Archive for February, 2011

Time Will Tell..History Will Be the Judge

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

St. Paul said that “All things work to the good.”  That has proven to be the case when one reviews events in Chinese history.  There have been several periods in Chinese history that were characterized by ruthless, brutal leaders who made life miserable for their subjects.  Yet in the long view of history, it turns out that some of their most totalitarian acts actually benefitted the country in the long run. 

One of the first examples would be Qin Shi Huang,”The First Emperor”  (Qin Dynasty– 200-100 BC).  He conquered six other warlords, which in effect unified China, and then he took control of the entire country.  However, Qin Shi Huang  was one of the most cruel kings in Chinese history. It is said that he executed his own biological father and then ordered his mother to commit suicide. 

In addition, Qin Shi Huang rounded up all the scholars in the country and eliminated them by burying them alive.  Then he burned all the books, and prohibited the teaching of any kind of philosophy. Somehow, despite Qin Shi Huang’s purge of the scholars, the teachings of  Confucius, the Daoists, and  Sun Tzu (The Art of War) survived.

During his reign,  as Qin Shi Huang traveled throughout the country, he observed that differences in dialect could cause misunderstandings and miscommunications.  He insisted on the use of only one dialect of the language throughout the country, so that his edicts would be unequivocally understood. 

The result of his language edict was to unify the country linguistically. The dialect that Qin imposed is the language used today throughout the land.  Had it not been for Qin Shi Huang, China would have remained a a hodgepodge of 38 different states. 

 

 

Another emperor, Yang Jian (541-604–Sui Dynasty) was notorious for  being one of the most corrupt,  ruthless and debauched emperors. Yang Jian was also known as Emperor Wen of Sui. Stories say that he had a kind of indoor swimming pool filled with wine in which beautiful naked women basked. The literature of  Emperor Yan Jian tells of  “3,000 beautiful women” in his palace.  That may be an exaggeration, but it is reasonable to assume there were at least 500 women!

One of the practices common to the emperors of these dynasties was the use of herbs to promote longevity. Often one  of the main ingredients was arsenic, which damaged the brain and nervous system, and was likely responsible for many of the irrational behaviors and excesses displayed by Yang Jian and others.

For example, Emperor Yang Jian insisted that he wanted to sail a boat on land, rather than on the sea. There was a belief in that time that the king had a “Dragon Mouth,”  which meant that  his authority was absolute, and whatever he demanded had to come to pass, and no one could change it or oppose it.  He told his prime minister to create a land-cruising boat.  The prime minister would be executed if he refused the order.  So the prime minister gathered all of the engineers to deal with the emperor’s order.

What they did was to connect all the rivers from north to south; in effect, creating a huge canal.  The result was a canal that traversed the country from north to south.  This canal became the main avenue of commerce for over a thousand years, continuing even to present time.

Once again, a seemingly irrational whim of a brutal emperor king served to unify and benefit the country as a whole.

Click to see an enlarged picture

And as we look at a figure of modern Chinese history, Dr. Sun Yat Sen comes to mind as a person whose ideas were not fully appreciated in his time, yet in hindsight one can see the value of his vision. By the time Sun Yat Sen had managed to finally overturn the Manchurian Kingdom, no one saw the benefit at the time because there was so much chaos and loss of life in the process.

 It wasn’t  until the dust settled and Sun Yat Sen brought forth a Constitution that the wisdom of his vision was confirmed. While the American Constitution has 3 branches, Sun Yat Sen’s Chinese Constitution has 5 branches.  Sun Yat Sen believed that capitalism could run into trouble if the natural resources of a county fell into corporate ownership. Such corporations would have too much power over the economy and therefore over the government itself.

 Therefore the Chinese  Constitution set forth government ownership of the minerals and natural resources of the country. Sun Yat Sen believed this would ensure a more balanced way to set up the economy. 

Even though the leaders of China today might not readily admit that they are the benefactors of the vision of SunYat Sen, it is clear that by the government having ownership of the natural resources, particularly in the case of energy resources, the economy is free of the price and supply manipulation that privately owned corporations can create. With the cost of energy remaining constant, the Chinese economy is not subject to the uncertainty of price variations in the cost of doing business.  As the Chinese economy continues to strengthen, I see the constitutional vision of Sun Yat Sen gradually coming more and more into reality.

In our time, as we look over the records of Mao Tse Tung, and Deng Xiao Ping, only time and history will be judge.

In my opinion, even though China is considered to be linguistically and economically unified, despite the efforts of communism to create a monolithic culture in China, there are many variations of what it means to be Chinese.

For those who really want to study the common basis of all the variations of Chinese culture, The Art of War by Sun Tzu would be a good start. 

