Reciprocity in Chinese Management

Master's Thesis, 2013

94 Pages

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Table of Contents


1. Comparative study between the western world and China about reciprocity, its use in management and conceptual work on its possible effects on companies’ performance
1.1 The ways reciprocity is taken into account in the western world and in China
1.1.1 Reciprocity and its place in major western school of thought
1.1.2 Role nowadays played by reciprocal inclinations in western behavior
1.1.3 Reciprocity in Chinese history
1.1.4 Reciprocity in China today
1.2 The way western and Chinese managers use reciprocal inclinations and its effects
1.2.1 The way western managers deal with reciprocal inclinations
1.2.2 The effects of the way western managers deal with reciprocal inclinations
1.2.3 The way Chinese managers deal with reciprocal inclinations
1.2.4 The effects of the way Chinese managers deal with reciprocal inclinations
1.3 Fields of possible application for western companies and limits
1.3.1 How the Chinese way to deal with reciprocity could theoretically help western firms to deal with their Human Resources challenges
1.3.2 How the Chinese way to deal with reciprocity could theoretically help western firm to deal with some current strategic challenges
1.3.3 Limits to the effectiveness of a reciprocal attitude in the western world
1.3.4 Risks linked with the use a reciprocal attitude in the western world

2. Suggestions of tools and inspiring elements for western managers
2.1 Establishment of models to handle reciprocal inclinations
2.1.1 Models presentation
2.1.2 Models explanation
2.2 Explorative study: a manager of a small wine importing company in Sichuan
2.2.1 Explorative study presentation
2.2.2 Explorative study analysis
2.3 Explorative study: a Chinese entrepreneur in France
2.3.1 Explorative study presentation
2.3.2 Explorative study analysis

Conclusion and Outlook


Appendix 1 : The prisoner game
Appendix 2: The tale of Zhao Defang
Appendix 3 : the renqing game
Appendix 4 : Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Appendix 5: perception of each other according to Liu Yang
Appendix 6 : Bridging and Bonding social capital
Appendix 7: permanent council group affiliation
Appendix 8: How to choose a supplier model


At least five centuries ago, the western world entered into the era of “modernity”, which is largely based on the faith in rationality and science. Quite logically, the way to deal with other human beings has been therefore seen as a science. And, since science supposes the establishment of a model, human beings have been narrowed down to a concept. Even if these concepts have been widened, for example with the development from homo oecomicus to bounded rationality (Simon, 1955), the Westerners still generally see other people as acting as rationally as possible to satisfy their own interest, interest which is mostly material. Ethnologist and socio-psychologist, starting with Mauss (1925) and Regan (1971) have nonetheless shown that at least some people also act according to reciprocal inclinations. And these reciprocal inclinations prove that models of the rational and self-interested man, are not only incomplete, but also not the best in all the situations as evidenced by the definition given by Fehr and Gächter (2000): “Reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model;conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal”. Stegbauer (2002) follows the same logic, since according to him, the causes for reciprocity cannot be explained by objective/resources ratios. Empirical evidence has been found to support this idea. The results of the dictator game (Engel, 2011) for example, proves it: the participants have been more inclined to do a kind action or to punish an unkind one, even if they had to lose a fictional amount of money for it, than to maximize their self-interest.

If managers succeed in dealing well with those inclinations, positive implications on performance are potentially tremendous. José Mourinho, during his time as a manager of Inter Milan, gave us one of the most telling examples. He did the kind action of letting some unplanned holidays to his player Wesley Sneijder. The midfield was surprised and admitted with some exaggeration that, after these holidays, he “was ready to kill and die” for his manager. He impressed so much on the field that he was elected fourth best football player of the year 2010 according to the most famous ranking in this field released by the French newspaper France Football. Positive effects are therefore existing, but reciprocity is still largely absent in management theories. One of the reason why has been shown by Kahneman (2011): “ Because we tend to be nice to other people when they please us and nasty when they do not, we are statistically punished for being nice and rewarded for being nasty.” Usually kind acts towards someone are done after having been pleased while an unkind one is the result of something displeasing. But, statistically, a pleasing act such as a good performance is more likely to be followed by a decrease in performance, and inversely. Believing kind acts are ineffective, is therefore certainly more the result of a wrong perception than a faithful mirror of reality. Kind acts can therefore certainly be used in management if managers do not except too much from the results in the short term. But, even if courses of psychology and management have recently appeared in business schools, a lot of scholars are complaining that the maximization of self-interest, most of the time through material needs, is still seen as the best model to understand human beings in management while it offers no attention to reciprocity. Such misunderstanding leads to errors, for example managers believe that their employees generally leave them because they got a better offer somewhere else, whereas employees actually mainly leave because of their relationship with their boss as seen by Buckingham and Coffman (1999).

