Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why China?

There is an old Chinese folktale about a student and the monk who taught his class. Every day, the monk ate so much food that he slept through the entire lesson. When one student asked why he slept every day, the monk replied that he was meeting with Buddha in his sleep.  
A short while later, the student’s father became ill. The student took care of his father every night and became very tired. One day, the student fell asleep in the monk’s class. This made the monk very angry and he woke the student and demanded an explanation. The student replied that he had met with Buddha in his sleep. Awestruck, the monk asked the student what Buddha had to say. The student replied that Buddha had said, “Never in my life have I seen your teacher.” 
While I admittedly know very little about Chinese culture, this story stood out to me as a great example of why I want to intern in China. The message of this story—that the lazy and deceitful will always be discovered while the hard working and honest will be rewarded—is a lesson that transcends cultures and applies to people all over the world.  
As a business major, the simple explanation for choosing to intern in China is that every pundit and their brother believes that China is the world’s next business leader. It would of course be naïve to enter the world of business without an understanding of Chinese culture. It would also be naïve to believe that the only aspect of Chinese culture that deserves understanding is the practice of business. Experiencing the religious differences as well as the political differences is just as important to me to become a well-rounded business leader. 
Most American values and beliefs are rooted in very Judeo-Christian teachings. This has led to some core societal belief such as “do not steal” or “give to those in need if you are able.” At the same time, it has led to some very staunch societal prejudices. China’s religious history is significantly different. Although the country is formerly atheist, the majority of the population practices ancestral worship or Buddhism. Having been raised in non-denomination Christian family, I am very well versed with the history and beliefs of various Christian faiths. That said, I know very little about either of these religious groups in China. I have to believe that these different belief systems drive a large part of Chinese history and psyche. Understanding them will help me understand a Chinese perspective on business. This understanding will also help me to have a more rounded view of life and the universe that I can incorporate into my own belief system. 
Democracy and freedom are also core beliefs in America. We tend to think that we are the freest country tasked with spreading liberty across all shining seas. Since 1949, China has ostensibly been under communist leadership, yet with a very capitalistic mindset. Historically prior to the communist takeover, the Chinese were always traders with global ties across the continents. This certainly gives Chinese business people a very different world view than we have in America. In terms of business this is certainly a helpful perspective to have when dealing with Chinese corporations. It is also a helpful perspective to have since it is the worldview shared by over one billion people. Understanding history and politics through the lens of one seventh of the globe’s population will help me be a more informed global citizen.  
I am hoping for epiphanies and discoveries every day of my time in China. Just like the student and the monk, I hope I do “see Buddha” while I’m abroad. My goal is to return from China wide awake with a new perspective on business, life, and the world.