And Finally

Business sage?

UK captains of industry learn from Confucius

Now teaching in London...

In his Analects, Confucius relegated business people to the very bottom of his social order, below artisans, farmers and scholars. As he put it: “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”

So it’s a sign of the times to see China’s Confucius Institutes set up business schools specifically targeting that once-derided social caste.

State-supported Confucius Institutes date back to 2004, when they were established on foreign shores as a means of spreading Chinese language and culture.

Never mind that for the first few decades of Communist Party rule Confucius had been scorned as a symbol of feudal oppression. Today he’s very much back as a cultural ambassador. There are now nearly 700 Confucius Institutes and Classrooms, set up in partnership with Chinese and foreign universities.

And while an MBA is still some way off, there is a Confucius Institute for Business. It’s on the campus of the London School of Economics, and has been set up in conjunction with Tsinghua University.

The idea behind the programme is that to really get to know China – it’s language, culture and customs – it takes more than an occasional visit to the country. Its sponsors include HSBC, the Swire Group and BP, which all have significant Chinese operations and a senior management cadre with a need for language tuition.

Among the early students: HSBC’s former chairman, Stephen Green. HSBC has also opened a Confucius Institute for Business Classroom at its Canary Wharf headquarters. Groups of senior bank staff are taught in small classes up to twice a week. “They are very concerned about China’s development,” Huang Guoying, a teacher sent by Tsinghua, told the 21CN Business Herald. “The Confucius Institute is actually a cultural centre that [also] provides a platform for teaching the language skills needed to communicate in a business setting.”

But the services on offer go beyond language instruction, with prospective students given the chance to hear from Huang on China’s “12th Five Year Plan proposal” (one of those courses you probably appreciate more once it has been completed). But at least students come away with more of an understanding of the current vision for the economy.

The push is also on to embed Institutes in a series of new locations around the world, with new outposts opening up in Cairo, Ecuador and Atlanta in the last few months. But the major challenge is finding qualified staff to work in them.

“The best situation would be to have teachers who can stay three to five years in one place,” says Huang, “but that’s difficult to achieve right now… Lack of quality teachers is not our only problem, but it is one that faces all the Confucius Institutes.”


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