The costs resulting in this imperfect view seem to be skyrocketing if we take into account the rising importance of social interaction for western companies. Recent changes have indeed led to this evolution. The most important one is certainly that human and intellectual capital has gradually overcome capital or even organizational capacity to become the key strategic resource (Bartlett and Goshal, 2002). But the multiplication of contacts between companies and the outside world due to the rise of externalization, alliances, social responsibility and the rising importance of innovation, have also made the optimizing of the use of reciprocity more urgent. Indeed this optimization would have a positive effect on human interaction and enable among others to better bond human capital, to build commitment outside the company or to foster informal exchange of information and creation of informal knowledge, what have been repeatedly proven beneficial for innovation, as proven by the importance taken by clusters like the Silicon Valley. A better use of reciprocity could therefore lead to a successful way to deal better with these changes and become one of the keys of performance for western companies in the following years.

It might therefore make sense to study China, where faith in rationality and science has not reached the same level. The fact that abstractions are almost never used, as highlighted by Bob Garrat (1981), bear witness for this. Dealing with people has therefore more been seen as an art, human beings have not been conceptualized and the part of reciprocity in behavior has not been minimized. The existence of the word renqing [illustration not visible in this excerpt] proves it, as we can see in the definition given by Hwuang and Gabryena in 1996, : “(1) renqing indicates the affective responses of an individual confronting different situations; (2) renqing means a resource that an individual can present to another as a gift in the course of social interaction; and (3) renqing connotes the social norms by which one has to abide in order to get along well with other people.” The second part of the definition also indicates that ways to deal with reciprocity have been explored. Reciprocity is also highly valued by Confucianism. Pursuant to the Analects “When Confucius was asked about his opinion on returning virtue for hatred, Confucius replied, in that case what are you going to repay virtue with? Rather repay hatred with uprightness and repay virtue with virtue”. Hui and Holt (1994) conclude that “Confucius clearly was opposed to undifferentiated treatment to people deeds” as it is seen as a means to keep human justice. A very complex art has then been elaborated to know how to respond when someone faces reciprocity. As explained by a former Pernaud Ricard executive who spent time in Shanghai during his career at a ESCP-Europe conference, when a gift had to be given to someone, the giver must first ask the value of the gift other people of the company will make, then make sure that what he would buy, would be less expensive than what higher ranked people will give, but at the time exactly the same as what his equal colleagues will spend and superior to the gifts given by lower profile employees. Only by doing so, could he be sure not to trigger an unkind action in return.

The importance of socialization, and the desire to create networks of reciprocal links, also called guanxi [illustration not visible in this excerpt], in Chinese management, is largely accepted as it has been proven by the very large amount of researches on the subject, for example with the review of empirical studies made by Quer, Clandia and Riera in 2007. The negative effects have been most of the time highlighted, but, at the same time, the web-based model of small Chinese companies outside China has been proven as being very efficient as it has been shown in South East Asia by the diaspora. In 1996, they already controlled 90% of the manufacturing industry and 50% of the services in Thailand whereas every single individual Indonesian billionaire was an “ethnic Chinese”, according to Yeung (1999). And, as the web model is created around the social interactions, it logically means that reciprocity is a prerequisite of its success. Laulusa (2009) listed a large amount of advantages for managers when they rely on a network of reciprocal links, including, among other, the hiring of the best talents, obtaining information not yet available on the market, getting useful advices, identifying business opportunities or having a better access to credit. The case study about a company named Tiger developed by Schlevogt in pages 84 to 88 of The Art of Chinese Management (2002), for example, proves it: when a Chinese manager uses kind actions, for example lending money to employees or welcoming a western researcher, he has potentially more loyal co-workers or more access to a new network.

