Let our actions be the guardians of our dreams

28 May 2010

The glue that holds China together

Last week, I had the opportunity of spending almost 2 hours talking to Will Zhang, Bill Li and Helen Chen, from the Society for Organizational Learning (, in Beijing. SoL is a nonprofit devoted to the development of people and organizations aimed for meaningful results, founded by accomplished management writer Peter Senge (

The conversation was quite profound and sheltered a variety of topics, from Chinese history to Taoist philosophy, deepening on the Chinese way of thinking and its impact on the business practices.

Talking about China’s context, Will said China is a very unique civilization, the only virtually uninterrupted for over 4000 years. In order to remain strong, united and alive for so long, he reckons this country must have had a very strong "glue", which delineated a clear identity and fostered people’s aspiration to belong. For him, this glue is expressed specially by spiritual beliefs (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and other forms), which helped forming China’s social hierarchical structures, stimulated nature’s contemplation, inspired the arts, encouraged discipline, and created a sense of meaning.

According to him, it was the loss of this "glue" that determined the relative decline of China for nearly a thousand years, between the end of the first millennium and the 1980s. This decay can be spotted in individualism, poverty, overshadowed international presence, lack of thriving community laces, and, more recently, in the exaggerated focus on economic growth by copying others’ products.

Luckily, Will thinks the last 20-30 years are pointing to a behavioral change. People are seeking to nurture their spirituality again and are asking the “whys” – why we work long hours, why we want to produce more, why our fellow rural citizens are still in poverty. Government is also doing its part by encouraging innovation and companies are concerned about the impacts of their operations on the planet.

Well, if we are to endure as a global society, there’s no way one of the largest economies, population and polluters of the world could be left out. But the good news is change seems to be coming from inside out.

I believe our way to viable future world passes through putting ourselves in other people’s feet and reforming our institutions to go way beyond short term results. What we really want is a healthy environment, individual development opportunities and thriving community relations – so let’s make those our key success indicators.

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