Author Pacific Perspective

Qimei Chen

Using ancient
wisdom in modern
international marketing

Sun Tzu's oldest and most respected Chinese military strategy book, "The Art of War," has traditionally been used as a metaphor to guide both Western and Eastern business, advertising and marketing. With global market changes today, however, modern marketers are realizing that rather than adopting the traditional Chinese philosophy stating, "the marketplace is a battlefield," it is more beneficial and even necessary to establish long-term relationships with competitors.

Introducing modern Confucianism into the marketing paradigm based on Sun Tzu's militant ideology creates a more complete metaphor for today's marketplace.

Today, top computer and semiconductor companies such as IBM, Apple and Motorola are collaborating to spread-out the risk of new technology development and to establish broad-based industry standards. In these and many other industries, the rising cost of new product development makes information sharing and joint research and development a vital strategy. The original and out-dated paradigm based solely on the application of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" classifies advertising and marketing into four categories: direct translation, interpretation with examples, business packages developed through Sun Tzu's strategies and winning models evolved from "The Art of War." One possible new framework is to supplement Sun Tzu's strategy with some key ideas drawn from modern Confucianism. By introducing Confucianism into this marketing metaphor, the complexities of modern marketing can be addressed.

The new marketing model is based on five disciplines from Confucius' doctrine: goals, leadership, hierarchy, thrift and learning.

The first of these five disciplines is designed to rectify some of Sun Tzu's ideology, and the other four are intended to supplement and complement the art of business. It is worth noting that the disciplines proposed here embrace ordering relationships, thrift and persistence, all of which are factors embedded in the Confucian work dynamism.

For example, regarding the first discipline, goals, Sun Tzu believed conquering the enemy to be the ultimate goal of warfare. Applying this philosophy into business strategy, Mark McNeilly wrote in his book "Sun Tsu and the Art of Business: Six Strategic Principles for Managers," that overcoming the competitor and obtaining market dominance was the ultimate goal of business. Although this goal may serve military warfare, it is incongruent with present-day realities. As Kenichi Ohmae states in his article "Getting Back to Strategy" in a 1988 issue of the Harvard Business Review, strategy is not about beating the competition; it is about creating real value for the customer.

Therefore, Confucius' yi must be introduced to rectify the goal of business. Yi can be interpreted as righteousness or integrity, a principle that justifies human action. With yi, material gains are acceptable, where as without it, gains are meaningless. Yi is interpreted in the new advertising and marketing model as the real value for the consumer and as the kernel of morality in doing business. Based on the principle of yi, a business can expand long-term profits while eliminating the destructive consequences of illegal profit seeking and unfair competition.

The principle of yi, however, is not universally applied in today's Chinese advertising arena.

A survey completed by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce revealed that approximately one-third of 900 broadcast ads debased women or claimed that children would be stronger or smarter after using certain products. Some ads even concealed potentially dangerous side effects of the products. These findings reveal a need to use yi to promote truth-in-advertising to protect consumers and to build faith and loyalty among consumers. According to Confucius' philosophy, excess and deficiency are equally at fault here. Therefore, li, a Confucian value emphasizing adequacy and appropriateness, must also be introduced to obtain balance.

Patrick Wang, chairman of Microelectronics Technology Inc., has said one of Asia's advantages in the past was the predominance of small and medium-sized enterprises, which tended to be flexible and aggressive, contributing to economic growth. Now these firms are growing, creating a challenge for them to maintain their entrepreneurship, flexibility and competitiveness. Returning to Confucian values will help these businesses to meet the challenge.

The new paradigm, fusing Sun Tzu's ideology of military action with Confucius' humanistic wisdom, allows for both Western as well as Eastern managers to cooperate with ethical and practical guides that will promote long-term prosperity.

Qimei Chen is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Hawaii College of Business. Reach her at


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