A novel way to learn good management

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-11 14:14
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A novel way to learn good management
From left to right are Grandmother Jia, Wang Xifeng and Ping'er, the three characters in the Chinese classical novel Dream of the Red Chamber. 

The novel Dream of the Red Chamber, written by Cao Xueqin during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is one of China's four great classical novels. A new dramatization of the book is currently being televised in China.

Since there are hundreds of people in the novel and the relationships between them are very complicated, Red Chamber is interpreted as a mirror reflecting a business made up of many different kinds of people.

Many see in it truths about how companies work that are still relevant today. Here, Pan Zhichang, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communications at Nanjing University, examines the lessons that can be learned from three of the diverse characters.

Grandmother Jia the happy chief executive officer (CEO)

Role: the lady Dowager in Jia Manor, grandmother of Jia Baoyu.

Character: human-based management skills. Kind, knows how to enjoy life.

Modern equivalent: chairman/CEO.

Motto: "I have my own ideas and don't need you worrying."

Reason for success: talent in putting everyone to the best use and finding the right balance between work and play.

Grandmother Jia is a very good CEO. She is also called the Matriarch or the Dowager, the daughter of Marquis Shi of Jinling. She is the highest living authority in Jia Manor, otherwise known as the Rongguo house, and the oldest and most respected of the entire clan, yet is also a doting person.

Usually, the CEO is of utmost importance in a company. A CEO should not only know where the whole system is heading, but also recognize who can help it proceed. Grandmother Jia knows her subordinates well enough to assign them jobs commensurate with their abilities, meaning that all the capable individuals have the right roles.

Take Yuan Yang, the eldest servant girl of Grandmother Jia, for example. There are three steps to show Grandmother Jia's management talent.

First, noticing the young Yuan Yang is very bright, Grandmother Jia takes her under her wing and provides her with good opportunities.

Second, Grandmother Jia trusts Yuan Yang so much that no matter what she does, Jia supports her.

Last but not least, Jia does well in helping Yuan Yang. At one point Jia She, the eldest son of Grandmother Jia, decides he wants to take Yuan Yang as his concubine. The young woman refuses but since she is only a servant girl it would appear she has little say in the matter. However, that is reckoning without Grandmother Jia who forbids the relationship.

The matriarch supports the activities of the Poetry Society run by Li Wan, which adds zest to the life of Jia Manor. By extrapolation this could be called the culture of a company.

Usually the CEO of a company is very hardworking but this isn't Grandmother Jia's style. She knows how to put the right person in the right place, which enables her to relax and drive the company forward.

Wang Xifeng


Role: niece of Lady Wang, and wife of Jia Lian.

Character: goody two-shoes. Adept at scheming, good at power-playing.

Modern equivalent: public relations/marketing.

Motto: "Nothing is impossible."

Reason for failure: offends people everywhere and lacks wisdom.

An extremely handsome woman, Wang Xifeng is capable, clever, amusing and, at times, vicious and cruel. Undeniably the most worldly of the women in the novel, Wang is in charge of the daily running of the Rongguo household and wields remarkable economic as well as political power within the family.

Being a favorite of Grandmother Jia, she keeps both Grandmother Jia and Lady Wang entertained with her constant jokes and amusing chatter, playing the role of the perfect filial daughter-in-law, and by pleasing Grandmother Jia, ruling the entire household with an iron fist.

One of the most remarkable multi-faceted personalities in the novel, Wang Xifeng can be kind-hearted toward the poor and helpless. On the other hand, she can be cruel enough to kill. Her feisty personality, her loud laugh, and her great beauty contrast with many of the frail, weak-willed beauties of the literature of 18th-century China.

From her perspective, there are three types of people. The first kind is Grandmother Jia, who is representative of absolute power in the manor. The second kind are those at the same level as her. The third are the servants. She treats each tier with a different attitude, deferring to Grandmother Jia while failing to regard others as her equal.

This is a very big taboo in the office. Although it is very important to have a good relationship with one's leader, it is more important to get on well with colleagues. It is colleagues who support an individual to do what he or she wants.

Office workers should take heed - be good to colleagues and never be too confident about oneself. No matter what happens, they should act as they would like to be treated by others. Only in this way can they get along with others and be a good team leader.


the human resources manager

Role: Wang Xifeng's servant girl and concubine of Jia Lian.

Character: competent, kind-hearted. Always trying to smooth things over.

Modern equivalent: human resources manager/director of executive office.

Motto: "It is best for a company to smooth problems over without letting others know."

Reason for success: peacemaker.

Wang Xifeng's chief maid and personal confidante; also concubine to Wang's husband, Jia Lian. The consensus among the novel's characters seem to be that Ping'er is beautiful enough to rival the mistresses in the house. Originally Wang Xifeng's maid in the Wang house, she follows as part of the "dowry" when Wang Xifeng marries into the Jia household. She handles her troubles with grace, assists Wang capably and appears to have the respect of most of the household servants. She is also one of the very few people who can get close to Wang Xifeng. She wields considerable power in the house as Wang's most trusted assistant, but uses her power sparingly and justly.

In the office, the most important thing is to get on well with colleagues. There are usually numerous relationship networks inside the bureaucracy, which can be hard to handle. For Ping'er, all the ladies are her leaders and all the servants are her subordinates, which makes the relationship network complex. Meanwhile, being the assistant of Wang Xifeng, Ping'er has to cover up all kinds of mistakes her mistress makes.

For example, take an incident that occurred between Qin Keqing, wife of Jia Rong, and Wang Xifeng. One day, Qin came to visit Wang. They talked over food and drink very convivially. But in the end Wang forgot to send Qin gifts, which was a very big mistake in Chinese traditional custom. It was Ping'er who took lots of gifts from the backyard and sent them to Qin pretending they were from Wang. To some extent, she is a lubricant for the whole system.

Ping'er is not a star of the story but without her, Jia Manor would be in danger of collapsing. That's why she is the trusted partner of the bad-tempered Wang and would make a splendid human resources manager or director of the executive office.

Translated from Wenhui Book Review