Five Confucian values for success

Updated: 2013-10-18 11:21

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily USA)

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Five Confucian values for success

When director of China Business Development at Siemens Yukong Zhao was looking into purchasing investment properties in 2009, he met some Americans who had lost their homes. As he spoke with them, he realized that they had never prioritized saving money, a financial principal that was for him entirely instinctive. He began thinking about what he calls "Confucian values," and how they had shaped his attitudes toward money and life.

In The Chinese Secrets for Success: Five Inspiring Confucian Values, Zhao presents an outline of those tenets for American and Chinese audiences, he told China Daily.

"I wrote this book for the many Americans who, like me, believe in 'American Exceptionalism', but also recognize that their lives can be further improved by learning from the strengths of other cultures," he writes in the book's introduction. "More specifically as a Chinese American, I wrote it to offer inspiration and proven solutions drawn from my cultural heritage to Americans seeking ways to deal with the tough challenges in their lives: impact of the financial crisis, rising global competition, decline of American education and lack of financial security."

Zhao, who grew up in Yunnan province and emigrated to the US in 1992, said that financial stability is at the core of the Asian American community's current status as "the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the US", according to the Pew Research Center.

Sixty percent of Americans don't have savings above $25,000 to support themselves or their families in retirement, he said. While Chinese have long looked to the West for inspiration, and most immigrants to the US embrace various Western values including equal rights and independent thought, their continued adherence to Eastern values have contributed to their relative success, he said.

"We still have a lot to learn from American creativity, social development, and independence," he said. "On the other hand, a lot of Asian values have the potential to positively influence American culture."

According to Zhao, the five tenets of Confucian values are: Money management, developing desirable relationships, maintaining familial harmony, pursuing an education and determination for an outstanding life.

Li zhi, the latter tenet, is translated informally to mean having ambitious dreams and goals. He views a lack of motivation and drive to be at the core of why US teenagers have fallen so far behind on the OECD Global Education Assesment Report. In 2009, American 15-year-olds placed 25th out of 34 countries; In reading, they scored 14th out of 34. He also said that 1 million students drop out of high school in the US each year, according to NPR News.

Younger generations in China are also being affected by what Zhao believes to be the problems of modernization. A focus on materialism and pop culture has in some cases replaced the drive for a better education and stable family dynamics, an erosion of cultures that seems to be happening everywhere, he said. But Chinese Americans remain relatively successful in the areas of education and financial stability, he noted.

"It's the combination of positive values drawn from Confucianism and Western culture that make many Chinese/Asian Americans successful in their pursuit of the American Dream," he writes.

"I think that Asian Americans aren't aggressive enough in telling society about our achievements and our way of doing things," he said. "I want to remind Chinese people that our heritage is worth preserving, and I think Americans could gain from being a little more open to other cultural values. In a way, that also means returning to true American values, like an ethic of hard work and family."

(China Daily USA 10/18/2013 page11)