Thursday, April 5, 2007

MIANZI (Me-enn-jee) – The Importance of “Face” in China!

If You Want to Survive & Thrive in China
You Must Have “Face!”

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

Until the last few decades of the 20th century it was difficult or impossible for ordinary Chinese to develop a strong sense of self-esteem or pride because the culture in which they lived denied them the right to think and act independently and prevented them from being able to demonstrate their own individual worth, including taking credit for personal accomplishments.

Failure to abide by these ancient taboos—many of which had been codified as law by the imperial dynasties and continued by the Communist regime—was regarded as immoral and unethical by traditional standards, and could have series consequences.

However, there were two key ways in China that individuals could stand out quietly and unobtrusively, and one of the most important of these was for them to develop skill in an art or craft or another endeavor to an extraordinary degree—and that is exactly what many Chinese did over the generations.

One other way that the Chinese were able to feel good about themselves without breaking any taboos was to have mianzi (me-enn-jee) or “face”—meaning to have unblemished reputations for living up to all of the cultural expectations that had built up over the centuries, and most importantly, not to allow anyone to damage their face or themselves damage anyone else's face unless they were prepared to take the consequences, since such behavior called for a reciprocal action of some kind.

In fact, having “face” was generally more important than having some kind of special expertise, since economic and social survival in traditional China depended upon not having any serious blemishes on one’s reputation that would prevent you from making and keeping the kind of “social connections” that were essential for survival in an authoritarian society.

Today, for the first time in their history, private Chinese are mostly free to pursue individual goals, to take pride in their accomplishments, and to otherwise act as individuals. But the importance of social connections and “face” have hardly diminished. Both concepts are so deeply embedded in the culture that they continue to play leading roles in the everyday lives of the people.

You still have to protect your "face" and develop an extensive network of personal connections with local and regional government officials and with your suppliers to be successful in business, and without similar social connections your personal life as well is not likely to go smoothly.

This need for mianzi and connections is one of the first things that foreigners wanting to succeed in China must learn, and once the lesson is taken to heart they must thereafter spend a substantial amount of time and expense in maintaining their face and their connections.

The Chinese concept of "face" is very personal, and covers any act, comment, tone of voice or even facial expression that indicates criticism or disapproval, especially when any of these things occur in front of other people. Because of this extrordinary sensitivity, managers and others in positions of authority should be cautious about criticizing or disciplining employees (and others) in public.

There are a variety of things involved in developing and maintaining face and connections in China, many of which are familiar to most people—eating and drinking together, giving gifts, doing favors, not criticizing people to their face, and so on. But these things must be done according to the cultural protocol that applies, or such efforts may backfire.

It is fairly common for Chinese in all social categories to take personal advantage of those who need their friendship and cooperation, especially naïve foreigners, and these situations may be hard for foreigners to recognize and avoid. It is vital that one know how to handle these situations.

Throughout China’s history, including the heyday of the Communist regime, many bureaucrats made a regular practice of using their power to get personal favors for themselves or members of their families from people who needed their services, and the practice continues today. It is even more important to know how to handle these situations when government officials are concerned.

Still today the best recourse is to get insights and guidance from a trusted Chinese friend or other foreigners who have been in China for many years, are well-versed in the “face and connections” factors and can guide you around the pitfalls.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For additional cultural insights on surviving and making out in China, see the author’s The Chinese Have a Word for It! and Chinese Etiquette & Ethics in Business. For a full list of his books on China, Japan, and Korea, see his personal website at:, and/or the Books Search facility of and other booksellers.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

MONO NO AWARE (Moe-no no Ah-wah-ray) – The Japanese Way of Pleasuring in the Brevity of Life!

How the Fragility of Life Can
Sharpen Your Sensual, Intellectual
& Spiritual Enjoyment!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

One of the special elements of Japanese culture is the tradition of creating both environments and occasions for communing with the fragility of life—an element that adds enormously to the recognition of this fragility and makes people more inclined to enjoy the years they have.

One of the most memorable afternoons I have spent in Japan was in a traditional ryokan (rio-kahn), inn, situated on the slope of a gorge on picturesque Izu Peninsula southwest of Tokyo. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was alone, and it was raining—not a heavy rain but a light, steady rain that was close to being a mist. I was sitting on the balcony of my room, looking out over the gorge, waiting for a friend to arrive.