Another principle that helps Chinese managers to deal with reciprocity is called government with ren [illustration not visible in this excerpt], which can be translated by benevolence or goodwill, and is founded on Confucius quote in the Analects, according to which “The character of a ruler is like wind and that of the people is like grass. In whatever direction the wind blows, the grass always bends”, or, in other words, that governed people act the same way the governor does. The link with reciprocal inclinations is obvious, since if the governor shows goodwill, other people will repay it by doing the same. Reciprocity is therefore a cornerstone of the Chinese way to manage people and the return of Confucianism that has been observed on the past few decade, will certainly fortify this trend.

Some might argue that cultural differences between the Western world and China are too important to really learn from the Chinese way of dealing with reciprocity. Indeed, a lot of differences, like the relative absence of separation of social and private life, the importance of trust for a Chinese while doing business that are linked with bao [illustration not visible in this excerpt] and lian [illustration not visible in this excerpt] principles, the manner to avoid conflicts in China or the different manner to perceive favors, seem to prove them right. One has nonetheless to keep in mind that Gouldner (1960) said that reciprocity can be considered as a moral norm “no less universal and important an element of culture than the incest taboo” and, that some authors like Bowles and Gintis (2008) even affirm that politicians should take more into account the reciprocal logic of westerners. Believing that western managers can get inspired by the Chinese way without copying it, seems therefore plausible. It does therefore make sense to ask ourselves: “How do Chinese managers take into account reciprocity, what are the effects on the Chinese companies’ performance, and can western firms learn from it?”

1. Comparative study between the western world and China about reciprocity, its use in management and conceptual work on its possible effects on companies’ performance.

This first part is a literature review and conceptual work in which hypothesis will be raised before being tested in the case studies of the second part. The hypotheses are:

- H1: Chinese people take more into account reciprocity
- H2: Chinese managers have more know-how on how to deal with reciprocity,
- H3: This know-how leads to positive effects on companies’ performance
- H4: These positive effects match with some challenges western companies actually face.
- H5: Western managers can get inspired by those know-how to improve their companies performance

1.1 The ways reciprocity is taken into account in the western world and in China

The hypothesis H1, according to which reciprocity is less taken into account by the western culture than by the Chinese one, will be developed hereafter. It will be done by a comparative study about the role played by reciprocity in the two civilizations’ major school of thought and in their current respective societies.

1.1.1 Reciprocity and its place in major western school of thought

In this part, the three main factors that have partly minimized the role played by reciprocal inclinations in the western culture and have therefore largely failed to suggest a behavior to deal with reciprocity, namely Christianity, meritocracy and modernism especially in economy, will be developed.

Reciprocal inclinations have been fought very early in the western history. One of the first example is certainly set up in the following quotation “If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well” (St Matthew’s Gospel, part of the New Testament). The contradiction with the principle according to which “in response to hostile actions people act frequently nasty and even brutal” is obvious. It did create a rupture with the former holy texts such as the Exodus where the instructions about human violence are very reciprocal as seen by the first maxim “Anyone who hits and kills someone should be put to death”. Nonetheless, even if Christianity fought reciprocal inclinations, some of the rules suggested are a good way to manage negative reciprocity. Indeed, the categorical imperative “act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end” developed by Kant, enables to protect oneself against negative reciprocity, that is to say, a punishment to an act perceived as unkind, as if you apply this rule, you are never supposed to do something unkind to another person. It is actually very similar to the principle, also called Golden rule, which has been for example studied by Benett (1979), according to which one should treat the others like you would like to be treated yourself. This Golden rule is also sometimes called reciprocity rule, but it seems to be abusive, as it excludes the use of negative reciprocity. Kant himself argued that his reciprocity principle is only linked with moral, not with inclinations. It will therefore only be seen in this paper as a behavior which enables to deal quite positively with reciprocal inclinations, even if it was certainly not in this purpose that the rule has been developed. Christianity has therefore fought against parts of reciprocal inclinations but has nonetheless suggested a behavior that enables to deal well with it.

