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Daoism in Management

Abstract

The paper concentrates on the Chinese philosophical strand of Daoism and analyses in how far this philosophy can contribute to new directions in management theory. Daoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy, which can only be traced back roughly to about 200 or 100 BC when during Han dynasty the writers Laozi and Zhuangzi were identified as “Daoists”. However, during Han dynasty Daoism and prevalent Confucianism intermingled. Generally, it is rather difficult today to clearly discern Daoist thought from other philosophical strands as in the same period also Buddhism, Mohism and Legalism shaped contemporary thinking. Furthermore, there is a difference between the religious practice of Daoism in the sense of popular religion and the theoretical basis of Daoist thought presented in Laozi and Zhuangzi. The religious practice in contrast can have very mystical elements, which are linked to superstition. Moreover, there is also the question of in how far Daoist thought and practice is still prevalent at all in Chinese society today. Hence, the picture of Daoism is heterogeneous, first, regarding the question of what can be defined as the “original core” of Daoism, second, the difference between thought and religious practice, and third, the question of the prevalence of Daoist thought in China today. This paper offers a broader discussion regarding the potential ways of application of Daoist thought today over five parts. First, it illuminates the most important values taught under the name of Daoism. Thereby, it focuses on the Daoist thought and leaves out the actual religious practice together with its mystical elements. Second, these values are then put into the management context to analyse in how far Daoism can broaden our contemporary understanding of management in general and different management styles in particular. Third, Daoism in a management context is then contrasted with the comparably rigid Confucian doctrine also applied in a business context. Here, the application of Daoist and Confucian thought in the fields of leadership, management and corporate ethics is presented and compared. Fourth, insights into the real business practice in China regarding Chinese philosophies like Daoism and Confucianism in fields like management, strategy or corporate ethics are provided. Fifth, an outlook is presented where Daoism is discussed in the context of contemporary debates on sustainability and CSR. Here, the proposed paper illuminates in how far the philosophy of Daoism can also contribute to a more holistic understanding of sustainability and CSR today, thereby contributing to more innovative solutions in management.

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Notes

  1. Here, C.G. Jung refers to Richard Wilhelm (1873–1930), a well-known German Theologist, China expert and translator of Laozi’s works like the Dao de Jing and the I Ging (Yi Jing) (Rosenberger, n.d.).

  2. C.G. Jung’s interpretation, which is drawn from his commentary on Richard Wilhelm’s English translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower was first published in 1931, shortly after Wilhelm’s death. Another version of this book was then published in 1962.

  3. The meaning of the title of Laozi’s book Dao De Jing is translated into way (dao) and virtue (de). This comes close to the Western term of “ethics” or “morality”, according to Lin et al. (2013, 92).

  4. For example, the development of the Confucian Doctrine of the Mean, 中庸 (zhong yong), is ascribed to Confucius’ grandson Zisi (Eno 2010, 1).

  5. The Confucian teachings comprise further virtues like honesty 誠 (cheng), kindness or forgiveness 恕 (shu), honesty and cleanness 廉 (lian), shame or the sense of right and wrong 恥 (chi), bravery 勇 (yong), kindness or gentleness 溫 (wen), kind-heartedness 良 (liang), respectfulness, reverence 恭 (gong), frugality 儉 (jian), modesty or self-effacement 讓 (rang) (Epps 2012, p.63; Wang et al. 2012, p.509).

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Hennig, A. Daoism in Management. Philosophy of Management 16, 161–182 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40926-015-0024-4

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Keywords

  • Chinese philosophy
  • Daoism
  • Management
  • Sustainability