAUGHTER: You’re crazy! Everyday you spend our money, eat our food, but do nothing! You don’t go to school, you don’t work, and you’re lazy.

FATHER: Please, daughter, he is still very young.

SON: I’m leaving.

FATHER: See? I told you. He is already growing up.

SON: You. I’m leaving you. I’m leaving Jixian. I’m leaving this house, and this stupid family.


SON: I have friends in Shanghai.

DAUGHTER: They are his internet friends, Dad. He doesn’t know their real names.

SON: I want my money, and I want the car. It’s mine, anyways, you bought it for me.

DAUGHTER: If you graduate from school, but you have never gone to class!

FATHER: It’s ok, daughter. This is his decision.

SON: I am leaving tonight.

FATHER: Be safe, son.

(Exit Father and Daughter)


Act II In Shanghai

NARRATOR: That evening, his son drove to Shanghai. It was a long drive, but the son finally felt happy. Finally, he could do as his pleased. No domineering sister, no one telling him what to do. No old father, no dead mother. And money, lots and lots of money. He felt like a king. He would become a king. The king of Shanghai.


(Enter Fast Blaze)

FAST: Hey, buddy. What’s up?

SON: Are you Fast Blaze? From the Superman Chat?

FAST: Yeah, buddy. You want to go have some fun?

SON: Yeah!

FAST: You got cash?

SON: I’m loaded!

FAST: Great, really great. Follow me…


NARRATOR: The two new friends went out into the night. They gambled at the best places, smoked at the richest bars, drove down the fastest streets. They were children of the night, and they were happy. That night they found a hotel, and they slept at the top of the hotel. They watched TV all night, ate the most expensive food, and when the morning came, they slept all day. That night they met Wild Kitty.


(Enter Wild Kitty)

KITTY: Hey, Blaze.

FAST: Hey Kitty.

KITTY: Who is this guy?

FAST: This is “Prodigal”. Remember? He’s the guy from Jixian with the rich Dad.

KITTY: Hey, Prodigal! You’re here! So great! You want to have some fun?

SON: Yeah! Is that possible?

KITTY: I got a place in Shanghai. You can make money fast. Lots of money. Important guys come to my place. If they like you, you might get a job for them, and make more money. What do you think?

SON: This is more than my Dad ever gave me. This is so great.

(Exit Wild Kitty and Fast Blaze)


NARRATOR: The son joined Wild Kitty’s company. He worked hard and made lots of money. He spent money fast, bought houses, cars, love, everything he ever wanted. He was at the top of the world. Then one day, everything died.


(Enter Son. He is groggy and lying on the ground.)

(Enter Blaze. She looks angry. She walks over and kicks the Son.)

FAST: Hey! Where’s my money?!

SON: What? Where? What’s going on?

FAST: Where’s my money? You owe me 40,000 kuai! Last week I told you to pay up, or else I’d kill you!

SON: Wait! I’ve got your money right here…

(He looks in his pants, but his wallet is gone.)

My wallet, my money, it’s all gone…

FAST: I should kill you because of that! But I’m a generous woman. But don’t think you can work on these streets anymore. You will never again be able to get a job in this city. Leave, disappear, I don’t care. I don’t want to see your face again.

(Exit Fast)


Narrator: The son knew he had problems. He started to beg on the streets for money, but when no one would look at him, he started stealing food from trashcans. One day he saw himself in a mirror and started to cry. He stood up and took a job at as a city worker, making streets in the hot sun, wearing broken shoes. Everyday his body became black, and at night he slept on the ground with other dirty men who stayed up all night drinking. After six months of working, he still had not received any money, so he went to see his boss.


(Enter Contractor)

SON: Hey, Boss.

CONTRACTOR: Why aren’t you at work? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?

SON: Pardon me, I’m terribly sorry, please forgive your stupid worker, but your worker wanted to ask you a stupid question.

CONTRACTOR: I’m a busy woman! Ask me now.

SON: When do I get paid?

CONTRACTOR: Paid? You want money?

(She laughs.)

You see all those other men? You think they have money? You’re all the same. Don’t forget it.

SON: But the job…

CONTRACTOR: Where do you think you are? You are lucky to have a job and food to eat. Don’t come to me with your problems. You think I have money? I have no money! You think you have problems? I have problems!

(The contractor is getting a little angry.)

You workers, you are all the same. Give us money, give us food. There isn’t enough! If you don’t like it, go home, go back to the farm. Eat your own tomatoes! Don’t beg me for mine!

SON: Terribly sorry, please excuse your stupid worker.

(Exit Contractor)


Act III The Return

NARRATOR: The son looked into his own heart and finally understood what he must do. He must return to his father and ask for forgiveness, and become his worker to pay off his debt. That was the only way he could become a good man. Soon, the son left his job, and got on a train to return home. However, because he had no money, he had to hide in the train, but when he was found, he had to find another train or another bus, or a stranger to take him in his truck. It took him many days to return home. And then one day, he saw his home. He felt so sad, but he knew what he must do.


(Enter Father)

FATHER: My son! My son!

(He runs out to embrace him.)

SON (weeping and kneeling before him): I am sorry, father. No, do not call me your son. I am a stupid, stupid man. I lost all your money, I lost your car, I lost your face. I am nothing. I only ask you to let me work for you as a worker, and I will give you all your money back.

FATHER: Ms. Chen!

(Enter Ms. Chen)

Bring my best jacket. Ms. Liu!

(Enter Ms. Liu)

Prepare dinner immediately, and call all the family! We are going to have a great feast!

SON: I don’t understand…

FATHER: You are returned my son. Please come inside and rest until dinner.

(Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen make preparations for the feast.)

(Exit Father and Son)


NARRATOR: That evening, the father put on a huge feast. Tables and tables of food, music and songs for the guests, and the son seated at the front of the table. His father was so happy seeing him sitting there, smiling like the sun. The Daughter, meanwhile, was working late at the office. As she came home, she heard the music and saw the lights of the feast.


(Enter Daughter)

DAUGHTER: What is going on?

CHEN: Your brother has returned.

DAUGHTER: My brother…

LIU: Your father prepared a huge feast and invited all the family. We tried to call you, but your phone was turned off.

DAUGHTER: I was at the office…

my brother is home? He has been in Shanghai for two years. He never called, never sent a letter, and my father invites all the family for a big feast?

CHEN: Just go in, Miss. He will be happy to see you.

DAUGHTER: I will not.

LIU (to Ms. Chen): His children are all the same.

(Daughter storms out.)


(Enter Father.)

FATHER: Was that my daughter?

CHEN: Yes, it was. She went out to the garden.

FATHER: What was wrong? I heard yelling.

LIU: She was angry, sir.

FATHER: Angry? Why?

CHEN: She’s not far.

FATHER: I’ll talk to her. You two go inside and serve the guests.

(Exit Ms. Liu and Ms. Chen)


(Enter Daughter)

FATHER: Daughter, what is wrong?

DAUGHTER: I don’t want to talk about it.

FATHER: Is it because of your brother?

(She is silent.)

Don’t you understand? He has come home!

DAUGHTER (in anger): I have given this home everything! I have given you everything! You have never given me a feast, you have never even given me a party! But this stupid boy, who stole your money, your car, our family’s respect, he comes back and you throw him the biggest party of the year! I knew you loved him more than me when you gave him the car, but now…

FATHER: Oh, daughter… everything I have is yours. My love I give you, my home I give you, you are the best dream an old man can wish for. But your brother, he died when he left, do you see? We lost him. He died…

(Pause for dramatic impact.)

but now he is alive. Come to the feast, and see him. Eat with us, because he was lost, but now, he is found.

Xun, Dreaming of Lost Names

I admire Lu Xun. Not for his timidness, which he was not; not for his resolve, which faltered often; not for his calculating mind, which carried the burdens of a man blinded with inhibited sorrow; and not for his kindness, which crossed blades with his cruelty so often he might have been his own doppelganger; rather, I admire his perspicacity with words, his transparency of soul, and his exuberant passion in the movement of ideas through the vehicles of people and systems. Once a teacher myself at Peking University, Lu Xun exhibits ideals I wish I had but also showcases the dangers of adorning the armor of a hundred ideals, each engaged in civil strife.

“The present passes step by step,” Lu Xun states, meditating on the temporal, changing, and suffering nature of the world. Relaxing with my wife and son by Weiming Hu in the shadow of Ciji Temple, I am swept in the immediacy and evolution of moments, as if the passing of people through the reflection on the lake were a mirror to another world where time could be rewound and marched backwards. The remaining walls of Ciji Temple show that the present world is unrelenting; pockmarked and fading paint the only memories of her fabled past, when people would stoop by the stone altars and press flame and smoke into their hopes and dreams.

Overlooking a pond while standing on a lotus-pod bridge, I cannot agree with Lu Xun about the suffering of the world. Lily-pads float on the surface of the water, and tiny skittering waterhoppers bounce across the translucent surface, living in an impossible dream of speed and haze. The reflections of the terraced rocks and spaces of rippling blue skies to the small creatures are not the only constants; for a good portion of their life, my figure standing on the lotus-pod bridge becomes an anchor to them, much like watching a tree grow, strengthen against the wind, and shed yellow leaves in autumn. Suffering is inconsequential to the process of time, existing only as a cloud marking the passage of life from one evolution into the next.

