The Meaning of Harmony in China and its Importance in Business Life

Term Paper, 2012

10 Pages, Grade: 1,2

Eva Müller (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Meaning and Core Principles of Harmony

3. Historical Symbols of Harmony
3.1 Confucianism
3.2 Taoism
3.2.1 Wǔxíng
3.2.2 Yīn and Yáng

4. Harmony in Business
4.1 Guānxì
4.2 Lose Face
4.3 Further Suggestions

5. Conclusion

Table of References

1. Introduction

"All things under the sun will flourish when harmony prevails." This was once said by Xun Zi, a famous philosopher who lived in the Warring States Period (China Human Rights). The quote highlights the importance of harmony in the lives of Chinese.

In the ancient China, people were living close to each other in groups. They were relying on one another and in order to live together peacefully, there was a strong need to communicate well. Harmony, which can be defined as “a situation of peace, happiness, and agreement” (Definitions), therefore played a major role in the earlier days.

The situation of total harmony can only be achieved through finding the right balance in communication.

Even today Chinese people highly value harmony as for them it is the basic principle of nature, humanity and society as a whole. This can be seen when regarding the Chinese society with its 56 ethnic group, living united and peacefully together.

Living in harmony can furthermore improve relationships, stabilize a nation and help to conduct business successfully.

The author of this paper is going to introduce the Chinese meaning of harmony by looking at the historical core principles of harmony in China. Then the knowledge is applied to business life and a conclusion will be made.

2. The Meaning and Core Principles of Harmony

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: The Chinese Character for Harmony

Harmony has many different meanings. If it is applied in music, a pleasant sound can be heard. If some flavors are harmonious, we enjoy a delicious meal. Harmony is all about finding the right balance in different situations in order to obtain peace and happiness (China Human Rights).

Since the establishment of culture and harmony in China, many things have changed. Nowadays people are facing more possibilities, huge open markets, a growing economy and traditional changes. Trouble can be found everywhere and is often hard to avoid. Harmony helps people to deal with changes, as it is a concept that ties people and nations together.

Harmony is an important part of the Chinese culture. When living in harmony, people can share various kinds of interests and accept different opinions without showing disagreements. Harmony is used and conducted in many different areas of life.

In China, the most important one is the harmony between people, especially the family. It therefore is essential to treat each other with respect, above all older people. As harmony is based on loyalty and justice one should never do anything to others one would not want to experience oneself either. Furthermore Chinese show harmony towards nature, by using it thoughtfully and trying to maintain an appropriate balance with it. Harmony can also be applied in politics, economics and diplomacy - it can be applied in the people’s everyday life.

In order to obtain harmony in any situation, feelings like mourning, discomfort and dissatisfaction are not openly expressed.

Harmony is mainly based on the concept of miànzi, as a good relationship between the people interacting has to exist.

Miànzi means face and refers to a person’s pride, prestige or reputation. The main aspect is the skill of saving someone’s face. Losing face can happen when someone has done a mistake and everyone being aware of it, through losing temper, criticizing as well as confronting someone directly in public or by simply failing to show the appropriate respect.

Especially in sian countries ‘losing face’ is embarrassing the individual so much that the former harmonious relationship can be completely destroyed.

Therefore it is important to execute surface harmony “the art of maintaining composure” as well as staying calm and polite even when bad news has to be delivered (Chinese Hour). The importance of saving face in business life will be explained in chapter 4.2.

3. Historical Symbols of Harmony

Harmony can be described better when looking at its historical background: the philosophical approaches of Confucianism and Taoism. The two theories obtain different symbols and meanings that can all be referred to harmony. Those philosophies and the main symbols will both be explained in the next paragraphs.

3.1 Confucianism

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: Confucius playing a music instrument (Cultural China)

Confucius is the most famous and respected philosopher in China, living between 551 and 479 before Christ. His ideas are still executed today. One of his key theories was his view on the concept of harmony.

To him harmony is, amongst others, created with the help of music which transforms people to become more civilized (Cultural China). Thereby a balance between individuals, nature and society can be generated.

He once claimed that “in carrying out rites, it is harmony that is prized” (Chinese Hour). With this statement he tried to point out that harmony is the fundament of any successful interaction.

The “doctrine of the mean” is stated to be one of Confucius’ four most important writings. Mean stands for center and equilibrium and occurs when feelings such as joy or anger have not yet appeared. Once they have reached a certain level, harmony arises. As long as this level can be kept, the balance of many things is maintained (The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong)).

Confucius especially emphasized three different commitments: the one between husband and wife, parent and child as well as disposer and subject. Between each of them, a harmonious interaction is mainly important in order to live respectfully and peacefully together. In order to strengthen these relationships, universal love and respect for human dignity as well as harmonious social relations are crucial.

In order to build up harmonious relationships between the people of a society, Confucius developed three important ideas to achieve harmony: “Li”, “Ren “and “Yi”.

“Li” signifies etiquette and refers to behaving appropriately in any given situation. Showing respect towards other members of society, especially the hierarchical higher ones, is mainly important. It is necessary to stick to any given rules, because that is the only possibility to balance harmony (Business Culture and Traditions for Succesfull Interaction).

“Ren”, which translated means benevolence or person, refers to the fact that a person should only do to another person what it would have done to itself as well. It illustrates the ideal of what a human being should be and encourages others to strive towards it.

Finally “Yi”, meaning strength and justice, helps a person to recognize the difference between bad and good things. It can be seen as an internal controller which gives someone the ability to make right judgments about people and situations and to react accordingly.

To sum it up, one can say that Confucius’ teachings had a great influence on the growing importance of harmony. With harmony as the basis of each family, people can create fortune and live among each other in a gentle and peaceful way.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Meaning of Harmony in China and its Importance in Business Life
Shanghai University  (International Management Studies)
Chinese Culture
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meaning, harmony, china, importance, business, life
Quote paper
Eva Müller (Author), 2012, The Meaning of Harmony in China and its Importance in Business Life, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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