But reciprocal inclinations have not only suffered from the attack of Christianity in the western world. The rise of meritocracy, with the French revolution for example, illustrates the idea that everyone should receive gratification according to its merits. Even if it is not completely incompatible with reciprocity, as one could consider that a kind or an unkind action merits a kind or unkind answer, there are conflicting points. Favors, for example, are very common for reciprocity, as you will advantage the one who did kind action, whereas this does not apply in a meritocratic logic. Reciprocity can even go further. Even if the concept should not be confused with the fact of helping relatives or friends as you should only reward those who do kind actions, and that the critics linking reciprocity with nepotism are therefore a bit far-fetched, one could not deny that the kind action of offering money to someone should, in a reciprocal logic, be rewarded, and therefore that reciprocity may, in extreme cases, lead to bribery and corruption. In western societies, where meritocracy has become an ideal, reciprocity is often seen as dangerous, as it can lead to “unfair” decisions. It is therefore often advised not to take into account kind or unkind action done towards you when you take a decision, since it could lead to unwanted effects. No behavior has been suggested to deal with those inclinations, and the legal system inspired from this school of thought, has punished extreme kinds of reciprocity.

The main attack towards reciprocity was nonetheless made by the modernism school, who claimed the absolute superiority of rationality and enabled scientific theories on economy to prosper. The paper will now dwell more specifically on those theories. Even if as noticed by Falk and Fischbacher (2000) Adam Smith did reckon that “kindness is the parent of kindness” and therefore pay tribute to the concept of reciprocity, the dominant view from that moment have mainly seen the human being as rational. The liberal theory developed by the same Adam Smith according to whom the sum of the single interests creates the general interest, made the rest and participate to the elaboration of the homo oeconomicus. Human beings were then considered as rational subjects who maximize their own interest. No place can be found for reciprocity in such a model, since the doing of a kind action in return to another one, can be at the costs of the individuals self-interest.

The constant irruption of seemingly irrational acts, which could not be explained by the model, led nonetheless to an enlarging of the concept. Despite this, rationality itself was not put into question. Even if the costs of proving the role of emotions in decision making, are very important, Ben-Shakhar Bornstein, Hopfensitz and Van Winden (2004) have given high clues of the importance of emotions in reciprocity, and therefore their partly irrational nature. Economic theories have therefore certainly enlarged their view of human being but are still overseeing reciprocal inclinations. Herbert Simon (1955), for example, explained some of those acts through the fact that the action that seemed irrational, was due to the fact that the subject did not have all the information needed to take the decision that would have been the most rational, should we appreciate only the result. Nonetheless, he still acted rationally, as, given the information he had been provided with, it was still the best way to maximize his interest, or to reach his objective. The term “bounded rationality” also shows that emotions and therefore reciprocal inclinations are not taken into account.

More recent theories like the 1998 Nobel-prize winner Amartya Sen’s one, have challenged the self-interest part of the model in 1977, and open a door to altruism, as we cansee in this intentionally absurd example he developed : “Where is the railway station?" he asks me. "There, " I say, pointing at the post office, "and would you please post this letter for me on the way?" "Yes, " he says, determined to open the envelope and check whether it contains something valuable”. But nonetheless, the emotional part of reciprocal inclinations has not been dealt with. The dominant paradigm in economy does therefore still seem to fail in taking fully into account reciprocal inclinations.

The western world did therefore encounter various very influent movements which criticized or even ignored reciprocal inclinations and seem therefore to suggest few behaviors to deal with them. Have this had an impact on reciprocal inclinations and the way to deal with them in today’s western society?