If suffering is an inconstant spouse, of what use is education? Learning is the process of uncovering truths, not only about the world but about ourselves. Students are the phalanx of learning, charging forward bravely into the unknown with no expectations. Lu Xun described the brave students of Peking University as “tolling alone in the caverns of wind and dust deep at the bottom of the sea,” and in my mind looking at the surface of the lake from beneath, I begin to understand his meaning. The waterhoppers cause ripples in the water, and the image of Ciji Temple shudders, the red walls and carved altars shrugging as if held by a fierce wind. As I rise to the surface of the water, images between the past and the present shift into one: mendicants kneeling by curls of gray smoke and scholars in long robes are replaced by the sound of a bicycle bell and the flash of a camera.

Emerging from the lake, the world has changed: sky-tall construction cranes towering behind green mesh shielding shoot dust into the sky, students with golden cards rush by with apocalyptic fear pressed into their cheeks, multinational sandwich kiosks hide behind forgotten and overgrown gardens, and an electric buzz permeates the ether: the sound of oil burned into flame and lightning humming through crisscrossed optical pathways. And yet, although the future has arrived I find myself on the dry shore, smiling and viewing the landscape with pride and joy, much unlike the dismal parades of Lu Xun’s dread and phantasmagoria.

Lu Xun always believed that the goal of education was to be “properly adapted to the individual to develop each person’s personality,” and everyday our society seems to be moving closer and closer to this tenable dream. There are mountains to ascend and rivers to pass, but we are on our way. “I am living among men,” Lu Xun remarks when reflecting on his proud time at Peking University, as his students gave him the hope to press forward, even in the dismal hour of warlords and massacres. Our times are lighter and more hopeful today; let us remember that and dare to dream.

Towards a Cross-Cultural Ethical Framework

Textbook piracy in China is rampant and out of control, and forces many educators into a terrible ethical dilemma of how to handle curriculum. However, as an educator in a cross-cultural environment approaching the task of handling this ethical issue is delicate and requires a strong moral conviction as well as a healthy, cross-cultural ethical framework. In this essay I introduce the CCEF (cross-cultural ethical framework) and review the methodology through literature and on a casuistic basis, using the example of textbook piracy as a mediator in discussion. The CCEF is a five level, 11-step process of identifying ethical foundations and the applying those through culture, faith, and personal beliefs, so as to come to a distinct understanding on how to handle dilemmas across culture. The CCEF is fundamentally Christian, with strong foundations in faith, the purpose of faith, and serving other.

 In my own experience, cross-cultural work is a double-edged sword. Cross-cultural work enthralls the soul with mystery, investigating the boundary line between the known and the unknown but at the same time poses a danger to ethical systems. The ethical danger in cross-cultural work straddles the divide between maintaining a strong moral foundation and allowing that foundation to falter with the influx of new, untested but necessary elements found in foreign worldviews. No one ethical system is perfect. In the United States the desire for independence warps the familial relationship between child and parent to that of a friends, or at worst acquaintances (Jekielek & Brown, 2005). In China the emphasis on family degrades the strength between neighbors, as care and love should only be given to blood relatives and once exhausted then the community (Xu, 2007).

When someone works in a cross-cultural system and a conflict between worldviews occur (whether those system are between the United States, China, or elsewhere) that person must decide which worldview is ethically sound and what action to take, a reaction that profoundly affects that person’s relationship with his or her own moral compass. In order to function wholly in a cross-cultural setting, I propose the following model, my own personal framework of cross-cultural ethics. After reviewing current literature and forcing myself to apply ethics to a cultural dilemma I faced in China, I developed this personal framework of cross-cultural ethics which I believe will be helpful to anyone working in a foreign culture.

Cross-Cultural Ethical Framework

Description. The Cross-Cultural Ethical Framework (CCEF) divides into five levels (see Table 1) Level 1 focuses on the ethical dilemma or issue, both as a local phenomenon and as a global ethic. Level 2 responds to human behavior, as culture defines the acceptable modus operandi for societal acceptance (Martin & Siehl, 1983), while morality defines personal standards of behavior (Chiu et al., 1997). Level 3 corresponds to faith (although I refer to Christian faith), as James states when referring to the law of God: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom… will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23, New International Version). Along with the “perfect law” however, is grace: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, New International Version). While it may be possible for an ethical judgment to be influenced by human systems of law, in the CCEF human systems of law are based in Level 2, within the sub-section of culture (for the sake of the model).

Global dilemma Level 1 – Dilemma
Local dilemma
Culture Level 2 – Behavior
Law Level 3 – Faith
Love Level 4 – Action
Authenticity Level 5 – Purpose & Foundation



Table 1: Levels of the CCEF model

Level 4 is a call to action. In the passage immediately following Colossians 3:13, Paul states: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14, New International Version). Love in this way acts as an essential key to the unity of global worldviews, local dilemmas, cultural understanding, moral guidance, holy law, and grace to others, as love is a cause for accomplishing those abstract and invisible functions through ethical action in a practical fashion.

Level 5 is base of undergirding principles which an ethical agent must agree to in order to rationally make decisions for the betterment of his or her situation. The three principles of authenticity, integrity, and responsibility are interlinked with each other through the concept of telos, stemming from teleology (grand purpose or final cause). However, this model is not linear as the table supposes, but rather non-linear, with the dilemma focused at the center of Levels 1-4, supported by healthy principles from Level 5. The key to this model is Level 4: the act of love, the “perfect unity.”

I distinguished the various levels at the beginning of this paper, as in further discussion I will break down each element of the ethical framework, specifically in terms of literature and application. However, understanding how the CCEF operates as a level-based system is imperative to application and recognition, as without a basic structure the elements in themselves are just good principles but not worthy of application as a personal ethical framework.

Breakdown and Application to Case Study

Background of case study. Before I break down the CCEF, a short introduction to the ethical dilemma presented in this paper is needed. While cross-cultural ethical models do exist (see Wines & Napier, 1992), these theories are fundamentally theoretical rather than practical and are focused on utilitarian benefits of doing business in foreign countries rather than as a personal model of ethical behavior when approaching specific dilemmas. Wines and Napier argue that due to the theoretical nature of ethical models, “a useful model should address more than one level of values” (p. 837). Other cross-cultural models are significantly dichotomous and fallacious in the assumption culture is divided between individualism and collectivism (Robertson & Fadil, 1999), when in fact culture is a continuum (Adeney, 1995), not a polarity. Therefore, application of CCEF as a level-based exploration into the continuum of culture in regards to Chinese textbook piracy will be discussed below.

As early as 2004 (two years after China joined the World Trade Organization) western media outlets began to discover and report on the existence of Chinese textbook piracy. Media critics learned that from a young age many Chinese students had a significant lack of education regarding copyright law due to copying being counted as an academic achievement, and by the time those students had entered university, “copying of published papers [was] widespread among university students” (“Experts question”, 2004). In my own experience, not only is textbook piracy a reality, but a justified principle and sometimes inalienable right for many students at my university (a prominent Chinese University). Therefore, the approach to this topic must be done with delicacy and care, in order to fully understand the logical underpinnings behind such a mass delusion and know how to respond in a loving fashion.

While a lot of media attention has played on China’s lack of ability to police piracy, only a few articles have been published in western media outlets regarding textbook piracy. In 2004, the journal Chronicle of Higher Education published an article written by Jen Liu-Lin and Burton Bollag exposing the internal problems of textbook piracy in China including the 2001 shutdown of the state-owned publisher Guanghua which was pirating academic financial journals. In 2006, China’s Ministry of Education officially called universities to stop photocopying textbooks, notably foreign textbooks, and then called for a comprehensive investigation (Mooney, 2006). Then in 2009, the Anti-Illegal Publications Office seized more than 4 million pirated teaching materials, shutting down 182 print shops, and closing over 100,000 illegal textbook shops (“Pirated teaching materials,” 2009, September 19). However, as a government priority textbook copyright protection in China does not seem to be high on the list, with only three publicly announced initiatives.

Part of the problems relating to textbook piracy in China is due to the organizational structure of publishing houses in China. Most university presses in China only have at most three employees (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004), and only 12.27% of Chinese publishers surveyed by Wang (2009) actually have a separate office for staff involved in protecting copyright, while 84.05% of Chinese publishers combine the task of protecting copyright within the normal duties of the editorial staff.

The CCEF (see Figure 1) will be applied to the issue of textbook piracy through a step-by-step process. I will narrate the step-by-step process through the usage of the pronoun, “I,” although other pronouns may be substituted if one wishes when reading the following process.



Figure 1: CCEF model

Level 1: The dilemma. Before I can approach an ethical dilemma, I must first clearly understand the prevalent view regarding the issue as a global problem, regardless of culture. Hume argued, “But when he bestows on any man the epithets of vicious or odious or depraved, he then speaks another language, and expresses sentiments in which, he expects, all his audience are to concur with him. He must here therefore depart from his private and particular situation, and must choose a point of view common to him with others” (1975). The important phrase in Hume’s argument is another language, the language which is necessary to understand before any relevant judgments can be made about culture. Blackburn (2001) believes that speaking a common language is possible, especially when related to deontological ethics. According to Blackburn, when analyzing Kant’s categorical imperative, the “other language” or “universalization test” (as Blackburn puts it) “become[s] not only a particular argument within ethics . . . but the indispensable basis for ethics” (p. 117). Wilkens (1995) relates how “certain standards of truth . . . have been the North Star which I have checked each approach” (p. 191), guiding him to right decisions about ethical dilemmas.