A new, in-depth, easy-to-read translation of The Art of War is included in my book, The Art of War Applied to Wall Street.   http://www.artofwaronwallstreet.com/

Y.K. Wong, February 23, 2011.

The Influence of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Sun Tzu on China

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I do not see communism as a permanent way of life for the people of China.  China has a long, long history of philosophical thought that is far deeper in the Chinese psyche than communism.  The daily interactions of the Chinese people are steeped in concepts that have come down through generations.  These concepts have their origins in Confucianism, Daoism, Sun Tzu, and Buddhism.   Here is a quick summary of them, in chronological order:

Confucianism

The teachings of  Confucius have tended to be discredited as a result of the erroneous belief that he advocated the feudal system.  The information in my Art of War book should help clear up this misunderstanding.  It is true that  Confucius lived  in a feudal society, but that does not mean that he was advocating it.  The fact is that, had he openly criticized the society, his life would have been in danger. Instead, he offered some important guidelines for living more fully within that society.

Let’s examine some of his concepts.  He consistently taught that in a society, the citizens are the number one priority, the society as a whole is second, and the king is of lesser importance than the first two.  Quite obviously, Confucius was laying the groundwork for more democratic concepts. 

On the surface, Confucius seemed to be advocating stratification of classes in Chinese society, but actually he was acknowledging what was already there, and suggesting that it provided a structure of stability for the society.  However, he  emphasized mutual respect, rather than exploitation. For example, he taught that it is not honorable for a higher-ranking person to ask a lower-ranking person to do something that he is not willing to do himself.

Confucius taught that the good is  to be shared. If you are happy, and the rest of the world is not happy, then what is the good of the happiness?  If you are the only rich person, and everyone else is poor, then what is the good of the wealth? In other words, sharing is a virtue. In Confucius’s philosophy, the benevolence is done on a personal level, person-to-person, not by some government-imposed requirement.

Confucius taught principles such as the old should help the young; the young should help the old.  The elders should set a good example for the young.  The adults should look for ways to make a contribution to society.  These are all peaceful concepts intended to promote a sense of personal responsibility and a healthy society.

The Communists tried to discredit Confucius and use his principles as a scapegoat for problems in Chinese society, while they held themselves up as the answer to the problems. Nowadays, Confucius’s status has begun to be restored in China, as well as in foreign countries.

Daoism

The majority of “experts” miss the point regarding Daoism.  The main concept of Daosim is the inherent balance of Nature.  However, the interpretations have been taken too literally, and therefore too superficially.  For example, the key Daoist terms “empty” and” full” have rarely been understood correctly.

What has been termed “empty” is not devoid of content.  It is actually full of potential—that has not yet manifested. That is the essential nature of the Universe and of what we call Nature. A balance of natural forces.

To the Daoist, what does “natural” mean?  It means that which is completely free of rules, regulations, and manipulation outside of itself.   “Free as the wind;  “free as a bird.”  In a society adhering to Daoist teachings, there are natural balances of give and take, just as in nature. Nature has its own checks and balances.  Nothing in excess.

Misinterpretations of Daoism have occurred when the human mind has interpreted it as license to indulge in satisfying every whim without regard to consequences. Daoism has gotten somewhat of a bad name because those who really knew nothing of what it meant were living a libertine lifestyle  in the name of being “natural,” that was offensive to society in general. It was never meant to support the concept of a hippie lifestyle with no concern for the greater good of society.

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu’s teachings in The Art of  War contained elements of both Confucianism and of Daoism. If one reads closely,  Buddhistic elements also become evident (even though Buddhism had not yet arisen in Asia).  However, his emphasis was on principles of survival and of success, and these were his tools.

“Know youself.”  “Know your adversary.” ” Know the terrain”.  These were the foundations of Sun Tzu’s teachings. These aphorisms have so permeated the Chinese psyche that they are quoted daily today without people even knowing where they originated. The same is true for the principles of Confucius and of Daoism.  They are woven into the daily interactions and thought processes of today’s Chinese society.

Buddhism

Buddhism is historically the most recent philosophy to be adopted in China.  It was imported from India over 1500 years ago during the Tang Dynasty. It is similar to Confucianism, however the major difference is that Confucianism does not address  any life beyond the present one.  Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches that balance in linear, 3-dimensional reality is attained by connection to our common consciousness that is beyond space, time, and place.  

Buddhism teaches that “What you put out is what you get back.”   Or, “What goes around comes around.”  Buddhism therefore encourages people to think about the consequences of their thoughts and actions, and to choose thoughts and actions that put them on a higher path in life.  There is a wonderful story that demonstrates this:

A venerable old monk from the north traveled to the south where he met a butcher that he felt had a higher calling in life. The monk told the butcher that he wanted him to become a disciple.  The butcher said, “You want me to be a disciple?  Look at the blood on my hands!  I cannot be helped.” 

