Zhu Xi’s neo-Confucian school: An organizational studies reading

Abstract

Although Asian business and management sees itself as derivative of Western concepts and methods, Eastern traditions do offer sources of organizational scholarship. We argue that the neo-Confucian synthesis executed by Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi) in the twelfth century provides a starting point when seeking sources for a broader perspective encompassing organizational efficacy among both human artefacts and natural systems. Responding to calls for Asian business research to draw more deeply on its own cultural traditions, and in the spirit of modern organization science, we rescue Zhu Xi’s insights and offer free renditions of some of his most important formulations, which we believe to be fertile ground for meaningful indigenous research in the region.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In this article we use standard Pinyin transliteration of Mandarin Chinese, but insert the classical romanization known as Wade–Giles in brackets, because the Wade–Giles forms –such as Chu Hsi – are so common and well known in the literature.

  2. 2.

    For example, the Four Books selected and compiled by Zhu Xi, together with Zhu Xi’s commentaries on them, were made official texts in civil-service examinations in 1313; and his other works were also later compiled by imperial order affirming the orthodoxy.

  3. 3.

    Zhu Xi, as we believe, captures a complete holonic organizational architecture in just six concepts or characters:理Li – The organizing principle气 Qi – The matter/energy/activity being organized命 Ming – The systemic character of an entity性 Xing – The local self-acting capacity of an entity.阴 Yin – The dynamic cosmic force which represents femininity, darkness, cold, moisture, softness, passivity and so on.阳 Yang –The dynamic cosmic force which represents masculinity, light, warmth, dryness, hardness, activity and so on.

  4. 4.

    Even in the more modern translation of Chan (1963, p. 613), the situation is scarcely any better: Question. [Chang Tsai said] If one investigates principle to the utmost and fully develops his nature, then his nature will be in accord with the character of Heaven and his destiny will be in accord with the ‘Principle of Heaven’. How are nature and destiny to be distinguished?Answer: Nature refers to what is stabilized, whereas destiny refers to what is operating. Destiny, for example, refers to water flowing, while nature refers to water contained in a bowl. A big bowl contains more water, whereas a small one contains less. The water in a clean bowl will be clear, whereas that in a dirty bowl will be turbid.

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Mathews, J., Tan, H. Zhu Xi’s neo-Confucian school: An organizational studies reading. Asian Bus Manage 14, 227–246 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/abm.2015.8

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Keywords

  • Zhu Xi
  • neo-Confucian Chinese philosophy
  • holonic view
  • complexity
  • self-organization
  • emergence