However, back in 1924, F.H. Allport stated “that people often assume that others are responding in a given situation in the same way as they and imagine that their own response is universal,” identifying the illusion of universality. Therefore when approaching an ethical dilemma I must also consider the individual, local approach. The theory of cognitive dissonance, proposed by Goethels, Messick, and Allison (1991), states that as individuals generate knowledge they naturally justify their actions according to that knowledge, meaning that before people perceive of another language (or a common view) they have already made a determination based on the current situation in which they find themselves. So while I do need to be aware of the universal view, I must also take into consideration how the local situation affects the dilemma. One key method for determining the dissonance between the global and the local is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light on its entire width. Conceive them as having their legs and necks fettered from childhood, so that they remain in the same spot, able to look forward only, and prevented by the fetters from turning their heads. Picture further the light from a fire burning higher up and at a distance behind them, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them a road along which a low wall has been built. . . . See also, then, men carrying past the wall implements of all kinds that rise above the wall, and human images and shapes of animals as well, wrought in stone and wood and every material, some of these bearers presumably speaking and others silent.” (Republic 514a-515a)

Plato then inquires, “Do you think that these men would have seen anything of themselves or of one another except the shadows cast from the fire on the wall of the cave that fronted them?” (Republic 515a) As I operate in a different culture, I am tempted to stand on the road in the cave overlooking the men shackled in chains below me and judge them, as they only see the shadows in front of them and I can see further and with more clarity because I have a torch and they do not. Herodotus (Histories 3:38) proclaimed that King Cambyses was “completely mad” for not respecting the religious rites of a culture he visited, but rather mocking and deriding it. Herodotus goes on to relate how King Darius of Persia summoned a group of men from two different cultures in order to ascertain whether it was proper to eat one’s ancestors or burn one’s ancestors, to which they both cried out in horror. Therefore I have to conclude I would be “completely mad” to not take into consideration the world under the road in the shadows of Plato’s cave.

Application of level 1 to case study. According to Lee (2007), the average price of an economics textbook in the United States is somewhere between the range of $24.4 and $45.7, which in Chinese currency translates as ¥151 and ¥283. From my own research, the price range of pirated textbooks from a copy shop in my university ranges from ¥10 to ¥30, a 89% → 94% discount off the cover price. However, most Chinese textbooks range between ¥30 → ¥50, a much more suitable number for a Chinese student who pays ¥3.5 for lunch and ¥110 for unlimited international internet each month (to put the numbers into perspective).

Tsinghua University Press, the sister university to my university (and across the street) reported back in 2004 having lost 20% of its profits due to piracy (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). According to the average cost of a Chinese textbook (¥30 → ¥50) and the price students pay in a copy shop (¥10 → ¥30), those numbers average around 20%. What is amazing, however, is that even with such low prices for Chinese textbooks ($4.76 → $7.90) students still prefer a pirated copy to the real textbook, saving them only $3.17 while feeling absolutely justified.

Su, Lu, and Lin (2011) describe this phenomenon as the difference between cost and benefit: as a cost, students only concern for textbooks are whether or not they will be prosecuted, and whether or not they will save money. If there is no implemented justice system, and the price for a pirated textbook eases the pocketbook, then it follows a large proportion of students will believe no one is concerned and therefore there is no danger. Before I can clearly delineate a plan of action in how as a teacher I respond to the matter, I must take this into account. In 2001, western academic journals reported having lost over $150 million to piracy in China alone, exempting other educational publishers (Liu-Lin & Bollag, 2004). So while piracy is a problem, I must ground myself in realities first.

Level 2: Behavior. If I could make one statement which I was absolutely sure of, I would say that there is not one culture that is the same as another. Wilkens (1995) claims that “ethics can be done only on a casuistic (case study) basis” (p. 139). If ethics can only be done on a case-by-case basis, then by far the strongest delineation of difference among cases would be a culture. While I may believe that my culture has higher standards of other cultures, how I act on that when I interact with people from other cultures takes precedent. Melville Herskovits (1972) spoke about the self-importance of one’s culture (also known as ethnocentrism) when exerted only humbly as “a gentle insistence on the good qualities of one’s own group, without any drive to extend this attitude into the field of action,” however when the drive to extend that attitude into action occurs, my condemnation is both not understood and not respected. The concepts of coherent and absolute knowledge distinguish between context and ontological reality (Lindbleck, 1984), meaning that regardless the culture, each culture will have different coherent knowledge, resulting in incoherent views (Adeney, 1995) and a distortion of how I even represent my ontological views.

Adeney (1995) continues by stating that the stages of inculturation exist within a continuum rather than a specific categorical truth, meaning that culture in itself is an act of growth, a living knowledge that evolves, shifts, and transforms individuals differently depending on time and place. As I move through the process of inculturation, “a ‘third-culture perspective’ is possible only through a synthesis of cultural values achieved through reidentification [sic] with both cultures” (p. 73). I must remember that as I go through this process “different communities and different cultures have different conceptions of justice, because they have different histories, different social structures and different conflicts” (p. 109).

While culture defines how a societal behaves, morals dictate how an individual behaves. My moral compass determines how I react to situations both good and ill, and therefore the study of morality is intrinsically personal. Aristotle states that “action must proceed from a firm and unchangeable character” (Nichomachean Ethics 1105a), meaning that at the root, my character is what defines my goodness; if I gave good character my actions will be good, while if I have bad character my actions will be bad. In Joseph Conrad’s novel Typhoon, the captain MacWhirr shows “us that moral leadership can draw on the depths of our lives, on something deep down within heart and mind, something real and important to us that is reflexive rather than necessarily related to the easy come, easy go of the intellect’s habits” (Coles, 2000, p. 50). In this way, I come back to Aristotle’s understanding of a virtuous life being inter-related with the concept of eudaimonia and a complete life: “For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy” (1098a).

I can be a man of Character with a capital “c” and yet still be empty. Who am I without a source to draw upon when I am empty and wasted? While the vast experience and joy in my life may sometimes inspire me, I am left alone with myself at the end of the day facing the darkness of my personal tragedies. When Coles (2000) narrates the life of a young girl living in dire conditions during the height of the racial conflicts in Boston and her relationship to God, he relates how “the notion that God is a moral companion of sorts to us, that He observes us and comes to conclusions about our episodes of wrongdoing, no matter our claims, excuses, self-justifications” (p. 222). As the little girl associates God as a moral companion with her conscience, so does the journalist and saint Dorothy Day: “I speak to the Lord, through prayer, and I speak to my conscience . . . I hope with the Lord’s will in mind, not just our own” (p. 192). In this way, a deep part of my morality is joined with my perception that God is walking with me through the travails of my life, through which I draw strength, attitude, and joy, allowing me to draw what Coles calls moral passion, a “passion within oneself, [to] set it in motion among others, and do so resourcefully, pointedly” (p. 192), and through that transform the dilemma from a tragedy to an opportunity.

Application of level 2 to case study. On September 23rd, 2011, the United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made a startling statement about China. He claimed that the Chinese “have made [emphasis mine] possible systematic stealing of intellectual property by American companies” (Martina, 2011), inferring that theft and stealing was an intention in China’s fundamental design behind the protection of intellectual liberties. As a statement belittling and envenoming another culture, Geithner’s claim is mind-boggling for a United States diplomat in the 21st century. Nevertheless, his claim is understandable, as in 2009 the United States lost an estimated $48 billion due to piracy in China, according to the International Trade Commission (Martina, 2011), which accounts for nearly 18% of the total trade deficit the United States currently has with China.

For years now, Chinese publishers have had systems for detecting and prosecuting piracy. Almost 22% of Chinese publishers have a public face to their copyright departments, and 27% of Chinese publishers use a piracy hotline for suspected infringements to be called in (Wang, 2009). According to Long Zhenshan, the head of Tsinghua University Press’s copyright division, publishers “don’t have the resources to go out and investigate ourselves” (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004), and so they rely mostly on outsiders (informants) calling the publisher is a copyright infringement has been found.

When a system is as entrenched, established, and unknown as the system Chinese publishers have for enforcing piracy, how can I as an educator and a moral individual fight it? The system in China has become so deeply embedded into university culture that even students of mine who consider themselves to be highly moral, upright, and trying their best to follow in the Confucian ethical system, still purchase pirated textbooks. Primarily, this is due to education. I discovered this semester that when I approached students and asked them if a copied textbook for a course was still in print, they returned blank stares and then innocently asked, “Do you think this book is illegal?” When I shrugged and told them, “Maybe,” they breathed in sharply with visible lines of concern etched on their faces. As much as I would like to comfort them that they did not break any laws by submitting to the will of their professors, those few seconds from an authority asking them a simple question sparked the creation of a struggle with a giant ethical dilemma they perhaps did not even realize they had. By educating students about the international laws of copyright, enforcing those laws in class through deliberate decisions in choices of text, and personally holding a student ethically accountable (not necessarily legally) educators such as myself can make a huge impact with this issue right on the front lines of battle: the classroom.

Level 3: Faith. In the Bible, there is a significant correlation between the grace given to me from above and the grace I give to others being in perfect relationship: “ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:12, New International Version). Within both the Old Testament and the New Testament God’s grace is made evident (Augsburger, 1986), making grace an indelible part of God’s character. Aquinas argues: “The material sun sheds its light outside us; but the intelligible Sun, Who is God, shines within us. Hence the natural light bestowed upon the soul is God’s enlightenment, whereby we are enlightened to see what pertains to natural knowledge; and for this there is required no further knowledge, but only for such things as surpass natural knowledge” (Summa Theologiae I-II.109, a. 1, ad. 2.). By being filled with God’s light, I am in fact filled with God’s grace, spilling out of me through the act of forgiveness to others. Morality, according to Adeney (1995), “is fundamentally seen as a response to God’s grace in choosing, liberating, blessing, forgiving, and judging us . . . if we really are free, then we must live in the true freedom of obedience” (p. 97).