1.1.2 Role nowadays played by reciprocal inclinations in westerner’s human behavior.

Today’s western society still generally sees the man as a rational being who tries to maximize one’s self interest. Recent critics on human behavior, following the economic crises, or the debate about the social responsibility of companies have even made wonder if westerners are still able to give up their own material self-interest from time to time. It is therefore interesting to ask ourselves if reciprocity exists today and, in the affirmative, how it can be observed.

The four following western academic disciplines have studied reciprocity, namely ethnology, psychology, sociology and political science.

Reciprocity has begun to be taken into account in the modern western world thanks to ethnology. The first major contribution that enabled this change was the work of Marcel Mauss (1925). His study on two societies, one in North America, and the other one in the Pacific islands, has highlighted how important reciprocal behavior was in archaic societies. In the studied case, the social obligation to respond to a kind act with an even kinder one, put in danger the people ‘s survival. The idea that those inclinations may also still exist in the current western world emerged therefore naturally. Gouldner’s (1960) following quote “no less universal and important an element of culture than the incest taboo””, for example clearly indicates that westerners have reciprocal inclinations.

Psychologists have therefore tried to test this hypothesis. Regan was one of the first in 1957. He tried to test the existence of reciprocal inclinations. To do so, he distinguishes two situations: in the first one, American subjects were asked to buy raffles tickets from a person who had done nothing for them. In the second other American subjects were asked the same thing, but, meanwhile the seller had offered them a soft drink, even though they have not asked anything. The results showed that Americans are more likely to buy in the second situation. It is actually not in their self-interest as buying several raffle tickets is more expensive than receiving the soft drink, moreover since they did not ask for this gift. Interestingly, Regan also asked afterwards if the people who bought tickets had any sympathy for the seller, and the response showed no statistical link between the number of raffle tickets bought and the sympathy felt for the seller. Reciprocal inclinations seem therefore to be the only explanation of such behavior.

Sociologists have also brought their contribution. For an extensive literature review one can revert to Falk and Fisbacher (2000). The most common model actually is called the “ultimatum game”: in a first time, a person take a decision on allocating an amount of fictional money between himself and another person and, in a second time, the latter has the possibility to accept the sharing or to refuse it. If the second person refuses, both persons get nothing. According to the homo economicus view, the second person would therefore never refuse if the giver offers an amount which is superior to zero. But, all studies showed the opposite. Most of the time, when the giver offers only 20 percent of the amount of fictional money to the other person, the latter one refuses. Some of the givers also offer 80% of the amount to the second player. And, in that case, some refusals also appear which is completely unthinkable in a homo oeconomicus view.

One even more challenging example came from the political science specialist Axelrod (1984) as it does not only prove that reciprocal behavior exists, but that adopting it, is also sometimes the most efficient strategy. Axelrod explained that he wanted to find the best strategy while confronted to the prisoner’s dilemma (see appendix 1). He, therefore, asked a large number of people to develop a computer program that would contain the best strategy to solve this dilemma. The choice of a computer program was made because human being usually change strategy during the course of the game, and could therefore not enable to find out which strategy was the best. Very surprisingly, the best program was the Tip for Tat which “begins with cooperation and then, as the name implies, simply does what the other player did on the previous move”. The reciprocal logic is obvious, as the program actually accept cooperation if it was accepted by the counterpart on the previous round and refuses it if the counterpart refused it on the previous turn. It follows therefore exactly a reciprocal incitation pattern. On top of that, as noticed by Axelrod, is that the program won “the tournaments even though it could never do better than the player it was interacting with”, which indicates that he never tried to do maximize his interest. The game has been played a second time, each participant knowing that Tip for Tat won the first time. Despite this, the winner was once again the same program. It is therefore not only proven that reciprocity exists in the western world, but also that it sometimes leads to a better result than the maximization of the self-interest, which is certainly a big blow to homo economicus and invisible hand theories.

Reciprocal inclinations can therefore be observed very easily in the everyday life. The most telling example is certainly the tip one might give to a waitress. Every single westerner has certainly noticed that a waitress is more likely to receive a large tip if kindness have been shown during her service. The link with reciprocal inclinations seems obvious.

