Chinese Organizational Culture Essay

Table of Content

Legalism (法家,Fajia)first developed during the Warring State period (战国时代,475 – 221 BC), it was the State’s ideology during the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC), and then was officially vilified by the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AC).

Han Fei (韩非, or Han Feizi 韩非子, 280 – 233 BC) can be considered the founder of Legalism, even if originally there was not only one movement of philosophy recognized as Legalism, but many different philosophers, and Han Fei collected all their works in what we today call Legalism.

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Because Legalism was developed during a period of political uncertainty and of war, its only goal was to teach the ruler how to survive and prosper in a highly competitive world through different measures of administrative reforms (Hwang, 2008), and for this reason its contents were in direct oppositions to Confucianism.


According to Han Fei, three elements are necessary for an effective leadership: Shi (勢), the legitimacy of the ruler to exercise power, Shu (術), the method or tactic of controlling, and Fa (法), the law or regulatory policies (Ma and Tsui, 2015). Then, Hanfei believed that firstly a ruler has to occupy the position of ruler with substantial power (shi), and only after this he will be able to use law (fa) and management techniques (shu) to manipulate his subordinates (Hwang, 2013). Control was the aim of Legalism, so it rejected the moral standards of Confucianism and the religious sanctions of Buddhism preferring a system based on rules and severe punishments to maintain power (Ames, 1983).

About human nature, legalists thought that the overwhelming majority of human beings are selfish and covetous, and that this situation cannot be changed through education, so the ruler can take advantage from the selfishness of his subordinates.

Shang Yang (商鞅,390 – 338 BC) believed that a combination of positive and negative incentive was necessary for the success of a nation, and the entire socio-political system advocated by him can be seen as the realization of this recommendation (Pines, 2016). Because of people’s selfishness, social order is always endangered, so the ruler should resolutely rein through the law (fa). However, Shang Yang also believed that people are assets, and so he frequently spoke about “caring for the people” (爱民,aimin), and “benefiting the people” (利民,limin). This authoritarian view is highly related to paternalistic leadership, which is embedded within Legalism.

Another important aspect connected with Legalism is the meritocracy, because during the Spring and Autumn period, members from the lower nobility began advancing up the ladder of officialdom. In this period, the new meritocratic discourse of “elevating the worthy” (shang xian, 尚贤) proliferated (Pines, 2013). A notion of “recognition” of one’s worth was the most common method for recruitment (Henry, 1987): the worth of an employee was recognized after a recommendation to the ruler, and an interview, so to achieve a higher position.

Modern Implications

Legalistic Organization

Businesses that are influenced by legalistic ideas will face situations in which the leader will consider contributions to the accomplishment of organizational goals, rather than blood relationships or group memberships (as Confucianism), to allocate rewards and punishments to employees (Hwang, 2008). In addition, the basis of power is position (wei, 位), which is considered as a requisite to power, but it is not sufficient to maintain it, because talent and capability are necessary to achieve organizational goals, and assigning capable people to key positions (Vaszkun, 2018).

Individualism and Collectivism

Legalism can be seen as a combination of individualism and collectivism, because it stresses the selfishness of people (individualism), but it requires the priority for organizational and national goals, rather than to family (collectivism).

Buddhism Historical background


Buddhism is a religion and a philosophy developed from the teachings of Buddha in India between the mid-6th and mid-4th centuries BC, and from there, it spread to Southend Asia and to China. Buddhism in China was introduced during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), and probably had already entered in China gradually, through Central Asia and by way of the trade routes around and through Southeast Asia. The golden era of Buddhism was during the Sui (隋朝, 581-618) and the Tang dynasty (唐朝,618-907), because they recognized the fact that Buddhist ideas can be used to ensure social stability, unity, and peace. For this reason, during these two dynasties, emperors give innumerable donations and procurements to Buddhist temples, but at the same time, the government extended its control over the monasteries to avoid subversive tendencies among the Buddhist community (Wright, 1971). Therefore, there was a great development of Buddhist texts and teachings, and the number of monasteries increased. However, in 845, the emperor Wozong (武宗) began a major persecution, and Buddhism was never able to recover completely from it.

Chinese Buddhism

About Buddhism (佛家, Fojia) in China, it is necessary to speak about “Chinese Buddhism” (which sometimes can be related with密宗, Mizong, Esoteric Buddhism), because it was adapted to Chinese culture and it incorporates various elements of traditional Daoism, and, even in the translation of the books, words were adjusted for the Chinese audience (Wright, 1971). Until the end of the Han dynasty, there was a virtual symbiosis between Daoism and Buddhism, and both Laozi and Buddha were prayed on the same altar. Like Daoism and Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism has as cardinal values goodness, humanity and manhood, which are referred as the qualities of Buddha, who was the “progenitor of the virtue”. Moreover, Chinese Buddhists believe in the doctrine of karmic rebirth as the transmigration of the soul, and in the Nirvana as a return to a pure origin, achievable discarding the defiled (S. Cua, 2003).