As I sat there I began to experience what the Japanese call mono no aware (moe-no no ah-wah-ray)—a Buddhist concept that includes being very conscious of the ephemeral nature of man, his struggle in the face of great odds and the inevitability of his downfall and disappearance.

This aspect of Japan’s culture, developed between 700 and 1200 A.D. was based on the acute recognition of the impermanence of all things—an element that was enhanced by the code of the samurai which required them to be ready to give up their lives at a moment’s notice—resulting in their lives being compared to cherry blossoms...beautiful but fragile to the extreme and subject to being wafted away by the slightest breeze.

This culture of impermanence was especially reflected in the haiku and tanka poetry of the era, as well as in the such great literary works as Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), a novel about the intrigues and loves of an imperial prince (usually regarded as the world’s first novel) written in the early 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Imperial Court in Kyoto; and Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike), compiled by a blind monk named Kakuichi in 1371.

The opening lines of Heike Monogatari, which depicts an epic struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans for the control of Japan in the 12th century, say more about the human condition than many philosophical tomes:

“The sound of the Gion Shôja [temple] bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sâla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last; they are as dust before the wind.”

The culture of Japan reflected this theme in many ways, resulting in the Japanese developing an extensive vocabulary that expressed this inherent sadness of life.

While mono no aware means something like “indulging one’s self in grief,” neither this phrase nor any of the other key words were actually used in sad situations. Instead they referred to a gentle melancholy view of the fragility and preciousness of life that included an element of subdued pleasure.

The annual custom of celebrating the short life of cherry blossoms is the largest of Japan’s mono no aware rituals. It reminds them to take the time and find ways enjoy life while you can because it will soon be gone.

My spending a quiet afternoon entranced by the natural beauty of the setting as it was being cleansed and renewed by rain was another of the mono no aware practices that are dear to the hearts of the Japanese. Still another way is to engage in “forest bathing”—spending time in an isolated forest, letting the sights, sounds and vibrations of the trees wash over you.

There is also an element of mono no aware in most of Japan’s classic art and craft designs, from kitchen utensils to the kimono wore by older men and women. The famous Tea Ceremony is a pure mono no aware ritual.

Knowledge of this cultural element makes it possible for one to appreciate more fully the distinctive essence of things Japanese—the elements that make them Japanese.

This factor is one of the unspoken and generally un-described things that makes the traditional aspects of life in Japan so sensually, intellectually, and spiritually attractive to everyone, including foreigners who are sensitive to the realities of life, including its brevity.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For a detailed and definitive discourse on aspects of Japanese culture see the author’s book, ELEMENTS OF JAPANESE DESIGN—Understanding & Using Japan’s Classic Wabi-Sabi-Shibui Concepts; The Japanese Have a Word for It!; JAPAN UNMASKED—The Character & Culture of the Japanese; and SEX & THE JAPANESE—The Sensual Side of Japan. To see a full list of his books on Japan, China and Korea, see his personal website at:, and/or and other online booksellers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

KI (Kee) – The Chinese/Japanese Concept of Cosmic Power

How the Japanese Develop and Use
the Force Known as Ki

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

One of the most extraordinary sights I have ever seen in the martial arts field was a very small judo master in his seventies using the power of ki (kee) to literally blast several young judo trainees away from him as if they had been hit by a powerful gust of wind.

The move by the elderly judo master appeared to have been virtually effortless. It was not a violent act. He did not strain himself in any way, and he did not yell out like many practitioners of the martial arts…and some Western tennis players do when they make or return a shot.

As noted in my book, Japan’s Cultural Code Words, Asians, particularly practitioners of Zen in China and Japan, have long held that there is a force [think Start Wars] that infuses the cosmos and all things in it, including human beings, and that this force can be developed and directed toward specific tasks and targets.

Zen was introduced into Japan China in the 12th and 13th centuries, and became part of the training of the samurai class of warriors whose lives depended on developing their senses and their martial arts skills to an incredible degree.

From that era on, the history of Japan’s samurai class is replete with records of accomplishments and actions by individual warriors that were out of the ordinary and often astonishing.