Bowles and Gintis (2008) have shown another form under which reciprocity can nowadays been observed in western societies as we can see in the following quote. “By "strong reciprocity" we mean a propensity to cooperate and share with others similarly disposed, and a willingness to punish those who violate cooperative and other social norms--even when such sharing and punishing is personally costly.” They use two statistics, to highlight the existence of such disposition, the first one being a 1991 ABC/Washington Post poll which found out that “twice as many people were "willing to pay higher taxes" to "reduce poverty as were opposed [to do so]” and a second one of a 1995 CBS/New York Times survey stating that “89 percent supported a mandated work requirement for those on welfare”. The two statistics are naturally related to the U.S. and are supposed to show that the American are ready to give up some material advantages by paying taxes for people who follow the norms, which could here been seen as the acceptance to work. Even if there are differences between this strong reciprocity and the original definition given in this paper, the same pattern can still be recognized. One can also consider that the propensity to cooperate is seen as kind, whereas the fact of not following the same norms is perceived in the opposite way. This strong reciprocity has led to the concept of homo reciprocans, that is to say, an individual acting according to strong reciprocity. Bowles and Gintis in this article also claim that the homo oecomicus is challenged by this new concept and that the egalitarian logic should therefore be thought differently by politicians.

Nonetheless, as recognized by Bowles and Gintis, one should not believe that westerners are whether all acting according to the reciprocal inclinations, or all acting according to the homo oeconomicus model. One can even go further, by claiming that the same individual is sometimes acting in a view of self-interest; sometimes acting reciprocally. Dohmen, Falk, Huffmann and Sunde (2006) have actually studied “the prevalence of reciprocity in the population, the individual determinants of reciprocity and the correlation between positive and negative inclinations within person”. They found out that most people saw reciprocity more as a rule than an exception, and more interestingly “gender, age and height systematically affect reciprocal inclination but differently for positive and negative reciprocity”. It proves not only that persons with positive reciprocity are different from people with negative one and that one can use statistics to know which person is likely to be more positively or negatively reciprocal. Studies in this field seem to be still too young to give very accurate probabilities, and further research should certainly be made, but it nonetheless open the door to a distinction between individuals in order to find the incentives that might motivate each of them the best

This part has therefore, thanks to the academic work coming from various fields, proved that reciprocity exists in the western societies and gives example of the form it may have in human behaviors. It also pinpointed that, despite a lack of consideration, reciprocity is sometimes more efficient than the maximization of self-interest and that some people are more feeling reciprocal than others.

1.1.3 Reciprocity in Chinese history

In this part, we will study the links between reciprocity and the three most influential schools of thoughts in Chinese culture.

As indicated in the introduction, Confucius clearly defended reciprocal inclinations : “When Confucius was asked about his opinion on returning virtue for hatred, Confucius replied, in that case what are you going to repay virtue with? Rather repay hatred with uprightness and repay virtue with virtue” According to Hui and Holt (1994), the principle according to which kind actions are rewarded and bad action get another treatment was seen as a means to reach social harmony by Confucius. Nonetheless the behavior he suggest to deal with reciprocity is similar to the Christian one as we can see in the following quote of the analects:

Tsze-Kung asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?”

The Master said, “Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.””

Once again the Golden rule seems to appear. The difference with Christianity is nonetheless that reciprocal inclinations are not seen as “bad”, and that the principles of the golden rule have been set as the criteria of a good governor. Mencius especially developed the logic of his master and gave to the principal of ren [illustration not visible in this excerpt] a central role, especially in government issues. ren [illustration not visible in this excerpt] is often translated by “benevolence” or “goodwill” and it can become very efficient when reciprocal inclinations are existing. The quote of the analects: “When the wind blows, the grass bends” explained in the introductions indicates why. In other terms, if the leaders acts with ren [illustration not visible in this excerpt], the rest of the population will follow his example. The pattern of reciprocity, according to which kind actions leads to kind action, is therefore obvious. Nonetheless, this principle of government has been challenged, especially by legism, according to which social harmony was not reached t through kind acts, but by an efficient legal system and punishments.