My understanding of Christian law is found through two avenues: the natural law ordered by God since the beginning of time, and the Decalogue. Based on these two sides of law, nature and order, I find a place when planning out a structure of action. Natural moral law finds root in Romans 1:19-20, which states: “Since what may be known about God is plain to them [men who suppress the truth], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (New International Version). However as Rogers (1998) says of Aquinas in that “the Gentiles had detained the natural knowledge of God in unrighteousness” (257), so human law while based in the natural law of God has been fundamentally warped, yet there is still a figment of that law present in any system of law.

Therefore, there are two basic precepts apparent to me: that the law in which I operate in cross-culturally must be respected due to its inspiration from natural law, but that the law of God (the Decalogue) takes priority, as a divinely spoken and given set of laws for guidance. Given that the Decalogue was written as a moment of time, however, Fletcher (1967) argues that “situation ethics has good reason to hold it [the Decalogue] as a duty in some situations to break them . . . any or all of them. We would be better to drop the legalist’s love of law, and accept only the law of love” (p. 74). Fletcher is not arguing that the Ten Commandments don’t hold sway today, but that they should be viewed through the Second Great Commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, New International Version). We are bound to the meaning of the law (Adeney, 1995), not necessarily the specific cultural imperatives.

However, are there laws that cannot ever be broken, regardless of culture or creed? Adeney (1995) argues that prima facie rules “ought to be absolutes in all cultures and all times” (p. 153). Kant (2005) states explicitly that in the practical or real world, human-based laws which emphasize freedom and justice contradict natural law, meaning that those prima facie rules would not necessarily be specifically present in human-based laws, as rules that were absolutes would have to spring from natural law, not human law. Therefore, according to Kant’s Categorical Imperative which states that “my maxim should become a universal law” (p. 63), my maxims must come from God and from God’s natural law, not from human-created systems of law, even as I respect or admire those “inspired laws”.

Application of level 3 to case study. One of the biggest issues with Chinese textbook piracy are the educators of Chinese students, specifically the teachers. Lin-Liu and Bollag (2004) reported that a pirated textbook saleswoman named Wang sold over 500 books to a teacher who came down to Beijing from Shandong (a nearby province), claiming in her interview that “business was not bad.” Not bad, indeed. For many of my students, being handed a textbook in class by the teacher warrants no cause for suspicion. “Most of the piracy is committed by either administrators or professors within the university who photocopy textbooks, or by professional pirates who sell unauthorized copies to university officials, who may or may not know that the books are pirated” (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). Even though the rules set by the Ministry of Education explicitly restrict universities from using pirated textbooks, administrators and teachers continue the practice, either out of lack of funds for the real textbook or just for the profit. With Gary Locke as the new ambassador to China from the United States, the issue of Chinese piracy has grown to such heights as to “put the defense of U.S. Intellectual property among his chief priorities [emphasis mine]” (Martina, 2011).

As an educator myself, I take into my ethical account several statements from the Decalogue: the eighth commandment reads: “You shall not steal,” and the ninth reads: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:15-16, New International Version). The concept of stealing and showing false testimony means (through applying the meaning of the law) that copying intellectual property regardless of the situation without asking or giving credit and without following the proper structures of cultural law is unethical, and lying to my students under the pretense of righteousness about where and how those materials were acquired would also be unethical. However to judge my students for their collaboration with the educational system through the act of piracy requires grace and more importantly forgiveness, meaning that were I not to forgive them these behaviors there would be no reason for myself to be forgiven for other behaviors I may or may not be complicit in. As an educator, my job is not to judge nor even to exact justice, but rather… to educate.

Level 4: Action. If the second Great Commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, New International Version), then how can this love be achieved? Love has been expressed in popular culture as an emotion, but equally as an active agent of change. “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18, New International Version). Fletcher (1967) further defines this particular kind of love expressed within 1 John:

Christian situation ethics has only one norm or principle or law (call it what you will) that is binding and unexceptionable, always good and right regardless of the circumstances. That is “love” – the agapē of the summary commandment to love God and the neighbor. Everything else without exception, all laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms, are only contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love in any situation. (p. 30)

In the CCEF, love as action is the outer ring and the visible and external result of every other aspect of the model. While the principles of level-5 (authenticity, integrity, responsibility, and telos) are the foundation behind making solid decisions in ethical dilemmas, it is love as action that constitutes the change agent. Smedes (1986) argues, “Where love is lost, humanity is lost, and all our human associations become bloodless combats where aggressive egos manipulate each other . . . what love wants is action, and not just a lot of talk” (p. 54, 56). Smedes goes on to claim that out of the two absolute rules that define everything, love sits next to justice in importance of ethics. Kant (2005) differentiates delight from benevolence, as in delight no obligations can apply, whereas the goal of benevolence is beneficence, a practical application that can in Kant’s opinion be termed as a universal maxim.

However, love without God is no love at all. Adeney (1995) claims that all laws in the Bible must be viewed in context of the First and Second Great Commandment of love, and if divine or natural law is my source for love, then I must always consider love in context of my relationship with God. “It is not by ideals and programmes or by conscience, duty, responsibility and virtue that reality can be confronted and overcome, but simply and solely by the perfect love of God” (Bonhoeffer, 1995). Through the exercise of the love shown to me by God, my love outwardly becomes the only confrontation to the world; whereas conscience, duty, responsibility, virtue, ideals, culture, morality, law, integrity, and authenticity are invisible worlds within me, love is how I express those to others, especially within the context of a different culture which shares different concepts of those invisible worlds.

Application of level 4 to case study. “I’m definitely not going to prevent students from individually copying books. If we need something for class, we will certainly continue to make photocopies,” said a student at Peking University interviewed by Mooney (2006). For me this hits home, as everyday I step into the halls of my university and try to make a difference. Furthermore, Peking University along with Tsinghua University are the top two universities in the People’s Republic of China. If a student at Harvard or Yale made that same statement, how would the public react?

Three kinds of beliefs predict behavior, according to Azjen and Driver (1992), summarized in their Theory of Planned Behavior: attitudes, norms and perceived control. Based on this theory, Su, Lu and Lin proposed that one possible method to fighting the behavior supporting textbook piracy at the university level was through analyzing the attitudes students held about that behavior, reducing the benefits and increasing the cost (or norms), and instituting stricter control systems and through this process the researchers could cause students to feel guilt and thus defer their decision to buy a pirated textbook. However, this method would be impossible unless the publishers had control over the market. At Fudan University in Shanghai, the libraries have rows and rows of copies of foreign textbooks and teachers quite often distribute these materials in class (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). If schools such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Fudan University (think Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) are systematically allowing for pirated materials to be distributed to students without any prosecution, how is making students feel guilty going to change things, and how does that show love?

As an educator, all I can do within the delicate position I have at my school is to love my students: as learners, as scholars, and as partners in the quest for knowledge. If I cause them to stumble, what love is that? My love for them is a practical action of informing, educating, and expecting quantity of quality with the work I give them. While I may be only one teacher, I can make a difference through the simple actions of Christ-like love. “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light” (Luke 8:16, New International Version). As a feasible action I need only be aware and help others to be aware, and through a few change begins. I can force a man to move his cart but unless I speak to his heart, the cart will return the next day.

Level 5: Purpose and foundation. The CCEF model is nothing without a solid foundation of personal authenticity, integrity, and responsibility, bounded together by a pure purpose. The weakness of moving forward in love without a strong foundation is that when a strong wind blows through the room or an earthquake shakes the floorboards, the lamp mentioned in Luke falls to the ground and both the light and the warmth are extinguished.

Authenticity is the strength of my belief, while praxis is how I live that life. Starratt (2004) says that as I am “a unique being who will exist only once in the entire universe, my originality is something that only I can discover, author, perform, define, and actualize” (p.66). Starratt calls this actualization a moral imperative, and by disowning or feigning knowledge of my possible actualization, I am not living out my life with authenticity. Praxis is the growth of my beliefs through day-by-day steps of action, which can only actualize through practice within context, bonding with diverse cultural elements, and committing myself to the Second Great Commandment (Adeney, 1995). Furthermore, authenticity has both a personal and social moral dynamic (Starratt, 2004, p. 80), shaped “in the dialogue that occurs between parent and child, between siblings, between friends” (p.67).

Price (2008) names morality as “an explicit component of personal integrity” (p. 102). Yukl (2002) adds that integrity must be “consistent with espoused values . . . [that] the person is honest, ethical, and trustworthy” (p. 192). According to Price, personal integrity is the cornerstone of deciding whether or not a decision made is justified and therefore necessary. In other words, without personal integrity, any decision I make regarding anything is balancing on the tip of a pin, liable to fall at any time. When my world is built onto the tip of that pin and that pin falls, there is no way to pick it up again.