The most famous of these warriors was Musashi Miyamoto, who was born in 1584 and died in 1645. He fought over 60 duels to the death by the time he was 30 years, the first one when he was just 13. In addition to these duels he fought in numerous wars and in hundreds of exhibition bouts without ever losing a single match or being wounded. [It is said that in one fight his opponent managed to cut a small slice in his kimono.]

The use of ki was taught by Zen monks, and eventually spread among artists, craftsmen, garden designers and others who wanted to sharpen their ordinary senses and develop an extrasensory perception.

Ki is variously translated as energy, mind-power, spirit and cosmic breath, and is now most commonly associated with aikido, karate, kendo and other martial arts. Karate masters often demonstrate its power by breaking a large number of boards and bricks with their hands or feet. The power of ki has also been associated with the cure of many ailments—and in that respect the cures would qualify as miracles in Western religious terms.

The Chinese and Japanese say that the human body is infused with ki and that it is the stimulation of ki in the body that makes acupuncture work. [Western scientists are now beginning to accept the idea that there is an invisible power than animates all life forms.]

Large numbers of Japanese businessmen are devotees of Zen and the power of ki and attribute at least some of their success to this cosmic energy. The Japanese government has been backing scientific research into the nature of ki since the 1980s.

The power of ki is developed through a combination of physical exercises and meditation—on focusing the mind to the point that it can exert a physical force on a judo opponent or any other object.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For more about ki, Zen, meditation and the training of the samurai, see the author’s books: The Japanese Samurai Code—Classic Strategies for Success; Samurai Strategies—42 Martial Arts Secrets from Musashi’s Book of Five Rings; and Samurai Principles & Practices that will Help Preteens & Teens in School, Sports, Social Activities & Choosing Careers…all available from, other online booksellers, and leading bookstores. For a full list of his 60-plus books on China, Japan and Korea see his personal website:

Monday, April 2, 2007

Why “Religious Civilizations” Are Doomed to Fail!

The Rise & Fall of Jewish, Christian, Islamic
& All Other Religion-Based Societies!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

History has revealed with stark reality that societies based on religions are inherently doomed to failure—and that includes every religious state that existed in the past and those that exist today.

The fatal flaw in all religion-based societies before and now is that they survive only as long as their leaders have enough power to prevent the citizens from questioning the tenets of the religions…by a combination of keeping them ignorant, dependent and fearful of reprisals if they stray.

At this time, all of the countries in the world that are ruled by Islam are perfect examples of religious societies in which both thought and behavior are controlled by the religious leaders and a code of conduct that denies the people the right to think for themselves and to behave as individuals.

All religious societies base their values and beliefs on the past, and on the efforts of their leaders to emotionally, intellectually and spiritually homogenize their people so they will think alike, act alike, and presumably live in perfect harmony.

In these societies the leaders regard any kind of fundamental social change as a deviation from what is moral and right; as a decline from the standards established long ago by “saints” and “saviors” and made absolute in “holy” books and scriptures. In these societies “reform” always means discarding any changes from the past and returning to the “true path” as taught by the scriptures.

Purely religious societies can survive only as long as the people remain subject to the mental and physical control of the religious edicts on which their societies are based and new ideas are kept from infiltrating into the minds of the young. This means that virtually absolute exclusivity from the outside world is essential for these societies to survive.

The daily news reveals beyond any doubt that the Islamic societies of the world are under siege from the outside and from the inside. A growing number of people in these societies want to be free to make decisions on their own, to live their own lives.

Modern forms of communication are slowly but surely destroying the walls behind which Moslem countries have survived up to this time—but they remain prominent because the social and economic power of their leaders has been virtually absolute for a long time—to the extent that they have not had to pay any attention to the real needs or wants of their people.

Buddhist civilizations are no longer prominent in the world. All Buddhist countries have been under attack from without by alternative beliefs since the 16th century, and reality has forced the people in these countries to become pragmatic in their thinking and behavior in order to survive.

There are huge numbers of people in Asia who still regard themselves as Buddhists, but the religion itself has very little if any control over what they think and how the behave.

All Christian civilizations are also in the throes of cultural revolutions that are steadily and rapidly diminishing the power of Christian theology and the Christian Church and in the United States in particular there is now a great hew and cry about reforming Christianity—about returning to the past.

