Into-Tony Barrett LO22874

Tony Barrett (
Wed, 13 Oct 1999 22:21:29 -0700

Dear LOers:

I've been off this list for the last year. I recently returned from a
10-month stint in China in which my wife and I worked for an US-based
study abroad program starting up a new program in Chengdu. The program
mainly drew students from the US to study Chinese language, along with
Philosophy, History, and Culture. My wife served as the program director
and taught Chinese History; whereas I taught a Survey of Chinese
Philosophy and a course I developed entitled: Cultural Foundations for
Business in Asia. This overseas sojourn proved to be a challenging hiatus
from my Ph.D. studies at the University of Idaho.

Living abroad, as compared to merely traveling, in a developing nation,
reveals the contents of one's heart like no experience I know of. Over the
10-months I was reading LO/OL material for my dissertation and pondering:
Are approaches LO/OL culture bound to West? And if not how would take
shape here in China. I had the opportunity lecture to several hundred
Chinese at the US Consulate in town.; however, I was dubious if my
explanation of Learning Organizations was grasped. Two or three members
of the audience had heard of Learning Organization and _The Fifth
Discipline_ has been translated into Mandarin.

Let me preface what I say about China in light what former ambassador to
China Winston Lord was fond of saying, "a China expert is an oxymoron."
Especially, if one has been only watching China for 10 months. Whatever I
say should taken with a heavy dose of salt.

Perhaps the most profound difference between learning in China and the US
is seen in school. I was in and out several University classroom
buildings day in day out and classroom after classroom was filled with
quite, passive students. The 'teachers' read aloud while the students
listened. Another way to describe this contrast in education is
content-centered as opposed to student-centered. The Chinese educational
system does well (some would suggest much better than schools in the US)
with math and lower level science, but Chinese schools rarely produce
creative, independent thinkers. The roots of the Chinese educational
modal are deeply rooted in Confucian soil. A teacher is one you always
respect and never question. A Socratic approach is quite different to a
Confucian approach.

This hierarchical structure is replicated in other Chinese social settings
such family, work units, party meetings. Capitulation to those older or of
a higher social rank is the expected behavioral norm. On the TV news,
rows and rows of Chinese are shown seating at meeting, listening to a
leader. The modal of command and control is evident from the top of the
central government right down to local government and businesses. I got
know a fellow that ran the International School in Chengdu for children.
His company has also been doing some management development training in
local companies. However, he has yet work with an all Chinese firm, only
joint ventures. The reason Chinese managers were not interested was they
didn't see the need. In order words, management is management because
they have the answers. I would think there are exceptions to this trend;
I just never came across them.

Before I close this post, I want suggest some of the more readable books
on modern China for those inclined to visit or learn about the Middle

Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. New York: Doubleday 1991
Gao, Ge and Ting-Toomey, Stella. Communicating Effectively with the Chinese.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications 1998
Kristof, Nicholas D. and Wudunn, Sheryl. China Wakes. New York: Vintage
Books 1994.
Lieberthal, Kenneth. Governing China: From Revolution to Reform. New York:
W.W. Norton & Co. 1995
James L. Tyson & Ann Scott Tyson. Chinese Awakenings: Life Stories from the
Unofficial China . Westview Press 1995.
Van Kemenade, Willem, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Inc. : The Dynamics of a New
Empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1997.


Tony Barrett


"Tony Barrett" <>

[Host's Note: Welcome back, Tony, and thanks for your reflections.

In association with, these links to the books Tony has mentioned:

Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

Communicating Effectively With the Chinese (Communicating Effectively in Multicultural Contexts, 5) by Ge Gao, Stella Ting-Toomey

China Wakes : The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power by Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl Wudunn

Governing China : From Revolution Through Reform by Kenneth Lieberthal

Chinese Awakenings : Life Stories from the Unofficial China by James L., Jr. Tyson (Preface), Ann Scott Tyson (Preface)

China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Inc. by Willem Van Kemenade, Diane Webb (Translator), Willem Van Kemenade


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