Besides the personal elements of integrity, socially I must recognize that “humans cannot be treated indifferently, as if they are gravel to be swept aside or parts of a machine that can be thrown away when they wear out” (Starratt, 2004, p. 68). The integrity of the known, as Starratt calls it, means submitting myself “to the message of the known, willing to be humbled by the complexity of the known” (p. 77). Starratt’s point is especially integral to understanding educational ethics, as the known is the meeting or mating of intelligences, and so because the act of caring for knowledge is a social action, knowledge becomes a moral dilemma. Through knowledge and the mating of intelligences, the educator learns “more about the human condition, about the social, political, cultural, and natural worlds that make up the curriculum the school intends to teach” (p. 50). Therefore, for me to be a teacher of integrity I must care for the respect of knowledge as both part of my personal character as well as a vehicle for change in the social community of learners.

Starratt (2004) divides responsibility into three key areas: responsibility to myself, responsibility to my stakeholders, and responsibility to civic virtue. In this way, as a human being I am “responsible for taking a stand with other human beings – not above them, as someone removed from the human condition, but as one sharing fully in it” (p. 49). Spiritually however, responsibility is fundamentally anchored in Christ. “It is the fact that life is bound to man and to God which sets life in the freedom of a man’s own life. Without this bond and without this freedom there is no responsibility” (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p. 221). Bonhoeffer describes responsibility as a matter of deputyship; as Christ “became a man . . . and thereby bore responsibility and deputyship for men” (p. 223), so must I be responsible towards Christ and understand that the boundaries of my calling are “broken though not only from above, that is to say by Christ, but also in an outward direction” (p. 253) in serving others besides only myself. In the end both Bonhoeffer and Starratt recognize that responsibility begins at the heart and ends at the hands.

The binding factor between these three elements is telos, or grand purpose. Without a goal or a purpose, the strength of will or the ableness of faith to withstand trials and tribulations comes to nothing, just as a rock having no feet or legs cannot move but must stay stationary. In an article from the Formula of Concord (a Lutheran confessional) the purpose or telos of the law given to men by God was “that outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men . . . that [they] may be led to knowledge of their sins, and that after they are regenerate. . . they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life” (Epitome 6:1). Bonhoeffer (1995) claims that the Good News is the goal of this statement, also known as the primus usus, and therefore as a fundamental telos serves as the blueprint for all my actions in the intersection between authenticity, integrity, and responsibility. Kierkegaard identifies telos being founded on faith when he describes Abraham’s decision to kill his son making him either “a murderer or a man of faith” (Fear and Trembling 85), meaning that my faith ultimately underscores my ability to function under the law of God, as the law is my map for living my life as I was meant to be according to God’s plan. Therefore without faith, telos fails, and the glue holding my body (authenticity), heart (integrity), and hands (responsibility) falls apart.

Application of level 5 to case study. Douglas Hunt, a professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia, received an e-mail one morning notifying him that an anthology he had edited and even contributed to was being pirated in China, being sold by a university publishing house for $2.50 each with his name removed and instead, the name of a Chinese professor claiming authorship (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). In the end, Dr. Hunt did not press charges, as he “didn’t feel terribly violated,” rather he “felt [he had] made enough money off of the book” himself, even though the book had already sold 4,000 copies in one city alone. The fear westerners have in approaching China with regards to textbook piracy is tantamount to madness. Ian Taylor of the Publishers Association stated that publishers are not bothering to check piracy in China because the market has expanded so quickly, leaving them little time to pursue infringements, even while they seem quite content in complaining to the media or their respective governments. Lin-Liu and Bollag explain this paradox of fear: “The Chinese government, citing national legislation, has also refused to allow foreign publishers to hire local investigators to determine the extent of the problem,” leading to a fear of backlash from the Chinese government if a foreign publisher were to pursue litigation in regards to a supposed piracy case.

If foreign publishers are refused access to pursuing legal courses of action, if the systematic structure of the Chinese publishing house does not allow for individual investigations into piracy violations, and if presses are relying entirely on the good nature of people to come forward to expose piracy, where is the hope for a future where educators in China are credited with the hard work they do? While in Taiwan many educators prefer to use guilt mechanisms to push students into an ethical corner (Su, Lu, & Lin, 2011), guilt management is hardly worthy of Christ-like behavior or of an honest, authentic educator, and is more a short-term solution in lieu of any long-term solutions.

However, I don’t believe the future is stark. I can only speak from my personal experience, but with the proper ethical framework even educators can become transformed, and through education students will gain a sense of morality passed on to them by their teachers. Whether they choose to adopt that moral worldview is personal, but without the knowledge that ‘obtaining prior consent’ is necessary when it comes to textbook printing, nothing will change. The solution is simple, but the process is far from simple; nevertheless, it is necessary.


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Film Review: Last Train Home

Last Train Home is an arresting film; it grabs you with controversy, slams you with danger and intrigue, and then follows up with a dessert of broken family drama and dislocation, with just enough to send you home with a worried look on your face for those poor Chinese. It is a brave film, one that baffles the mind to wonder how it was actually done, and more so, leaves one wondering how much of an impact it could actually make, given the current focus on China as a theme for the modern world. The tale of a young girl from the countryside trying to find her way, while awkwardly told, is compelling enough to watch until the end. The latter, unfortunately, leaves you only with the bitterness of either a filmmaker who stuck his nose in too deep and caused a young girl to question her family and the values she grew up with, or a realistic issue that has no viable solution.

There is a moment in the film when the young girl, Zhang Qin, looks back at the camera and screams, “You wanted to film the real me? This is the real me!” A moment later she and her father are fist fighting in the family room of their small countryside house, bouncing off the walls and tearing hair. After the brawl, they sit at a dinner table and stare at a boiling vat of hot pot, and the only words are of regret and sadness. It’s obvious the film-maker had a tremendous impact on the family, having followed the parents, the daughter, as well as the grandmother and son around for three years.

The theme of the film is the yearly trip home on the train. What is apparent (as someone living in China for the past seven years) is that the Guangzhou train station is hell on earth during Spring Festival. What is not told, however, is that many other stations are not that chaotic. This is where we begin with the message.

The film begins with the whitewashed statement that during Spring Festival 130 million people travel back to their hometowns, creating the largest human migration in the world. While this is true, it is also misleading, because a moment later the film cuts to a train station where people are stampeding over one another, young women crying because their mothers fell to the ground, and children being lost in the crowd. Part of the issue that isn’t covered is the general design of the station in Guangzhou, which for the last few years has had accidents, partly due to trains not arriving on time, and partly due to station architecture, and finally partly due to security forces mismanaging the crowds.

This is where the message begins. To one who has lived in country for almost ten years, much of these scenes are outrageous. To someone who has not ever set foot in the country, these scenes are criminal, as they attempt to typify the discontent of those having left the country for brighter havens on a national level. While the scenes of stampeding crowds, migrant laborers complaining about the conditions at factories, waitressing at a club, and other images, the film attempts to brand us with an image of sadness and philosophic pedantry. While the life shown is real, what is not shown is the other side – those who yearn for that job in the factory without being grim-faced and forced, the family dinners filled with laughter, music and a post-firecrackers display, the gathering of ideas and food on the long train-ride, and the subtle joy of walking along the road while the festivities of the holiday roar around you.

Last Train Home is generally a biopic of a young girl and her relationship with her parents. The advertising for the film is misleading, and really does not explain much about the Spring Festival Train-craze anymore than a backyard DVD blurb could do. As for the depth into the lives of those involved, it barely scratches the surface, lending itself more as a diatribe of complaints about a life not lived than a living history. The film gives ample opportunities to not only the family but also other observers, to lash out their discontent of their lives on camera. Who wouldn’t want a chance to do that? Rather than showing us both the beauty and tragedy of the life of a migrant worker, the film centers on the immediate murk that surrounds Zhang Qin and tries to elevate her simple life to the melody of the tragic heroine suffering under a society that cares nothing for her. For much of the film, however, she seems like a rather unreliable witness for her society, more akin to being part of the 月光社 (Moonlight Clan) than being a custodian for criticism into modern Chinese policies.

On the other hand, the bravery of the film-maker is tantamount to challenging the very face of the government. However, while Mr. Fan and Mr. Cross managed to somehow elude the Cultural Guard, the film still teeters dangerously towards sensationalism and stereotypical bashing of management in mainland China, which seems all too frequent in Chinese dissidents. Furthermore, the plight of Zhang Qin is not iconic, but represents a fraction of what is happening in China. That is to say, her story should be told, but more education to the audience was needed that the film just did not give. That is in part on the laziness of the directors and at the same time their desire for craft a piece that would cause noble cries of anguish in their audience rather than a careful consideration of the balancing line.

Junzi on the Cross

Junzi on the Cross: A Discussion of Servant Leadership on the Dialectic Between the Son of the Ruler in Confucian Philosophy and the Son of Man in the Christian Worldview

This study’s objective was to develop leadership qualities within students in a Chinese university, through creating models of compromise between eastern and western philosophies, and then putting variable testing tools in place to observe whether changes took place. This research took place over two school terms, in which 36 leaders of small workgroups each term was examined. The aim of the research was to instill servant leadership principles into these leaders, and that through modeling they would instill those values into their group members. At the end of the research, while it has been proven that certain servant leadership have been instilled in student leaders, it is inconclusive whether or not those values have also been instilled into group members. However, student leaders did showcase humility and personal responsibility towards group members, two important qualities not normally present in Chinese leadership, but major qualities of traditional servant leadership.

