Monday, November 16, 2009

Confucius Redux: Obama in China

Obama’s travels in China are a good time to take in some Chinese history and culture.

When the Communists took over China and established the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, an early goal was to increase literacy. To that end, Chinese linguists introduced "simplified characters," which reduced the number of strokes needed to memorize more complex traditional characters. Despite this massive national undertaking, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, which provided the ramp on which Obama descended from Air Force One, still uses the traditional form of the character for country, guo, rather than the simplified form. (Canton-based China Southern Airlines uses the simplified form.)

China has established hundreds of Confucian institutes around the world to teach traditional Chinese ideals. Confucian ideals are set forth in his "sayings," the Analects. One of my favorites is "Rarely do I meet a man who studies for three years without thinking of a post in government." In traditional China, a post in government conferred status and a relatively large income.

In the U.S. we have a different variant. "Rarely do I meet a man or woman who works in government for three years without thinking of lucrative consulting, speaking, and writing opportunities afterwards."

Finally, we should learn from China, which has managed its economy extremely well in the midst of the global financial crisis. Every business school and economics department in U.S. universities should have visiting professorships for Chinese planners and scholars who can teach Americans about China’s success.

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