But the wise monk  smiled.  “Yes, when you put down your butcher knife, you can be saved; you can become a buddha.  Buddhism  is not about your physical activity, it is about your wisdom and where your mind and heart are focused.  If you perceive yourself as a murderer of animals, then your  are, indeed, a butcher.  However, if you see yourself as mercifully ending the animals’  lives to benefit others, then you are fulfilling a higher mission.”  This butcher ended up becoming the 6th-ranking Buddha in Chinese history.

 Buddhism offered an uncomplicated spiritual wisdom that all people could benefit from.

For further immersion in Chinese culture as it can impact your life today, read my book, The Art of War Applied to Wall Street.

http://www.artofwaronwallstreet.com/

 Y.K. Wong, 2011

What Can We Learn From the Situation in Egypt?

Friday, February 4th, 2011

As the media commentators spend endless hours analyzing the events in Egypt, their major focus has been on the desire of the Egyptian citizens for freedom.  To Americans, the concept of  “freedom” may be different from the “freedom” that is desired by the Egyptians.  Very often it is the simple desires of the human heart that bring about the tipping point.

For example, this week, an NPR interviewer spoke to  two different Egyptian men, and asked them why they were so disgusted with their lives under the Mubarak regime.  Both in their own way, said that they were without hope for the future.

The first man was employed full-time in a restaurant, and earns the equivalent of $3 per day.  He said that in Egypt, it is very important for a man to be married.  A married man has status and respect. However, to get married, an Egyptian man must have the funds in hand to purchase an apartment for his bride.  This man was denied marriage by the family of the woman he chose because he did not have the money.  He was only 31 years old, yet he stated that he would NEVER have the money, and in fact, he was convinced that he would never marry, and therefore his life was hopeless.

A second man had a university education and a much better job, yet he was in the same situation.  His proposed bride even offered to pay some of the money needed, but he declined, saying that he would be utterly humiliated.  Again, this man, at the age of 38 stated that he will never be able to marry. He also was despondent about his future. “Go to work, drink tea in the cafe, go to bed, go to work, that is all the life I have.” 

As these men explained, the cost and the availability of  housing is the critical issue. They said that because there has been no new construction in Cairo, and because of the housing shortage, prices are exorbinant.

THIS is the kind of freedom to live their lives — within the cultural mode they know—that has been denied to them during the Mubarak regime. 

Is it any wonder that the average Egypitan male, knowing that Mubarak is a friend of the US and has been receiving billions of US dollars while their lives stagnate feels angry at Mubarak, as well as the US?  American citizens need to pay close attention to where our money has been going and how it is being used.  The old system of “support the ’stable’ government”  is obviously broken.  

This is nothing new.  The unrest in so many African countries stems from the same problem. The citizens see the leaders living well and surrounding themselves with powerful armies and weapons, while their own standards of living are declining. 

This week Christiane Amanpour of ABC News, was confronted by an Egyptian protestor who saw that she was an American and shouted in her face, “I hate you!”  She seemed genuinely stunned.  She  just happened to be at the receiving end of the resentment of the hypocrisy that her country of freedom has been supporting a  regime that supresses the development of its own people. 

 It has been observed that in a stable, healthy society, the distribution of wealth is roughly:  5% of the population is wealthy, 90% middle-class, and 5% “poor.”  When the middle class shrinks, the society is more likely to become unstable.  The United States would be wise to reconsider if it is actually contributing to the instability of other countries when it gives financial aid to them.

Not only that, but the United States itself needs to take a look at the statistics of its own populace. American citizens need to take a good look at where the money is concentrated here in our own country.  There has been much talk about “taxing the rich.”  The image of “the rich” is generally some individual like Bill Gates who has been a successful entrepreneur.  Such simplistic thinking can lead to a dangerous class war.

  Individuals like Mr. Gates are not ”the rich” where the money is actually concentrated.  The money is actually concentrated in the investment corporations.  We have to be careful that we don’t slip into a mentality that degrades the successful and the entrepreneurial in this country.  That kind of “throwing out the baby with the bath water” is simplistic  thinking that leads to just the kind of social upheaval that we have been deploring in other countries.

We are all in the same ship.  Let’s solve the problems, not create them.

Sun Tzu said “Know yourselves; know the others you are dealing with.”

To learn more of the wisdom offered by Sun Tzu in his famous book, The Art of War, go to http://www.artofwaronwallstreet.com/