Two particular elements of Buddhism affected China profoundly: firstly, opposing a universal ethic to the long-prevailing familism of Confucianism, and secondly, the idea of the spiritual debt and the expiatory gift, to reduce the burden of evil karma from past lives and to expiate recent acts. This last one element strongly influenced Chinese behaviour, because for the first time in China, there was a growth in charitable works.

Modern Implications

Buddhist Economics

Brodbeck (2007) pointed out that the starting point of a Buddhist economy is every individual’s freedom to recognize what is true for enhancing life and to change its behaviour accordingly. Buddhists believe that the function of work should be threefold: 1) to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties, 2) reaching a common task with other people to overcome his ego-centeredness, and 3) to produce goods and services for a becoming existence. Buddhist economics (Schumacher, 1996) tries to achieve the maximum well-being with the minimum of consumption, which seems to be an optimal pattern of consumption since resources in our world are limited. Moreover, from the Buddhist economics point of view, the most rational way of economic life is the local production of what is needed locally, which can be translated in avoiding import from foreign countries, because it is considered unnecessary and justifiable only in exceptional cases and on a small scale.

Buddhist Teachings in Modern Business

Different concepts of Buddhism influence modern organizational management, such as moderation, that is related with the idea of producing a more consistent and moderate behaviour in managerial thinking and decision-making; or the “no-self”, which tends to have a collectivistic orientation and supports a stronger focus on team building and interpersonal relationships. Therefore, synergy is fundamental, because team performance is considered having greater impact than individual performance, and the ability to build teamwork among organizational members (Weerasinghe et al., 2014). Moreover, personal development is a fundamental aspect of Buddhism, so a leader must think to his own personal development, but also to the development of other employees.


Comparing the philosophical and religious outcome of Italy and China that influenced organizational culture, we can say that they are very different.

In Italy, the religion that mostly affected Italian culture was Christianity, in the specific Catholicism. Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the teachings and death of Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Christ or Messiah) in the 1st century BC during the Roman Empire. Christians mostly believe in a plan of salvation and redemption, and in the existence on the Heaven. All over the world, different branches of Christiana exist, because of several schisms that have occurred in these two thousands years.

In Italy, the most common religion is the Roman Catholicism, and it is also one of the three major branches of Christianity. Roman Catholics believe in a special authority of the Pope, in the ability of Saints to intercede on behalf of believers, and in the doctrine of transubstation, which means that the bread used during the Eucharist becomes the true body of Christ when blessed by a priest. The Catholic Roman Church has its centre in Vatican City, located in the heart of Rome, and it highly influenced both Italian politics and business. For example, the law that permits the divorce was accepted only in 1974, this because of the strong influence of Catholic Church in Italy (Glover and Gibson, 2017).

An interesting fact about Italy is the influence of children’s books on Italian culture, as lesson learnt during their youth. A classic example is Pinocchio by the Italian writer Carlo Colloid written in 1883 (Hopper, 2015). This book focuses on human natures vices and virtues of kind-heartless, intelligence, mendaciousness and trust.


The analysis done with this paper underlines many interesting aspects about Chinese organizational and business behaviour. First, the importance of Confucianism, even after two thousand years is indisputable, because it is an integral part of the modern Chinese culture, and so it highly affects the behaviour of Chinese people at work. Secondly, also Legalism and Buddhism, even if less known from many Western people, have an impact on how Chinese people relate with one another, and how a Chinese enterprise can conduct its business.

About Legalism I believe that the importance of meritocracy is fundamental to improve our world; giving power and responsibility to people, who have the necessary abilities is the best way to let our enterprise succeed, and right rewards based on merit can help in improving everyone’s performance. On the other hand, punishments cannot be applied as it was thought during Hanfei’s period.

I also believe that Buddhism economics is an interesting perspective, which is opposite to the actual view of western economics (homo economicus), and can help us in this moment full of environmental issues. Because resources are scarce, and we are consuming more than our world can produce, it is necessary to change our habits, and Buddhism economics can be a sustainable solution. Maximizing the well-being trying to minimize the consumption is totally out of our actual way of thinking, and it can be applied only changing mentality.

I strongly believe that the knowledge of history is fundamental to understand a country and its population; but in the case of China, it is not enough; this because the territory of China is so vast, that between all the Chinese provinces, both culturally and historically, the differences are enormous. Therefore, I believe that the comprehension of Chinese organizational behaviour is very hard, and this paper can help to understand only one aspect of this phenomenon. Philosophy and religion are basic aspects of culture, and can give a general overview of what happens in Chinese enterprises.

Italy and China have very different history and culture, so it is very difficult to compare them. Organizational culture is an important aspect of working together in the same enterprise or team, and having different backgrounds can result in being particularly hard. In this case, it is necessary to open our mind and accept the other without any prejudice, and try to learn as much as possible to work together in harmony. I think that a further analysis of the differences and similarities between China and Italy is necessary to improve our relationships in terms of job, so to make possible further collaborations between these two countries.

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