This research began with the question: is it possible to raise servant leaders in China? China is well-known for being a country with authoritarian leadership. As early as the Zhou Dynasty (late B.C. 500) leadership in China was top-down, a society where each individual had their place written in Heaven as to role, responsibility, amount of land that could possibly be owned, to even salary. Today, there are studies being done to gauge the impact of servant leadership in China, but the majority of those studies are being conducted after-the-fact (see H. Yong’s study on servant leadership in the PRC). There are few studies being done today that are experiments of impact. This research is meant to remedy that injustice to some of the great leadership theories that are present in China’s vast history of philosophy and religion.

This research delves into the development of leadership agency in China (21, Chen); specifically leaders of student work groups in the college classroom who take charge of a team of students and create social programs which impact the local student population. This is a qualitative case study, but more importantly, it is exploratory research, to even see if there are viable paths for progression. I used an unstructured approach, as well as implemented an experimental method of instilling value into students which to my knowledge, has not been done before.

I also conducted a textual analysis of key texts in Confucian philosophy (the Analects) as and the Christian worldview (the Gospels) to compare the two leading philosophies/theologies from both eastern and western society. In order to conduct this research I selected outstanding students not of merit, but of leadership quality, which I shall refer to as pillars, as in Chinese philosophy a pillar is a person who stands out from the crowd in leadership quality (29, Sheh).


Leadership in China has traditionally been authoritarian, and to this day this style of leadership is prevalent in politics, business, even down to the family (193, Chen). Leadership is also extremely pragmatic, which says that regardless of the means, the end is the final goal (35, Rinehart). While this may be ethically unsound, this style of leadership does accomplish results. For the most part, Chinese government and Chinese business has remained paternalistic. In Chen and Lee’s book Leadership and Management in China, a group of researchers made an intense study on the peculiar aspects of paternalistic leadership, concluding that most Chinese leaders fall into a degree combination of three elements: authoritarianism  benevolence, and morality (176, Chen).

While many Chinese today do realize the importance of looking to other countries or cultures for guidance with leadership, many still accede to subordinate traditionality (181, Chen). Therefore, my premise for this research aims to change the paradigm of leadership by teaching the concept of servant leadership to Chinese students in the university, who are actively engaged in team building activities. While the concept of servant is somewhat present in traditional Chinese philosophy, far more comes from the words of Jesus himself in the Gospels, which has been watered down by Greenleaf (himself, a under-aggrandizing Quaker) to try and fit into a secular model anyone regardless of religion can adopt (27, Greenleaf). The goal of the research is to empower student pillars into a process of transformation (39, Rinehart); but in order to do that, I needed to take part in what Graen calls “the shared network leadership” model (289, Chen), which states that in order to successfully pass leadership principles into another culture, the transmitter must first understand the culture they are going to try and transform.

Research Topic

This study begins with the creation of leadership groups, but it goes beyond just creating situations for leadership. Conceptual leadership is the foundation of servant leadership (47, Greenleaf), because servant leadership deals not with issues of the hands but issues of the heart, deep passion and love for each person involved in the process. This foundation is the bedrock of all actions the leader makes (97, Rinehart), and were I modelling this leadership as a teacher from my own life, the foundation which stretch all the way to Jesus Christ, my own model for servant leadership. However, a key aspect of conceptual leadership is that it requires looking at both the forest and the trees, which in this case requires a careful analysis of operational power from a Chinese context. Whereas in the West operational power may rest on a leader’s positive qualities and past accomplishments, operational power (79, Greenleaf) in the East is focused on relationship and form. Therefore, I had to not only take this into account, but also move forward and begin to hand out responsibility in a way where the expectations matched the culture. This kind of delegation was absolutely essential to model for the pillars I intended to try and teach about servant leadership (52, Hayward).

I invoked the principle of primus inter pares (84, Greenleaf). In a college institution, there are no stakeholders involved in the process, and to find the archetypal trustee that Greenleaf describes as all servant leaders requiring to keep them accountable was impossible. Therefore, I became the trustee to each pillar, and we formed a relationship in that fashion. My goal was to help students form mental models to perceive leadership, while encouraging formation of relationship not only between myself and them, but between themselves and fellow team members. In this way the institution we set up was serving us (62, Greenleaf).

Target Group

Chinese leaders are natural at the art of self-cultivation. To cultivate the self is a means towards the self-evolution against instinctual desires and the movement towards wisdom and sagacity (61, Chen). Prime examples in Chinese history are the sage kings Yao and Shun, quoted often in the Analects of Confucius as pure examples of servant leaders. Other examples that are steeped in Chinese myth are the god-like Monkey King Sun Wukong, and his guide to human enlightenment, the sage-priest Sanzang, a reincarnated king in the body of a servant of Buddha. These stories serve as examples which many people who are concerned with leadership immediately think of; hence it is necessary to mention them.

One further aspect of the target group that needs be mentioned in the concept of harmony. Harmony is more popular today, due to the current President of China, Hu Jintao, having made the “harmonious society” a goal for his political tenure, although the concept has a much longer history in Chinese history than the 21st century. The saying of Confucius, “harmony is precious” has been used for thousands of years as a goal people in power should aspire (247, Chen). This is important to discuss because the pillars I chose to lead groups will often elect harmony over quality or task: if people in the group are not contributing to the work process, the leader will take it on him or herself to do the group rather than confronting that person about the issue.

Being top-tier students, they also desire achievement, as they are taught from a very young age that learning is more important than anything else (149, Sheh), except for money (which comes in a very close second). However, while achievement does occur high on the lists of goals for individuals, caring for members of the group does rate important as well (17, Chen).


As a Christian in an atheist country, I am in a unique position. Furthermore, the rejection of all religion, including Christianity, from having any place in government dialogue elevates my position as an educator in a top university for people who eventually go into either government or the social sector. While there are many Christians in China, there are many more non-Christians, some who ideologically refute the existence of any supernatural occurrences or even natural occurring acts of God. Part of what I am trying to teach these pillars of society is the concept of modeling, and by doing that myself I hope I can fill them with at least part of my philosophy and belief that serving others should be a naturally occurring phenomenon instead of something that is only guided my incentives (103, Rinehart).

I am also a foreign worker in a country that largely has remained ignorant of foreign concepts for the last 4,000 years (save for a brief period during the late 20th century until now, since they have been open). Therefore, the diversity of ideas that I offer the students as well as the depth of history that I carry with me (multiple cultural influences) can help in the process of modeling (38, Rinehart).

However, as a variable in this study, this information can only be useful if I am active in pursuing relationship with my elected pillars. I must be especially aware however, of the distinct historical imagination that already exists within my students; their ability to gauge the past and look towards the future is dependent on their perception of self-identity, if they can see a bigger picture, and if they consider the picture I offer to be of any value to them. Nevertheless, their historical imagination combined with mine, if put together would be highly beneficial to them as future leaders (9, Hayward).


To train servant leaders requires a different methodology than normal leaders. Where this research differs from other leadership training seminars is that all of the training I am doing will be hands-on, with in practical work groups doing meaningful projects which have the possibility of continuation past the end of the course. Students are given incentive in the form of grades rather than monetary promises or promotion, but due to the lack of a crisis situation (such as a training seminar or an actual crisis in the company) I have to personally help each pillars understand how they can best serve their group while maintaining distance and allowing them to discover the process on their own (68, Sheh). Not only do the pillars take charge of a group whom they have been told to serve, but they also embark on a community project which is focused primarily on social responsibility, something that comes naturally to most Chinese organizations and serves to place double-emphasis on the concept of servanthood (246, Chen)

There are four steps to the methodology of this project: (a) to analyze past efforts, (b) to set into motion a system which can be used both on-site and off-site in training leadership, (c) to carefully follow the variables throughout the two terms, and (d) follow through with the activities of the term and continue to promote leadership concepts throughout the semester.

Prior to this project, various activities had been subjected to students, including: a weekly leadership seminar, intended to train students in basic concepts; and electing class monitors in lieu of group leaders to maintain control of a class. However these two methods, both used in Fall and Spring of 2009 failed as engines of leadership; the class monitor found his or her job to be overwhelming, while the leadership elective remained as such: an optional elective for extra points, which few students considered important other than receiving a slightly higher score.


Students suffered from a lack of unity of purpose (100, Sheh) within work groups (having no leader), and monitors suffered from having insufficient execution power to set up systems of control, due to an overwhelming amount of work (23, Sheh). To deal with this issue student leaders were selected from student election, but often these leaders lacked both intution and willfulness, required abilities of servant leaders (37, Greenleaf, and 148, Hayward respectively).

When setting up a new system for guidance of pillars (servant leaders), I had first of all to put aside old notions of classroom management, and decide on a radical new approach. Personal communication on a weekly basis with leaders was required, as well as designing a system that promoted flexibility and impartiality towards all participants  The principle of impartiality states that all things have use, even if at first glance they do not seem so (87, Sheh). By acquiescing to this notion, facilitating a personality-based system (Myers-Briggs) for electing leadership was implemented, as I gave pillars far more opportunities to meet with me to discuss issues that occur on a weekly basis, from home meetings, weekly e-mails, personal phone calls, to even one-on-one leadership consultations. I opted for a flexible system, showing no partiality towards any student (such as a monitor) but allowed all to speak with me anytime (even at 9pm) without criticism. I hoped I was modeling basic values of servant leadership.

With the establishment of a system of accountability, setting roles and defining responsibility for group efforts, then focusing on analyzing specific variables: leaders, group response to the leader, and leader’s response to the “servant ethic” (209, Greenleaf), I hoped to forge a foundation of conceptual leadership the pillars would be able to take to the next level (47, Greenleaf).