In fact, there are movements underway to once again give religion equal if not higher billing than secular law. The people leading these movements do not know what they are asking for. They have never experienced the totalitarianism of Christianity that existed in its earlier centuries and that continued to exist in many countries for centuries after the rebellion against the Catholic Church in the 16th century.

So-called Christian countries today are basically Christian in name only, although there are millions who profess to believe in its tenets, and on institutionalized occasions demonstrate their piety by attending a church and engaging in religious-based activities.

Countries with so-called Christian civilizations are, in fact, transforming into what Japanese economist-philosopher Shumpei Kumon refers to as “inclusive maintenance-oriented civilizations”—meaning that their ethics and morality are fixable on an ongoing basis…that they are evolving as the intellectual and spiritual level of the people evolve.

The more these “Christian” countries evolve the closer the fundamental beliefs of the people will be to a philosophy rather than a religion.

The idea (but not the practice) of Christian thought is so deeply embedded in the cultures of these countries, however, that the motions and verbiage of the religion will no doubt persist for at least two or three more generations.

The danger is that a backlash fueled by the uncertainties and violence of today’s Christian societies might become powerful enough to stop the progress away from the dogma of the past…and it is probably too much to expect that those who have a vested interest in the economics and politics of Christianity will become enlightened enough to join in the universal slog toward a humane intellectual and spiritual philosophy for mankind.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

To see a full list of the author’s 60-plus cultural-insight books, see his personal website at:, and/or go to the books category of and type in his full name.

WENHUA (Win-wha) – How Foreigners Can Use the “Culture Card” in China!

First Comes Understanding
the True Meaning of Culture!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

Most Westerners think of culture (when they think of it at all) in terms of the arts, literature and music, but these elements are only a small part of culture. Culture covers the way people think, talk and behave as well as the way they work and what they create.

The various mental constructs that people have of their own existence, of life in all of its forms and of the universe at large, is a product of their own cultures. In other words, people are programmed by their culture to view and react to their world in certain ways, and it is this programming that makes them different.

Despite the attempts by Mao Zedung and his Communist regime to destroy all vestiges of China’s traditional culture from 1966 to 1976, and despite the inroads made by Western cultures since then, most of the core values and basic behavioral patterns of the Chinese that have been in existence for more than two thousand years are still very much in evidence throughout the country.

In fact, the traditional culture of China is one of the most enduring and powerful ever to have been developed, and since it is the force that motivates and guides such a large number of people it is obviously one of the world’s most important cultures.

Wenhua (win-wha), the Chinese term for culture, can be translated as “patterns of thought and behavior,” and it is so powerful that Chinese whose families have lived abroad for several generations are still culturally identifiable as “Chinese.”

The Chinese have traditionally viewed China more as a cultural entity than as a landmass, and in the past some writers have suggested that the country should be called Zhong Hua (Chong Whah) or “Central Cultural Essence” instead of Zhong Guo (Chong Gwoh) or “Central Kingdom.”

Present-day Chinese remain especially sensitive to their characteristic ways, and they appreciate it when foreigners make an effort to learn something about their culture and follow some of its customs and etiquette.

Without being insidious or cynical about it, foreigners can use this factor in their relationships in China to build goodwill and cooperation. It goes without saying that showing respect for the cultural beliefs and feelings of the Chinese will get you a lot further than a belittlingly or critical approach.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For more comprehensive insights into Chinese culture, see the author’s book, The Chinese Have a Word for It! (McGraw-Hill), which consists of definitive explanations of more than 300 of China’s “cultural code words.” To see a full list of his 60-plus cultural-insight books on China, Japan, Korea and Mexico see his personal website at:

Sunday, April 1, 2007

JIZAI (Jee-zie)—The Power of a Modern Version of Zen!

How the Japanese Tap into Cosmic Creativity!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

I note in my book The Japanese Have a Word for It! that until recent times the Western world did not give very much thought to the relationship between the mind and the body, and to the power of the mind to influence and change the functioning of the body. Such ideas were regarded as mystic nonsense.

It was not until the latter part of the 1900s that Western scientists began to accept the idea that their concepts of the physical world were only a part of the human and cosmic equation, and that there was much more to life and existence than what meets the eye.

Most people in the West continue to ignore the ancient Asian practice of Zen, which allows one to transcend conventional wisdom, see things as they really are, and achieve mental and physical skills that are out of the ordinary.