In Taoism, reciprocity certainly does not play such an important role. The main reason for it, is that the cornerstone of this philosophy or school of thoughts is the principle of wuwei [illustration not visible in this excerpt], that is to say no acting. According to this philosophy, a good leader should not be present.” Yet through [the ruler’s] actionless, things are duly regulated”. As it seems difficult to have reciprocal inclinations, at least weak ones, without interaction, reciprocity does not play a central role in this pillar of the Chinese culture. Nonetheless Taoism has still link with reciprocity as we can see with the following quote of Laozi, the founder of this doctrine.

"The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful."

It is interesting that the Taoist sage seems to be the exact opposite of the homo oeconomicus as he has no self-interest and that the Golden rule seems, once again, to appear. Nonetheless, a good leader in the eyes of a Taoist is a leader whose presence is not felt. Even if it might certainly be very interesting for western managers to learn from it, it does not really give any indication as to one may benefit from reciprocal inclinations.

Buddhism has largely the same approach towards reciprocity as we can see through this quote “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Once again a variant of the golden Rule is somehow present. But, in Buddhism, reciprocity seems even to be more important. The word “karma” which literally means “do” and necessary gives a fruit or a result. This result might come in a future life. For example, your current health is supposed to be the results of your past behavior in your previous lives: if you did unkind acts, you might be very ill in your next life. The incentive not to do anything that could be seen as unkind is therefore very strong and no asks for pardon or acceptance of a religion as in Christianity might change it. Buddhism does not therefore really offer a new way of dealing with reciprocal inclinations but stresses the necessity of not doing unkind action, whatever the present effect of this action might have. A very good example on how its importance counters the self-interest is the tale of Zhao Defang related by the Epoch Times. (appendix 2): When he cheated on other people, he became rich but two people died because of him. When he stopped cheating, two of his sons died. But at the end of the tale, the reader learns that those two sons were actually the reincarnation of the two people who died because of Zhao Defang’s misdeeds, and that they would have lead his father to die in poverty should they were still alive.

These three pillars of the Chinese culture have therefore mainly reckoned the importance of reciprocal inclinations and have suggested a behavior to deal with them. Have this had an impact on reciprocal inclinations and the way to deal with them in nowadays Chinese society?

1.1.4 Reciprocity in China today

The central role of reciprocity has not been challenged as it has been in the western world. Tang and Ward (2004) for example highlighted that the abstraction of a single individual being without consideration of his relationship was absurd in a Confucian logic. We will therefore only dwell on how reciprocity can be seen in nowadays China.

One of the most telling examples of the importance of reciprocity in nowadays China is certainly what Hwuang and Gabryena (1987) have called “the renqing game”. They have also conceptualized this game (see appendix 3). A lot of interesting points come out of this conceptualization.

The first one is that reciprocal inclinations has not to be appreciated the same way; and must take into consideration the connections people might have between them. If for example, on the one hand, these connections are expressive, that is to say if relevant person is considered as a member of “jia [illustration not visible in this excerpt]”, (i.e family), then one must accept the plea on the basis of the need of the other person. If, on the other hand, the person is a stranger, the plea should only be accepted if the person has objectively an advantage by doing so. This is certainly the most common view in the western world. It seems in a way logical, as you can more trust a person with whom you have strong ties, to reciprocate the kind act, but it also puts a limit to the power of reciprocity. Regan’s example showed, that in the USA, at least, reciprocity is often rewarded even if there are no ties with the other person.

The second one is that Chinese people clearly expect a reciprocal act. Indeed in case of mixed ties, the person who asks hope the other one has reciprocal inclinations. If all the decisions were taken only based in a rational view, this would make no sense. Reciprocity is therefore clearly the cornerstone of the renqing rule that Chinese people experience every day, be it with exchange of information, gift giving or invitations, even if it is certainly not always conscious. Such a model does not appear to exist in the western world. Therefore, our hypothesis that Chinese people take more into account reciprocity than the western one is given more credit.

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Reciprocity in Chinese Management
Tongji University
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Xavier Marchat (Author), 2013, Reciprocity in Chinese Management, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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