Development of Original Model

The model developed for this research was composed of several aspects: (a) theoretical, (b) practical, and (c) intellectual.

In the theoretical model, I envisioned that servant leadership could be taught to students through a holistic lifestyle class, in which teaching was passed down through modeling as well as task. For example:

 original model (servant leadership)

Fig. 1

At first glance, the model above in Figure 1 seems like a fairly obvious concept for teaching a class. Concepts on servant leadership are delivered to the student via individual coaching sessions as well as through a weekly group task, which is individual according to each group member. For the leader of a group, he or she has a specific task which I will discuss shortly. The goal of this current model is to emulate holism, a concept that is deeply rooted in Chinese philosophy and which indicates that everything in the universe is inter-related and yet inter-dependent (83, Sheh).

As we can see from the model, the teaching is flexible and methods taught per week vary depending on the results and feedback from larger group projects, in which it is apparent whether or not servant leadership has been practiced or not. Servant leadership requires authenticity; otherwise it becomes nothing more than rote practice, but when coming from the heart, servant leadership has that amazing ability to bring people together as a team and function in the same heart (40, Rinehart).

The practical model used in this research deals with the individual group assignment given to each group or team pillar. At the beginning of the term the pillar must identify two qualities in each group member they will endeavor to work with an help improve, one strength and one weakness. In the following weeks, they must deliver to me a report on how they are progressing in helping that individual grow in that area. In this way, many team pillars have learned the art of submission, which is another quality that servant leaders possess: humility before others (10, Rinehart). For many pillars, this was the hardest element of their work, because of the abstract quality of the assignment and a fear to be seen in lower status than other group members; however due to the nature of upper leadership (myself, the teacher) they had litle recourse to deny the request, as strange as it may have sounded to them.

The final model used was the intellectual model. In this model, I would send e-mails to each pillar on a weekly basis instructing them in particular servant leadership concepts, beginning from the simple, and moving on every week to something more difficult. This model was taken from a paper Spears wrote in 1998, and illustrates many key elements of servant leadership that if applied to one’s paradigm, would greatly enhance abilities not only as a servant, but also as a leader.

servant leadership progression

Fig. 2

 From the beginning of the model (listening) begins the easiest of tasks: to learn how to listen instead of demand, to hear instead of tell. Each concept comes with specific rituals and routines the pillar must practice with his or her group members, finalizing in the concept of building community. By this point, the education portion of servant leadership has been completed, and the group may safety proceed with their projects and continue along the theoretical model to fruition. By using this model concepts such as vision and respect can be given to each pillar; whether or not they desire to utilize these models in their lives, however, is purely subjective.

The goal of this model was to create a practical model and basic set of theories on which servant leadership as a science could be based. In my studies on servant leadership, most of the research seemed bent towards learning to do goodwill to others: the Light side of leadership, wheras a writer like Robert Green, who wrote The 48 Laws of Power, would be the Dark side of leadership.

If we look into the foundations of servant leadership from both eastern and western philosophies, we find a very different source, and we can begin to build one final model.

In Confucian philosophy, servant leadership exists as form and pragmatism. For example, when Confucius says “Love your fellow men,” (217, Lin) he follows up later with, “It is harmful to make friends with three other types: the obsequious, the double-faced, and the smooth-tongued.” (291, Lin) The core concept of servant leadership from an eastern perspective is to give to others selflessly, either to be an example to other men, or to truly serve people without endangering yourself. “Why should that be?” Confucius asks, when his disciple inquires whether a man of honor (in Chinese, “junzi”) would jump into a well to save a drowning man. “A man of honor will try to rescue to man in the well, but he won’t jump in himself. He may be deceived, but he will not act foolishly.” (111, Lin) Therefore, if the man of honor (or “junzi”) could only rescue the man by drowning himself, he would refrain, as servanthood towards fellow men only extents as far as what is pragmatically allowed by one’s life. However, for the sake of ideals, the man of honor would gladly give up his life (269, Lin).

In the western perspective, servant leadership is founded on the principle of serving God with the whole heart, and modelling one’s life after Christ, who has modeled his life after his Father. The second concept that is widely spoken by Christ in the Gospels is the idea that “the humble shall be exalted, and the exalted shall be humbled,” (133, Cheney) a beautiful paradox and one which Christ repeats over and over again in a variety of different situations. The final concept that Christ repeats a number of times is to “love your neighbor as you would love yourself.” (157, Cheney) Whereas Confucius makes the statement, “Do not do to others what you do not wish others do to you.” (203, Lin)

From these two comparisons, we can begin to make a theory into a model for the Chinese leader. Whereas in eastern philosophy, serving others is dependent on form, pragmatism, and circumstance, western philosophy posits that serving others is about obeisance, humility, and selflessness. Eastern philosophy does contain selflessness, as Mencius states “the best practice of a leader is to help others do good,” (55, Sheh) but Mencius is still not willing to take that step outside of form and appear weak, whereas Christ says, “For he that is least among you all, he shall be great.” (107, Cheney) Now, to keep this from turning into a battle between philosophies, I will make some general observations and then develop a model useful in reaching eastern audiences with a western frame of mind.

When dealing with my Chinese pillars, I focused on teaching them to be humble, although I found that by doing so, many leaders felt that their position as leader was threatened and held little importance in the overall frame of group work. However, when these leaders took hold of the second concept: to take responsibility, and combine that with the authority which drafts and molds vision, suddenly the three concepts were congruent with each other. According to Figure 3, we can see that when eastern and western philosophy come together, if held together by responsibility and authority, the form is maintained and the sanctity of the pillar is maintained for all to see.

servant leadership keystone

Fig. 3

Few sensations are more painful than responsibility without power.” Churchill

Summary and Conclusions

My research was very idealistic. Much of the intended research which I have described in this paper did not actually happen, due to a number of factors. As a pilot study into whether or not servant leadership qualities can be instilled into Chinese students at the university level, I have concluded that they can be, but were not. I will first list the successes of this mission, and then list the reasons why certain aspects of this project failed.

Among student pillars, dogma prevailed. Greenleaf claims that without dogma, no activities within an organization can survive to fruition (117, Greenleaf). Pillars instrinsically understood the policies I set out for them and followed them as best they could, even when the assignment was incredibly abstract. The system was solid, and the educational model was easy to follow, even if they had to consult their friends about clarifications.

Benevolence was greatly practiced among student pillars. Benevolence is one of the key factors of Chinese leadership, be it servant leadership or not: it is to care for your followers in a holistic fashion, treating them as family and watching over their well-being (163, Chen). By creating groups that fostered friendship combined with task-oriented education, benevolence naturally blossomed in groups from pillars to participating group members. In some rare cases when the pillar was not present, instead of benevolence frustration became the driving incentive, but in most cases, pillars took very good care of their fellow colleagues.

Finally, because of the challenges students faced during the course of the semester, loyalty was highly prized among student pillars. For group members who participated fully in group acitivities, they were given the benefit of the doubt almost anytime they had to excuse themselves from work. Other students gladly covered for them.

I am glad to say that loyalty was a strong attribute of student pillars, as it is one of the prime requisities for servant leadership (123, Hayward), and the first step to acknowledging humility towards others. Finally, that humility many times expressed itself in the form of fluidity, in which leaders deign to make themselves invisible. This concept comes from Laozi, who stated, “Because in the end it does not claim greatness, its greatness is achieved.” (78, Sheh)

However, on the other hand, there were several factors that I failed to instill within my student pillars. First and foremost was calling, which is of utmost importance to a leader, but something which my student pillars could never have achieved due to being elected as leaders by me and not by themselves (300, Greenleaf). Greenleaf maintains servant leaders must be seekers, people who are constantly searching for turning points in which they can throw themselves as able servants (22, Greenleaf), which in the end is the ultimate qualification for taking initiative, a quality among servant leaders. Being elected takes away choice from any person, especially in the Chinese classroom, as being elected leave one without a choice to refuse the teacher.

I discovered that several of the pillars, while loyal and benevolent towards their group members, lied and cheated their way into either the good graces of their group members or into my own good graces, surprisingly. According to Hayward in his study on Winston Churchill (as well as both Sheh and Chen), moral character is a prime requirement for servant leaders, and in my course this concept failed to pass onto my student pillars. This is a glaring failure.

Finally, the last aspect of failure that I wish to mention is risk. Sheh comments that risk is a main factor in many Chinese businesses, but in my course, most leaders opted for the risk-less path until instructed not to do so by myself (150, Sheh). In the future, I hope to illuminate some of these principles through both modeling and direct teaching, before habits set in and form.

Evaluation and Recommendation

In evaluating the pillars, I used a variety of different methods. One method was through one-on-one interviews, in which I asked them a specific question about how they proceeded through the leadership process and they answered to the best of their ability. Another method I used was through a quantifiable survey, also known as scientific management (252, Chen), in which questions about team leadership were raised directly and they were asked to answer honesty. By the end of the evaluations, I discovered some striking things.

Firstly, that through the process of leading a group, these students gained in self-knowledge, although perhaps not in leadership ability. Many said that prior to the course they never saw themselves as leaders, but now after having gone through the process, they could tell that they were indeed gifted in certain areas of leadership. A very few said that the my calculations at the beginning of the class were improper, although they may have just been polite. Of course, the goal of any venture in leadership should not only be self-knowledge, but the knowledge of others (101, Sheh), at least in traditional Chinese philosophy.

