ARTICLES on Chinese Culture Symbolism

Article CS00/1

Prof. Dr. Ong Hean-Tatt 6th August 2000



A non-Chinese observer and thinker was talking with his Chinese philosopher friend about the reasons for the phenomenal success of the Chinese people down the ages. Then he brightened up and told the Chinese philosopher that he now understood what drives the Chinese people. It was their cultural symbolism! This thinker is more right than realised.

Chang Tao-Ling's Trick

It is common to see over the doors of Chinese homes the circular eight sided Pakua symbol to drive away evil, engraved with the image of Chang Tao-Ling riding the tiger. Chang Tao-Ling lived in the ending period of the Han dynasty, circa AD 220. He was the 8th descendant of Chang Liang, the brillaint strategist who aided Liu Pang to become the Han founding emperor Kao Tsu, in around 220 B.C.

Chang Tao-Ling is also the Taoist Pope. It was his desire that all men should benefit from learning the teachings of Taoism. But he acknowledged that Toaism is a very deep philosophy beyond the ken of the ordinary people, especially when the common people would be so busy trying to earn a decent living.

Then, he struck on a method to facilitate the common people deriving some benefits from teh doctrines of Taoism. he thought of it and realised that there is something which would stop most people in their tracks, no matter how busy they are. This something is is you tell thenm there is a magic formula to get rich. The common people are naive enough to think that there are fast magical to get wealth and health!

So, Chang Tao-Ling created a arsenal of magical talismans, purporting to do magic in obtaining wealth and health for people. What he really did was to decorate the talismans with pertinent short words from Taoism. The words are also associated with relevant symbols, often of natural things known to the people. The unwitting constant exposure of the common people to the Taoist words and symbols rubbed onto the people some measure of the Taoism doctrines and helped the people in their life.

What Chang Tao-Ling created was actually an esoteric system of motivation!

A Scientific Basis

The Chinese cultural symbolism is not a hapzardous collection of symbols. They could be grouped into categories which seem to cover comprehensively all aspects of the life of the people. There are some sayings and symbols for every aspect of life. Many of them are associated with different seasons and festivals of the year. As these are often witty and colourful people remember them more easily. They are witty and colourful enough to attract people to use a large part of them repeatedly year by year.

Owing to the constant year in year out exposure of the people to the symbolism, the meanings of the symbolism subtlely molded the mind of the people through prolonged time. That is, the cultural symbolism acts like a perpetual mechanism of constant remembrance and motivation!

In modern management, it is realised that people forget easily what they learnt. As time passes by people forget more and more. Technical skills could be reinforced or remembered through constant application or repeated training. However, this is something which could not be done with mental attributes. The modern people resort to a host of mechanisms to try to remember mental principles. These include tying a string around the finger, taking notes, use of a diary or whiteboard to remind of schedules ahead. Management may put up signs and slogans around the office and work place to constantly remind people.

Extra Winning Edges

All cultures have their sets of guidelines and principles. The differences in the successes of the different cultures may lie in how the different cultures preserve, transmit and desimminate the cultural teachings. The Chinese seem to have an efficient system of preservation and transmittance of cultural principles through their cultural symbolism.

What the cultural symbolism does is to go beyond all these and reach into the very deep soul of the people to remind and motivate them. Cultural things are deeply rooted in the pysche of people and association with cultural things therefore reinforce immensely the things to be remembered.

The efficiency of the cultural symbolism also depends on whether they are attractive enough. The Chinese cultural symbolism is certainly a rather colourful delightful and rich one.

Child psychologists are aware that the learning and habits formation period is the eartly years up to the early teens. That is, what the children are exposed to in their rather young years have heavy influence on their eventual habits and behaviour, even long into adulthood. Racial traits are strongly ingrained through this early years. Another, often linked to the race, is the cultural environment. This is one of the ways the Chinese symbolism "catches" the young mind and prepare the Chinese for their eventual adulthood.

An Endearing Culture, An Enduring People

If you look at the culture of a people and see that it is a delightful one, you can bet the people will be a delightful successful people.

If the culture is foreboding and dark, the people will be an unhappy frustrated people, and would possibly be marked for eventual extinction. That was what Hsun Yun told his student, the Chin prime minister Li Su, that the powerful Chin dynasty could not last because the people lived under a stark foreboding rule. Likewise, the Puritans disapppeared, because their stark bland puritanism ran counter to the free spirit of humanity.

Build a colourful rich culture and your organisation will survive and excel!



They have real effects in promoting
the drive, industriousness and success of people!

to know how to apply it in modern management:
please enquire at:
Chinese Symbolism Page