Commentary / Japan

China and the Japanese sage

by Cao Xiuyun

Contributing writer

Last in a series

In China, demand for Kazuo Inamori’s philosophy keeps on growing. More than 4.2 million copies of Inamori’s 2007 book “The Way to Live” have been published in this country. Almost all of other books written by him have been translated into Chinese editions, with their total number of printed copies topping 10 million. China Central Television has aired special programs featuring Inamori a total of seven times since 2008.

No other foreign business entrepreneurs have ever exerted such broad and sustained influence in China as Inamori. During the Tang Dynasty period, Jianzhen (Ganjin) traveled east by sea and brought Chinese culture to Japan. In our time, Inamori has flown west to teach his philosophy in China.

There are two factors that explain why Inamori’s philosophy is so widely accepted in China. One lies in the philosophy itself. What constitutes the core of philosophy is the answer to the question, “What is right for a human being?” The simple and sound principles such as “Be honest as a human being” and “Don’t tell a lie” are universal ideas that are acceptable to everybody and not susceptible to change with the passage of time.

That holds true for corporate management as well. Inamori says his purpose of starting a business is to “pursue mental and material happiness of all employees and at the same time contribute to progress and development of humankind and society.” Under this concept, both employers and employees are the main players of the company. They all love it and gladly work for its development, and rack their brains together to get the job done. This way they can provide low-cost and high-quality products or services to customers. Consequently, the company offers more dividends to shareholders and pays more taxes, thus making great contributions to society.

With this universal — simple but unshakable — management philosophy, Inamori launched Kyocera Corp. and KDDI from scratch and developed them into companies with combined annual sales of nearly ¥7 trillion today. He also became chairman of the failed Japan Airlines — which was even feared to be at risk of a secondary collapse when he took over — and turned it around into a leading profitable firm in the industry in just a year.

Those overwhelming achievements led many entrepreneurs in China to pay attention to him. In short, the universal nature of Inamori’s philosophy and his huge accomplishments attracted businessmen and knowledgeable people in various fields in China — whose ranks continue to increase today.

The other factor lies in China and Chinese entrepreneurs themselves. China’s policy of reform and opening up introduced a market economy and competition mechanism, which led to spectacular development of the economy. It also stimulated Chinese people’s passion for wealth, prompting large numbers of them to launch their own business. Many of the entrepreneurs attained success — aided by the competitive advantage of a good-quality, low-cost labor force — to win enormous wealth.

At the same time, many of these “successful” people lowered their morality and became arrogant. They colluded with government officials to gain more money, and some engaged in unethical, anti-social behavior such as marketing harmful products.

Just around that time, the collapse of Enron and Worldcom in the United States exposed the serious crisis of modern capitalism, in which maximizing shareholder interests was pursued at the mercy of ballooning greed. That led many in China to rethink their belief in American-style capitalism and explore a way out of the confusion in a traditional Chinese way of thinking. They believed that thought and culture nurtured throughout China’s history spanning several thousand years are a precious treasure that will give Chinese entrepreneurs a spiritual training and upgrade their character.

However, Chinese traditional culture — the product of an autarkic economy of the past, whose smallest unit was families, and of feudal, despotic government — was no longer adaptable to the organization and management of modern-day businesses. Also, for people not adequately educated, text written in classical Chinese was extremely difficult to comprehend.

In short, it was not necessarily realistic to change the behavior of company employees through traditional Chinese thought, or manage companies and govern society with the teachings of “Analects” by Confucious.

Then Inamori took the stage. Many entrepreneurs, as they struggled in their search for the right ways of business management, read his books and listened to his lectures, and realized this was what they were looking for in running their own business. They found that Inamori’s philosophy gave them a hint for living an ideal life — and actually changed their own business management and life. For them, it was such a dramatic change that some entrepreneurs and scholars even divide their life into the pre-Inamori and post-Inamori stages.

The influence of Inamori philosophy going forward will not be limited to Japan and China. It has the potential to offer a solution to challenges confronting all of humankind.

Today, science and technology have made limitless development, and the technology that humankind has obtained may already be close to divine levels. At the same time, the technological development is beginning to exceed the realm of human control. Capitalism is infested by the expansion of egoism, which is beset by the idea that it’s all right if you can make your own gains, and greedy capitalists are monopolizing huge wealth by any means, expanding the gap between rich and poor.

For the happiness and sustained development of humankind, efforts are needed now to restrain one’s own desires to the benefit of others. It is Inamori’s altruistic philosophy that can pull humankind out of the current confusion.

Although Inamori’s philosophy originated in Japan, it took root in China and is more widely supported there than in Japan. We must further spread the philosophy globally through China’s economic development. Propagating anew the profound meaning of his philosophy to people all over the world will certainly serve as a breakthrough for the world of confusion today.

Cao Xiuyun is chairman of Inamori Kazuo (Beijing) Management Consultants Ltd.

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