My recommendations for future efforts include the following aspects: (a) instilling more of a concept of family among all students in a particular class, especially teaching pillars how to make their group members feel like they are a member of a special family (69, Hayward); teaching student pillars how to love selflessly, by eliciting basis responses of trust and responsibility from pillars to members (52, Greenleaf); using modeling to inspire student pillars, and asking them to inspire their own group members using the same methods (148, Sheh); and finally, implementing training and releasing policies, which will ensure leaders have the capacity to create leaders, so that the process can continue without end (148, Rinehart).


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On the following pages are the definitions of terms relating to this study on servant leadership:

R.K. Greenleaf Pg. S.T. Rinehart Pg. C.C. Chen Pg. S.W. Sheh Pg.
Awareness 42 Authenticity 40 Authoritarianism 193 Achievement 149
Calling 300 Diversity 38 Benevolence 163 Autonomy 90
Conceptual leadership 47 Empowerment 39 Control mechanisms 20 Execution power 23
Dogma 117 Equipping 133 Dialecticism 100 Flexibility 104
Institution 62 Foundation 97 Excellence 245 Fluidity 78
Intuition 37 Modeling 103 Golden mean 249 Holism 83
Love 52 Pragmatism 35 Harmony 247 Humane 46
Operational power 79 Releasing 148 Humanism 17 Impartiality 87
Primus inter pares 84 Submission 111 Leadership agency 21 Incentive 68
Seeker 22 Paternalistic leadership 176 Inspiration 148
Servant ethic 209 S.F. Hayward Pg. Scientific management 252 Organizational learning 110
Servant leader 27 Moral character 150 Self-cultivation 61 Paradox 81
Trustee 125 Delegation 52 Sharing leadership 289 Pillars 29
Design 91 Sincerity 243 Risk 150
Destiny 153 Social responsibility 246 Self-knowledge 101
C. Buckland Pg. Family 69 Subordinate traditionality 181 Selflessness 53
Coaching 44 Forgiveness 118 Talent 27
Enabling 38 Historical imagination 9 Unity of purpose 100
Faciliation 29 Intellect 34 Visionary 144
Responsibility 4 Loyalty 123
Transformation 36 Relationship 127
Shared vision 38 Respect 71
Willfulness 148

An Evaluation of Wang’s “Social exclusion and inequality in China”

Wang’s intent is to clarify the problems surrounding the Chinese university entrance exam by using Amartya Sen’s model of social exclusion. This is a curious concept, since he is marrying two different disciplines into the same school of thought (poverty studies and educational theory). While his introduction is short (two paragraphs), his background to the problems related to the university entrance examination is extensive, and is necessary to understand the implications of social exclusion when applied to the policies that surround the test. One of the weaknesses of the paper, however, is Wang’s extensive explanations of historical and economic-sociological concepts. Wang tends to focus more on applying previous literature to support his opinion, rather than creating and using verifiable data and individual case studies in order to show credence to a conclusion.

Two specific categories of literature are used to describe the problem of social exclusion in China regarding higher education. The first category of literature is related to social exclusion itself, a concept originated from Amartya Sen in his paper, “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny.” (Sen, 2000) In this way, Wang creates a correlation between poverty and education, specifically as Sen relates poverty through his capability theory by using variations of deprivations that people suffer under political and economic systems.

The other category of literature that Wang employs are economic/sociological statistical literature and political documents which outline state power over education and the dissemination of funds for use in education. In this way, Wang is uniquely advocating a participatory approach to his qualitative study. He utilizes few case studies (although his abstract says otherwise), although he does use political documents and statistics to back up his claims about how the structures of power in China are depriving students of the right to free higher education. His goal however, is to turn heads.

Wang primarily makes use of western scholars who are commenting on the concept of social exclusion (Devaney, Weber, Lenoir, Silver, Popay, Levitas, Rawls, Lindblad, Popkewitz, Vizard, Burchardt, Unterhalter, Robeyns, Saito, Jayaraj, and Subramanian), or western scholars commenting on the value of education (Rothschild, Mellor, Klasen, Healy, Slowey, Bradshaw, and Waters). He does use a few Chinese scholars who write about the college entrance examination (Zhang, Chen, Yuan, Yang, Yin, Liu, Xia, Bao, Chan, and Zhou) although the primary source of his information regarding national statistics is the NBSC (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2008).

When Sen’s capability theory was applied to the Chinese context, Wang noticed several issues which led to the writing of this study. Those issues derive from an aspect of capability theory which deals with societal deprivations. There are four main problems that Wang describes in his study. The first problem is that the system changed from a free system to a user-pay system, which contributes to what Sen calls constitutive deprivation. The second issue that Wang elaborates on is universities in different regions developing differently and altering their recruitment systems based on familial backgrounds of prospective students, which Wang places within Sen’s active deprivation. The third problem that Wang writes about is the disparity between urban and rural populations, which he fits into Sen’s passive deprivation; what Wang also calls “passive exclusion.” Lastly, Wang speaks about Sen’s instrumental deprivation in the Chinese HE system as schools alter their admission policies and discriminate students according to “migrant status,” or according to their “elite status.”

In conclusion, Wang stresses that HE institutional design, rather than enhancing capability, corrals students to specific states and actions. He states that evaluation for admission should not only be limited to “educational input” and “learning outcomes,” but should return to a merit-based system, and move away from what is now a privilege-based system. Wang offers few solutions outside of system-wide and joint state, market and civil efforts, but he does express that if we apply Sen’s capability theory to HE admission in China, we can view the entire issue through a different lens, focusing on the active and instrumental deprivation within the institutional design of the system itself.


Wang, L. (2011) Social exclusion and inequality in higher education in China: A capability perspective. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 277-286.

Sen, A. (2000) Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny. Social development Papers, Asia Development Bank, No. 1.

An Evaluation of Sofo’s East meets West; or never the twain shall meet

Sofo introduces to the reader to the problem of the “mystery . . . with Chinese ways of thinking.” Sofo claims this mystery stems from his understanding that traditionally, China does not have research available with useful frameworks or tools in which to analyze thinking styles. Thinking styles is Sofo’s strong-suit, as over the course of many years (2002-2005) Sofo has developed Thinking Style Inventories (TSI) which he uses to examine leadership preferences. Sofo claims that in order to begin to understand Chinese thinking styles, he must first start from a Western perspective and so apply both his TSI as well as several other scholars’ (who shall be discussed) TSI. His belief that Chinese leaders should think conditionally (just as the party thinks) spurred him into doing this research, with the idea that perhaps they were not so conditional after all.

Sofo’s theory is based on his concept of “reality construction” which states that “thinking is not an ability, but instead a preference to use various abilities in particular ways.” So, rather than perceiving thought as a skill one can build and train, thinking acts as a personality trait which can be either conscious or unconscious, but in either case, creates a framework or structure in which our minds form mental strategies that build our worldview and concept of ourselves in relation to others around us. By postulating that thinking is so fundamental, Sofo believes he can extract leadership thinking styles from Chinese business and education leaders by using various Thinking Style Inventories, or surveys which then rate these styles according to a quantitative scale, although the article did not state examples of the questions nor the structure of the Inventories.

Sofo listed two research questions in his study. The first question dealt with examining the thinking style profiles of Chinese leaders. Part of Sofo’s foundation is that while he is using Western models to do his study, Eastern models will eventually emerge, and through that discovery, he will be better able to construct a profile based on the unique regional differences. Sofo references Hofstede’s framework and the unique but ancient idea that people are nationally motivated; Sofo claims this is an old way of thinking but the only one available, and so he designs himself to discover better, more regional ways to express the thinking styles of Chinese leaders. His second question deals more in specifics, with comparing and contrasting educational leaders versus non-educational leaders, to see if they differ or are the same across the Thinking Style Inventory he personally designed in 2005.

Sofo believes strongly that Thinking Styles are far more useful in determining “academic variables, employment variables, and self-rated abilities” than intelligence tests, and so he begins this study without utilizing tests of skill or logic, but merely by trying to understand motivations and preferences in leadership. Sofo believes that by utilizing Hofstede’s cultural framework, Sternberg’s theory of self-government, and his personal TSI, he will be given key insight into the two research questions he proposed to find answers.

Sofo’s review of literature in his article is vast, far more detailed than can be mentioned in this tiny paper (a good 50% more content than the rest of the paper combined). However, it is worthy to note that in review, he uses the triarchic theory of mental self-government built by Sternberg (1997), Hofstede’s framework for understanding national differences (2001), and the TSI built by himself (Sofo 2004). Sofo’s theory was derived from the work of Boud and Miller (1996), Knowles (1990), Mezirow (1981), and Schon (1987). Sofo also mentioned 31 other researchers who worked over the course of almost 60 years on the construction of “cognition-centred [sic] thinking styles.”

As the process concludes, Sofo concludes and predicts, based on his results, that non-educational leaders in China scored themselves as very independent and exploratory, while educational leaders scored themselves much higher than non-educational leaders in conditional thinking. To Sofo this proves that educational leaders are more comfortable with being told what to do, while non-educational leaders feel a drive to question their society more. While his conclusions are fascinating, his cultural assumptions do create a bias which ends up influencing his results in a negative fashion.


Sofo, F. (2005) Thinking Styles of modern Chinese leaders: Independence and exploration in an historically conditional China. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 45(3), 304-330.