It was the addition of Zen meditation to the training of Japan’s famous samurai class that made it possible for them to transcend the limitations of the average person in martial arts, and it was this same training that provided the insight for Japan’s artists, craftsmen and garden designers to routinely create masterpieces.

One of the versions of Zen that has played a key role in the emergence of Japan as a major economic power is subsumed in the word jizai (jee-zie), which, in effect, refers to being able to think outside of the box of conventional wisdom and customary practices.

Virtually all of Japan’s best known businessmen/entrepreneurs have been and still are practitioners of jizai, and the concept is the foundation of many of the think-tanks that sprung up in Japan in the latter half of the 20th century—the best known of which is the Jizai Kenkyu Jo (Jee-zie Kane-que Jo), or Jizai Research Institute, founded in 1970 by Masahiro Mori, a Tokyo University professor of engineering who was also the founder of the Robotics Society of Japan.

Many of the most successful products that Japan has produced since that time have been the result of jizai thinking. In product terms, jizai thinking means meditating on the design and function of a product until you arrive at the ultimate in function, design and quality.

There was very little if any tradition of this kind in the Western world until recent times, particularly in the United States, and it was not until competition from Japanese manufacturers became a serious threat to U.S. industry that some American designers and engineers began to take a more jizai approach to their work.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For other concepts that are expressed by key terms in the Japanese language, see the author’s books, The Japanese Have a Word for It (McGraw-Hill) and Japan’s Cultural Code Words (Tuttle Publishing). For books in the same series on China, Korea and Mexico, see his personal website: and/or

BIAN (Bee-enn): The Chinese Way of Winning!

How to Succeed in Business, Politics & War

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

In the 1950s and 60s one of the bestselling books in Japan was The Art of War, the classic written by the Chinese military strategist and tactician Sun Tzu around 500 B.C. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese businessmen bought and virtually memorized the book not because they were bent on starting a new war but because they were absolutely determined to succeed in business.

This extraordinary idea of using the stratagems of war to succeed in business obviously worked—in fact, the approach worked so well that in just 20 fast years tiny war-devastated Japan morphed into the world’s second largest economy.

And now China is well on its way to replacing Japan as the world’s second largest economic power for two simple reasons. Near the end of the 1970s ordinary Chinese were allowed [for the first time in the history of the country] to utilize the dynamics of capitalism and the world’s marketplace, combined with the principles and practices espoused in The Art of War, to help themselves.

The primary principle taught by Sun Tsu was that the general must know everything there is to know about the enemy and be prepared to both anticipate and adapt to changing circumstances as they occur. This meant that the general has to have up-to-the-minute intelligence, know his own strengths and weaknesses thoroughly, and know when and how to take advantage of the circumstances.

Sun Tsu used the term bian (bee-een) as one of the basic principles in his formula for success. It refers to flexibility, and incorporates the idea of both anticipating and adapting to changing circumstances.

Just as the Japanese had some 30 years earlier, the Chinese associated these stratagems of war with achieving success in business, particularly when they were dealing with foreign companies that could easily be viewed as the enemy.

The emergence of China as an economic superpower in less than three decades validates equating war with both politics and business, and is especially appropriate for the United States, where the prevailing culture tends to view and treat war, politics and business as separate entities.

As I note in my book The Chinese Have a Word for It (from which bian is extracted), virtually all Chinese businesspeople are skilled in the use of “war” strategies and tactics in their conduct of business because it is embedded in their culture.

This pragmatic approach to business often provides the Chinese with advantages in their dealings with Americans and other foreigners whose concept of business is generally one-dimensional and therefore limits them in what they do and how the do it.

I recommend that foreigners dealing with China—in business as well as in political affairs—be thoroughly versed in Sun Tsu’s guidelines, particularly when it comes to knowing enough about the mindset and plans of their Chinese counterparts to anticipate their actions, and to have their own strategies and tactics ready to deal with them.

Americans have already learned the lesson that it is usually politicians, not generals, who lose wars; and that it is also generally politicians who hamper the conduct of business.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

For a detailed description of The Chinese Have a Word for It and the author’s 60-plus other books on China, Korea, Japan and Mexico, go to his personal website:, and/or insert his full name into’s Books Search facility.